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The Fake Smiles of MotoGP

We watched the pre-race press conference at the Circuit of the Americas yesterday with quite an interest, because we were expecting to hear ground shaking news from at least one of the riders. Of course, it was about Jorge Lorenzo and his rumored Ducati move, but it looks like we still have to wait.
However, this press conference revealed another interesting thing - that only two, maybe three of the six riders that attended appeared to feel truly comfortable. They were Eugene Laverty, Valentino Rossi and maybe Marc Marquez. The rest were obviously a bit nervous, looking like they had something to hide. And no, it wasn't that over-focusing pressure ahead of a race. Everybody smiled, but those smiles hid a lot.

For starters, Laverty had all the reasons in the world to feel great. He was in a very select company, surrounded by many World Champions, after the best finish of his MotoGP career, back in Argentina. Last Sunday, Laverty earned 13 points by crossing the finish line in the fourth position.

A twist of fate, for sure, as no less than eight riders were out of the race, but the points are there, and they matter a lot. Plus, Ducati did a great job with the customer bikes they gave to Team Aspar, and Laverty knows that 2016 might be the best year so far for him.

Next, Rossi. The Doctor openly spoke about the fact that he and his team are still looking for the optimal setup of the Yamaha M1. Arguably the best bike on the grid, Yamaha's prototype still isn't in its best trim for Rossi, and he admitted that there's still a lot of work to do.

Even with the second half of the Argentinian round nowhere near what he expected, Rossi seemed relaxed and carefully planning his next moves. He knows that he has an excellent team that will eventually come up with a good setup. He's also set for the next two seasons, and he can exert pressure on his teammate Lorenzo.

Rossi no longer has anything to prove to anyone, save for himself, maybe. He wants a tenth world title and is willing to walk the extra mile to earn it, but knows that nothing catastrophic can happen even if he doesn’t get it. The only moment when he seemed a bit uncomfortable was when the audience asked about Lorenzo's rumored team switch. He only answered "I don't know," and made it clear for everybody that he is expecting others to make a move.

If anything, Marquez seemed alright, but not exactly relaxed. He won in Argentina, but his bike is nowhere near as good as it could be... or was last year, for what's worth. However, unlike the rest of the riders, he looked rather preoccupied with delivering results for the team and making the best out of what life gives him. On the other hand, Iannone, Lorenzo, and Vinales...
The other three riders at the press conference didn't look at all comfortable, and not because of them being at that table. We took turns in looking at them and analyzing their reactions carefully, and their behavior seemed to indicate that changes might be on their way.

Iannone was almost startled and appeared to weigh his words very carefully. If you ask us, it's only now when he begins to realize how big his mistake in Argentina was. We remind you that Iannone crashed one turn before the finish, also taking Dovizioso out, while attacking the second position.

He managed to deprive Ducati of not one, but two podium positions, a massive step backward for the Italian team. Paddock rumors even say that the crash will cost him his factory seat next year, especially if Lorenzo signs with Ducati.

Either way, we could see a lot of pressure on Iannone's shoulders, and the realization of how important his error was. Even when he replied that "the future is now," it seemed like the answer was more or less the only polite way to say "I don't know what will happen, maybe I will be sacked."

Vinales didn't look too relaxed either, but not because of his crash in Argentina. Of course, neither he nor Suzuki were pleased to see the podium escaping their grasp as he washed away in Argentina, but he's still learning, and crashes do come with the job at this point.

Both Suzuki and Vinales would have definitely cheered the podium, but given the progress they've made, they know there's more to come. Even so, Vinales looked a bit alert and, in a way, defensive, obviously, because of all the rumors related to a possible vacant seat at Yamaha.

Maybe even a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of getting to throw a leg over the best bike in the championship, and becoming a factory rider for one of the leading teams. Last but not least, becoming the disciple and wingman of one of the greatest motorcycle riders of all time, Rossi.

Nobody knows exactly what is happening these days behind the closed doors of the MotoGP paddock, but Vinales knows Yamaha has his name on the short list. Lin Jarvis openly spoke about Iwata's interest in Vinales, and the young Spaniard knows that his potential next job will also depend on his performance this season.

Unlike Marquez, who got a shortcut to the Repsol Honda seat and won the two subsequent MotoGP seasons, Vinales has to work his way to a top team, and this means extra pressure on him.

Still, he has nothing to lose, at least not until Lorenzo makes a move. Suzuki looks happy to retain Vinales as contracted rider, and if changes become necessary, it looks like Aleix Espargaro will have to find another job. And if Davide Brivio and his men continue to improve the Suzuki GSX-RR at the same rate as before, we most likely WILL see Vinales battling for the podium each racing weekend.

Finally, Lorenzo seemed the strangest guy in the pack. The "press smile" was one thing, but throughout the entire press conference, it was obvious that he was struggling to withhold something. Now, the rumor mill spins faster and faster and will continue to do so until Lorenzo makes the final call.

Whether in favor of a new ride at Ducati or staying for two more years with Yamaha, we'd put our money on the fact that Lorenzo made a decision, but the teams are not allowing him to speak about it. Call me mad, but his reactions were more in the vein of "f**k you and your inquisitive questions, you'll learn about what I decided when I am allowed to speak."

Even worse, Lorenzo looked like he'd have even paid to be allowed to skip this press conference. Both Rossi and Lorenzo must have expected the type of sensation-seeking questions, but the Italian knew that the media didn't have him in the sights.

Lorenzo looked quite uncomfortable having to endure the entire 37-minute conference and made it clear that tension is mounting in the paddock more than ever.

Will this tension reflect in what is happening on the track this Sunday? It's difficult to tell, but things are clearly making 2016 one of the most intense championships of the last years. Cue the new tires, the spec ECU running the spec software, and cutthroat rivalry between some riders...

MotoGP certainly starts to look more and more appealing, and maybe things will be even better with less crashing. Cometh CotA, and guys, let Lorenzo speak!

 
 
 
 
 

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