“This is a surprising season all round”
Between them Angel Nieto, Jorge Martinez ‘Aspar', Alex Criville, Emilio Alzamora and Sito Pons have won an astonishing 22 World Championships.
The Spanish quintet are therefore well qualified to closely analyse the current
MotoGP state of affairs, with the 2007 summer break having arrived and eleven rounds of the season having taken place.
What is the most surprising thing for you thus far in 2007?
Nieto : “Obviously Ducati and (Casey) Stoner. I think that this is something that has surprised us all; we did not expect this from Ducati and Stoner. Casey did not arrive with a great record – he fell a lot in 250cc – and last year in MotoGP too. Logically he was not among the favourites. But he is having an incredible season and making things difficult for Honda and Yamaha.”
Martinez ‘Aspar' : “I am surprised with the great balance achieved by Ducati, Bridgestone and Stoner. I was convinced that Honda was going to be much higher up. The truth is that this is a surprising season all round. Not one that many people would have been able to predict at the beginning. Not even me! I did not think that what is happening was going to happen either.”
Criville : “It is clear that Stoner`s performance on the Ducati is what has most surprised me.”
Alzamora : “Well, the most surprising is Stoner and his Ducati. People thought he would have difficulties above all on the twisty circuits, but this is not the case. He has been competitive right up to the present day, half a season, at all the circuits, in all conditions, whether in the wet or in the dry, and in complicated training sessions… This is what has been the most surprising.”
“At the same time perhaps the negative surprise has been Dani Pedrosa`s position and where he is now, because I think he is a rider that has what it takes to be higher. He had had a year that few riders ever have and that was in his first season in the top category. But this year he has come across some difficulties and a new bike that even HRC has admitted was wrong, the concept and the MotoGP project, and this means that we are not seeing Dani where he should be halfway through the season.”
Pons : “The truth is that this season is surprising because Stoner is showing great consistency. I think that he has been the revelation of the season. Above all because he is showing a great maturity for his age. It is clear that he was a fast rider, with talent and with a great future, that is what we thought when we thought about signing him up for the MotoGP project, so that he could take a step up.
But now with the Ducati and the Bridgestone tyres, I think that this combination has given him the confidence necessary not to make mistakes and to have this great season.”
Your opinion of the battle between Bridgestone and Michelin in MotoGP. Is it fair that they make so much difference ?
Nieto : “The truth is that for me people speak too much about tyres. Lately it seems they are the reason why some win and others lose. I think that the tyres work when the chassis and all the other components on the bike are in their place. Then the tyre behaviour can always be better or worse, and if the chassis is giving problems they are going to wear down more and the rider will probably not feel comfortable. I think that a machine is the whole, what happens is that the tyres have their importance. Bridgestone and Michelin are fighting to win the championship, another war apart from that of the riders and the constructors. The World Championship is exciting!”
Martinez ‘Aspar' : “We are speaking about a World Championship. The rules are what they are and tyres have always marked the difference when it comes to titles. In any category. With the situation we have at the moment perhaps Michelin is complaining more, because it has always been the one that dominated but now without a doubt it is Bridgestone that is ahead.”
Criville : “I think it is OK. This year it seems that Bridgestone is winning the battle with Michelin, but we have to finish the season. There is nothing decided yet and Michelin of course is pulling the stops out. They are going to work well and are going to win races this year as they have already done.”
Alzamora : “We are in the middle of a complicated year for the constructors and riders, because the new regulations that limit the number of tyres mean that there are changes and we have already seen some this year. I think that Bridgestone, with the experience it had and with the new regulations, is one step ahead. Tyre technology should also be limited a little, because the behaviour of a bike depends a lot on them.”
Pons : “I think that it is just another ingredient to make the championship more exciting.”
Technological progress. Do you think this ruins the spectacle ?
Nieto : “Yes, a little. What happens is that the bikes gain in safety. What I like least is to see riders falling and in this sense technological progress is good. But we do not see sliding as we did in the 2 stroke 500cc category. Traction control is great, but a little of the spectacle has been lost. Although at the same time it is true that it is still spectacular because we see a lot of makes and many riders have a chance of winning. Now some of the races we see in MotoGP are like those in 125cc, with seven or eight riders fighting to win during the whole race.”
