Nice. It’s a suffocating thing to be called. But only if you’re as vacuous as the average vacuum-packed, teeth-whitened teenage overachiever. MCN talks to a man who’s looked beneath his tactically-branded attire and found not a draw-string attached to a pre-programmed Piezo voicebox, but a real person, only willing to be shaped so far by the mentors, managers and temptations which fall upon the work-in-progress star…
I only started watching road racing in 2003. Motocross, that was my passion. I thought road racing was boring – sitting on the bike and going round and round. I didn’t see what there was to it. Even after the first time I tried it at the end of 03 I thought ‘Is that it?’ I wasn’t that interested.
My grandad’s farm had a motocross track. We moved there when I was five. Me and my dad would drive round it in the JCB, shaping it and smoothing it, for hours every day. Motocross was my passion. Being brought up around the motocross track you get used to dealing with adults, and I’ve always been more comfortable with adults.
I’m an adult now, but I don’t feel like one. I don’t have a job, or at least a proper one, I haven’t got a mortgage, or a girlfriend, I don’t do my own washing or pay electricity bills. I cook my own food, so I’m not ‘mummified’, but at the end of the day my bed’s always upstairs ready for me to get into, when I wake up there’s food in the cupboards and when I have to travel, the tickets just arrive. I sit at home and most things come to me. It’s an easy life, an unreal life, and I know that.
I wasn’t the most intelligent at school. But if people tell me I’m no good at something, and I’m into it, I will prove them wrong. When I started road racing I tried to join an academy. They told that with my dad’s pushiness and my lack of talent I wouldn’t be able to be a road racer while I had a hole in my backside. From that day that’s driven me, it’s like a stone in my shoe. The more crap I get the better it is. I don’t take things to heart, I don’t forget, but it’s all fuel to my fire. I get that toughness from my mum. She’ll take everything in, she’s never aggressive, but when the time comes to act she remembers everything. And when she bites, she bites good.
I’ve only got one best friend and that’s it. He lives in the same village as me. I had friends at school, but now it’s just family and I’d rather spend time with them than go out with mates.
I don’t have the money to live on my own. And I enjoy being at home. The first place I buy will be a small holiday home in Italy or Spain. A nice place to train in winter. I get paid by the team, but that’s only a recent thing. Most people in racing are earning enough to live, no more.
I’m not bothered about girls for now. You get a lot of distractions in grands prix – a lot of fine models walking around, but I think you need to be on the bigger bikes to get those girls. Maybe 125s aren’t good enough because I certainly haven’t had any of the benefits I’ve heard about. I’m not a just-for-fun kind of person anyway. If I got involved with a girl I’d have to treat her right, do it properly, and I haven’t got time for that.
The GP scene is a family. If you miss lunch or something people will look after you. But if you’re looking for someone to take you under their wing you’ve got to hire them. In my early years I had Raoul, who worked for Alberto Puig, to look after me. Now I have Randy [Mamola].
My role models in GPs couldn’t have been more different. Alberto planted the seed that you have to work hard. He sat me down and said to me “This life is rubbish. If you’re in this for a nice time, go elsewhere.” Albert wants to win at all costs. He sees winning as the only thing, and he embeds that seed in everybody he works with.
I used to go racing as like a family outing. When you’re paying for it, it’s serious, but it’s got to be fun too. When someone else is paying for it, it’s just got to be serious. Alberto taught me sponsors are never happy, that media are never satisfied with your achievements, and the moment you’re happy with how you’re doing you’re finished. It’s tough, but if you work with him, you will win races, and I owe everything to him.
Randy Mamola calmed me down a lot. I can smile when I’m at races now. I used to think I could only get into the zone if I was a grump all weekend. My mum and dad would come to watch me race and I wouldn’t even go and see them or talk to them. I didn’t turn up to interviews I’d agreed to. Bradley the racer isn’t a great person to be around, and I made a lot of enemies being that way. I hope Bradley the boy is nicer than that. Randy taught me that if you have confidence in yourself you don’t have to be like that 24/7. I’m not a finished person yet. I’m not shiny like a diamond, but I’m a lot different to the rock that was originally dug out of the ground.
I want to be a rounded package not a robot. I aim to be more Rossi than Pedrosa. People attach themselves to a person, not a rider. If you’ve got fans, you’re a better package. You’re more marketable. Look at Rossi: when Stoner won the title, he still got less of a cheer than Rossi.
My idea of a good night off is meal out with my mechanics and my family, and then a bit of a dance. I can’t dance. I don’t think any racers can apart from Nicky Hayden. I’ve never been drunk and can count on one hand the number of alcoholic drinks I’ve had. I see myself now as an athlete and I know alcohol doesn’t help athletes. There was an incident last season when someone was so drunk they couldn’t ride on the Sunday, and I never want to be like that. You can see the drinkers – they fill positions eight and backwards. For a night in? Everybody loves Raymond, Guitar Hero, and Kimberley from Girls Aloud.
I don’t know why British riders struggled for so long in GPs. It’s not because you’ve got a British nationality on your passport that’s for sure. We just haven’t been fed down the right avenues.
It’s really important I get out of 125s after next year. That would be my fifth year in 125s and that’s too long. Moto2 riders have higher status, and they’re the ones being looked at for MotoGP. Whether I’ve missed out by not doing 250s depends on how good the Moto2 bikes are. But the 250 I tried was yee-hah. It slides, it moves, it’s got power everywhere. It was awesome. If someone offered me a MotoGP ride for 2010 I wouldn’t take it. I’d be over the moon but I have to do things properly and I know I wouldn’t be ready.
Failure haunts me. The thought of letting down my family drives me. If I’m a nice guy it’s primarily because I don’t want to disappoint my family. But I’m frightened I’m going to do something bad one day. I live in fear I’m going to do something that ends up in the scandal pages of the papers. That’s why I have to focus so hard on doing this right. If I didn’t have racing, I could easily be something far different. I’m clinging onto racing for fear of what might lie in any other direction.
I’m willing to give the next 20 years without girls, mates or whatever else to try and achieve greatness in this sport. And god knows I should do. There’s always someone kicking and screaming for my seat.