Our snapshot of Repsol Honda’s Spanish veteran and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 season.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
Assessing Dani Pedrosa’s MotoGP career is almost as difficult as securing a ticket for race day at Mugello when Valentino Rossi is in the championship mix – not completely impossible, but damned hard work. The Repsol Honda rider has won 52 races across all the world championship classes; only eight other men have won as many or more Grands Prix in a series that dates back to 1949. His quality is undeniable. But the flipside? Pedrosa has been at the sport’s best (or at least second-best) squad for all 11 of his MotoGP seasons and hasn’t won the title – and three of his teammates over that time (Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez) have. It’s a statistical conundrum that makes his upcoming season all the more interesting – so here’s what’s in store for 2017.
Perhaps it’s his diminutive frame (160cm, 51kg), but you can’t help but double-check Pedrosa’s date of birth when you realise he turns 32 in September. A one-time 125cc champion (2003) and double 250cc champ (2004-05), Pedrosa has won races in all 11 of his premier-class campaigns and has finished championship runner-up three times. His place in history? Consider that Mick Doohan, one of the best ever to do it, won two more races in his career than Pedrosa’s 52 and counting.
What he did last year
Last year’s switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres was one that was supposed to benefit Pedrosa, the extra grip provided by the Michelin rear expected to suit his signature sweeping riding style. What wasn’t in his favour was the weather, 2016 seeing an unusually high number of races held in either wet or cold (or both) conditions. When track temperatures were low, the small Spaniard struggled to get any heat into his tyres and was nowhere, especially as the Honda was notoriously slow out of corners. Misano and the San Marino GP (held on a track surface that was a roasting 43 degrees) saw Pedrosa in his element, storming through from eighth on the grid to win, but he fell in practice at Motegi two races later, busted his right collarbone, and missed three of the final four races.
What changes in 2017?
A change of luck would be high on Pedrosa’s wish-list; only twice in the past seven years (2012 and 2014) has he been able to complete the entire season without falling victim to serious injury. Job security isn’t an issue – Pedrosa was re-signed by Repsol Honda until the end of the 2018 season last May – while behind the scenes, crew chief Giacomo Guidotti (who was Scott Redding’s right-hand man last season) replaces Ramon Aurin, who worked with Pedrosa from 2012 onwards and will now team up with fellow Honda rider Jack Miller.
Number to know
One win in 2016 equalled 2014 as Pedrosa’s worst year since his rookie season in the world championship on a 125 (2001), while sixth overall was his lowest finishing position in 11 MotoGP campaigns.
We’ll go with ‘rivals’, plural, as it’s hard to separate Pedrosa’s horrendously bad luck and Marquez in this space. A year without significant injury would be the second-best outcome besides taking the title, while everything Pedrosa achieves will be analysed through the lens of what Marquez does on the sister Repsol Honda. Only once, in 2015, has Pedrosa finished anywhere close to Marquez in the end-of-season points tally, which had plenty to do with the world champion crashing out of one-third of the 18 races that year.
Pedrosa simply can’t afford a start to 2017 that mirrors last season, where he made just one podium in the opening six races, a gifted third in Argentina that owed itself to Andrea Iannone taking himself and Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso out on the final lap. The majority of Pedrosa’s 14 race victories over the past five seasons have come in the second half of the year, so simply being in contention by the mid-year break after the German GP in early July has to be the aim.
An early injury or a Marquez blitzkrieg in the Qatar-Argentina-Austin flyaways to start the season would be bad news for Pedrosa. While he’s contracted to Honda for the next two seasons, a slow start would only increase the noise as to who would inherit his prize seat for 2019, such is the interest in Honda’s long-term plan on who to place alongside Marquez.
A better season than 2016? Yes. A title rival for Marquez, let alone Rossi on a Yamaha and perhaps the likes of Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales? Unlikely. A top-three championship result would represent a strong bounce-back campaign.