Jorge Lorenzo says his soft rear tyre gamble was the decisive factor in his victory in the opening round of the 2016 MotoGP World Championship in the Qatar night race.
The Movistar Yamaha rider began his title defence in emphatic fashion as he took over from the Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso on lap nine and grew stronger and stronger as the race entered the final phase, eventually opening a lead of two seconds which he held until the chequered flag.
Lorenzo made a late call to run the soft rear Michelin instead of the medium compound after struggling for pace in morning warm-up compared to some of his main rivals.
In the end it was a decision that paid dividends as the Mallorcan trumpeted his victory in Doha as 'one of the top three in my career'.
The 28-year-old, yet to sign a new MotoGP contract with Yamaha as he waits to evaluate an expected offer from Ducati, said: “The fact that I was not very fast in the warm-up, having a lot of problems to keep the pace, looking at Marc [Marquez] who was using the soft tyre and who was faster and faster, made me question myself – which tyre I had to choose.
“Finally, I decided to go with the soft one and usually a soft tyre will be worse at the end of the race, but it was the opposite, it was better and better – not with the sliding because at the beginning of the race I was sliding a lot – but it was impressive in the last few laps.
“Even with the pressure of Andrea [Dovizioso], we made the difference a little bit in the last three laps and finally when Marc [Marquez] passed Dovizioso, the difference was one second and I could breathe a little bit more easily. Winning is much better than one thousand words and today I spoke on the track.”
Lorenzo revealed that he made the tyre call himself even though his Michelin technician felt the medium compound was the safest bet.
“He was congratulating me, I was not congratulating him, so obviously I was happy and we were all happy,” joked Lorenzo on his embrace with the Michelin expert at the end of the race.
“But he wanted to use the hard one [rear] and finally my decision probably made me win the race, so he was happy, I was happy and so we are all happy, especially for the victory.
“Maybe in the future he will tell me to choose the right tyre! We are working very well together and there is no problem.
“Michelin told me the soft tyre will move more than the hard one but the performance will keep more or less the same, so the fact that I was quite slow in the warm-up made me take this risk because I saw some guys were using the soft one on the warm-up and they were faster than me. I knew that we must choose the other option.”
Assessing the unusual ebb and flow of Sunday's race, Lorenzo said that while he was unable to make a decisive break when he did hit the front, he always felt he could up the pace as the race wore on.
“In the beginning of the race the pace was not very high and it looks like in some corners the pace was dropping a little bit, so I recovered some metres in these corners. I decided to pass him [Dovizioso] in the middle of the track in the last sector for avoiding his overtaking in the straight and this was the key,” he explained.
“Anyway, when I was leading the race and making the pace higher he was following me and the gap was 0.3 and 0.5 and I couldn't leave him behind, but I was keeping strong and keeping believing that I could be even faster. I think my trust and belief made me win this race and for me it is one of my best three races in my career.
“It's very important to start on the podium in the first race because in 2014 I crashed and I got zero points and for me it was a terrible start to the season because you don't have the same confidence,” he added.
“Then last year I missed out of the podium so to start winning is the perfect way and gives you a lot of confidence and you can have some little advantage of points with the other riders.”
Paying homage to the progress made by Michelin during pre-season, Lorenzo said the new tyres for MotoGP had improved massively.
“Firstly, I think Michelin make a great job with the front tyre because in the first test when we tried the first front tyres we had many problems and many crashes. It was very difficult to understand what was the limit of the front tyre,” he said.
“Now, after the last test, we could try a different kind of front tyre and it improves so much the feeling and the understanding of what was the limit.
“We have to congratulate Michelin for this improvement and we could see that the rear, generally you can manage in the race with the conditions. Obviously the tyre drops, but you can stay more or less in the similar pace with both tyres.”
Elaborating on how he is attacking the corners with the new tyres, Lorenzo said: “With the new front tyres that Michelin brings some tests ago we could brake, maybe not the same as with the Bridgestone tyre, but quite similar.
“The rear is very good and has a lot of traction, but it works in a different way than the Bridgestone and you have to slide a little bit more and ride the bike a little bit more with the precision of the throttle. But finally the lap times are quite similar and there is not such a big difference like the first test.”
Asked whether his battle with Ducati's Dovizioso would have any bearing on whether or not he decides to remain at Yamaha, he added: “It doesn't change what happened today in the race. It just gives me 25 points and a lot of confidence, but it will not decide what I do in the future.”