This last year at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca round of the FIM MotoGP Championship came and went – 2010’s event is now done and recorded in the history books; the season is done and the new one begun. If you watched, attended, or at least read about the California race, you will know that Dani Pedrosa led much of the race after gaining a slight lead on Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo. It did seem that there may be a repeat of the 2009 finish, but it was not to be.
On lap 11, Pedrosa pushed a bit too hard as Lorenzo was creeping up on him and the Repsol Honda rider went down in turn 5. Even after he fell, though, something most of us would never wish on a motorcycle racer as it could result in a career-ending injury or even death, people among the crowd were actually heard to say that they were ‘glad Pedrosa went down’.
On the way in to the ‘Pit Invasion’ for some decent MotoGP podium photos, an obviously intoxicated fan was overheard saying, “I’m so happy Pedrosa crashed – I hate that guy!” This emotion seems rather extreme, especially for a young man from Spain who races motorcycles for a living; he’s not leading a nation to war or during a drought or famine and he has never killed anyone. Why is hatred for this phenomenal performer so prevalent in the MotoGP fan world?
In an attempt to better understand what reasoning may be behind this, we must first look to events in recent MotoGP history.
One potential reason is a rather specific event which comes to us from the 2006 MotoGP season. That was the year that Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi were dueling for the World Championship title. The points situation was tight and any mistake by either one could put the crown far beyond reach. Come 15 October 2006, in the 16th and penultimate round of that year’s series at Estoril in Portugal, it went bad.
Pedrosa was attempting to pass his teammate going into a tight turn 6 on the fifth lap – he went down and took Hayden with him. It was a devastating blow to Hayden’s championship hopes and put him behind Rossi on the leader board for the first time since that year’s third round. It certainly turned the final round into a very stressful affair for both the Doctor and the Kentucky Kid.
Since that collision, much derision has been focused on Pedrosa by mainly American fans of Hayden, but they are not alone. The Repsol Honda team is supposed to be just that – yes, your first competitor is your teammate, but you should never sabotage the chances for the team to get a championship. Thus, you do not take out the guy (or gal, someday) you share your garage with. Honda has a large fanbase, as anyone who has attended a GP will know. This incident incensed those fans as well and still does to some extent.
Repsol Honda, though, is not the only team with some serious fans; Ducati, Fiat Yamaha, Rizla Suzuki, Tech 3 Yamaha, Pramac Ducati, and even Kawasaki, all have acolytes in every corner of the planet. (Other major marques will gain their followers once they get themselves into the series, but the riders usually stay fan favorites no matter the name on the tank.)
This actually leads us away from the 2006 nastiness between Pedrosa and Hayden as being the predominant reasoning – or rationalization – of the feeling towards the Spaniard. It certainly does have an impact for some, but it is simply too small a number of people to account for how widespread this phenomenon is currently.
We have to look further and broaden the perspective at the same time; we need a Hi-Definition image to scour for information. Fortunately, others have already done most, if not all, of this investigation. Moto magazines, editorials and columnists from just about every area of the motorcycle racing press have analyzed Pedrosa himself from just about every possible viewpoint. Even with all of that coverage, though, they have not thus far looked into why he may be disliked so widely – very few have addressed it directly, but they have brought to light another potential cause, which also may qualify as the most logical answer to this question. It has everything to do with attitude and demeanor…image is important, whether we wish it so or not.
Dani Pedrosa is a pupil of the rather driven coach Alberto Puig. Puig has a long and storied career in the Motorcycle Grand Prix series as a rider, team manager and influential voice to Dorna and the FIM. His authority is large and among his other ‘products’ have been Casey Stoner and Toni Elias, both highly accomplished riders.
It is his dedication and focus which leads him to often appear less than happy in public; he often seems distracted and distant. Since Pedrosa has been working with Puig for his entire career, it is very possible that this single-minded, tunnel vision attitude has rubbed off on Pedrosa. This tends to make him appear aloof and arrogant to many, sad and shy to others. Those who see the former view believe him to be something of a prince looking down his nose on his subjects. If this is not at the heart of the image problem Pedrosa has, it is very close to the mark.
