Ask motorcycle grand prix racing fans to name who they think is best racer of all time, and almost everybody says the same few names – Agostini, Dunlop, Hailwood, Sheene, Roberts, Spencer, Lawson, Gardner, Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan and Rossi. Few people remember names like Marco Lucchinelli (1981 500cc world champ), Franco Uncini (1982 500cc world champ) or indeed Spanish rider Alex Criville, who won the 500cc world championship in 1999.
Criville, who won the 125cc world title in 1989, with JJ Cobas, rode for Repsol Honda in the 500cc class in the 1990s. But for most of his career, he was overshadowed by that hugely talented and fiercely determined Aussie, Mick Doohan, who won no less than five consecutive 500cc world titles – from 1994 to 1998. That doesn’t, however, take away anything from the fact that Criville – who became the first Spaniard to win a 500cc world championship – was a very accomplished racer in his own right.
Today, 38-year-old Criville is a TV commentator for a Spanish TV channel and quietly follows the MotoGP brigade around the world, keeping in touch with the sport he loved so much. Motociclismo recently had the opportunity to speak to the man, and here are some excerpts from that conversation:
On what he does these days
‘After you retire, there is much less ‘competition’ in your life. I enjoy being with my family. I still follow racing though, which is what I like. And I still like motorcycles, but from another perspective – without the danger of competition.’
On whether he enjoys life as a TV commentator
‘I always used to love racing and I used to wait for the moment when the lights would go from red to green. It’s still the same now – when I’m in the paddock, I can’t wait for the races to begin. I love watching MotoGP races. But I’m now tired of other things – the travel, the waiting, going up and down all over the world, spending so much time away from home…’
On whether he misses anything about his racing days
‘The adrenaline, the tension and all the other sensations associated with motorcycle racing – those I don’t have now. Sometimes, you do think something is missing. And that something, nothing can replace.’
On the risks associated with motorcycle racing
‘The risk and the injuries are the negative parts of racing. You look at the accidents and you realize just how dangerous this sport is. I think I’m privileged to have retired early. Sooner or later, it’s time for you to stop.’
On the current state of MotoGP
‘I think it's an increasingly complicated world. But it works. The best racers are here, the best brands are here, and the championship is the number one. However, I remember being with thirty racers on the grid, and now there are eighteen. I think we need at least ten more, to increase the level of competition.’
‘MotoGP has reached a point where the motorcycles are now extremely sophisticated – the technology has advanced and there’s the electronics to contend with. This also means that now not everyone can assemble a MotoGP team. Previously, it was more affordable. The factory teams can deal with the expense but for satellite teams, things have become tougher.’
On whether he thinks there should be more tyre brands in MotoGP
‘On the contrary, it would be better to have a single tyre brand in MotoGP, so that one factor would cease to matter. Right now, you can have a great motorcycle and a good team, but if you happen to have tyres that are not the best, you cannot win.’
On which bikes and which racers he’d choose for his own team, if he had one
‘In MotoGP, both Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo are two front-line racers, and I’d like to have them on my team. And for me, the best bike is Honda, despite the fact that Yamaha has, this year, has made a very good bike which is technologically more balanced. As for tyres, I have always been a Michelin man and I've never had any problems with them.’
On the evolution of MotoGP from 500cc to 990cc to 800cc
‘To me, the 990s seemed very well even though the 800s seem to be going even faster now. More power and less traction control – that seemed fine to me. That was a road that was a bit more aggressive, not as conservative as that of the MotoGP today.’
On whether he thinks Pedrosa can win the MotoGP world championship this year
‘I believe he’s ready. It’s his third year in MotoGP, he is fast and consistent, and he’s able to win races. At HRC, the rule is that your first year is to learn and to take podium finishes. In the second, you must regularly be struggling to win races. And in the third year, it's time to fight for the World Championship.’
‘But then again, obviously, Casey Stoner is also prepared. And also Valentino Rossi, who has already won many times – nobody doubts that he is prepared!’
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