Dani Pedrosa is the most successful rider yet to win a 500cc/MotoGP title.
Hand-picked to move to the World Championship after impressing in the 1999 Movistar Activa Cup, a series meant to foster young talent in Spain, Pedrosa moved to the world stage in 2001 and began to re-write the record books. He won twice in 2002, then secured the 2003 125cc World Championship with five wins.
The following year he won the 250cc title in his first try and repeated in 2005. By the time he was 20, he’d already won three world championships and was ready to move to the senior class. On the podium in his very first MotoGP race, Pedrosa took his maiden MotoGP win three races later, making him the youngest rider to have won GP’s in all three classes, with all of his success coming on Hondas .
The hotbed of Spanish motorcycle racing is in the area surrounding Barcelona, which is where Pedrosa was born, in the suburb of Sabadell. Like most riders, he began on minibikes, riding with outrigger wheels while a four-year-old and soon showing his skills on the local go-kart tracks. His seriousness about racing came into focus as a ten-year-old when he won the Spanish minibike series in 1998. Then came the move to the Activa Cup, a series featuring identically prepared RS125 race bikes supplied by Honda Spain and backed by Telefonica Movistar.
Pedrosa’s destiny would be decided when he drew the attention of Alberto Puig, a former GP winner who had established a successful second career in fostering young talent. Puig was impressed by his fellow Spaniard’s abilities and he arranged for Pedrosa to move to the 125cc World Championship in 2001. His ascent was swift. The first of his now 31 GP wins came in Assen in 2002 and in 2003 he won the first of his world championships.
A promotion to the 250cc class followed in 2004. Now aboard a Honda RS250W, Pedrosa won a thrilling season-opener in South Africa, quickly following it up with a win in the third race in Spain. He secured the title by 61 points and won the 2005 by almost as many. MotoGP beckoned, with Pedrosa winning twice aboard the Repsol Honda RC212V in his rookie season. In more than six decades of GP racing, Pedrosa is the third youngest rider to have won a premier-class GP, after Honda hero Freddie Spencer and the late Norick Abe.
The move to 800’s in 2007 allowed Pedrosa to showcase the high speed cornering technique he’d developed in the smaller classes. Two wins at Sachsenring and Valencia came en route to second in the season point standings, Pedrosa establishing himself as a potential title MotoGP contender in the process.
Pedrosa started strong in 2008, finishing on the podium nine times, including two wins, which catapulted him into the championship lead. But a hand injury, suffered while leading the German GP, would force him to skip the next race at Laguna Seca, ultimately derailing his title hopes. A strong end of season push of three podiums in the final four races, helped to secure him third overall.
Pedrosa’s reputation as a rider susceptible to injuries struck once again ahead of the 2009 season when a pre-season accident prevented him from completing testing and he began the year on the back foot. Though a swift recovery had him on the podiums in rounds two, three and four, a minor fracture of femur at Mugello set him back again and effectively ended any hopes of a title challenge.
Pedrosa marked his return to competitiveness with victory at Laguna Seca, while a string of following podiums – including a second win at Valencia – pushed him up to third overall behind the two Yamahas.
Desperate to stay injury-free in 2010, Pedrosa overcame a stuttered start to the season to emerge as Jorge Lorenzo’s nearest title contender. A win at Mugello formed the basis of his challenge, while further successes at Sachsenring, Indianapolis and Misano, as well as podiums at Assen, Barcelona, Brno and Aragon, helped to keep countryman Lorenzo honest.
However, disaster struck Pedrosa during practice for the Japanese Grand Prix when an accident left him with a fractured collarbone, ruling him out of three races and ending any title dreams. A cautious return in the final two rounds nonetheless enabled him to take the runners-up spot.
Joined by Casey Stoner at Repsol Honda for 2011, Pedrosa’s role as team leader was under threat, though while his compatriot was certainly fast on the RC212V, the Spaniard was also thriving on the much improved machine. Enjoying his best start to a season yet, which included a win at Estoril, Pedrosa proved he was very much in the hunt.
However, his horrendous luck once again surfaced when he was involved in a controversial collision with Marco Simoncelli (for which the Italian was blamed) at Le Mans, an accident that left him with a broken collarbone.
Keeping him sidelined for a further three races, Pedrosa’s title challenge once again floundered, but he did at least give an idea what could have been by proving swift on his return, winning at Sachsenring and Motegi, even if he never showed pace to match dominant title winner Stoner.
