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Alex Criville - Q&A

10 July 2008

Alex Criville became the first and so far only Spaniard to win the 500cc/MotoGP World Championship when he took his Repsol Honda to title victory during the 1999 season.

Criville won a total of 15 premier-class grands prix from 1992 to 2001 - all with Honda - and was one of the few riders capable of challenging five-times 500cc world champion Mick Doohan, who ruled the premier-class from 1994-1998.

Alex, who also won the 1989 125cc World Championship, now follows grand prix racing as a TV commentator...


Q:
How does a 38-year-old former 500cc world champion spend his time?

Alex Criville:
After retiring, I missed racing and the world of competition a lot, dying to return to racing. I drove in some rallies, I was with Toni Elías for one year, and then the possibility of TV cropped up. What do I do now? Live from day to day and follow racing which is what I like. And I enjoy my time with my family. I am very happy. I follow the motorbike championship but from another perspective. Without the danger inherent in racing and this year enjoying a season which I believe is one of the best that we have seen in the last few years, with two Spaniards fighting in the top category. In 125cc and 250cc. our riders are also on the crest of a wave.

Q:
Do you enjoy your new life in the paddock? It is completely different from the one you had as a rider…

Alex Criville:
Hey, I always liked to compete and when I went to the paddock I wanted the day of the race to arrive, and for the lights to turn green. The same still happens. When I am in the paddock I want the race on Sunday to start, to live them and to enjoy watching them. All the rest makes me tired. The trips, the waits, spending all your time travelling around the world, so much time away from home....

Q:
Is there anything specific about racing that you miss?

Alex Criville:
The adrenaline, the tension that you have on the bike, and all the sensations that the bike gave me and which I don't experience now. Sometimes you do think that you are missing something. That is something that cannot be replaced.

Q:
Is there anything that you do not miss?

Alex Criville:
The risk. The negative part of racing are the risks, the injuries, this is one of the things that I don't miss. After accidents like the ones involving Esteve Rabat and Jorge Lorenzo a few weeks ago in Montmeló, or Axel Pons in Jerez, you realise how dangerous this sport is. You were aware of the danger before, but now you watch and you analyse, and you think that what you achieved and did is more than enough. I am privileged to have been a winner and to have retired before I seriously hurt myself, because you spend a lot of time competing, but sooner or later the moment arrives when you have to stop.

Q:
Turning to the present. What do you think about MotoGP at the moment? Do you think it is changing in the right way?

Alex Criville:
I believe that the world is a more and more complicated place. But it works, the best riders are here, and it is the number one championship. The leader in everything, the audience as well as in makes, since the best makes invest in it. There are certain things in the championship that I think are very good, but it is also true that maybe some more riders are needed in MotoGP.

I remember being alongside another thirty riders on the grid, now there are eighteen. I think that it would not be a bad idea to have ten more, so that the level of competitiveness is a little higher.

MotoGP has reached a point where the bikes are extremely sophisticated, so technically they need engineers that can set them up. Technology has advanced a lot, from traction control, electronics, etc. This means that now not everybody can have the pleasure of creating a team, something that was more affordable before. The factories can pay for this, but the satellite teams are on a knife edge.

Q:
If you were able to change the regulations in each of the three grand prix categories, what would you do?

Alex Criville:
I think the 125cc category is fine just as it is right now. It is a category focused on getting riders started and training them, and once they take the right steps and win they can move up to 250cc. In this category I think it is the right thing to change to four strokes. In the top category I am not really in favour of traction control since the motorbikes depend a lot on the electronics. This is a decisive matter, important for rider safety. Anyway, the riders don't get thrown off so much when they lose adherence, but on the other hand, braking and on fast corners there are also many falls. In general, and like I said, it is a championship that is experiencing a boom, but you should not stand still either, since these are difficult times in many aspects.

Q:
Regarding tyres, they were a controversial subject last season but not so much this year, what do you think?

