Monday, March 5, 2007

Just What The Doctor Ordered - jonnyboy71

The ultimate measure of the greatness of Ayrton Senna is that people remember where they were and what they were doing when he died on the Tamburello corner at Imola in 1994. Judged on that scale, he’s somewhere between JFK and Princess Diana. Both sexes remember the death of the former; if you remember the latter, you probably own one copy of the Scissor Sisters’ album Ta Dah for every room in the house.

Senna’s death in 1994 threw a blanket over Formula 1 racing for the next decade and, despite Michael Schumacher dwarfing his achievements statistically (7 F1 titles vs. 3, 36% of races won vs. 25%), the German never dispelled the perception that the Brazilian was the better racing driver.

Indeed, Schumacher was one of Senna’s victims in the rain-sodden 1993 European GP at Donnington, when Senna entered the first corner of the race in 5th place but ended the first lap in the lead. Alain Prost and Damon Hill also saw him indicate and pull out. Technical excellence beaten comprehensively by natural talent and a racing mentality.

So, that’s it then. Surely it’s pointless watching motor racing now?

Not this year. This is the year that Nicky Hayden starts the MotoGP season wearing the number 1, the same number which belongs to Valentino Rossi, who has held the title since before very small men starting racing really big bikes.

Rossi has ruled MotoGP since the top division went up from 500cc to the full litre in 2002; first, with Honda and then, when that no longer required any effort, on Yamaha’s commuter bike. He has won 48% of the races he’s started, seeing off comedy nemesis Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau along the way. With no real challenges left, all that remained for him at the ripe old age of 27 was another five seasons, maybe winning on a 250cc Hungarian quad bike with a puncture. Small wonder that he was dreaming of the World Rally Championship, or of playing pit stop in F1 cars.

But that all changed last year when Hayden survived the divine wind of his own team mate, Dani Pedrosa - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0DSG63BBuE – to snatch the title away from Rossi in the last race. Although Hayden enjoyed as much good fortune in 2006 as Rossi enjoyed bad, this is not a one-off, a last hurrah at the end of a mediocre career; the American is 25, a full 3 years younger than Rossi. This looks like a real rivalry in the making.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the poor old Doctor, Honda Gresini have re-signed Marco Melandri and the outrageously talented-slash-suicidal Toni Elias, who gave Rossi the race of his life at Estoril to pip him by 1/500th of a second after the most exciting lap of racing you will ever see - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIDsSmv2Jus. Repsol Honda have wisely stuck with Dani Pedrosa as Hayden’s stable mate, although they might consider issuing team orders this year on occasion. These three riders are 24, 23 and 21 years old, respectively. They are on what is likely to be the best ride, the Honda RC212V.

Speaking of bikes, this is also the year that the FIM has addressed MotoGP’s fundamental technical problem: how an 8 stone rider like Pedrosa gets more than 240 bhp of power onto the tarmac through one wheel. Teams were actually de-tuning the 990cc bikes last year. This year, they’re down to a lighter 800cc. This means later, harder braking, quicker handling, higher corner speeds… plus Rossi v. the Next Generation?

Don’t miss the first MotoGP of the season in Qatar on March 10th.

17 comments:

MotM said...

Jonnyboy - I was intending to write a Big Blogger piece previewing the MotoGP season for Friday's comp! Now you've done it and much better than I would.

Might still do a straight preview for Friday - I'll use this for inspiration!

Ebren said...

MAx Biaggi is not a comedy rival.

Okay - Doohan vs Rossi?

I'm going Doohan.

Jimmy said...

I don't really get motor sports. I have no idea how engines work. I dont know what all that cc business refers to. And as for torque - wasn't he one of The Monkees?

But this was a nice bit of writing, covering two subjects in a small space. Competition is sport's very soul. Lance Armstrong's biggest problem in the sporting deity stakes is that his rivals crumbled before him, and he lived for one race. Federer has a 'just too good' problem as well, whereas I think Tiger Woods has to work pretty hard to stay ahead of a reasonably impressive pack. Although a top jockey will often get one of the better horses in a race, I'm always impressed by that skill - to win regularly despite the many variations each time they compete.

bluedaddy said...

By the way. 'Jimmy' is Bluedaddy. It's a blogger.com thing that always wants me to be my son, as he blogs here too.

jonnyboy71 said...

Mick Doohan over Rossi, Ebren? Schmoley. You're on your own there. That's like saying Mansell over Senna.

Cheers for the kudos, chaps. MotM, have a pop this Friday - I'm going to vary my approach too.

MotM said...

Good though Doohan was, it's an easy call for Rossi vs Doohan.

But how about Ago vs Rossi?

Ebren said...

Fair enough - I just remembered the mid-nineties glory that was Doohan. He was untouchable. That is also when my memories of the Roman Emperor stem from. I remember in 1998 they were both four-times world champions going head-to-head for their fifth straight title. Valentino was a 17-year-old who used to celebrate winning races by doing a lap of honour with a blow-up sex-doll as a pillion passenger.

Ahh, memories.

mimi said...

Max was always comedy, on and off the track. I'm looking forward to how he fares in WSB this season.
Mouth/ebren: I've said it before and I'll bang on about this everytime the question of X vs Y is raised. You CANNOT compare riders, drivers, whatever sportsperson across the ages. Too much changes. All you can do is dream of seeing such as Ago and Rossi in the same race on the same bikes. I couldn't call that one.

jonnyboy71 said...

