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GP Week : Issue 27
>>GPWEEKOPINION Toys out of the pram: MotoGP reacts ... and how! Michael Scott MotoGP editor Michael Scott MotoGP editor MOTOGP has reacted with outrage to the shock news after last weekend’s race at Misano that Dani Pedrosa has thrown his Michelins out of the pram. It didn’t really matter who you spoke to. The overtones of the tail wagging the dog at Honda and the undertones of bullying tactics by Repsol left everyone aghast. Not least Nicky Hayden, whose initial off-the-record response was a predictable enough: “Hey, I want Bridgestones too!” According to Honda at the very lively post-race Press Briefing, this hadn’t been considered: Nicky hadn’t asked forcefully enough. Just another example of how the 2006 World Champion (Honda’s only one since Rossi left them at the end of 2003) has been sidelined. He has been ever since Pedrosa joined the squad at the start of 2006. Even in that year, the year of his triumph over Rossi, Nicky was used as a test rider, on a diminutive prototype for the next year’s new 800cc machine, while Pedrosa had the final summit development of the once-dominant RCV 990. Perhaps the outrage was a bit over the top – it’s not the first time it’s happened. Suzuki forcefully negotiated its way out of a Dunlop contract and back onto Michelin after just two races in 2002, largely at the behest of its own ex-champion Kenny Roberts Jr. Even earlier than that, his father’s team had done something similar with Luca Cadalora on the factory Marlboro. Wearing Dunlop stickers, they used a Michelin front tyre – the so-called ‘Michelop’ year. Both of these rebellions were rider-led. Much of the new outrage had more to do with who was involved, and the way it was done. Pedrosa, morose and excessively self-contained, is not popular in the paddock, even among his compatriots. The cheer from the Spanish bloc in the media centre when Lorenzo passed him at Misano was redoubled when yet another Spaniard, Toni Elias, did the same a lap or two later. It doesn’t stop there. A helmet trader recently told me that Dani replica helmets were a drug on the market: had to let them go half price in the end. But it’s not the little feller’s job to be popular. He’s employed to beat Rossi and Stoner, something he’s managed successfully on several occasions. His lightning starts and runaway rides are legend – although not very exciting to watch. It’s the guy behind Dani that gets the deepest opprobrium: former GP winner Alberto Puig, Dani’s mentor, tutor and Svengali. Puig has carved himself a hugely powerful position within Spanish racing, which means within MotoGP. The driving force behind the junior Telefónica teams of the past, and of the Dorna Academy, he is also employed by HRC within the factory team. At first he even suborned the title “Crew Chief” from legitimate holder Mike Leitner, though that titular injustice at least has been corrected. Just how, the question is asked, did Alberto – whose grim and humourless mien is obviously the model for Dani’s own public face – get so much power with Honda? How could he persuade them into this shame-faced mid- season revoking of a contract? A contract to which they had publicly expressed unswerving loyalty less than one year ago. Well, he has powerful friends. Dorna, of course, and Repsol. The Spanish petrol company has hitherto been a steadfast, loyal and even benign sponsor to Honda, prepared to take the rough with the smooth, and tolerating the bad years by taking the long-term view. Hand in hand with the dreaded Alberto, however, and with a nod from Dorna, Repsol leapt enthusiastically into the role of playground bully. Riders always take the short- term view. They have short- term careers, and are only really interested in the next race. Understandable. That is why they are not generally given the leading role in deciding important contracts. Dani and Alberto (never think of Dani as operating alone in any matter other than operating the throttle, even in choosing his own lunch!) have turned that upside down, and HRC is right to be embarrassed. And the rest of us are right to be outraged. 21 opinion opinion