It hasn’t been an easy 12 months for Jorge Lorenzo, to say the least.
His 2019 season started poorly when he broke his wrist in a training accident and turned into a complete disaster when injury after injury led to him walking away from the factory Honda team after just one year and retiring from MotoGP at the Valencian Grand Prix in November.
It’s fair to say that he’s taken a beating in the past 12 months.
However, he has found a new lease of life since the pressures of competing for world championships were lifted from his shoulders and has now made a triumphant return to Yamaha as its new test rider.
He’s managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and come out of his annus horribilis smiling.
And, sitting down with The Race for his first interview since the events of last November, Lorenzo says that despite all the highs and lows of the rollercoaster ride he’s been through, he’s happy with the choices that have led him to where he is today.
Q. Can you explain how you made the decision to retire at the end of 2019?
Jorge Lorenzo: Before winning in Mugello with Ducati [in 2018], I had a difficult time. I couldn’t get the results I wanted, Ducati wanted to sign another rider and I had to find a solution.
I was in a good moment of my career, I was fast, I was still sharp – but for some reason, I couldn’t get the results and I couldn’t stay in Ducati.
We found the option of going to Petronas Yamaha and it was almost ready to sign – then the opportunity at Honda arrived and I couldn’t say no to them.
One of every rider’s dreams is to race for Honda at least once in your life, and I was lucky that in three weeks I was able to have the chance to do what no rider did in history and win with three different bikes.
But things started wrong with the injury to my scaphoid, and the 2019 bike was difficult to ride.
Injuries came to play a big role and it turned into a big mess.
I was never competitive, I never got good results, and especially the injury at Assen helped make my decision for me. Without that, I would probably have stayed and tried another year, but it changed my way of thinking a lot and retirement became a real thought.
“I was suffering there, and life is for enjoying, not suffering – especially when you’ve won so much” :: Jorge Lorenzo
I tried to come back at Silverstone and see what happened, and if I had found the motivation and the confidence it might have changed things, but I didn’t have the patience to stay without them.
If I’m not able to win then I’m not happy, because the only thing that keeps me going in this profession is the possibility of winning.
There are so many negative aspects of it: the travel, the events, the pressure you feel at races, the possibility of getting injured. They aren’t compensated for unless you’re able to win. I struggled and suffered a lot at Honda, and there was no compensation for it.
Q. In the end, does that mean it was an easier call to make?
JL: It wasn’t easy to make the decision, because I wasn’t able to repay the trust that Honda and Alberto Puig put in me.
But it’s also true that another year like 2019 was something that neither Honda nor I could afford because both of us are winners, not people who finish 10th or 15th.
I was suffering there, and life is for enjoying, not suffering – especially when you’ve won so much.
I don’t have regrets, because there’s no sense to regret things that you can’t change.
But there will always be the question of what would have happened if I had won one month before at Ducati. Probably we wouldn’t be here talking.
But when I look at my career, I can only consider myself a very lucky guy and lucky sportsman. I’m proud of it, and I can’t be unhappy.
Most importantly, my wrist is OK and I have no problems with my back. I had some doubts about the pain in my back, but it’s been fine so far.
Q. How did the deal with Yamaha happen?
JL: Suddenly when I announced my retirement, Yamaha came to me very interested. It looked like the perfect role because I’m able to do what I love and ride bikes, and I can feel part of a project and the feeling of improving things, which has always been nice.
But it’s without the travelling, without the people in the paddock during a grand prix, the pressure that comes with it. I thought ‘why not?’ because it gives me the best of my career without the worst.
Of course, I’ll miss the feeling you can only get as a racer, to win a MotoGP race, but you can’t have everything in life.
I don’t know how I always seem to be in the eye of all the attention, because it happens a lot – when I buy a new car, when I announce my plans!
It sometimes creates a lot of expectations, but I’m just doing what I love – and I feel like at Yamaha now I can have the good things without the bad things.
The feeling is already very familiar again in the team. It’s not that they treated me badly at Ducati and Honda; it’s quite the opposite because they treated me well and gave me their best. I have friends in both teams.
But in Yamaha, there’s a different feeling, and the bike is very familiar-feeling too, especially for my riding style.
