MotoGP: Lorenzo eyes redemption in Tuscan paradise

    (CNN)If Valentino Rossi is MotoGP's king and jester rolled into one, and Marc Marquez is its dashing young prince, Jorge Lorenzo is something altogether more complex.

    At just 28 the Spaniard has already racked up 13 years' racing experience, having started in the series on the very first day the rules allowed -- his fifteenth birthday.
      Twice MotoGP champion, and with two further crowns in the old 250cc class, he's undoubtedly one of the sport's greats; yet he has never quite inspired the universal adoration that normally accompanies such achievements.

      Nightmare start

      Last season began nightmarishly for him. A crash at the opening race in Losail and an extraordinary jumped start at the second outing in Austin ended his title challenge before it began.
      But this year he arrives at Italy's voluptuous Mugello circuit closing in on first place after back-to-back wins.
      "2014 was a difficult season for me," Lorenzo told CNN from the Tuscan trackside in a phone interview. "I didn't take care of my physical condition during pre-season," he confesses.
      "The tyres were harder than the last year, so this makes my riding style a little bit more difficult, and also the bike was very nervous."
      The man from Mallorca seemed to regain his form as 2014 wore on, but then began 2015 off the pace once more -- missing the podium in the first three races. He admits that this preyed on his mind.
      "Well the doubts, they are always there when the bad moments happen, but you have to try to convince yourself that the future is going to be brighter. You have to keep working, harder and harder, to solve the problems, and that's what I did."
      Four races in, at Jerez, everything fell into place. Lorenzo qualified on pole, obliterating the lap record in the process, and dominated the race with an emphatic victory.
      Perhaps not unrelatedly, he also signed a new contract with his Movistar Yamaha team ahead of qualifying.
      He doesn't deny that this eased his mind.
      "Probably it gives you more relaxation and it gives you a little bit more calm, because you know where you're going to stay in the future," he told CNN.
      "But I think it was a coincidence that I signed the contract and suddenly the next day I was the fastest one in Jerez. It was a little bit of a coincidence, but of course it gives you a little bit more happiness and you are more quiet to ride better, no?"


      There's a fresh sense of serenity throughout the Movistar Yamaha camp this term, not least because of the YZR M1 bike's rejuvenation.
      "I think especially we improve in the corners," Lorenzo explains. "That was quite evidently our weak point last year... we didn't lose so much on the straight, but when I arrive into the braking the other riders always recover a lot of space."
      That weakness, he says, has gone.
      "The Japanese engineers concentrated a lot of their effort in this pre-season to improve this area. They got it, now we can brake later and with more flexibility."
      After a second imperious win at Le Mans, Lorenzo looked a man transformed.
      The warm embrace teammate and championship leader Rossi gave him after that victory appeared completely genuine. It was a stark contrast to the frostiness that once pervaded between the two men.

      Rossi's warmth

      "It's true that the relationship we have now is quite different from the relationship we had five or six years ago," Lorenzo concedes.
      "Now, after so many years and a lot of things happening, the situation is a little bit different, I think we grew up, we are more mature and I think we understand that both of us are so fast and so competitive and so constant, and we have to do the best to help each other, and if we have a good recipe it's better for both of us to improve the bike."
      Of course it also helps when both men have done well.
      "I think Valentino was happy (after Le Mans) because I don't think he expected to finish in second place," Lorenzo smiles.
      "I was happy as well to win the race, obviously, but obviously when everyone is happy everyone is more charming and friendly, no?"

      Troubled teens

      There is a palpable sense of maturity about Lorenzo at the moment.
      As a teenager his off track life was almost the polar opposite of the stable family environment compatriot Marquez has enjoyed.
      Lorenzo endured a combustible off-track relationship with his father, Chico, while the rider's manager -- Dani Amatriain -- was issued with a restraining order.
      Such events have left him to grow up in public virtually alone
      "When I was 16 I left my father so I had to start living alone, completely alone, and I started to learn education, I started to learn how to treat people, I just learned by living life, observing other people, reading books," he explains.
      "And you know, I am self-made so this has a lot of merit, but I still have a lot to learn and I'm doing it."
      Perhaps now people are seeing a truer picture of Lorenzo and his return to form has clearly delighted many observers in the paddock, while he seems to be winning over some of those MotoGP fans who have found it hard to warm to him.
      He also appears more comfortable in his own skin.

      'People change, people make mistakes'

      "People change and people make mistakes, we are here in life to make mistakes and to learn from them," he said.
      "But you know what? At this moment I'm not really worried about what people think. You just have one life; you have to live it in your way because it's the best way to live.
      "If you have to worry about what people think about you, you are not enjoying, you are not being you, and I understand that it's better to do what you want, always respecting the rest of the people, but do whatever you want and live however you like."
      This weekend's race in Mugello is perhaps the highlight of the MotoGP calendar.
      Aside from its electric atmosphere and achingly beautiful setting, Lorenzo loves the circuit for practical reasons. He has finished either first or second for the last six years there, including three successive wins in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
      Mugello, he says, is perfect for his style.
      "You know I'm still very smooth on the bike, actually I think I'm smoother than before," he said.
      "But I also improve my braking a lot, and Mugello is a very flowing track, has a lot of chicanes, and always has been good to change direction, so this for sure helped me, and not having any first gear corners also is a good point for me."
      The undulating Tuscan tarmac also appears to suit the YZR M1.
      "Apart from this long straight, where we lose a little, I think for the rest of the track our bike is very agile, has good corner speed.
      "You have to be very flowing and carry a lot of corner speed, so that's why the combination of the Yamaha and my smooth riding creates a good performance."

      Marquez's struggles

      In this context, Honda and world champion Marquez will be desperate to reignite the spark that appears to have been dampened this season.
      Lorenzo sees this reversal of fortunes as normal.
      "A lot of people thought that (Marquez) was much, much better than us last year when he won 12 races in a row, and it was not like that," he contends.
      "He was in a really good physical condition, he had the bike, and he had everything together and he took profit of it; but this year is probably the opposite and we are winning four or five.
      "Races are like that -- you have to have everything together to be competitive, and if you don't have it you are not."
      As for Lorenzo, he is determined to continue riding his fresh wave of success.
      "We won four races of five -- that means that the bike is working really, really well, and you are riding well; everything comes very easy, no?
      "So you feel strong mentally, you think you are able to do anything. That's the state of mind that all sportsmen or riders want to have, and at this moment I have it. I'm going to try to keep it for as long as possible."