Alex Barros is a true one off. We’re not talking about his voodoo abilities here, or the fact that he looks just as tired in real life as he does on the TV. We’re talking about his career. No other rider in the modern era has raced against Gardner, Lawson, Rainey, Doohan, Rossi and Stoner in their prime. He’s also raced 500 two-strokes when they were the most difficult machines to ride on the planet (and broke more legs than Al Pacino), experienced the big-bang evolution, the four-stroke revolution and is able to compare the fire-breathing 990s with the (allegedly) easy to ride 800s.
Now out of a contract with MotoGP, Barros talks about Cagivas, Goodwood, Ducatis, what were the best bikes and what he’s up to now. I met Alex in the suitably plush surroundings of the Dunhill Driver’s Suite at The 2008 Goodwood Festival of Speed. It was difficult getting to speak to Barros, not because of all those years confronting Journalists has made him defensive, far from it, it was that no one knew what he looked like. But then, this is Goodwood. If you’re not Stirling Moss or Lewis Hamilton, you can go hang. This is hardly what you’d expect from a man, who has beaten Rossi and Schwantz in his career.
Barros, exclusively for MGPN spoke about his career and who’s the best and what he thinks of the current scene.
He then reflected on his career, “I’ve been racing 21 years in the World Championship, 29 in total. There are still some people pushing for me to come back, but I don’t know. I have had the pleasure to ride against many great riders.”
“I’ve raced against three generations of excellent riders the first batch like Lawson, Mackenzie, Spencer, Cardalora then Doohan, Criville, Gibernau, Rossi and Biaggi, now the new generation like Stoner and Pedrosa.”
However, Barros, who you’d expect to be in a prime position to name the greatest rider would not say who is his favourite, “As for the greatest rider. People say that in the 80’s and 90’s the 500s were the best and created the best riders. But I think it’s wrong to say that. You can’t compare Rossi to Agostini. Each year, the World Champion is the best rider of the moment. You just can’t compare them.” (Even Hayden to Rossi?)
“There is not just one rider, but many good riders. I’ve had the privilege to learn from great riders throughout my career as well. I learnt from Ron Haslam, still a great friend, Randy Mamola and Kevin Schwantz. I’ve been blessed in my career to race against so many decent riders.”
What does he think of the modern era, the 800s and the 990s, who have been blamed for making the sport boring? “Now the bikes are much easier to ride. I don’t like them. The 990s were the best bikes I’ve ever ridden in my life. When they first came out, they had no electronics. In 2003 and 2004 the bikes were fantastic, but then they started to get electronic aides. The 2005 bikes were starting to get that way and the 2006 bikes were more reliant on electronics but the 800s are reliant fully on electronics.”
“It’s like F1. You come out of a corner, full throttle and bang – the bike does everything no spinning or wheeling or anything. I know it’s safe, and the rider doesn’t crash as much, but the riders have lost the connection with the bikes. MotoGP should follow F1’s lead by making changes so that it’s the rider’s input that is the most important.”
“They need to take a step back. From my point of view, it’s not right. The 990s were fantastic without electronics. You had to control all of the problems yourself. You need some electronics, but you want the rider to be the main influence, not the other way round. The rider must do the job, not the bike.”
Continuing his comments on the current scene, Barros said, “If you race in a Satellite team like I did with D’Antin in 2007, you can’t do anything to the engine, it comes sealed. If the guy in the factory wants to do something to your bike, using Bluetooth they just change it and you can do nothing about it. This is very disappointing for the racing and the Championship as the politics come to influence the sport more. Before, politics did nothing, now it’s the other way.”
Barros is worried about the current class. Like all us punters, he thinks this year is a bit rubbish. He said, “I see the MotoGP class in a very difficult moment. There’s not many riders, the budgets are tight and take Assen this year, and a few riders crash and there were hardly anyone on the track.”
“They [Dorna] need to do something to reduce costs and make it easier for a Satellite team to win. At the moment, if you’re on a Satellite bike, you can do nothing. Everyone can say what they like, but I know this to be true.”
“If MotoGP wants to move on, they have to make two teams per factory, Kawasaki and Suzuki must have two teams and Ducati must have two proper factory teams so we can have decent races.”
Talking about the ‘nail for everyone else to ride but Stoner’ Ducati, he says, “The Ducati is not an easy bike to ride. It is a very point and squirt bike; it’s difficult. Loris (Capirossi) and I had the same problem last year. Casey Stoner is the only one who doesn’t have any problems. You check in the data-logging how he is going so fast and these settings are only for him – no one else can do what he’s doing. The bike’s not made for him, but it seems that way. When he first tested it at Valencia I was there and he was fast immediately on it.”
“At the moment, I think Ducati have made a mistake with this bike it was very successful last year but, Yamaha and Honda have caught up though. At Qatar last year, Stoner passed Rossi halfway down the straight, now it’s just before the braking point.”
“Only Casey can ride the bike now, they have to change it to develop it to make it more user-friendly for other riders.”
But would he ever go back if he had an offer? “I don’t ever want to go back to MotoGP. Never. I am looking to World Superbike. 2006 was excellent; the way I raced in 2006 on my bike, I can’t do it again. I want to go to a really good team and win the World Championship. It’s still my goal to win a World Championship. I have some really competitive offers, so for 2009 I will hopefully be back.”
“But, for now I am still racing. But racing Supermoto. It’s excellent as I can race with no pressure and just enjoy. I still love racing, it’s been my life. I hope to be back racing professionally next year.”
And that is where the interview ended. Barros has had criticism in the past over his riding, we’ve done it here, but he was quite a dude to meet in real life and really went for it when we spoke to him. Let’s see him have a go at Biaggi in ’09.