Have you detected any desperation in Pedrosa's riding since Marquez's arrival as his teammate?
I think Dani has handled it quite well. I'm sure he's felt some pressure and I'm sure he's watched videos of how Marquez in Barcelona was trying to get around him just on the right side of being out of control. It was one of those situations where, in Pedrosa's shoes, I might have given up the spot and followed Marquez, thinking: “If he's able to race with me, he must be doing things as good as me, and he may be better at some points of the track. Let me follow him for a little while and learn what he's doing, and then find a way back around him.”
That's how I was. I hated racing from the front, because if things were close on pace, the guys right behind me were learning places on the track where I was better and then improving themselves. Meanwhile, I obviously wouldn't be able to watch where they were stronger than me, so I'd be missing out. The perfect scenario for me was to grab the lead on the last turn of the last lap: then my rival 1) didn't know how I got there, and 2) had no time to respond!
But there's another point: I don't think there's a lot of racecraft involved in today's era of MotoGP racing. Everyone knows what they've got, they have their electronics set, their throttle maps are programmed, and then it's down to just turning perfect laps. And I think those perfect laps are easier to produce with the electronics now used. Once, when I was speaking to “Ago” [nine-time 500cc champion Giacomo Agostini], he said, “I was watching you at Spa for all 18 laps and, going through Eau Rouge, you hit different marks 18 times.” I said, “Really? That's pretty sh***y, huh?” And he replied, “No, because you made them all work and as a rider, you're supposed to be trying different things, entering more to the right, more to the left, trying it straighter up the hill, etc. You've always got to be learning, adapting, adjusting.”
Now, there's less improvisation, less learning on the job. And unfortunately the races too often get decided in the first five or eight laps.
Does Pedrosa still feel loved at Honda? I get the impression he needs a cosseting environment, and there's been an (understandably) big fuss made of Marquez.
Well, I can tell you from experience that if you have two really strong riders on the team but one is doing a better job than the other, the far side of the garage is not a pleasant place to be, even if all your friends are still there. It creates a tension that spreads over the whole team. And I remember, those occasions when my teammate had that edge, the weeks between races were the longest of my life. Nothing was right again until I'd re-established myself. I could get beaten by a Honda, or a Ducati or a Yamaha and that would annoy me because I want to beat everyone, right? But if someone beat me on another Suzuki? Hell no! Unthinkable. I had to step up my game.
So I'm sure Pedrosa is feeling that way. The first four races were back and forth between them and currently there's not a fight: Marquez has the edge. And how Dani goes about adjusting that balance of power is going to define him, I think.
Looking at Lorenzo (BELOW, MotoGP photo), there's been nothing wrong with his speed, but once you get injury on top of injury – aside from the sheer physical restrictions – how damaging is that for a rider's confidence?
Oh, I don't think there's much wrong with Jorge's confidence; he's gonna show up at Indy and want to be fastest from the first lap. He'll have had two or three weeks off, and won't have been back on a bike until first practice but he's comfortable enough in his own skin to ignore the people who say he got back on a bike a little quicker than he should have. He's a class act, he'll be strong to the end of the year – and remember, he's only 26 points out of the lead of the championship right now. The Honda, from what Valentino Rossi was saying, is still the better-accelerating bike, but Lorenzo is always a factor.
Well, you seem pretty certain the championship is still up for grabs with nine rounds to go.
Yeah, absolutely. You've got the three big guns slugging it out at the top, you've got the old master Rossi still able to mix it with them at the tracks he really likes, and I think you'll see that again in the second half of the season – not consistently, but I think he'll win one or two more grands prix this year. But the races are often decided by pace in the first five laps and that's where Vale has been struggling a little bit this year. But he's the ultimate spoiler: he won't win the title, but he could probably help decide which way it goes.