“I prefer to win on the track – not because someone let me pass”
The contenders and pretenders to the throne throw out some key talking points at Motegi
Thursday, 22 September 2022
Thursday of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan threw up plenty of talking points, with two Press Conferences. The first was the three riders split by just 17 points: Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing), before the second saw MotorLand winner Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) joined by eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu).
Here are some key quotes!
How are you feeling physically after your Aragon crash?
“Good. Today I had my first training, so it was okay. It’s just abrasions, so it’s a little bit painful but I think on the bike it’s not going to be a big issue. For sure, it’s going to be burning, especially in the first session, but I think it’s not going to be a problem riding the bike.”
Does being strong on tracks like Red Bull Ring and Aragon, despite past struggles there, give you confidence for Motegi?
“At the end, at every track, we are competitive. If you check also Red Bull Ring, also Aragon at the end, in the past, I’ve never been competitive there, and this time I had pretty strong pace. Unfortunately, my race ended quite soon, but I think, on the pace, there is no track that we are not fast at. But of course, then there are also some circumstances where we are struggling to overtake, so I think this track is quite good, because I’ve been super strong here in the past, and I’m looking forward to be back, because I have some really good memories here.”
Does the Mandalika race give you confidence in case it is wet?
“Yeah, especially also because I think in 2019, the grip level here was really high. I remember also I raced with Marc and Dovi, they were super fast. So, the more grip there is on the track, the better for us, and as you say, Mandalika was super good, so I think there is no reason now to have a kind of fear about having a wet race. Of course, I enjoy it more in the dry, but I think there is not a big issue if it’s rainy.”
How are you thinking about the Championship now that your lead is only 10 points?
“At the end, what can you do? I think right now, with 17 points around all three, I will not see it’s the beginning of the championship and everyone is pushing like hell, but I think all three, including Enea, want the Championship. But especially, having only 17 points between us three means that we will push ourselves to the maximum and in the end I think it’s nice.”
Did you decide on an artist name after the factory visit?
“Not yet, but I’m starting to make a few things… [Bagnaia: Diablo is already taken!!] I know! I have to try to find a new name, but actually, I had 12 hours on the plane so I was already playing with the computer and I liked it. It was really fun to visit, especially Yamaha music, because I never expected it was that big, and it was really fun.”
Ready for Motegi?
“I’m happy to be here. It’s one of my favorite and best tracks. It means the start of the flyaway and it’s one of my favourite layouts. For sure the conditions and situation is completely different to 2019 when I was a rookie and I was struggling with my bike. So I think this year can be good, I really like the layout so it suits our bike very well. I really like braking so on the brakes we can be competitive.”
How strong is the Ducati?
“It looks like we are normally the bike to beat. Our bike is the most complete. This track for sure is great but we have seen in Austria that normally we are the fastest, but Fabio can stay with us. It is important to do the correct decision about the feeling of the bike and we have to consider the conditions cause it looks like it can rain.”
On the weather and the challenge:
“In this moment I’m not thinking too much on the Championship because five races is still a lot and everything can change still. I would like to do my work as always and try to be competitive. It’s true in the wet I’m not the fastest, and I struggle always. In Indonesia I finished 15th. It will be important to have more sessions on wets if the race is on wets to help understand the conditions.”
And what about team orders?
“Sincerely I don’t think I need help to be at the front. I prefer to win on the track and not because someone let me pass. In any case, I’m not part of this decision, it is something where I have already said my desire, which is let me do what I want to do. If they decide something different, it’s not something about me. I will be racing; I will try to be in front and I will try to win. Just like I did in Aragon and in Misano.”
Was Aragon the perfect time to get back on the podium and restore confidence and momentum?
“Yeah, it has been good to be back on the podium. Especially, it has been an extra boost of confidence. I struggled in Misano and Austria and I was quite satisfied about my performance, to finish in sixth place in difficult circuits in MotoGP today is not that easy, so it was okay. But to finish on the podium, especially after a very difficult weekend with two crashes on Friday, being out of Q2… It was not an easy weekend for me but to manage and put the bike on the podium on Sunday was great.”
