Interview Bradley Smith: I don’t think you can think about a title challenge from round one
motogp.com caught up with Bradley Smith after two difficult pre-season tests for the Tech 3 team, to discuss the challenges faced in the year ahead and looking beyond to MotoGP.
Bradley Smith’s debut in Moto2 last year saw him achieve three podiums, a 7th place finish in the Championship and a three year deal with the Tech 3 team that will see him in MotoGP from 2013.
Big things are expected for the 21 year old Brit in the Moto2 class this year, but so far pre-season testing has revealed a lot of work yet to be done in the Tech 3 team ahead of the season opener in Qatar.
Following a difficult three days in Jerez, you ended up going back to bike’s November settings. Did you manage anything positive from the test?
“It was a lot of laps with not a lot of gain, but it gave us a good direction. At the moment, we are learning all the time and I don’t think we’re actually that far away. Once everyone puts the right engine in, I think it will become very close, but I’d rather be in [our rivals’] situation than in my situation right now, as we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I never like to make things easy for myself!”
Did you finish that test with a base for the next test?
“The crazy thing is we’ve taken the bike and modified it again so I’ll be starting with another new bike for the next test. We haven’t done one test since the end of last year on the same bike. But we don’t get anywhere from not trying. We´ve already improved half a second—but so has everybody else—so we´ve got to find that next half a second. No one said it was going to be easy, but these are the reasons why I’m involved with a team like Tech 3. I didn’t want a bike that I was just given and had to get on with, I wanted a bike that I could actually make a difference on and develop. We hope that come Qatar, we’ll be competitive and at the first four or five races we’ll be right on the pace.”
Will the new bike at the next test be the definitive bike or will there more changes before Qatar?
“That all depends on how big the project will be. One of the great things of being involved with this team is that we can pretty much make any changes, anytime, anywhere. We can’t make a brand new bike in that period, but we can certainly make more changes. I’m going to turn up at Jerez with two bikes, so the one that I decide to use from there will be our definitive race bike for Qatar and if it’s not good enough, I’ll have to make up the difference–but I’m pretty sure it will be.”
How confident are you in the Tech 3 bike against the Kalex and Suters?
“To be honest, the bike was a lot worse last year and I was still competitive, so looking at the improvements that we’ve made and also from Xavier’s [Simeon, Tech 3 team-mate] lap times, we’re definitely a lot closer. I’ve never been a one-off guy who is able to do an amazing lap time in Qualifying. I’ve always been able to make the lap time I set in Qualifying then do it in the race and stay pretty consistent, so races are always going to be my strong point, which I think others struggle with. Bearing in mind that the points and the prizes come on Sunday and after 25 laps, I’m quite confident in our potential. At Aragon I came from 18th after the first lap to finish 6th in the race, so we know we’ve got a good overall race pace, but you can’t expect to win a race being 18th. You need to be inside that top six, to be in that fight from the very first lap and that’s the type of thing we will work on once we have a bike that we’re happy with. It means I might have to close my eyes and hope for the best on my Qualifying laps to put myself on the first few rows!”
Do you think both you and the bike are capable of consistent podiums and wins?
“What our objective is right now is to get better lap times than last year, to finish on the podium more, to try and win a race. Winning a race is a bonus for us right now, we´re being realistic about where we´re starting from. We are in better shape than we were last year but whether we´re in winning shape is yet to be seen. I think only when we turn up in Qatar and actually finish the 20 laps there we’ll see how far away we are. We´re optimistic by all means, but we´re being realistic knowing that we´re not in the hunky dory situation we would like to be in – though we´re not screaming for help just yet. We´ve got another three days of testing, another 150 laps to do to put this bike right and whatever happens we´ll arrive in Qatar in the best possible shape that we can, and we´ll get the best possible result that we can and then the work will start from there.”
So you´re not thinking about a title challenge?
“I don’t think you can think about a title challenge from round one, to be honest. There are so many things that go into a championship, we have to get to the Le Mans round and see whether we are in contention. The important thing from the first three races is to score points. Let´s be honest, a championship is never won until the final races anyway. Moto2 is one of those classes where it looks like on a Saturday afternoon you´ve got no chance, then you wake up Sunday morning and for some reason something clicks and you make a couple of passes and your race pace is slightly better, some guys drop off then you find yourself on the podium- that´s the way that this championship works. So rather than overanalysing everything at the moment, we´re just trying to do the best job that we can and that´s all that I can ask from the team and from myself.”
Who do you think are going to be your biggest rivals this year?