Q. You’ve always been a controversial character, but is it fair to say that that’s changed a little in recent months?
JL: I think the main reason that I’ve always had bad comments directed at me is because I’ve been racing against Valentino [Rossi], especially after the polemic of Malaysia 2015 [when Rossi famously clashed with Marc Marquez, who he accused of trying to help Yamaha team-mate Lorenzo in their title fight].
But time is a great healer; humans forget both negative and positive feelings very quickly, and maybe as time has gone on fans have started to understand me a little better or maybe because I’ve changed as a person.
I think maybe some people were touched by my press conference at Valencia last year too, and the response has been popular.
“Marc is a killer, Valentino is a killer, I’m a killer; we all want to win and we never want to give anything to the others” :: Jorge Lorenzo
Now that I’m not depending so much on being an official rider or working with sponsors, I can show more or less whatever I want on social media too. I can show the real life that I live.
It seems that people appreciate it, even if there are some that are a little against it because my real life is about travelling and enjoying myself. Some people have some envy, but I think they’ll get used to it because that’s how my life is going to be now, at least for the moment.
All humans are haters at least a little bit, because envy is a human feeling – and you need to live with it.
Q. Are you excited to be working with Yamaha and especially with Fabio Quartararo in 2020?
JL: Right now, Yamaha is the only team that has three riders that can win races and fight for the championship. Honda only has Marc for the moment, Suzuki only has [Alex] Rins because [Joan] Mir still has to score his first podium. Ducati maybe has three, but Yamaha has more chance to win with their three.
If you know Fabio as a person you know that he never fights with anyone and he’s always smiling.
He changes a lot when he’s in race mode and becomes very electric with a lot of energy, but when he takes off his helmet he’s a very cool kid. I don’t think anyone could dislike him – he’s very easy to love.
Yamaha has a very exciting team for the future now. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever wanted someone apart from me to win! I couldn’t win last year so I liked it when Marc was able to for the team, but now I really want to see Valentino, Maverick [Vinales] and Fabio winning. Hopefully, Franco [Morbidelli] can make the last step as well.
Q. How is your relationship with Valentino now?
JL: It’s very difficult to be friendly with a direct competitor, especially when we’re all killers in MotoGP.
Marc is a killer, Valentino is a killer, I’m a killer; we all want to win and we never want to give anything to the others.
That makes it hard to communicate, to spend time together, or to have empathy for the other. You don’t hate them, but you want them to go as slow as possible and to be able to beat them every time.
When something as emotional as Sepang in 2015 happens, the friction causes a fire and the relationship is even worse.
I’ve always said that with Valentino, the further apart we are the better the relationship we have, at least until now! The best relationship we had in the past was when he was at Ducati or when I was at Ducati.
But we’re closer than ever now, maybe because our shared interest is to see Yamaha winning.
Q. Do you have a plan to make some wildcard appearances in 2020?
JL: For the moment nothing is confirmed, although people have been speaking a lot about Montmelo [Barcelona]. I’ll be there to see the winners of my helmet giveaway, but I don’t know if I’ll be there as a spectator or as a rider.
It’ll depend a lot on my feeling with the bike, because if I’m quite competitive and if I have the pace to finish a race [competitively] then maybe. It’s not the same thing to be fast and to have race pace.
Q. Would success in wildcard races tempt you back full-time?
JL: For the moment I’m happy with the role that I have because I can enjoy life in a way I haven’t for 20 years. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do, other projects and new things.
But in life you never know. After Valencia it was 99% no, and now it’s maybe 98%.
If it’s grown 1% in two months maybe it’ll keep growing in the future, but for now it’s a no.
Simon Patterson on the change in Lorenzo
It’s been a somewhat unusual experience watching Jorge Lorenzo’s transition from MotoGP racer to a retired world champion and then to test rider – and even more unusual to sit down with him at Sepang at the weekend.
To say he’s a changed man is a huge understatement, with the five-time world champion looking like a different person at the minute.
He’s cooler, calmer and more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. Always a different character in private than he was in public while he was racing, it seems that retirement has allowed him to drop his guard and show off his true self more – something that came through in our chat.
He also managed to make a rare transition that it takes most racers a while to do after retirement: honesty when talking to the media. It’s nice to speak with someone who doesn’t shy away from tougher questions!
It’s not just in interviews where he’s more relaxed, though – just take a look at the mirages of him hanging out with Rossi and the rest of the Yamaha team.
He’s clearly found his way back into a squad that treats him as family, and that’s reflected in his attitude too.