Exclusive: Leon Haslam Interview

MF has lunch with Leon, pre-Donington Park

MF: Leon, we heard a lot on the bush telegraph about some tension within your team and that in the build up to Phillip Island there was a quite a bit of shouting and disagreement. Is this true? Can you talk about it?

LH: Australia…y'know...  it's been really interesting - but very frustrating, I would say. From moving from a manufacturer that was wining races but really had no potential to progress, to moving to a company with so much potential but with a lot of little issues like bike development and structure. I think the hardest thing, with the standard bike being so good and having a team internally that I'm really happy with, when you don’t get the results and you have problems, it's tough.

Right now, I feel that the potential is so high and there's so much more to come, no matter what we do it's hard work because we’re just not getting the most out of it. There's a lot of little issue that are causing us big problems right now.

MF: Can you give us an example, perhaps elaborate? What did that mean?

LH: We've done twenty days of testing and in twenty days of testing I'd have hoped we'd have progressed a little bit more.

MF: Is there one key area you expected more improvement?

LH: The biggest thing we've been concentrating on is making the bike simpler - to make it consistent. The hardest thing is, with the bad weather we had in European testing and varying track conditions, the bike changes dramatically. For instance, in Australia, from testing compared to the racing I was fourteenth in testing - two and a half seconds off the pace. In the race everyone went two and a half seconds slower than they had in testing and I was doing exactly the same times. That was the best pace we had and it worked out. We managed to finish third in the race.

MF: Are you saying you were lucky to get that position in the race and it was the conditions playing in your favour?

LH: Not so much lucky with the conditions. In both those races, all I was trying to do is finish as high as I could and keep as many people as I could behind me. Normally when I race I race to beat the guy in front of me or to win.

MF: It was damage limitation?

LH: It was and I feel that's the way we approached it. Since then - to now - we've made some big steps. The team for me is new, I've come in asking and demanding a load of things ...

MF: Like what Leon?

LH: Just wanting things to be simpler. A bike that works how I need it to work. The technology can overcomplicate things. When it works it works really well but not necessarily for twenty-three laps of a race. It wouldn’t necessarily work at certain tracks and certain conditions so I really wanted to simplify things and I've found with doing that we're making progress. The positive side of that is that once we make it consistent we can start to use BMW's endless resource of technologies that they've learned from F1 and top line motorsport. But my first aim is to simplify, pure and simple, especially when the road bike is such a good base to start from.

MF: Are electronics playing a big part in your desire to simplify things, then?

LH: Yeah, the electronics control such a powerful engine, they've got to work extra hard. The chassis is very adjustable too and in many respects this has made things even more complicated. It's quite hard for me jumping on a bike that has had a pole position and podiums already but in two years they've not been in the top ten of the championship.

MF: So you're struggling to find a good base setting?

LH: When we first went there, for sure. The Suzuki last year was a pretty simple bike and it probably only took five laps to find a set up and we hardly changed it all year. With this bike we seem to be changing it from top to tail and that's what's been difficult. One session, the bike will work as it should and the next session, without changing anything, it works very differently. Understanding that and solving that has been the hardest thing. All we're trying to do is make it the same every time out and progress from there. The BMW guys have got all this super high tech electronics package and super high-tech chassis approach.

MF: It's not a Magneti Marelli system?

LH: No it's a BMW system, their own system. It's all better but it does make everything very complicated. On the road there's no doubt I'd want all that stuff but when you've only got forty five minutes to get a set up to achieve a setting for a twenty-three lap race, it's sometimes more of a hindrance to have all that high tech.

MF: It sounds from what your saying that you've got fundamentally differing views in what a bike should be?

LH: Every manufacturer tries new parts. On paper, or on a computer new parts or new technology can look better but a race scenario can throw up some pretty major differences. What BMW have developed is fantastic and they've certainly got the resources to move it in the right direction. If I can take that awesome standard bike and do what I have to do to it to get it near where I want before introducing this technology, bit by bit, so we can figure out what's better and what isn’t better (and if it isn’t better, why isn’t it better because it should be) that would be the right way to move on. The hardest thing about adopting this simplified working practice is that I've only just come on board and it's really hard to go back to a 'standard bike' when there are so many electronic options and possible routes to take. It's a very hard bike to understand.

MF: We've got Donington coming up. What does that mean to you?

LH: We made a major discovery at our Jerez test last week that has made it more consistent but we haven't found something that's going to allow us to go half a second quicker yet. Consistency is the main thing I want to achieve at this stage. We can progress from there and gain confidence. I feel we've definitely done that. I'm really looking forward to being at Donington. No matter what bike I ride round Donington I know what it needs to feel like. I know what I need to do to go fast. Up until Australia, I'd never ridden at any of the tracks with the exception of Portugal where it rained anyway so I didn't really have any reference points. I feel we'll make some big progress over these next couple of races and hopefully not be too far away from the front.

MF: What's the big difference between the BMW and the Suzuki?

LH: There's so much more scope with the BMW. With that there's a lot more stuff to sort. With the Suzuki we got it sorted but after that there wasn’t much more we could improve. The positive of that is that we were always in the top two or three and the negative was that there was nothing more to come. With the BMW I don’t think we're getting the most out of what is there but when we do it's going to be a hell of a lot better. We're just scratching at the surface at the moment.