Alex Criville:
There was talk of a single supplier. I rode on Michelin all my life, but what I see is that on some circuits they are fine, and on others other makes are better. Right now the two makes are very even. If all the riders had the same make there would be no talk of tyres, and that would also be interesting. Michelin's qualification tyres are better, and the Bridgestone race tyre is very good. With low temperatures it seems that the Michelins work better, although the opposite has also been seen. In summary, a single supplier seems fine by me, but right now there are two make battling it out and they both have a chance of doing well, there can be two, no problem.

Q:
Do you think that it would be good to have another tyre supplier in MotoGP?

Alex Criville:
Perhaps Dunlop and Pirelli are missing, although the latter is in Superbikes. But I tend to think the contrary, that it would be better to have just one tyre and to stop talking about them, to make the differences smaller. Because you can have a great bike and a great team, but if you use tyres that are not the best you cannot win.

Q:
If Alex Criville created a team for next year, which riders and machines would you choose for each category?

Alex Criville:
In MotoGP, both Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo are two top class riders who are in factory teams, but I would like the chance to have them in my team. As for the bike, for me the best motorbike is the Honda, although Yamaha this year is very good, and technologically more balanced, machine. As for tyres, I have always used Michelins, I never had any problems, and they are demonstrating that they can win. Although I still think that the difference is because of the riders. In 250cc, for sure I would opt for Bautista and Barberá, and the bike that works best is the Aprilia. In 125cc, we have Pol Espargaró who is very fast, and Joan Olivé too. But there are many other riders I like too, such as Nico Terol who this year is the big surprise.

Q:
Do you think that it is a good thing to have three different grand prix classes in the world championship?

Alex Criville:
On Sundays, perhaps three consecutive races are too much. Maybe it would not be a bad idea to have two on Sunday and one on the Saturday. It would also be good for concentrating on what MotoGP is. Anyway, this is a question you have to think about in depth. Personally I had not seriously thought about it, but for example, I think that the change that you mentioned in 250cc is very good, to move from four strokes and up to 600cc. That demonstrates that things are being done so that everything works well.

Q:
How do you see the evolution in the last few years from 500cc to 990cc and now to 800cc?

Alex Criville:
I found the 990cc change a good idea, but the change was made to 800cc for safety reasons and for the top speed. Although now they are already going faster, in spite of the fact that maybe on straights they are not so fast. More power and less traction control seems fine to me. That way is a little more aggressive, not so conservative as today's MotoGP is.

Q:
After several years in the Repsol Honda Team, you became the only Spaniard to win the 500cc/MotoGP World Championship. Do you think that Dani Pedrosa is ready to pick up where you left off?

Alex Criville:
I believe that he is ready because it is his third year, he has the number two on his motorbike, he is a fast, consistent rider able to win races. And in the HRC structure the normal thing is that in your first year you learn and finish on the podium. In the second the rider should consistently be fighting to win races, and in the third, this is the moment to fight for the world championship.

This is similar to what happened to me. In 1994 I began to finish on the podium, in 1995 I won races, and in 1996 I began to fight for the world title, although that did not arrive until 1999 which is when I was really prepared to win it. I believe that Dani is now good enough to win it, but evidently, Casey Stoner is also prepared, and Valentino Rossi who has already won it many times and nobody doubts that he is ready to do so again.

Q:
You spent many years fighting and competing against one of the best ever riders in this sport, Mick Doohan. Do you think that Dani Pedrosa is in a similar situation with Valentino Rossi?

Alex Criville:
Yes, I think it is the same. Dani Pedrosa has the total support of HRC, he is the number one rider, he has Repsol backing him like they backed me, and we won the title. It is important. He is fighting to be world champion, and sooner or later he will be one. I do not know if it will be this year, but a new generation has arrived and Rossi will retire, and then there will be Dani, Stoner…

Q:
What came into your mind when you saw two of your old Repsol Honda team-mates - Tadayuki Okada and Sete Gibernau - one returning to racing, and the other in testing?

