With the rain bucketing down at a washed-out British MotoGP round from Silverstone, we took shelter in the seriously impressive KTM hospitality for an in-depth chat with former MotoGP rider, turned German television pundit and former Grand Prix and World Superbike test rider Alex Hofmann.
Chewing the fat over an espresso between free practice sessions, the 38-year-old took time out of his busy television schedule to discuss his racing career, as well as the improvements made within the paddock to help nurture young talent.
"I have been retired from racing on two wheels for 10 years, unbelievably. It’s also been a year and a half since I have ridden a MotoGP bike, so that’s two signs of a racer getting old – really old," the German rider chuckled.
Despite finishing competitive racing a decade ago, Hofmann says there are still days where he feels he could be competitive, itching to be out on the grid, rather than in front of the camera.
"If you always work on race days or at the GPs then there are some days when you feel perfect and would love to jump on a bike and race – knowing full well that you wouldn’t be ready for it – but on the other hand you see how much it has developed and how hard the sport has become for the riders and technical aspect and it’s intense.
"I don’t think it’s easy right now to be a MotoGP rider, but of course there are days where you miss it. I accept that time is pretty much over for me and that we have entered a different time zone now."
Although the lust for competition remains, Hofmann claims he tries his best to shy away from race tracks when not covering a MotoGP weekend, leading to the discovery of new strands of motorcycling instead.
"I now join in with some presentations with KTM and end up touring through the Alps, which is something I have never done before. It’s a new part of motorcycling for me and something I enjoy a lot.
"Apart from this job where I am at tracks for 20 weekends and at other events I actually try and stay away in my free time. My routes are in motocross, so I try and get back to it when I can, but like anything if you don’t practice then it’s hard for you to get back into it.
"I should do it more often and although I enjoy it a lot, it also hurts a lot. To really enjoy MX you need a lot of practice, however my family is a bigger part of my life right now and it would be hard for me to explain to my family when I come home that I am going off for a day to ride motocross. Right now, family is my priority."
A career in presenting
"I've been presenting for a long time," Hofmann said. "My first year was in 2008, after I had stopped racing and become a test rider for World Superbikes. I was actually planning to go and race in that paddock but got an offer for TV work in 2009 and had the option to stay a test rider. I wasn’t convinced about racing in superbikes after all the injuries I had sustained in MotoGP.
"I gave it a go and felt comfortable in that position and at the end of this year it's going to be a decade of TV work for me, which is a long, long time! For eight years out of that 10 I was a test rider and those two jobs blended perfectly and helped me get off of the track in time."
Although now comfortable in his presenting role, the former factory Kawasaki rider freely admits that he struggled to make the adjustment so quickly after stopping racing.
"I think the hardest part is the beginning. My first interview back in 2009 was with Nicky Hayden and it was odd because the year before I was trying to kick his ass and now I was waving a microphone in his face.
"I kept asking myself 'what are you doing here?' but very quickly you work out that racers enjoy talking to you and they enjoy the questions that you ask. The approach of an ex-racer is liked and it soon builds up to being a lot of fun and just becomes a nice tech chat with some friends," he said.
"Racers are very unique special people, because you have to be selfish and you have to be willing to do anything for the sport. At that point, anything else isn’t important to your life, which leads to an unspoken respect between them. That bond is also shared with sports stars that visit from other disciplines, too."
Proving your worth
Despite that degree of dedication to your sport, Hofmann also believes that a rider must be allowed a certain number of years to prove their worth - a chance he feels he never got.
"I think for any MotoGP rider – no matter how much talent you’re bringing in - you need your two or three years of chances to prove yourself and make it happen. It never really turned out for me; being injured for half a season, or things happening that shouldn’t.
"There were so many things that went the wrong way and for those four full years that I was in MotoGP, it seems like the energy wasted on stuff that should have been right really took my passion for the sport, so when I stopped in 2007 with Pramac, I felt burned by the stuff that happened off track."
Clearly left with a bitter taste in his mouth, Hofmann claims that his passion for MotoGP was actually reignited by his presenting role, saying: "I am having so much fun with it. You have three wonderful classes and Moto2 is probably the best rookie class ever to show your talent. No matter how rich your team is, those kids get a real chance and have a real shot. It’s not a year and you have to make it happen or you’re out.
"Looking back, I know I could never have been a Marquez or a Rossi, but I couldn’t reach my full potential and that was more down to bikes, teams and politics in the background and that’s pretty much the only thing that hurts a little bit," he said.
"However, 10 years on, that experience has given me this job and the respect of the current riders, so it’s okay. The first dream wasn’t fully accomplished and that has scratched my ego a bit, but that’s something I want to convey in my TV job.
"It’s so easy just to talk about the top three riders, but I take my time to talk to the guys further back and explain to people the kind of job they're doing, too."
"I think it's easier to break through now because we have a wider range of good teams. If you look at the MotoGP class, there's probably two teams and around four to six bikes that aren’t recommendable but back when I was racing there were only around six bikes that could win and all the rest were not recommendable, so there's a wider choice," Hofmann recalled.
"Having a German passport, I would like to be 13 again now because the structure that we have in Austria with the Red Bull Rookies Cup to MotoGP – holy sh*t what a red carpet it is! But, hey – you can’t change the time of your birth! I think the most important thing you have to deal with now is keeping the kids' feet on the ground and not let them go crazy on social media – let them focus on what they are good at."
A career highlight
Away from new riders' opportunities, the conversation steers back onto Hofmann's career and the highlight of his stint in the top-flight of motorcycle racing.
"Obviously, it’s my fifth place at Le Mans. It was a day like today and it was a flag-to-flag. It was one of those weekends where I was standing on the grid and I was ready to go home. Everything had gone wrong to this point and qualifying was really sh*t," he smirked in memory.
"I just went into the race not expecting anything, but I made the right move at the right time and took the risk. I could smell the rain coming and I changed pretty early to wet tyres. I went out and turn one was completely dry and I thought well done, you’ve f*cked up.
"But after one lap I got the rain tyres working and the gate opened and down the rain came and when everyone else came out from changing I was up at the front with the likes of Pedrosa and Rossi fighting for the podium. I ended up on P5 and made my day, but to be honest there weren’t many days like this, so I keep that one strong in my memory!"
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