We speak to Neil Hodgson | MotoGP, Honda & Marquez, BSB, future UK riders

Neil Hodgson talks to us about the MotoGP, the upcoming German GP at the Sachsenring, Marc Marquez & Honda, which UK riders to keep an eye on - and more.

Neil Hodgson BT Sport interview

AHEAD of the German GP this weekend at the Sachsenring, we spoke with Neil Hodgson about the MotoGP season so far, Honda and Marquez, future UK riders to keep an eye on and rider mentality. 

The BSB & World Superbike champ turned BT Sport pundit also makes a big call for Marquez to drop it at a track he has dominated at for the last 10 years!

We also chatted about BSB, Gas It Out updates, and whether he’s planning any track days in the near future.

Alex, Visordown: Thanks for taking the time, Neil! Thoughts on the MotoGP season so far? You must be loving it in the comfy pundit seat

Neil Hodgson: It’s been a surprising season! I didn’t expect Quartararo to be so dominant, if he didn’t have that arm pump issue in Jerez he would have won that race, and the last race was a weird one - of course. He’s now almost head and shoulders better than everybody, he’s just got that confidence and speed, he’s good with his race consistency, he’s good on that one lap. 

But, the beauty of MotoGP is that you just don’t know what’s gonna happen, the last round is the perfect example, we all sat there going ‘Quartararo’s got this. It’s guaranteed he’s going to win’ and he doesn’t! 

Then we had leathers-gate, didn’t we…

VD: MotoGP always keeps you guessing… Do you think there are any UK riders who are going to be making that step up in the near future? Maybe Sam Lowes in Moto2? 

NH: Well hopefully Sam Lowes, or Jake Dixon. 

Jake’s having a really bad run at the moment, which can happen from time to time with racing. If you lose a little bit of feeling from the bike, and a little bit of understanding with the team - because it's so close, Moto2 - all of a sudden you look like you're riding really bad, but you're not. 

I’m hoping that Jake can turn that around, but I mean apart from those two, short-term there’s no one really jumping out that's going to be getting into MotoGP. We’re going to have to wait quite a few years. 

Unfortunately, as always, we always seem to be steered towards Superbikes. I think a lot of it’s because we have such a great national series, BSB is fantastic, and riders can almost get pulled in that direction and I understand it, but unfortunately for MotoGP I think we'll be quite a few years before we've got one.

VD: Has BSB became a big draw for young riders to consider, rather than setting their sights for MotoGP?

NH: The thing with setting your sights on the MotoGP is that you've got to invest a lot of money, you’ve almost got to live in Spain from a very young age, and it's got to be a family’s commitment. That’s the difference, it's not just about a rider wanting something, it's about the family going 'right, my 13-year-old son’s quite special, let’s move to Spain’. It's a big thing. 

That’s almost what you’ve got to do, it really is. So that's why I can understand families not wanting to do that, and once you start on the British circuits, you end up in the British rut. You can't blame people, because like we've said BSB is really attractive. Young riders will look and think ‘oh wow I can be in the BSB, then maybe go to World Superbikes, and then hopefully I can get to MotoGP’ - but it’s a wrong route. 

The only way to get to MotoGP now is to by doing the Junior World Championships, living in Spain… it sounds hard, but that’s the reality. 

VD: So committing to it from an early age, just saying 'this is where I'm going’ and keep on going for it.

NH: Exactly. We’ve got some Brits doing that at the moment - Scott Ogden who's 16-17 maybe, he was on the podium of the Junior World Championship at the weekend in Moto3, he’s a name you’ve not heard of, but some kids are doing that, and he finished on the podium.

The problem is, we’ve got one rider in Scott Ogden doing that, when there’s probably 20 Spanish riders, so it’s back to the odds of us having a successful one. 

VD: Jack Miller did say we can all support him in the meantime, and get behind him… So that’ll do for now!

NH: Sounds good to me, I love Jack. He’s genuine.

VD: Catalunya testing. Has Honda found their formula? Seems like they’ve put all of their money on Marquez, he’s taken a bit of a bad run, and now they’re seriously struggling for form. Will they have turned it around at testing? They’ve put in enough laps!

NH: The problem is, when you’re so far off… the bike is the worst bike on the grid. It’s bizarre, when you think out of the 6 manufacturers, the Honda is the bike you wouldn’t want to ride. I’d rather jump on the Aprilia first! 

Because the gap is so big, they’ll need to find something quite major, and in one test… it can help to get a direction, but it’s usually not fixed like that. They’ve got a long slog ahead of them. 

The problem is because Marquez has been so good in the past, the Honda’s been below the Ducati, Yamaha & Suzuki for quite a few years in my opinion, but Marquez has made that difference because of his ability. 

Now with his injury… I think the Honda’s got worse, and obviously Marc is not the same Marc due to his injury. So he’s trying to bridge that gap again, and all of a sudden they can’t even get level with them, let alone ahead of them. I think that’s been the major issue. 

VD: So Marquez is trying to push and race hard, but his body can’t keep up with his mentality? 

