MotoGP: Dani Pedrosa on his decision to retire, his 2012 championship agony and the endless battle with injuries

Exclusive interview: The most successful rider never to win a top-class title talks to Jack de Menezes about hanging up the leathers at the end of the season

Jack de Menezes
Thursday 06 September 2018 18:11 BST
Dani Pedrosa will ride off into retirement at the end of the 2018 MotoGP season
Dani Pedrosa will ride off into retirement at the end of the 2018 MotoGP season (Getty)

MotoGP is not a spot to hang around in. The whole point of it is to come first, and when a rider knows that their time is up, their time is up. That’s very much the case with Dani Pedrosa heading into this weekend’s San Marino Grand Prix in Misano.

The 32-year-old will retire at the end of the season after 18 years with Honda in world championship racing, 13 of which have come in the premier class, and he will depart a three-time world champion from his early-career successes in the 125cc and 250cc classes.

Pedrosa will also leave MotoGP as one of the most successful riders to never win a title in the top class, but if there was a time to go, it’s certainly now. Pedrosa’s results have deserted him this year, and after finishing inside the top four in the world championship for 10 of the last 12 seasons, the Spaniard suddenly finds himself down in 11th, the lowest championship standing at this point of the season in his career.

That’s why it’s no surprise to hear Pedrosa admit that retirement has been on his mind for quite some time, much more than his recent results suggest. The Honda looked to be the strongest bike on the grid at the start of the year and is very much the second best right now behind the Ducati, yet Pedrosa has not finished higher than fifth this season and for the first time in MotoGP he has not won a race, let alone stood on the podium.

“It already started three years ago, already thinking about it a little bit, but of course the idea doesn’t have the shape so it adjusts with time, either more shape or less shape finally,” Pedrosa tells The Independent. “At the start of this season I had a few more thoughts and at the end I decided it was the right time.”

Dani Pedrosa reflected on his 18-year motorcycle career, his championship wins, near-misses, injuries and what he plans to do next year
Dani Pedrosa reflected on his 18-year motorcycle career, his championship wins, near-misses, injuries and what he plans to do next year (AFP/Getty)

He also explained how his 2018 season unravelled after three big crashes at the start of the year knocked his confidence, not to mention his body, and ever since he has lacked a good feeling on his Honda machine that has led to poor results – compounding the argument that he has mentally checked out.

There’s no doubt that Pedrosa isn’t enjoying MotoGP anymore, but in a sport where the only thing between safety and suffering potentially life-threatening injury is the ability to hold on onto a rocket at over 200mph, you can never fully check-out until the leathers are hung up for the final time. But there was a time, not so long ago, when Pedrosa still had the passion burning deep within.

The Spaniard has been part of the Honda family for consecutive 18 years
The Spaniard has been part of the Honda family for consecutive 18 years (Getty)

In 2012, Pedrosa came within a whisker of winning the championship. Locked in a ding-dong battle with compatriot Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha, Pedrosa went to Misano with a slender lead in the world championship, and promptly stuck the Repsol Honda on pole position. In the form of his life, his race would unravel in a bizarre set of circumstances.

“One thing for me that was very, very, very disappointing was in 2012 when I had this stupid penalty in Misano,” he explains. “Basically one guy [Karol Abraham] had a failure on his bike, twice, and they delayed the start because of his bike failure. Then during the [restart] process, something happened with my bike, not a failure but something happened, so they didn’t fix it in the time that is scheduled for the grid procedure and at the end the story was that because of the failure of somebody else I was last, the guy that had the failure on the bike did start in fifth position after delaying the start.

“It’s ironic that the guy finally started in fifth and I did not and I was on pole, and on the actual race start, his bike failed again, he was out and I was taken out by another rider [Hector Barbera] on the first lap, and lost the championship. Today we see many times this year somebody has a failure in the start and they stop the procedure, they let him start and they can do all the tricks they want to do. So I was very upset, this was maybe the worst [memory of my career], because I was very disappointed with how they managed that situation.”

Pedrosa will end his 18-year career with Honda
Pedrosa will end his 18-year career with Honda (Reuters)

That retirement was one of two for Pedrosa across the final rounds of the season – he won the six other races – and missed out on the title by 18 points, less than a single victory.

But that isn’t Pedrosa’s fondest memory, despite the seven wins that season and eight other podium finishes. To those who follow the sport regularly, Pedrosa is symbolic of two things: lightning-fast starts thanks to his body weight of around 50kg, and having to battle back from some horrendous injuries.

Broken ankles, broken collarbones, multiple surgeries, Pedrosa has had to endure them all and he has been forced to miss 14 races through various injuries during his MotoGP career. But the resilience shown in battling back from those crippling setbacks, and not just to make up the numbers either, will be the best memory that the 5ft 2in pocket rocket takes with him when he leaves the paddock at the end of the season.

Pedrosa still rues his near-miss with the 2012 world championship
Pedrosa still rues his near-miss with the 2012 world championship (Getty)

“For me I overcame many situations in MotoGP that I didn’t expect I could, and I was finally riding very well in the rain – this was one thing I’ve never been good at since I was a kid,” he says. “As a moment that stands out, for sure my world championships and some good racing in MotoGP, especially a lot in 2012 when I felt the best, and then some other moments, coming back from injuries and having to race to finish on the podium or to win the race quite quickly after suffering the injury.

“These moments, I really still have the feeling of I don’t know how I did it, how I was able to compete with such a handicap.”

Thankfully for him, his body is nearly at the finish line and will not have to put up with such breaks and bruises for much longer. There will be no move to another class like Moto2 or World Superbikes, and there will not be any testing role either – “I never liked doing testing”, he adds quickly – but there is no plan in place.

“At this moment I still have no plans, so I want to feel what I want to do and what makes me happy to do,” Pedrosa says. “At this moment I still don’t know what I really like to do and I also need some time off to recover and enjoy a little bit of other things before I feel what I want to do. It’s still open for me.

“Scary? For sure it’s different, but scary? No, because at the end it’s what the heart is telling me so I don’t think it’s scary. I always follow my heart, that’s why I did everything that I’ve done and the way I did it, so I wouldn’t say scary. Of course it’s going to be different but at the same time I’m happy to see what will be and excited to see what is next for me.

He is yet to decide what the future holds for him beyond 2018
He is yet to decide what the future holds for him beyond 2018 (EPA)

“When I started racing I had this feeling like ‘yeah I want to be a rider and I want to go to the maximum’ and I never even thought I’d be in the championship that long or be that good, but I have the feeling now that in my life I achieved more than what my dream was. So that’s why it’s not scary, but at the same time it’s exciting to know what will be the next big thing for me to fall in love with.”

On form Pedrosa is unlikely to beat the likes of Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and teammate Marc Marquez to the top of the rostrum, meaning he will bow out with 31 wins, as many fastest laps and at least 112 podiums. Only six riders have more race wins to their name, and all six are multiple world champions in Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi, Angel Nieto, Mike Hailwood, Lorenzo and Marquez, while five-time 500cc world champion Mick Doohan is level on 31 victories. That is esteemed company, and while it also suggests that the stars never really aligned for Pedrosa to land that big-class championship, MotoGP will definitely be saying goodbye to one of its great at the end of the year.

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