Ago, Hailwood... all great to see... but the '71' portion of my monicker refers to my year of birth, so I was more intent on the tit than the TT for the last part of Ago's career.

Max is doing OK in WSB, came 3rd and 4th at Phillip Island. He's running his usual 'toy with opposition like mice, get distracted and lose' strategy. Bayliss and Toseland look like the front-runners, Corser and Haga not far behind.

mimi said...

Jonny: do you know if there's any tv coverage (outside Sky/Eurosport) for WSB this year?

jonnyboy71 said...

ITV has BSB but not WSB, and it's unlikely that the BBC will cover WSB with Perry etc. doing the motoGP. Makes you wonder exactly what the BBC bid for - athletics? No other broadcaster in the world has their financial muscle: £2 billion in licence fee, another £1 billion borrowed every year... and they still can't cover sport for shit. Oxford University TV, as Kelvin Mackenzie so astutely said.

MotM said...

mimi - Whilst it is impossible to say "who's better" when comparing sportsmen / women from different eras, it is such fun. I don't remember much of Ago, but, like Hailwood, to have won on so many machines on so many circuits for so long meant he was good, really good.

Rossi is so obviously a genius on the machine because he can win in so many ways and often gives the impression of sitting back to make it more interesting (as JB points out). His tyre wear alone shows that he goes very quickly with the softest of touches.

I remember reading somewhere that a team set out to define Fangio's genius. Faster in the corners? On the straights? Protecting tyres? No. When they checked the odometers, Fangio covered less distance in a Grand Prix - he saw lines others didn't, like Senna in the wet and Rossi setting up a pass.

JB - The BBC's TV sports coverage is shameful. They couldn't wait for Sky to come in to make the excuse that they were outbid. I don't think I watch BBC television at all outside the Football World Cup.

jonnyboy71 said...

MotM, it's always the same story with the BBC - lowball any event then wait for people to prod the government to exclude commercial channels from certain events.

A great example was the Heineken Cup - they came in with a seriously nothing bid after Bath won it in 1997, and not surprisingly, it went to Sky. Who then proceeded to cover it as a sport, not as a cultural anachronism. The irony of this is that many rugby watchers (not the full 8 million who watched the England-Ireland game, but nonetheless...) are either serious sports freaks who already have Sky, or people like my Dad who played when he was younger and can afford Sky's Sports package now.

As soon as I hear John Inverdale start crapping on about the latest personality, I go and have a smoke, do a few 'woosah's. Eddie Butler is a company man through and through as well. The only saving graces are Jiffy and Austin Healey, both of whom call a game brilliantly and don't indulge in media marketing of certain players. Give me Sky any day of the week.

martin said...

just testing to see if i can log in...

Laguna said...

Enjoyed that piece.

I love the phrase "the outrageously talented-slash-suicidal Toni Elias".

It depicts my favourite concoction of rider-attributes.

There is nothing like that heart-in-mouth feeling you get, when your heart stops - just for a second - and you feel that tiny bit nauseous, as you see one of those aforementioned riders (Elias, Melandri & Pedrosa are worst for it) pull-off a quite frankly death defying passing manoeuvre, in a place on the track where they seemingly have no right to! - You simply blink and say: what made them try to do that? and how did they safely succeed?!... I must admit, I spend much of the race cursing them to stop, so as to finish the race alive!

Yet they are so blase to the risk. I wish I could remember or find the exact quote. But after the horrific pile-up that saw Melandri knocked unconscious, he was back to race again immediately after. And the doctor said something like "... If he was a normal person then I would advise X-weeks of rest. But because he is a rider, he wants to get back as soon as possible." The fact that, as a rider, he is therefore 'abnormal' put a smile on my face for days... Then again, he raced next with a swollen face and internal head trauma. Indicative of some sort of inhuman characteristics...

It is that 'fag-paper' balance between bravery and stupidy - interspersed with a bit of talent.

But I wouldnt have it any other way.

"Craziest Rider" nominations, anyone? Isn't it a toss-up between Elias and Melandri?

slimjim68 said...

Liked the piece Jonny, but I think Pedrosa's going to push Rossi harder than anyone - I wrote something last week to that effect but missed the deadline.
Pedrosa's a midget but he's been working hard on his upper body strength and I think the drop in bike weight will suit him. He's a tough nut too and I think he'll have learnt from last year's mistakes - that Estoril wipeout was a shocker.
Agreed on the BBC - they're a disgrace. All that licence money and all they can do with it is come up with crappy channels that nobody watches.

jonnyboy71 said...

Ta, laguna (seca?) and slimjim.

Albert Puig (grandaddy of Catalan biking and mentor of Elias) has said that Honda pushed through the reduction to 800cc to suit 5'2", 52kg Pedrosa, who was like an ant on an elephant when astride the 990cc RC211V. Jerez qualifying shows that either Pedrosa is an ace rider, or that Puig is right and the change really suits.

The fact that Vale managed to squeeze out a new lap record for Jerez means that it's going to be hyper-competitive. The Yammy looks pretty good, Edwards is up there as well. Gresini Honda don't seem to have got the set-up right for Melandri and Elias, although Marco was leading after the first day...

Should be a great season, anyway, only 4 days away!

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