Updated: Jun 20
As MotoGP starts to make plans for the second half of the 2020 season my thoughts go to the doubleheader at the Redbull Ring in Austria on the 16th & 23 August.
Last year's Spielberg Grand Prix was voted the best Grand Prix of the year by Dorna and the MotoGP race was possibly the race of the year also. Looking forward to August I am wondering who will be looking forward to it and who will be dreading two races there in two weekends.
I was there last year, sitting trackside at Turn 4 of the undulating Spielberg RedBull Ring in the final lap of the 2019 MotoGP, I could sense the crowd feeling the race was over as Marc Marquez led on the Repsol Honda with Dovizioso on the Ducati struggling to match his pace, another Marquez win in an ultra dominant season, or so they thought. The 85,000 strong crowd were glued to the giant TV screens around the track to see if Dovi could make up any ground. Coming into the second to last turn, the Ducati still looked too far away to make a move that would stick but as Marquez broke for the final Corner, Dovi uncharacteristically made a lunge, braking later and putting his Ducati level with the Honda on the inside, the two bikes touched but it was Dovizioso that held the line and was able to exit the corner ahead of Marquez and drive to the line, taking a remarkable and well-earned victory. The place erupted in celebration seeing Dovizioso finally get the better of Marquez for the first time since the opening round in Qatar.
So the question is what can we learn from Dovi's thought process during that last corner move and how can it help you in your racing?
Talking in Parc Fermé after the race, Dovi said "It wasn't my style to make that kind of move in the last corner. But I felt so strong in that moment. In the past, I would always be thinking about it too much."
As a Performance Coach working with riders, this is how I interpret what Dovizioso was saying
No1 He was no longer thinking about how to make a move, he just made it.
No2 He was completely immersed in the task at hand.
No3 He accepted he was taking a risk
No4 He had belief in his skills.
No5 He had confidence he could deal with the consequences no matter what happened as a result of making the move.
So let's look at each one individually.
Number 1 - Dovizioso was no longer thinking about how to make a move, he just made it. This is a vital part of heightened performance, when we are in strategy mode trying to work out what to do, where to pass or even what lap to do it on, ie " i will wait to the last lap and do him on the hairpin" type thoughts we are slowing ourselves down because the part of the brain that is operating our strategy and planning is limited to what it can process and so to handle all the thoughts of the possibilities to plan for it is using a lot of energy ( your brain uses 25% of the bodies energy each day ) and so to try and conserve energy it slows you down to be able to pay attention to the thought process you are putting yourself through, so in effect even planning an overtake slows you down, never mind when you are in puzzle solution mode of a bad session, wondering why on earth you are a second or more off the pace, "is it the bike? he seems so much quicker than me, is it the tyres? is it the suspension? is it me, am i just having a bad day? I hate this track, i never go well here" the energy you are burning with all of those thoughts on those sort of days cannot do anything but slow you down. So Dovi had it right he was no longer thinking he was simply doing.
Number 2 - He was completely immersed in the task at hand.
In the debriefs I do with the riders I work with after they have been on track, one of the questions we cover is how strong was the sense of oneness. When you are completely immersed in what you are doing, you are no longer thinking about what was said in the garage before you went out or what another rider thinks of the tight move you just made on him, instead, when the brain is completely immersed in the current task then that sense of oneness is so strong you are at one with the bike and even at one with the track. Everything else just melts away and you are simply using the bike as an instrument to move around the track. You may have experienced this sensation yourself in the past and it is when you are racing at your absolute best.
Number 3 - He accepted he was taking a risk
To perform at a higher level you have to accept there is a higher risk, to make that move on the last corner of the last lap there was a risk of it all going wrong, no one has a crystal ball, but Dovizioso was willing to take the risk rather than ride at 7/10s because he was fearful of what might happen, which is all based on fantasy anyway. When your brain goes "what if that happened, wouldn't that be terrible" it is just a possible scenario, it isn't based on any facts but it seems so real we believe it and change our actions to avoid it as best we can. So unless you train our minds with to handle it through techniques you end up doing everything at 7/10s to protect yourself from something that may happen but just as possibly never will.
Number 4 - He had belief in his skills.
This is a massive part of increased performance, to be able to stay focused and to be immersed in the task completely, you need to have belief in your skills, if you are riding around saying to yourself, " they are going to figure out soon, i am not all that good," that is never going to let you perform at a higher level. I know the feeling well, i was racing in Dubai on a Yamaha R6 and back then i knew none of the techniques i teach now. I qualified on pole for a televised support race for a FIA World GT car race, in Dubai they don't care having a motorcycle race supporting a car race, but anyway, i was very nervous being on pole, i would have been much happier qualifying in 2nd or 3rd as i wasn't very good at race starts and low and behold, come the start, I was 9th going into turn 1, from POLE !!!!! So my worst fear came true. ( I did end up finishing 3rd :-) ) But my point is if you don't have the belief in your skills, you need to go to work on acquiring the skills to build belief, if i had known back then, what i know now, i would have used up a clutch or three practising my starts and building my belief through the evidence that i am now a strong starter. So when i qualified on pole i would have been completely different in my mental approach to it and the opportunity.
Number 5 - He had confidence he could deal with the consequences no matter what happened as a result of making the move.
Everything is connected, the belief feeds the confidence which builds the sense of oneness which in turn blocks out any and all distractions and allows you to make moves you wouldn't know how to pull off if you were asked to do it again. The mind is a powerful ally to your performance but if not channelled it can be your biggest enemy, as well as one that you cannot get away from. But by training the mind, similar to how you work out your body, in daily sessions, you start to take control of the situation and build more building blocks for performance. Some changes are swift and you can see a change in your performance on track with the new techniques and others are a longer burn to change your overall approach. But the truth is, just like the gym, if you are not going and your competitors are, they have an advantage over you come race day, and so, the same can be said for your mental approach, if you are not training your mind and feeding it the correct information and techniques but your competitors are then they have the advantage. Just as I am sure Marquez & co have been working on their possible advantages to try and beat Dovi and the Ducatis at Speilberg in August.
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