Will straight-line braking be a concern this weekend given it is a weakness of the Aprilia?
“I think, during the Misano test, we improved a little bit in that area, and it’s really related to the track grip. It also depends on which rear tyre we have. So, I’m not really worried. It’s a long time since we raced here in Motegi, but it’s a track that I like and anything can happen. It looks like the weather conditions will not be the best ones, so it’s going to really be about how you can adapt to these conditions as well as possible. The programme will be different because we will not have Free Practice 1 in the morning, so it’s going to be different, a tricky weekend.”
Does your extra MotoGP™ experience give you an advantage here?
“I don’t think it’s going to count so much. I mean, I was watching the ’19 race yesterday and Fabio did a super good race, always just one second from Marc in his rookie year, which is difficult to do, and Pecco also raced once. But we raced both in smaller classes, so we know the track, the bike has changed so much from ’19, we have a lot of new items on the bikes, we have a new carcass on the Michelin tyres, so I think it’s going to be quite new for everybody.”
Are you feeling the pressure of fighting for a Championship for the first time?
“I have to say at, let’s say, the middle of the season, when I started to finish on the podium in every race, I started to feel some pressure because I realised I had some chance to fight for this title until the end. But now, I’m a little bit more relaxed, I’m enjoying this year a lot – with my family when I’m not racing, also when I’m racing – every single minute of this year, I will not ever forget in my life, so this is why I feel relaxed. I know I will have my chances, so I’m just trying to do the same that I did from Qatar: make no mistakes, enjoy it as much as possible, and be relaxed.”
Did you expect any more chaos on minibikes this weekend?
“It will be nice, small chaos is more fun. The last pre-event here was a fun one, but yeah, MotoGP is MotoGP, everything can happen, we saw it with Fabio’s crash on the first lap in Aragon, for example. He was leading the Championship, always struggling in Aragon, and then he had super strong pace and then he crashed in the race. So, everything can happen, you have to be relaxed, try to handle everything in the most positive way possible, and let’s see how this weekend is because we have to deal with many new things and it’s been a long time since we raced in Japan, different schedule, strange weather conditions, so it’s going to be fun.”
Motegi seems to suit the Ducati…
“I’m very happy about last weekend in Aragon. It was one of the best weekends of my life, from Friday I was very fast and it was very important for us. Now it’s Motegi, a beautiful track with lots of hard braking, I like it, but it will be hard as I never tried the MotoGP at this track. I have to use FP1 to learn from riders with experience here, like Marc and Taka. I twill be important to be competitive in QP, like always, because it is the key now to MotoGP.”
You’re a “Motegi rookie” in the premier class. Does this weekend make it more of a level playing field?
“Yeah, I think, I don’t know if it is an advantage to have not tried a MotoGP bike here. From 2019 to now, MotoGP bikes are very different, its more aerodynamic, the rear device and this can change the cards on the table. I don’t remember a lot, from 2019 in Moto2, it was my first year also….this in my career. I’m prepared to start.”
Now you’re 48 points off Fabio, do you still have Championship hopes?
“I think my chances are really, really small. I haven’t lost it for the moment. We will see what happens in the future. It is important to do great races like Aragon and Misano and I think after the summer break I have made a good step. This is the most important for us. I try to do my best every week to arrive at the end of the Championship in a good position.”
And what about team orders?
“Also in Misano, I haven’t had any team orders from Ducati at the moment, and this is good because I also have a small chance at the Championship. I have to use this to do always 100% in the race. In the last part of the Championship, we will see if I have some team orders or not. I’m not stressed now!”
How is your hand?
“To be honest, my hand is not the best feeling of course. On Monday, I had surgery in Barcelona. Only a few days to recover 100%. After the race, I understood that my hand was pretty bad, so I was expecting it will be a really, really tough home race this weekend. Actually, at least I got the green light for FP1 but I have to check again and we will decide to continue or stop after that.”
