With 54 Grand Prix wins and five World Championships to his name, Mick Doohan knows a thing or two about MotoGP™. In this part one of three, Doohan discusses the 2018 season, Marc Marquez’ (Repsol Honda Team) dominance, the battle between Marquez and new teammate Jorge Lorenzo in 2019 and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing).
“It was an enjoyable season for everyone,” began the 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 500cc title winner, speaking in Marquez' hometown of Cervera while filming for a documentary about the Spaniard. “There were plenty of good races and especially Assen, but there was a lot of racing where we didn’t really know. There wasn’t a clear favourite at the beginning of the weekend or before the race on Sunday. Marc always came out on Sunday morning and was pretty strong in Warm Up so that was a good indication, but it was always an exciting race to watch because you didn’t know what was going to happen.
“I think this year has been one of the better years I can remember watching and I certainly tried – I didn’t always have the opportunity to watch but I certainly tried my best to watch it somewhere, whether it was on my phone or whatever! It was a good season.”
Both Doohan and Marquez now have five premier class Championships under their belt, with both the Australian and Spaniard claiming said titles on a Repsol liveried Honda machine. But just how high does Doohan rate the number 93 rider? He explains here:
“I think as a rider you want to keep pushing yourself anyway and the competition will always continue to push themselves to try and beat you, so you can’t rest on what you did last year otherwise the competition will be all over you,” commented Doohan.
“Marc doesn’t come across and never has come across as someone who wants to sit around and be beaten, so whether you call that rediscovery or evolving, whichever way it is he’s certainly done it well this year. His shoulder injury has caused him a few issues towards the end of the season but equally, from the outside, you didn’t know that and I think that’s a sign of a true Champion, to have won five World titles is a testament to how strong mentally he is.
“I think there were seven Hondas on the grid at one point (in his era) because everyone said they needed a Honda, but there was still only one winner! So, I think a rider like Marc is going to make the difference and thankfully with bike racing, ok you need a good machine but the rider is going to make the difference. I think we’ve seen that in the past when riders change manufacturers, they’re either still strong or they’re not so strong. In the past when you’ve seen guys getting decent results and they change brand because they think they need another bike and their results are the same, I think if Marc was to change to a different manufacturer, whichever you want, he could still win.”
There has been talk that if Marquez is to make another step, a move to a different manufacturer is needed. But does Doohan agree?
“That’s bullshit. If that’s coming from his competition, they already know how strong he is on the bike and off the bike so they’re trying to make themselves look better, unfortunately at any period of time there are only one of two guys, from as long as I can remember, who were dominating and Marc is in that position at the moment. I think many of his rivals who have been in the same position haven’t been able to take advantage of the machinery they’ve got, Marc has been able to put his ability to good use along with the capability of his motorcycle.”
So, a perfect rider and bike combination? “Exactly. But equally, I think if you gave him a strong manufacturer as well, another one, he would do the same. You saw that with Valentino, with Eddie Lawson - a strong rider is a strong rider.
“I’m not sure whether it (the bike) needs to be ridden that way but he certainly rides it that way and it’s spectacular number one but it’s also efficient,” Doohan then said, talking about Marquez’ spectacular riding style.
“It doesn’t seem to destroy the durability of the tyres for the duration of the race but you know…I think he has ridden Moto2 similarly so that’s just how he rides. And I think if you want to call it evolution, that’s the evolution of his style that has maybe taken MotoGP to a different level. I think in the late 80s when the bikes were starting to move around a lot, there were only a few people who liked the bikes moving around and would just roll out the throttle. Now he’s taking that to another level again, a lot of people say the guy’s crazy but to him it’s not crazy, it’s just what he does.”
Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig has said in the past that the arrival of Lorenzo is only going to push Marquez more. But how does the Australian see it panning out?
“I think Marc can only get better. He’s 25 years old, so I think if you look at Valentino, not that he’ll talk about him, but he’s close to 40 and still learning so Marc will continue learning. Marc has had a strong teammate in Pedrosa but now he has a multiple MotoGP Champion in Lorenzo pushing him. I haven’t seen any test results as yet but equally, he knows he’s got a serious competitor now on the bike against him, which will motivate him. When I was competing many years ago I never concerned myself with who my teammate was. I’m quite confident that Marc is the same.
“If Lorenzo is in front of him, it’s no different to Pedrosa being in front of him or another bike. At the end of the day, you have to perform day in day out. I think where the strength will come from is that there are two different styles and both guys are very mentally strong, and I think they should be able to build the Honda to a much stronger position, having two guys with that talent on the bikes. It will just help to evolve the Honda to another level. People complaining about the Honda, it will only get worse because the Honda will just get stronger!”
