Eugene Laverty: Politics Trumps Results, Or How Beating Your Teammate Is No Longer Enough

"'I’ll do my talking on the track,' are no longer words to live by"

Musical chairs is a children's game, but in the grown-up business of the paddock it is still just as relevant as if you were at a birthday party. When the music stops, you need to be sure you have grabbed a seat. Unfortunately for Eugene Laverty he's been left as one of the last riders chasing a seat for 2019, and with Marco Melandri, Loris Baz, Jordi Torres and Xavi Fores all also running in circles, the clock is ticking until the music stops for good.

Having thought that he’d be sticking with Shaun Muir Racing for next year as the team switch to BMW, the Irishman now finds himself on the outside looking in. From feeling secure that he would have a good ride for 2019, he suddenly finds himself staring at limited opportunities.

It's not the first time that Laverty has found himself in a predicament like this. In the autumn of 2013 he missed out on staying with Aprilia and had to search for a ride, which led him from being a WorldSBK title contender to riding an uncompetitive Suzuki, and from this he began a two-year stint in MotoGP. From that he made a return to WorldSBK, which yielded solid progress in his second year with the Milwaukee Aprilia squad. But this was not enough to keep his ride, with Tom Sykes expected to be announced as the rider to replace him.

Public audition

“As a rider all you want to do is show your potential,” summed up Laverty about the last five years. “There are some riders that are dreamers and talk about what they can achieve, but I know my level and that’s what I wanted to be able to demonstrate here. I think from mid-season onward I've been able to show my level again. I know that I'm a much better rider now than I was compared to when I was fighting for the WorldSBK title.”

“It’s been so tough over the last few years, but it’s made me stronger as a person and a rider. I’ve really had to dig in this year. But we’ve got a fantastic little group of people working here. It’s a small effort compared to some of the other factory teams here in World Superbikes, so what we did together shouldn't be underestimated.”

What they achieved was turning around a dreadful 2017 season into a year where, despite missing two rounds due to serious injuries from a crash in Thailand, Laverty was able to get the Aprilia back on the podium, claim a pole position and finish a credible eighth in the championship.

Unjust desserts

It's not been enough to get Laverty back on a front-running bike, and so much of the last five years can be attributed to losing his Aprilia seat following the 2013 season. That year he finished the season with ten podiums in the final eleven races, and looked to have truly arrived on the world stage. At its conclusion however, all he did was make way for Marco Melandri. Since then, Laverty feels he's become a much more complete rider with experience matched with raw speed.

“I've shown I can develop bikes, I've shown that I can win on three different makes of bikes, I've shown I can be a title contender. I'm a lot better than I was back then and that I’m a much more complete rider. When I look at my data from five years ago, to me it looks like I was a rookie, and it's crazy to think that’s when I finished second in the championship and won nine races. Back then I wasn’t half the rider that I am now. That’s what keeps me motivated. That’s what keeps me wanting to push forward to show that step that I’ve made in those five years, because the results haven’t shown it. I want to show my true potential.”

Patience is a virtue

For the 32 year old the goal is clear; to get back into the position to challenge for championships again. Having come close to joining Kawasaki in the summer of 2016, he knows how fine this knife edge is upon which decisions are made.

“I want to be on the WorldSBK grid and I want to be on a competitive bike. I want everything, but I also know that there are a lot of riders on one-year contracts; that’s why I want to stay here. I want to stay here because I feel I deserve a shot on one of those top bikes. It’s going to be a tough few weeks but I’m not the only one. There’s a few other riders that are deserving of rides that haven’t yet been signed up. I’m not alone in looking for a ride. At a time like this, you've got to take the rough with the smooth and try to get myself sorted.”

“Unfortunately this is an expensive game, and with the state of the world right now, money talks. It ain’t easy but I felt I did my job this year in terms of the results that I achieved compared to last year. We made a big step forward. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for me. You’ve got to do your talking off the track as well. As we know, it’s not just about results.