Alex Criville:
Tady Okada is an 'old' man, he is 41 years old. He did a lot of laps in Japan and he tested some things, so he was delighted to ride again although it was only really a test. I do not see Sete Gibernau as a test rider. If he returns it will be with the intention of fighting to win. His performance is a complete unknown, because right now he is not in a condition to fight with the leaders. He said farewell some time ago, he retired, and only he knows whether will be able to ride at the top level. The times he set at Mugello were good.

Q:
The evolution of the new HRC engine with pneumatic valves has been delayed, although Nicky Hayden is now racing it and seems pleased with it. Meanwhile Dani Pedrosa, with the traditional engine, is also getting good results and riding fast. What do you think of this situation?

Alex Criville:
The engine of the future is the one with pneumatic valves, and Hayden has demonstrated that it works well. Dani Pedrosa maybe doesn't have too much confidence in the new engine, but things are not going too badly with the springs, since he is fighting to be world champion, so it is logical that he doesn't want to take the risk of it being him who has a problem with the new engine, like what happened with Okada in training at Mugello or Nicky in the last race in Holland.

Q:
Do you think that it is a problem for Honda, having two riders with two very different riding styles?

Alex Criville:
If you can have two top class riders, better than just one. I think that Pedrosa is now a little better than Hayden, but in spite of this, the squad is still quite balanced. The Repsol Honda Team is different from other factory teams where one is first and the other last, as is the case of Ducati where they have a serious problem. The situation at HRC is better in my opinion.

Q:
With your experience, and the time you have been racing, you are perfectly placed to spot and help develop a future star. Have you never thought about working with a young rider?

Alex Criville:
You have to dedicate a lot of time to do that, you have to enjoy doing it and you have to find him. For the time being I have not thought about it. However this is what I say now, but who knows what might happen in the future. This could be a nice story…

Q:
You have been in the paddock a long time, but before you were a rider, now on the other hand you can see all the other details that surround racing. What is it that has most caught your attention?

Alex Criville:
To begin with, the world of racing has grown a lot. Before there were few journalists covering the world championship and now there are many. In the paddock itself there has been an incredible change, since all this hospitality business and spectacular structures etc. have appeared. Maybe before I didn't see all the work that was done in the press room, where people work the whole day. But I believe that this is part of the evolution that the paddock and all that surrounds it has experienced.

Q:
Your character was always shy and introverted. How has Alex Criville adapted to the role of TV presenter?

Alex Criville:
It is not going too badly. We have improved compared to last year. They made me a proposition and it was a challenge that I decided to try out. At the beginning I said that I didn't think that I was the most suitable person for the TV since I never really enjoyed speaking in public. I had always tried to be discreet, to speak just the right amount, only opening up with my friends, in small groups. But to speak a lot in front of a camera, that is very difficult. I am having a good experience because I believe that the important thing is to enjoy yourself, and I am quite enjoying it. Above all this year, more than last year, and much more than I thought I would.”

Q:
Do the fans recognise you often?

Alex Criville:
Obviously they remember me more now I am on the TV. They do not forget, but logically you are no longer the centre of attention. And now with the TV interest is coming back a little. That is also nice.

Q:
Finally, looking at Repsol Honda's rider line-up in all three classes, what is your opinion?

Alex Criville:
In 125cc, Esteve Rabat and Marc Márquez are two riders for the future. Rabat is about to start winning races, and Márquez is a rider that will surprise us a lot. He is the future, the youngest in the world championship, and he is very very hungry, with a promising outlook, he could end up being a really competitive rider.

Julián Simón belongs to the group of riders that it is about to join the leaders. He is just a few tenths behind the leaders, if he can make this small difference up he can join Bautista, Barberá and Simoncelli, but I believe that with some confidence and improving the set up he will be able to compete with the best. He just needs to take that step.

Nicky Hayden is an ex world champion and he adapted better to the 990cc machine since it had more power, I am sure that if the bikes had less electronics he would be even better. Dani Pedrosa, at the moment is one of the riders fighting for the world championship, and he is the 'reference'.


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