“To be honest, I have no idea. Looking at form sometimes is misleading, you have riders that go fast in testing but then can´t in the race, guys that can do one off lap times but can´t run race pace, so it´s really difficult to tell. Also we will see once everyone is on a level playing field and under the pressure of setting up a bike in only three forty-minute sessions and one Qualifying, because also that makes a huge difference to race outcomes. We know the Kalex is strong, it won the championship last year, we know the Suter is strong because it fought for the championship last year. The Tech 3 at the moment is just trying to catch those guys up.”
Does having a contract signed for 2013 [in MotoGP]change how you ride this year given that you won´t have the mid season distraction of trying to sort out next year?
“The nice thing is that I´ve already had a plan in place for the next 3 years since September of last year, so I can say there definitely is comfort in having a long term contract. All the talk about CRT and what the rules are going to be is not a worry to me, because regardless of what happens I´m going to be on the Tech 3 team, whether on a Yamaha M1 or whatever the rules state at the time. My heart and soul is into this team 100%. I really want to make this Moto2 project work, it´s a huge passion for everybody inside that team and we want to make it work. There is no taking your eye off the ball. It has and will be firmly on this for the full 17 races until I cross that line and get off that bike in Valencia and then look towards the MotoGP. Until then, it´s nice to have that security there, knowing that the bike is going to be there regardless. So yes, I guess it´s nice to be able to go to those flyaway races not walking around the paddock into people´s garages trying to get a private word with someone because you´re looking for a ride. Everything will be signed, sealed and sorted out and I think we´ll use that as one of our strengths.”
On the other hand do you think that having a contract for MotoGP puts more pressure on you to justify it this year?
“Yes, there is some pressure. You´d like to win a championship to say “there you go, I am the champion, I deserve to be on that bike” but there has to be some reason why the guys chose me to ride in MotoGP. I think I´ve already done my proving because you don´t get given a contract, you have to earn it. So whatever I did last year and the year before gave me the opportunity to get the contract that I have. I just need to continue to up my game, to learn, to improve, to make sure that I´m ready for MotoGP, rather than proving to anyone that I deserve it.”
Will you have one eye on what Crutchlow and Dovizioso are doing this year?
“The nice thing with Tech 3 is that it´s one big team with MotoGP and Moto2. I was at the workshop the other day and I´m getting full debriefs from Cal´s data guys and also speaking with Guy [Coulon, Dovizioso´s crew chief] so I´m well aware of what´s going on. Everyone´s really positive about the M1, they definitely think that they´ve closed the gap to Honda. It´s exciting to know that they´re doing a good job like that. To see the results that Cal and Andrea got in the Malaysia tests was very promising. I´ll keep an eye just like I always do, I´ll always ask questions, I´m always asking Cal certain things. I´ll just try to learn as much as possible before I get thrown in the deep end have to do it for myself.”
You are good friends with Cal – has it been strange knowing that your Tech 3 contract puts extra pressure on him this year?
“I don’t really know. We all know that racing is a cut throat world. At the end of the day, it´s not an ideal situation to be in and obviously it wasn´t easy for me but I have to look after my best interests and I have to go with what the team wants. By no means am I going to turn down an opportunity to sign a three year deal because I´m mates with someone. Whatever happens, Cal will be in this championship again next year. He had a great rookie season and I believe he´ll have an even better second year and he´ll prove to Herve [Poncharal, Tech 3 Team Manager], to Yamaha, to Honda, to whoever he decides to go and ride for that´s he´s a worthy rider in MotoGP and he´ll be there again next year no problem at all.”
What´s happening with the Tech 3 CRT project and which bike are you expecting to ride in 2013?
“As far as I´m aware everyone´s holding fire on the CRT project to see what the final rules and regulations will be. It´s obviously Guy´s passion to develop and build bikes. I told Herve that if he needs a test rider to come and shakedown the bike and add a little bit of input then I´m more than happy to do so. When the project starts, then those talks will be able to happen more but right now that project´s been put on hold until we get further information. At the moment it looks like it will be the same deal for next year as always: With 2 riders on an M1 and the CRT as kind of a backup plan, maybe for 2014. Nobody really knows what the rules and regulations are going to be, but with these types of projects you have to be ready at least 12 months in advance, hence the reason why they were ready in December, in case they had to be ready for November of 2013. But as far as I´m aware, it will remain the same, there will be CRT bikes but as long as Tech 3 can get a Yamaha M1, they will stick with a Yamaha M1.”