“I do think that that over my career that's been a weakness of mine. I’ll be honest in that, for me I like to just ride motorbikes and get results on track. I don't talk about myself, and I think I’ve lost four out of my last five contracts despite winning or beating my teammate. It’s pretty nuts. Politics and other things have played a part but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years it’s that the old saying, 'I’ll do my talking on the track,' is not one to live by. It doesn’t work. I think I’m proof of that.”

Whether Laverty can pull a rabbit out of the hat remains to be seen, but he's determined that this won't be the last we see of him on the world stage.

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----to me shows a complete lack of loyality to either manufacturer or rider by the team,eg the team owner!

Best of luck to Eugene.

Surely Eugene Laverty deserves a good ride, definitely worked hard enough to come back after the injury at Buriram earlier this year. Beat both Kwakas to Pole position at Qatar last weekend. I think Eugene is at Sepang at the moment, if he doesn't get a ride for 2019 there ain't no justice! Such an awesome moustache.

No team manager makes these decisions on his own. I expect that none of the qualities used for choosing riders bring loyalty into the top 5 choices. The most unloyal rider is still valued, because he stays where the best package is. Marquez does not stay where the money is - that's probably 2nd or an even lower choice after the bike package. The team is probably 2nd.

Someone may have said they didn't think Laverty was the man for the BMW or Aprilia. A sponsor may well have said having an ex-world champuion is better for them than a nearly-world champion. They are both good bike developers and the bike, team, and package both have potential to win. Everyone knows they have to beat/get as close to Kawasaki as they can.

Shaun Muir may be lots of things, but you have to respect the fact he gave EL a ride in the first place - and not just for one year. If Kawasaki had offered Eugene Tom's place I suspect he would have taken it.....

I wish both of them well, as they both deserve to be up there.

I have always held that mistakes are allowed and normal. Making the same mistake twice is not allowed. Knowing the problem and being able to fix it is easier said than done but, surely, EL has to be asking why he finds himself in this position again? He may be good at riding and negotiating contracts, but the results suggest that getting to the contract side is not his strong point. The riding has to talk but, just like qualifying, you have to be in it to win it and the whole team/contract aspect is probably a near full-time, or at least a 'specialist', job nowadays. You cannot be doing the riding and talking to/hanging out with the decision makers too. Can you?

No top sportsman does his own deals - he/she selects the options presented. Loyalty should not be a factor in this either - it's simply a performance issue.

Options have to kept open and commitment is a two-way street. If a team doesn't offer a deal there comes a time when riders have to look to options - whatever is 'promised'.

I would be interested to see a list of the riders and who their wing men/ladies/entourage are.

What is it with this team? They won BSB brilliantly on a Yamaha but couldn’t convince Yamaha to let them run their bikes when the factory returned to WSB the following season. Instead, Yamaha went to the team that had previously run Suzukis, if you please. Not exactly a vote of confidence. So instead SMR ran the famously difficult to set up BMW, bringing the BSB champion with them to ride it, and failed comprehensively. Who did they blame - the riders, of course, who were unceremoniously sacked. And so, on to Aprilia. Another difficult to set up bike run by a team with no experience of a V4 but a strong rider line up, especially with Eugene’s previous experience on an Aprilia, albeit in a v different configuration. And  once again when the results didn’t come we find the riders being shown the door for the team’s inability to put a bike that works onto the grid. I’m a strong Laverty supporter. He’s been getting a lot out of a bike that has only so much to give, and has been replaced by a man getting v little out of a bike that’s proved practically unbeatable. Eugene is quoted a saying money talks. My guess is that Tom is riding for nothing except bonus money and cash from personal sponsors. If true then the team and the sport should be ashamed of themselves. 

Cloverleaf you had me puzzled for a mo. I'm a Sydney person & where I come from SMH is a newspaper, remember them? The Sydney Morning Herald, shook ma head at myself.

Got ya now.

What the Factory is doing I don't know. Once they seemed to be serious about racing, now they are obviously not serious. "Be a racer" maybe that should change to Be a poser ? be a pretender ? be a part-timer ?