Jorge Lorenzo: “MotoGP needs rivalries, Rossi popularity made you feel small"

Jorge Lorenzo says MotoGP's popularity is flagging because it lacks the bitter rivalries - such as his with Valentino Rossi - that fired up fans

Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi - Yamaha MotoGP

Jorge Lorenzo reckons the friendly atmosphere between today’s leading MotoGP riders and a subsequent lack of bitter rivalries is proving a turn off for audiences amid concerns of the series waning popularity.

Following the resumption of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship season at Silverstone, it was noted that spectator numbers of 41,000 on race day and 100,000 over the three-day weekend were significantly down on previous years, not least in 2021 when 67,000 fans filled the grandstands on the Sunday.

The figures - which represents the lowest attendance for a British MotoGP since Silverstone assumed hosting duties from Donington Park -  sharpen the spotlight further on a MotoGP series under increasing scrutiny amid criticism of thinning crowds and dull racing.

Worryingly for MotoGP, the reasons for the dip in popularity appear to be multiple, with several reasons being offered by ex-GP riders, commentators and fans.

A series already acclimatising to the absence of its superstar Valentino Rossi, it is also persevering without its six-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez as he continues his latest injury recovery. 

However, MotoGP has also been criticised for its growing reliance on complicated and unsightly aero packages that are perceived to have made the bikes too hard to overtake on, a key element of the series’ popularity over the decades. 

Together with expensive live television coverage hidden behind a paywall and even suggestions the broad competitiveness of the series is preventing superstars-in-waiting from establishing themselves as the sport’s new forces - as offered by Carl Fogarty - and the lacklustre spectator numbers at Silverstone, while not welcomed, didn’t come as a huge surprise.

For triple MotoGP World Champion Lorenzo, however, he feels MotoGP has become too friendly among the leading riders, with none of the bitterness and feuding that defined his era of success when he went toe-to-toe with Rossi.

Referencing Rossi’s rivalries with the likes of Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez, Lorenzo says it was these personal battles being played out on and off track that fired up fans, adding F1 - which is enjoying a surge in popularity by comparison - has benefitted hugely from Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s conflicts.

“Nowadays all the riders seem friends,” he told Cycle World in an interview.

“Quartararo doesn’t speak with Bagnaia like I spoke with Rossi. Pecco doesn’t speak with Jorge Martin like Rossi spoke with Stoner. Nowadays, they all have good relationships.

“I have very high respect for every rider, but the ruthless battles have always fired [up] the fans,” Lorenzo said. “I think of the fierce stare Gibernau gave to Valentino in Jerez 2015, the fights between Rossi and Stoner or Rossi and Biaggi. That rivalry was in the air.

“It’s the same in Formula One, where the rivalry of Lewis Hamilton versus Max Verstappen, or Verstappen versus Leclerc, is tangible.”

“Everyone loved Rossi, it made you feel very small”

Lorenzo goes on to discuss his own famous rivalry with Rossi when they raced as team-mates, saying he needed to strengthen himself to avoid being intimidated by not just the man himself, but his vast fan base.

“It was hard. Without my strong personality, probably I would have been beaten psychologically because Valentino had all the attention. Everyone loved him, and this made you feel very small.

“But I was determined, and once I put the visor down, my only target was to open the throttle and win. Beating Rossi with the same bike gave me a lot of satisfaction and popularity.”