Jorge Lorenzo suffered his worst finish in the MotoGP world championship since the final race of his rookie season in 2008 after the reigning world champion slumped from second to seventh in Le Mans.
Slowed by a chronic lack of rear grip on a wet track, Lorenzo was languishing down in ninth position at one stage and only regained two places when factory Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi and German Stefan Bradl fell while in front of the Spaniard.
Such a humbling defeat was tough to swallow for Lorenzo, who a year ago in Le Mans had dominated in a rain-hit race.
He clearly blamed a lack of grip from his rear rain tyre, but post race investigations by both Bridgestone and Yamaha failed to detect a fault.
The 26-year-old, who has gone from being 12-points ahead to 17-points behind series leader Dani Pedrosa in just three races, said: “I think the rear tyre was not right. This was the main problem. In the warm-up we did one lap to clean up the tyre for the race and at that moment I thought something wasn't right because I had no grip. But we thought in the warm-up it was the setting of the bike, which was for the dry, but finally after thinking about it I think it was the rear tyre because I don't see any other thing that could have given me this performance. It was unbelievable.
It was a nightmare and in every corner was a nightmare and I felt like I was almost crashing. I was struggling a lot. Normally I can overtake some riders and go in front and open a gap but this time I was trying so hard to follow Dovi (Andrea Dovizioso) and then Dani (Pedrosa) when he passed me, I was taking so many risks and lap-by-lap the bike was getting worse.”
Lorenzo said he had tried altering his riding style to generate more grip but it was a thankless task and he said Yamaha’s sophisticated traction control system too could not help compensate for the lack of rear stability.
Lorenzo, who was fastest in a wet pre-race warm-up session, added: “When I accelerated I tried to be as smooth as possible but from the first moment I opened the throttle until I was completely straight I had this spinning that didn't allow me to follow the other riders. I lost maybe 0.5s on every straight. I tried to be 50% on the throttle but the tyre was still spinning. I tried shifting up quickly to avoid spinning but it wasn't possible. There was more water on the track than in the warm-up but at the end of the race the conditions were very similar to the warm-up but I still couldn't stay close to my times from the warm-up. Normally I go much faster in the race than the warm-up, but this is racing."
For seven pages of reaction to the French MotoGP, see this week’s issue of MCN, available on May 22.