MotoGP

What next for Jorge Lorenzo after worst 2019 MotoGP race?

Repsol Honda's Jorge Lorenzo is once again under increasing pressure to declare his future after a tough 2019 MotoGP season hit a new low in Australia

There have been few highlights from Jorge Lorenzo during his maiden season with the championship leading Repsol Honda team, but the Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island represented a new nadir for the three-time premier class champion.

Lorenzo finished dead last of the 16 finishers in Sunday’s race – having started 19th out of 21 – but it was the margin to his rivals that caused particular alarm, and not just to his race winning team-mate.

Indeed, while there is little joy to be had in the 66secs margin to Marc Marquez, there is arguably more concern to be gleaned from 22secs margin back to 15th place Hafizh Syharin.

Placing emphasis on the excessively windy conditions – which were enough to get qualifying cancelled – Lorenzo says his lingering back injury struggled to stand up to the stresses. 

“Well, I already expected before coming here that I would struggle a lot,” Lorenzo told reports in Australia, including our sister publication Crash.net. “Just you wish that things change, and that you are able to be fast, but that was not the case. From the first practice, I saw that I was too far from the fastest riders, and the wind and the cold made the situation worse.

“So, I struggled in every way, physically, in terms of speed, and confidence. The result was the worst after the comeback in Assen, and this is the reality. I didn't have the pace. Syahrin had better pace than me all weekend, and Karel [Abraham] also.

“Plus from the first lap, from the warm up lap I felt the left side of the tyre with completely no grip, and even if I tried to pick up the bike or delay the full throttle opening as much as possible, the rear was spinning and spinning and spinning, and moving, I had no traction.

“Braking also was bad, a lot of vibration, so I wasn't fast in any part of the track. I hope and I guess, and I think that it is only this track, that is very bad for me in these conditions.”

Could Johann Zarco replace Jorge Lorenzo?

While Lorenzo has been firm on the difficulties he has been facing on the Honda RC213V this season due to a catalogue of injuries since September 2018 – not least his back injuring crash at the Dutch MotoGP in June –  this was a new low at a time when he (and Honda) would have been expecting progress.

This is the fourth race in a row that Lorenzo has failed to score a point despite bringing the bike to the chequered flag and it comes on the weekend Johann Zarco made his Honda debut in place of the injured Takaaki Nakagami. He finished 13th, 40secs up the road (approx. 1.5secs a lap).

Indeed, Lorenzo has been at pains to point out that recovery from a back injury takes time but he returned to action back in August and there has been no noticeable upturn since then. In fact, Phillip Island represented a sharp downturn.

Reports in the Spanish media have become increasingly fevered with talk that he could justify retiring from the sport due to his injuries, while others have suggested he has given Honda an ultimatum on changing the team around him to improve his fortunes. He has denied both counts… but most agree something will have to give.

Even if Lorenzo’s injury troubles are the predominant reason for his abysmal form, Honda will be beginning to wonder how long it will need to cope with underperformance stemming from physical constraints. Indeed, it would have hoped to see Lorenzo back to the form he had before the back injury, when at least he was scoring points. 

One wonders what Honda has to gain from keeping Lorenzo on board (financial incentives notwithstanding), which raises the prospect that Zarco is indeed at LCR for good reason. 

Two good results from Zarco in Sepang and Valencia are unlikely to go unnoticed… and the Frenchman will almost certainly have one eye on Lorenzo’s spot for 2020.

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