Continuing our look back at 2013, here is the second part of our rating of rider performances last season, covering championship runner up Jorge Lorenzo. If you missed part 1, on Marc Marquez, you can catch up here.
|Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory Racing|
After as close to a perfect year as you can get in 2012, Jorge Lorenzo faced a major challenge in 2013. Defending his 2010 title, Lorenzo found himself pushing right at the limit to try to match the pace of Casey Stoner. He had hoped defending his 2012 title would be a little easier, but that would prove not to be the case.
Ironically, Lorenzo ran up against the same problems in 2013 that he had faced in 2011: a game-changing newcomer at Honda, on a bike developed specifically to beat the Yamaha. In 2011, the game-changer had been Casey Stoner; in 2013, it was Marc Marquez.
Lorenzo started the year well at Qatar, but raced at Austin knowing he could not beat the Hondas. At Jerez, he got a rude awakening, when Marc Marquez barged him aside in the final corner. His worst finish since his rookie year at Le Mans was followed by two wins, Lorenzo regaining his confidence and feeling he had the championship back under control.
That turned out to be his biggest mistake. Bristling with self-confidence, Lorenzo pushed hard during free practice at Assen, going way too fast for the tricky conditions at the Dutch circuit. A small spot of standing water at the Hoge Heide, the fastest part of the track, saw him lose control, fall heavily and break his collarbone. An overnight dash to Barcelona for surgery saw him return after qualifying, passing a fitness test on Saturday morning, and ready to race. In one of the truly awe-inspiring displays of gritty determination which motorcycle racing is famous for, Jorge Lorenzo raced at Assen, coming up through the field to finish 5th. Only Ian Hutchinson's win at Macau, after recovering from his 30th operation on the leg he injured in 2010 tops Lorenzo's effort.
Two weeks later, it all went wrong again. Lorenzo crashed at the Sachsenring, bent the plate in his collarbone, and had to pull out. Though still not fully fit, he raced at Laguna Seca a week later. His collarbone was still weakened, and it took the 2012 champion until the end of August to fully recover, by which time he had lost a lot of ground in the championship, trailing Marc Marquez by 47 points.
The last part of the season marked the mental toughness for which Jorge Lorenzo is rightly lauded. He ground out five more wins, ramping up the pressure on Marquez, and starting to dish out some of the physical treatment he had been on the receiving end of from the Honda rookie. He did everything he could to put Marquez under pressure, trying mind games, exploiting weakness, trying to sow discontent in the Honda team, saying that the title was Marquez' to lose. Lorenzo was handed a second chance at Phillip Island, closing the seemingly unbridgeable gap to Marquez when the Honda man was disqualified. But it was too little, too late, and after an astounding race at Valencia, Lorenzo conceded his title with honor, winning the race, and taking more wins than Marquez.
Lorenzo's 2013 season reads like something from Greek tragedy. He grew in confidence, was brutally punished for his hubris, but redeemed himself through hard work and determination. Jorge Lorenzo may not have won the 2013 title, but arguably, he was the best motorcycle racer in the world this year.
Ask Jorge Lorenzo what his high point of the year was, and he'll tell you it was Silverstone. Coming back to full fitness after breaking his collarbone at Assen and then again at the Sachsenring, Lorenzo held off a charging Marquez, diving for victory in a scintillating last-lap battle. It was the moment when Lorenzo seized control of the championship again, though by this time, he was a long way behind.
But for me, the high point of Lorenzo's year was Valencia. It was a sublime performance by the now deposed champion. Needing to get extra riders between himself and Marquez, he first tried holding up Dani Pedrosa, making a few dubious moves on the way. When it turned out that nobody could follow even the slower pace he had been setting, and with Pedrosa gone from between Marquez and himself (a result of one of Lorenzo's borderline rough passes), he went for the win, opening a gap with ease and taking victory unchallenged. The ease with which he could switch from trying to hold up the group at the front, to disappearing at the front demonstrated just how much control he had over the race. Nobody was ever going to win that race but him.
Two weeks spanning late June and early July were the nadir of Jorge Lorenzo's season. The first crash at Assen crushed his confidence, but a gritty performance to race two days later, with a freshly plated collarbone, helped quickly restore it. At the Sachsenring, two weeks later, Lorenzo crashed again, bending the plate fixed to his collarbone and requiring yet more surgery to fix. Lorenzo did not race, and even considered skipping Laguna Seca the following week. Though less scary than the first crash at Assen, his crash in Germany was what finally halted his championship defense.