What’s the point of being a MotoGP journalist? I often think I’d be better employed doing something useful, like being a dustman.
But I love motorcycles, I love motorcycle racing, I love motorcycle racers and I love writing about them all, so here I am and have been since 1988.
In those days when I wanted to interview a rider I’d knock on his motorhome door and arrange a convenient time for a chat. If I wanted to interview an engineer I’d walk into his garage in the evening and fix a good time to come back for a chinwag.
MotoGP is bigger now, so all teams have PR (public relations) staff, through whom you must go to gain access to riders, engineers and other team personnel. These people are mostly helpful, firstly, because they want to maintain good relations with the press and thereby the public and, secondly, because they are usually decent people.
Inevitably there can be friction between the press and PR crews, because we want to find out what’s going on, to write stuff that informs and entertains you, the fans, while sometimes they don’t want us to find out what’s really going on.
This leads to many amusing incidents between us, the riders and their PR people. Only occasionally do things get a bit ugly, like now…
Towards the end of each season, for the past 25 years or so, I arrange interviews with crew chiefs and engineers from each factory for a chat about the season: what made their bikes winners, or losers, and what they’re going to do make them better for next year.
I’m going through the same process now. Two weeks ago at Motegi I had a fascinating interview with KTM MotoGP project leader Sebastian Risse, who told me lots of stuff I didn’t know. I love learning these things, so I can try to do my job well, by helping fans better understand the racing and therefore enjoy it more.
I’ve got chats booked with engineers from Aprilia, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha at upcoming races. But not from Ducati.
“The problem with the Ducati PR team is that it’s not just me they’re after”
The Italian manufacturer has refused to allow me to speak to any of its engineers. Throughout my 35 years in MotoGP I’ve written many things that riders, engineers, teams and tire companies didn’t appreciate. That’s my job, to write what I believe to be right, not to blow smoke up people’s arses.
Michelin is a case in point. It’s a poisoned chalice being MotoGP’s spec tire supplier, because whoever supplies tires for the entire grid often gets more criticism than praise. I’ve given Michelin a hard time on several occasions and they don’t hold it against me (much), because I’m only doing my job. Ducati is the first PR crew that’s blacklisted me.
The real problem with the factory Ducati team’s PR people is that it’s not just me they’re after. They seem to be trying to control what MotoGP journalists write, more so than any factory I’ve known.
A colleague recently interviewed Jack Miller. During the chat the journalist asked the Ducati rider about his decision to switch manufacturers in 2023. The PR person sat with them (one-on-one interviews are always accompanied by a PR, voice recorder in hand, in case evidence is needed) didn ‘t want Miller talking about his plans to race a different motorcycle next year.
Miller then told the PR he would say what he wanted. Full respect to the Aussie, for keeping it real, as always. The interview continued and I can’t wait to read the result when it’s published.