And will we see a new Marquez or Lorenzo in 2019?
“I have no idea but for sure, Lorenzo is in a tough position mentally for himself, but that’s good for him because he now has to beat Marc to put himself in the same storyline as Marc,” muses Doohan. “He’s now got the same machinery, it’s a bit like when Eddie Lawson joined Honda, saying ‘if you had my bike you wouldn’t be anywhere near me blablabla’, and then Wayne Gardner came in with the bike and won the Championship.
“So there’s no more bullshit, it’s ‘ok let’s race’. I think this is one of the reasons why Jorge has taken the challenge, to see for himself, to see if he’s capable of running with him, but also mentally to push himself into that next part of his racing career to challenge himself to compete on the same platform as Marc, but I think the winner out of all of it is going to be Honda. But hopefully there’s going to be some good racing between them, two different styles.”
Marc under more pressure than Jorge? Because Jorge has nothing to lose?
The conversation between the two multiple World Champions continues – who will be under the most pressure this season?
“I think it’s both,” admits Doohan. “Jorge has no more excuses, he’s got the same as Marc. But the only thing is that Marc has history with Honda, knows how to work with them all but Lorenzo is a strong rider, a fast rider and an intelligent rider so I think adapting to the way Honda work will be relatively easy. But there’s no more ‘I wish I had…’ or if only, it’s the same platform and it’s how you set the bikes up.
“If Marc loses to Lorenzo it’s only a win-win because it will only push them two to develop themselves better, with the bike, but for me personally I think Lorenzo is in the position where he needs to work. He’s been racing against Marc now for a few seasons, five or six, so he knows how strong Marc is mentally and his capability on the motorcycle, so he knows how hard he needs to work to compete with him on the same machine.”
Of course, 2018 saw Marquez equal Doohan’s five premier class title tally. But do riders care about stats?
“I thought congratulations,” said Doohan. “I was happy to win the races and win Championships, winning races is what kept me motivated. Statistics is for when you get to my age, to be honest it’s not a motivator.”
And can the rider from Cervera reach nine titles, the same tally Rossi has?
“MotoGP is the ultimate goal, if he stays healthy, winning a number more MotoGP titles should be relatively easy for Marc. To win another two world titles at his stage shouldn’t be a problem!”
Speaking of Rossi, the conversation then moves onto ‘The Doctor’ as Doohan is asked whether or not the competition for Rossi and himself was easier than it is for Marquez.
“You can’t change people’s perception. I don’t know where they expected the competition to come from, the competition is the best in the world at the time so to say the other guys aren’t any good is a bit disrespectful for the other guys who are racing and there were plenty of World Champions, 250 or whatever, racing against Valentino and me…but equally I raced against the Rainey’s, the Schwantz’, the Lawsons…so to same you’re racing guys who aren’t capable of winning is not the right thing either. And Valentino has proven he can race against anybody.
“He’s now 40 years old though! Which is impressive in itself. The only thing that’s changed is that the bikes with the electronics in qualifying mode, and it’s been happening for years in qualifying that it’s getting closer and closer, but come race day there’s still…at the beginning, it’s a bit closer but at the end of the race it’s still two guys or one guy is out there. So I think it’s a different situation with the motorcycle evolving rather than the competition being poor back in the day. But still Marc can come, and Valentino, from 20th on the grid and get to the front – so what does that say about everybody else on the grid? I think the only thing is it’s a bit easier for the bikes to ride so it’s easier for the guys to stay on the pace a little bit longer. But a Marc, or we’ve seen it from Valentino, they can ride bikes when they’re not working so well and others can’t do that.”
And is Doohan surprised about Rossi’s performances as the soon to be 40-year-old gears up for another MotoGP™ campaign in 2019?
“I’m not surprised by his performance but his durability and his want to win and to ride as long as he has…there aren’t too many people globally, no matter what discipline, who push themselves for that long at the top of any sports,” identified Doohan.
“There aren’t many golfers even! He’s amazing, he’s great for the sport without a doubt, a great character and he adds flavour to the race no matter what, if he qualifies poorly he’s still there, and I think that shows the quality of the rider – that the bike perhaps isn’t as good at the moment but he can qualify 12th but come Lap 1…or he’s on the podium! So I think the strength of the Valentino’s, the Marquez’ and one or two other guys is in their mental application and their ability to keep pushing lap after lap after lap and that’s where the other guys aren’t so strong. They’re not as consistent and they’re not as strong day in day out.”
Part two of the fascinating exclusive interview with Doohan can be seen on motogp.com on Tuesday 18th, with the final part being published on Wednesday 19th December.