What about the Lap 1 Aragon drama?
“Well, it’s difficult, I tried to overtake Marc at Turn 7, and I lost the line slightly, and he tried to overtake again on the exit. He was clearly in front of me. It looks like when he activated the device the bike went to the left, in such a short time, I tried to elbow out to avoid contact but it was impossible. That moment I realized it wasn’t Marc’s fault, it was an unlucky racing accident. 0% I never got angry with him, it was unlucky, I got injured but this is life. It could have been worse, I hit him twice, but the first one I was already out of control. I cannot imagine the first one going to the right, I was trying to stay on the bike but it was full throttle, the second one I already crashed and was on the floor. Thank god all the riders behind avoided me. I was lucky. I will try to recover and let’s see how FP1 goes.”
Thoughts on the weather?
“Yeah, normally everyone hopes for sunshine for riders and fans. Looks an unstable weather forecast. A couple of days ago a big typhoon came and the weekend looks pretty bad. Physically, rain could be a help because of less force in the braking, but it will be better. I feel sorry for the fans, after 3 years, all the riders and fans have been waiting for this weekend. Apart from injury, hopefully good weather this weekend.”
Thoughts on the Kalex swingarm?
“As you say, I tested the aluminum swingarm at the Misano Test. It was pretty comfortable and I like it. Then Marc had it in Aragon and he had a positive feeling I believe. This weekend I will have the swingarm according to the plan. This hand and this performance, if it will be a help or not. First I. have to check the level of performance with my hand, and if I am able to continue, then we will try during the weekend.”
We’re back in Japan for the first time since 2019. How special is it?
“Really important. Today already I met a lot of fans and friends in the paddock so it’s an amazing feeling. The feeling is it is my home GP, I can talk Japanese in the paddock. This gives me a lot of positive energy. Of course, I prepared a special helmet for this weekend as always in Japan. Now is Autumn, so I tried to design it in a traditional Japanese Autumn design.”
Do you expect Motegi to be a more demanding physical challenge than Aragon?
“Yeah, of course, Aragon was already really demanding for, especially because the Misano test is one thing but the intensity especially in a race weekend is different. Here in Motegi will be the first time that there is a big stress to the right arm, because there are many braking points – long braking points, hard braking points – and right corners, so I will need to manage the situation well, and my physical condition. In Aragon, I said that maybe Sunday will not be a problem; maybe here, yes; but I will understand straight away when I go out in FP1.”
Is it frustrating that the Aragon crash and potentially rain at Motegi will make it difficult to test yourself and the bike?
“Yeah, of course, the target of the Aragon GP was to try to do some kilometres and try to finish the race, but unfortunately I just did one lap after an amazing start. I was disappointed, especially because I felt ready. On race pace, I was not bad, it was my strongest point, and I managed the tyres on that race track – I feel really good when the tyres drop – but anyway, it was like this. It was unlucky, but at the same time, lucky, because in both situations, we were lucky that nothing happened. Now it’s time to focus here in Motegi. It will be different, it will be damp conditions. It’s true that we have more races to try the things in Honda, but it’s an important weekend because it’s one of our test circuits and the test team is working a lot here, but we will continue our way and just try to work for 2023.”
How did you assess your Aragon performance and could you ride the bike in a more natural way?
“It’s true that in Aragon, I was struggling a lot in the morning practice, but then in the afternoon practice, I felt much better. I was struggling a lot in the natural position on the bike, but then in the afternoon, it was much better. Now, single laps, I can ride like I want, but the problem is that still I need more muscle to keep that riding style for more laps, and we are looking to arrive at that level in these next races.”
Have you met directly with senior management at HRC or will you meet them this weekend?
“Yeah, it’s important to be back in Japan because sometimes you have some emails, some phone calls, but face-to-face is completely different, and it was important to visit all HRC and check what they are doing, and especially motivate them. At the same time, you see the President and all the important people who are there. They know already where they are, they know where they want to arrive, and I’m here to help them to come back to the top.”