Did Jorge Lorenzo ‘retire’ just to get out of Honda MotoGP contract?

Honda reacts to Jorge Lorenzo's return to MotoGP action with Yamaha less than three months after he retired midway through his Honda MotoGP deal

Jorge Lorenzo - Yamaha

Repsol Honda boss Alberto Puig says he genuinely believed Jorge Lorenzo wanted to stop competing when he announced he was retiring from MotoGP, adding that the team does not begrudge him changing his mind to join Yamaha as its test rider.

Three-time MotoGP World Champion Lorenzo announced his intention to retire on the eve of the 2019 Valencia MotoGP, citing ongoing back injury concerns and a lack of motivation from his failure to be competitive on the Repsol Honda.

The decision came midway through a two-year contract with Honda, forcing it to source a replacement – Alex Marquez – in the days immediately after the final round of the season.

Less than three months later though Lorenzo is already back on a MotoGP bike after accepting an offer to become test rider for the Yamaha team he won his three world titles and 44 race wins with, sharing the track with his rivals at the Sepang MotoGP test earlier this week.

However, despite the rapid return to action, Puig says Honda did the correct thing in allowing Lorenzo to exit his contract early based on the reasons he gave at the time.

“We have to take a simple look at the situation," he told Crash.net. “We had a two-year contract with Lorenzo until the end of 2020. We didn't break that contract.

“But when the driver comes to us and says that he wants to stop, that he wants to take his physical condition into account and no longer run any risk of injury if he then tells us that he can't find a feeling for this bike, so he has no motivation , then we can only meet his wishes and end the cooperation.

“That was not originally our intention. But if someone no longer wants to ride your motorcycle - what can you do? A company like Honda will never force a driver to drive if he doesn't want to. That is why we agreed in Valencia and cancelled the contract for 2020. At that point, Jorge's clear intention was to end his career. That is why he held this press conference.

“Lorenzo told us in November that he was not ready to continue. We didn't want to be to blame for the fact that he continued to drive and injured himself. He wanted to stop! So, we didn't want to put stones in his way. From our point of view, we acted 100 percent correctly. We cannot force a person onto a racing machine so that when he doesn't want to run around a racetrack at 300km/h.

Honda reacts to Jorge Lorenzo’s Yamaha switch

Though the deal right now simply covers testing duties, Yamaha has hinted it will make an M1 available for him at selected rounds as a wildcard. This particular revelation has raised some eyebrows in the MotoGP paddock given the fanfare and emotional farewells of Lorenzo’s Valencia swansong.

It prompted some to speculate Lorenzo feigned the retirement call in order to exit his Honda contract early and explore alternative options for 2020. Others have also raised questions as to why Honda didn’t lock him into a ‘gardening leave’ period that prevents him from joining a rival team during 2020 in lieu of the contract.

However, Puig retains faith that Lorenzo simply changed him mind going into the winter and that his retirement wasn’t merely a ruse.

"He decided to continue for some reason. From the Honda point of view, we can only explain that everyone has the free will to do what they want with their lives. We respect that. When Jorge changed his mind and took this opportunity, we were happy for him.

“He didn't want to drive anymore. Whatever happened afterwards - it's his life. If he decides to test for Yamaha or whoever, that's his life and his decision. We don't get involved.”