Truth be told, though, this is actually a simple problem of perception. Fans see something and draw conclusions from what is witnessed – even if they have no idea of the back-story or the truth behind the scenes. So, is it possible that there are further behaviors which contribute to this twisted vision? To the viewing public, yes there are…
If you had spent time watching him throughout his decade in the World Championship classes, it would be very obvious to even the most casual observer that he rarely smiles. He also seems to have the weight of the entire team on his shoulders – no matter who parks beside him – as he slumps around the paddock when not on the track. Win at any cost is the philosophy he appears to represent and the tactics on the track seem to bear this out in some incidents.
Some have even said that he’s a machine who has been trained day in and day out to ride a motorcycle very fast, and not much more. He doesn’t spend much quality time with the English-language media and usually offers very short and direct answers to questions. Since MotoGP is very popular in Spain, he gets more air time there, but the majority of international fans of the sport do not see that coverage. We in the U.S. only get to see him at the races with his game face on and his mind on the task at hand – a perfectly understandable frame of mind for a man with his mission. It is tough to look happy in that state.
The common thread in all of that is the lack of exposure to much of the world’s MotoGP fans. Only his home fans get to see Pedrosa for himself. It’s doubtful that even those who have this access to the Spanish press – and speak the language – get the whole story. Unless you look close, it is easy to miss some facts about the man.
If you had read about the man – the person behind the helmet and off the track – the fact that Pedrosa is almost painfully shy would be self-evident. He is rather reserved – even quiet – and does not seek attention when he is away from his RC212V, at least not outside of his comfort zone.
To be fair, he has improved on this much over the last few seasons. Pedrosa even celebrated his 2009 Laguna Seca victory in fine style and wore a smile for hours after the race was over; he was uncharacteristically giddy and it made him look better. People still booed, believe it or not, but his fans drowned them out, fortunately (booing at a MotoGP race – sad but true back in 2009).
He did struggle at various points during the final events of 2009, but he finished third overall again and had other happy events along the way. This year he joined in even more pre-race festivities at the many stops of the MotoGP tour. When in California last year, he took the time to join Red Bull on several publicity events including some surfing and a ride in a vertical wind tunnel – like skydiving. Maybe the team’s PR specialist is finally pushing him to get out more?
It is possible that Pedrosa is maturing and starting to see that he needs to be more available to the fans to be seen as more ‘down-to-earth’. We all remember how fans felt about Max Biaggi; now that he is in the World Superbike paddock, he has lightened up a great deal. Biaggi and his Aprilia now have a World Championship. Could a #1 plate help Dani find more fans or at least change people’s minds about him? It certainly will not hurt.
Turing himself into a Rossi-like character would not be a wise move (Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo is doing that already – and now he is shooting t-shirts just like Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards), obviously. But, letting people into his world and being much more accessible will give the fans an opportunity to learn more about him and to see that he has been pushed very hard to perform at his best. His attitude at the track is due to that pressure.
As for Pedrosa, he could use to lighten up a bit and allow himself to enjoy his time abroad. He could smile a bit more, mug it up for the camera, or just give us a little dance once in a while. Any positive change in his behavior will win over more fans. He and his team, including Puig, need to work towards this goal. We know that they can do it – there is not much to it if you are genuine and real with people and secrets can stay secret.
If you are one of those who dislike Dani Pedrosa, why not give him a second chance? Why not take another look and assess his life and career based on his terms and the world in which he lives? Never forget that no one is perfect. And, in fact, most of us are pretty messed up.
All Pedrosa has done is what was expected of him. He has kept himself intensely focused and he has missed out on many of the normal parts of life to be where he is now. So what if he is not much of a smile person? Not everyone is. He is an accomplished racer and a great competitor who has almost always been in the top 3 in any class he has run within. Dani Pedrosa is a bit of an enigma, but don’t hold that against him. At the very least, give him the respect all who achieve his level deserve…and, maybe, a second chance to impress you.
Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com