Martinez ‘Aspar' : “Well, without a doubt. In some things, without a doubt. I am convinced that the bikes a few years ago were more spectacular and much more difficult to set up and to ride. The latest technology makes everything evolve, but at the same time everything is easier. Therefore I think that it does ruin the spectacle a little.”
Criville : “Yes a little. If you refer to traction control, I think that in this aspect we have advanced with the technology, but we have taken a small step backwards concerning the spectacle. Perhaps it is here where they will have to make a move backwards a little bit.”
Alzamora : “I think that depends on where we look from. Because it is clear that on the one side, all the electronics and technology makes the riding more equal, and with the change in displacement the makes are also more equal. On the one hand this is good because there are more bikes setting the same type of times and more riders in with a chance of winning the championship. But it is also true that the riding skill is less and less important. The rider is always what counts on a motorbike, but there are many aids available now, above all for the traction, with all this new technology.”
Pons : “I do not think so. I think that the races are just as spectacular as they were before. Perhaps they have lost a little bit of the excitement regarding the slides we saw before. But basically the races, if we compare them to any other motorsport, motorbike races are more spectacular, entertaining and exciting than anything else in the motoring world.”
Your preference in terms of 800cc, 990cc or 500cc?
>Nieto : “I think that the 800cc is great, because it is not the 990cc we saw in the last few years. It seems to be a very good size. It is amazing to watch these bikes, both the Ducati as well as the Honda. I have the sensation that the technical side has its evolution and has to be there, just like riders evolve.”
Martinez ‘Aspar' : “I think that it is not a problem of displacement. I think that it is a problem of technology. The evolution from last year to this year is incredible with the 800cc. They are really fast. I do not think that it is a problem of size but one of rules, concerning traction control and other similar things, and not the displacement.”
Criville : “For me the 800cc category is the right one, but as I said before I think that traction control should be eliminated. This bike can be great fun I think.”
Alzamora : “At the moment in all the categories there is a good spectacle. At the level of the final spectacle, I think that 800cc is what is making the championship more equal, which in the end is what the public wants. That there are more riders fighting for the lead and for it to be more equal.”
Pons : “I think that this depends a little on the era and how the technology is developing and evolving. In its time the two stroke 500cc bikes were the most advanced bikes technologically speaking; then came the 990cc and the four strokes. Now what is happening is that four stroke engines with a smaller displacement are being used, without forgetting that all these technological advances are being mounted on standard street bikes.”
Do you think that this year is going to be a turning point for the new generation in MotoGP?
Nieto : “I think that the new generation is here. We have riders like Dani Pedrosa, 21, Stoner also 21... There are very young riders on the way, and it seems that Valentino is now very old, but he is only 28. Moreover, Valentino is a rider who has not really been affected by injuries very much, he in that sense is not running on borrowed time. So when we speak of a new generation it seems that he is not part of it because he is four or five years older. The generational change has been here for some time.”
Martinez ‘Aspar' : “Without a doubt because it started last year and I think it is getting the final touch this year. It is logical and natural. This is life. That is why the new generations are arriving.”
Criville : “It is likely, but it is still not clear to me whether riders like (Loris) Capirossi and (Alex) Barros are going to continue. I think so, they want to carry on and they are the old generation. Perhaps next year is too soon, but riders like (Jorge) Lorenzo will arrive, and we already have Pedrosa. All these are the new generation, where at the moment the king is Stoner. Rossi is also there, although it is not clear whether he is still at the top of his form or he is losing a little of his edge. We will see.”
Alzamora : “In my opinion Rossi is a tough man to beat, so I think that it is not. I think that Valentino Rossi, if he has no problems will win the championship. What is in fact true is that there is a change of generation in the displacement, with young talented riders moving into it, like Pedrosa, Stoner and others who will arrive. There is a new generation, but what happens is that if things turn out like they have to I still think that Rossi is still one step ahead of the rest. Although Stoner has things in his favour, he has a guaranteed chance of winning.”
Pons : “I think that the change of generation in MotoGP started last year, in 2006 and what is happening this year is that this new generation is establishing itself, and this will be even more noticeable in 2008 with the arrival of more youngsters. That will be the definitive moment, which on the other hand is what happens in real life.”