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MotoGP Frienemies

The first person to beat is your teammate. Seldom has the cliché been more piquant than for Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez on the class-leading Repsol Hondas.

In some 40 years in MotoGP, I can’t recall a single similar example. Trolling the records, however, gives at least one surprise … just how often the outwardly calm Andrea Dovizioso’s name comes up in pairings from hell.

Less surprising is that Lorenzo’s name appears on the list with great regularity. And let it be said that in most of those pairings, he has ultimately come out on top.

My memory goes back to the 1970s, when the ever-vocal Barry Sheene sounded off about the recruitment of Pat Hennen to Suzuki. He’d been pushing for his good friend Gary Nixon, but he was badly injured in a pre-season crash at Suzuki’s Japanese test track. Fellow American Hennen was a last-minute replacement, and Barry resented what he saw as rank opportunism.

“If you pay peanuts,” he wrote; “you get a monkey.” Sheene’s friend Steve Parrish later told me: “Some monkey. This one had horns.” But Hennen, the first American GP winner, got hurt before it all played out.

Sheene took the “beat your teammate” dictum very seriously, and never lost an opportunity to establish himself as top dog, on or off the track. Fair enough. This is the stuff of which champions are made. A list of mutual hostilities over the years contains many great names. Like Phil Read and Bill Ivy in the 1960s.

Long-time fans will recall 1988, when Yamaha’s triple champion Eddie Lawson amazed everyone switching to Honda. Nobody more than incumbent champion Wayne Gardner, already a disdainful rival. Wisely, although both rode Rothmans Hondas, they operated out of separate trucks and pits. Lawson, by the way, took the title.

A little later, Wayne Rainey got the chance to show a hitherto unseen abrasive side, when reigning 250 champion John Kocinski moved up to Team Roberts’s 500 squad. Rainey took every chance to pour scorn on the upstart.

It can be taken as a sign of grudging respect. Nobody needs to fall out with an unthreatening teammate. But ultimate nice-guy Nicky Hayden came very close to blows with his 2005 Repsol Honda teammate Max Biaggi, for the latter’s apparent assassination attempts with ultra-close overtakes, even in pit lane. Hayden later (eventually) forgave teammate Dani Pedrosa for knocking him off at Estoril, almost costing the American in 2006 title.

Dovi appears in some memorable discords. Paired with Crutchlow at Tech 3 Yamaha their track battles were brutal, and when I asked Dovi if the pair had friendly relations, he responded “Friends is a big word.”

Dovi and later Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone were bad friends, especially after the latter knocked Dovi down in Argentina in 2016, and more so when Dovi was retained by Ducati in spite of The Maniac’s often better results.

But Dovi’s real ire was preserved for Lorenzo at Ducati over the past two years. Not surprising, when he was getting paid much less for much better results. But 2019 has started very differently with compatriot Danilo Petrucci joining Ducati. The new boy has even moved home to be closer to the senior rider for joint training sessions, and the recent team launch consolidated their pre-season love-in. We shall see how long that lasts.

And we shall see how it goes between new Honda teammates Lorenzo and Marquez. Especially when they start taking points off each other. Jorge has plenty of experience of hostility, not all of it self-generated. At Yamaha, Rossi eventually left the team in disgust.

Marc on the other hand operated alone in the smaller classes, and with unthreatening Pedrosa alongside in MotoGP. And he cannot fail to have observed that since he arrived in 2013, Lorenzo is the only rider to have beaten him to the championship.

This one should be fascinating.

By Michael Scott