NH: That’s exactly it. His brain is still saying all the right things, his want, his desire, he hasn’t lost his talent, but his body can’t quite do it. If you’re just a fraction off with your body position or your reaction, you are down. 

These boys are obviously on the limit, and Marquez has lived on the limit, that’s why he crashed so much. He only has to be 1% off, but that’s a crash, and that’s what we’re seeing - and I’ve got a horrible feeling he’s gonna crash this weekend. 

VD: Oh…?

NH: I know! He’s so good around the Sachsenring, it’s a big round for Honda, for him, can he win at a track that he’s not been beaten on for the last 10 years? What’s he gonna do, try harder? If he tries harder he’s gonna go down…

I hope I’m wrong, by the way! I’d like to see him & Honda get a result, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen. 

VD: Do current riders have more support in terms of ‘off-track racing’? With mind games and outside support, even some riders openly going to sports psychologists to keep their mental fitness there, is that giving them the edge? Or is having a quick cig before the race is just as good, like the old legends used to do? 

NH: You know, it’s horses for courses, everyone’s different - we mentioned Jack Miller, I can’t see Miller sitting down with a sports psychologist doing some meditation before a race. But you could see Maverick Viñales doing that. Everybody’s different, and what works for some people doesn’t work for others. 

Whenever you watch Jack before a race, he’s in the garage hyper and talking non-stop - I was never like that. Before a race I felt sick, I felt ill, the pressure and how important it is, I dealt with it by being quiet and focusing on what I had to do, and Jack Miller’s acting a clown - but it works for Jack! It’s interesting. 

VD: We mentioned briefly the BSB season starting again soon - will you be tuning in to watch that every weekend it’s on?

NH: I always watch BSB. Always been a fan. I don’t know any British ex-rider, that isn’t a fan of BSB. The whole format of it, the way it’s run - I think it’s run really well, I think Stuart Higgs does a fantastic job. Yeah, love it. 

Got lots of friends who race in it so I’ll be nervous, cheering my mates on, hoping they do well! 

Read our interview with FHO Racing's Faye Ho & Darren Jones.

VD: A question from the Visordown fans, are you still doing track days & a bit of track day instruction? 

NH: You know what, no, I’m not! I did it for quite a lot of years, and I absolutely loved it. I can’t believe how much I loved it - I never thought I would when I retired from racing! 

I did it for about 7 or 8 years, but then I’ve ended up busy with other things. It’s like anything else, if you do too much of it, it becomes a bit same-y. It’s nice to have some time off, but because I’ve not ridden for ages I feel like I’d be so slow now! 

Obviously I’m good friends with Niall Mackenzie, he does the masterclass at Silverstone, and he keeps saying to me ‘just come along, you can have a bike, and just do a track day yourself without teaching!’ so I might do that and just have a ride for myself and not to teach. When you’re teaching you’re obviously going at that person's pace, so it’d be nice to do that and get back into it. 

VD: Is there a Gas It Out podcast on the way?!

NH: Me and Gav got sick of each other really… No, we didn’t. I love Gav, he’s a good mate, but we did that through lockdown, we thought we’d do something a bit… not different, ‘cause a podcast is a podcast, talking about bikes. 

I said to him before we did it ‘I only want to do it if it’s just me and you, and we’re not being produced like ‘oh no you can’t say that, you’ve got to do that’ I want it like it’s me and you in the pub having a pint, and we’ve got a decent guest in. So we had some good guests, and yeah I swore way too much and drunk too much during them, but loved it. 

It’s not like we’ve stopped forever, but he’s had a baby and all that lot, got his hands full with that. 

VD: I know there’ll be a lot of demand for that, get down the pub and get the phone on record for an impromptu episode!
Last thing, what are your predictions for this weekend? How do you think it’ll be playing out? 

NH: It's a tricky one. Sachsenring is such a unique track, it’s not like anywhere else we go, it’s a go-kart track, it’s all left-hand corners, it’s weird… I hated it! I didn’t enjoy it at all. 

But what it does, it brings the whole field closer together, and the field’s already close together. So it’s gonna make qualifying really important. I think Marquez is gonna crash trying to win, it’s hard to call a winner. I can’t remember how Fabio goes around there, but it’s always an entertaining race - and entertaining weekend. 

But it could rain on Sunday, so who knows! Anything could happen. 

VD: So your big shout is Marquez finding it difficult, so I’ll keep an eye on him - but if it rains he might fancy his chances!

NH: I think he’ll be fast, and in the dry as well because obviously he’s amazing around there, but I just think he sees it as his chance to win a race - which it is, but I think because of that he’ll push himself over the limit. 

BT Sport is the home of MotoGP in the UK. Catch all the action from the German GP exclusively live on BT Sport including practice, qualifying and the race. The weekend’s action starts from 8am on Friday 18th June on BT Sport 2

Top 10 motorcycles we can't wait to ride

Top 10 Motorcycles We Can't Wait To Ride in 2021 Pt. 2 | YAMAHA R7, KTM 1290 Super Duke RR