Eventually finishing the season fourth, just behind his other team-mate Andrea Dovizioso, Pedrosa was nonetheless given the nod over the Italian for 2012 when Honda opted to slim down to a two-man team.
With most eyes on Stoner, Pedrosa came into the year as something of a relative underdog, a status perpetuated by a meagre start to the year during which he was out-performed by his team-mate and Jorge Lorenzo.
However, as the season neared its mid-way point, the pendulum of momentum was shifting back towards Pedrosa’s, his consistency at least keeping him in touch with Lorenzo and Stoner even before he notched up his first win of the season at the Sachsenring.
With Stoner going on to rule himself out of contention with an accident at Indianapolis three races later, Pedrosa was elevated to Honda’s key title fighter, a role he embraced with a stunning run of form during the latter half of the year. Winning six of the final eight races, though his cause was helped by a cautious Lorenzo protecting his advantage by finishing second on nearly each occasion, Pedrosa’s form at least kept the pressure up.
In the end, a crash at Misano – caused by an errant Hector Barbera – left him with too much to do before a self-inflicted accident at Phillip Island officially handed Lorenzo the title. Despite this, Pedrosa’s seven wins still made him the winningest rider of 2012 and marked his best-ever MotoGP campaign in a year that many perceived as critical to his Honda future.
With Stoner retiring, Pedrosa resumed team leader status alongside upstart Marc Marquez going into 2013.
But Pedrosa was soon battling to contain Marquez and a mid-season Sachsenring shoulder injury saw momentum shift irrevocably to the 20-year-old.
To his credit, some of Pedrosa’s eventual 30 point deficit to champion Marquez can be explained by his Sachsenring injury - not to mention a further non-score due to the freak accident with Marquez at Aragon.
Nevertheless, Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo also suffered two non-scores this season and Pedrosa simply needed more race wins: His three victories compared with six for Marquez and eight for Lorenzo, who also suffered shoulder injuries.
But if Pedrosa had been over-awed by the immediate success of rookie team-mate Marc Marquez in 2013, the gulf between the two Spaniards would only widen the following year. Though Pedrosa had the ‘honour’ of being the first person other than Marquez to take a pole (Catalunya) and race win (Brno) in 2014, he was not able to repeat either achievement during the remainder of the season.
Indeed, Brno aside, Pedrosa only finished ahead of Marquez on one further occasion - when both fell and remounted in the Aragon rain. Pedrosa’s hopes were hampered by arm-pump surgery early in the year, while double DNFs late in the season left Pedrosa a fairly anonymous fourth overall and 116 points behind Marquez.
At the start of 2015, Pedrosa shocked the MotoGP world when, shortly after fading from second to sixth in the Qatar season-opener, he revealed a hidden battle with arm pump and was withdrawing from racing to seek immediate treatment. With Pedrosa and Honda admitting the treatment options were unknown, given that previous surgery had proven ineffective, it is no exaggeration to say that Pedrosa’s career hung in the balance.
A further ‘complicated and aggressive’ form of surgery was chosen, during which the entire ‘casing’ was removed from around the muscle in Pedrosa’s forearm, the recovery from which saw Pedrosa absent for three races.
Upon his return, the Spaniard not only had the unknown factor of his fitness to contend with, but also the urgent need to improve the aggressive engine character of the 2015 Honda, which would catch out team-mate Marc Marquez multiple times during the year.
Pedrosa, who had never gone more than two races into a season without a rostrum, finally climbed the podium for the first time at round seven, his home event in Catalunya. A second place followed in Germany, but it would be the final five rounds where Pedrosa really came alive.
First up was Aragon, where Pedrosa put up probably the best fight of his premier-class career to resist Valentino Rossi for second place. He then caught and overtook both Rossi and Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo to claim victory at a wet Motegi, thus extending his record of at least one win a season since his 2006 MotoGP debut.
Pedrosa would later claim a dry win at Sepang, a race overshadowed by the controversial clash between Rossi and Marc Marquez. While Rossi, Marquez and Lorenzo bickered over the incident and subsequent penalty, Pedrosa drew widespread praise for his cool-headed analysis
and overall conduct in the post-race press conference.
The only rider to outscore Pedrosa in the last five events would be champion Lorenzo - Pedrosa’s light weight seeing him to struggle to generate grip with the hard tyres needed at Phillip Island.