“The butterflies are always there. Even from my first race in the world championship and up until the last few in MotoGP. It is something I like, and it makes me emotional and excited: that feeling and motivation to go for the victory. When I feel pressure then this is when I work the best. I would not say it is stronger at Qatar for the first GP…it is the same everywhere. When you have a good qualifying then I am more relaxed because I know my goal is easier to reach and I am ready.
The time on the grid is so slow! It is the longest twenty minutes of my life and it always feels that way. I’m always asking the guys around me ‘what’s the time?!’
When I was a kid I was difficult. But I was always good. I never fought; I never stole anything or behaved badly. I was good at my studies. I grew up with my grandfather and he gave me a good sense of discipline. When I was ten years old I was racing but he was making me go cycling and other small ways to train: it was a way to prepare for what I am doing now and I appreciated it. For sure it was not easy as a kid to follow these kinds of routines and to understand his strong mentality and values but I think the self-discipline I have now and the commitment with the whole team and all the people around me with my racing is because of that. I’m thankful. He always showed me the good way. He made me learn that I had to be polite and correct: a gentleman. Words can have a big effect in your life and sometimes it is better to shut-up and just work.
This all helps you to be the best person and athlete you can be and to deal with situations of pressure.
There were many times when I got it wrong as a kid. I remember going to a circuit in Catalunya when I was racing in the junior categories. I started the meeting and I was six seconds faster than anybody else. I don't know why but my grandfather became angry. He thought I was taking too many risks for nothing. He said ‘you are going to crash hard: stop!’
Anyway, I didn't listen and went out in the next practice…and had a massive crash! It was a lesson and after that day I listened to him more. I remember him clipping my head for being stupid. He is still here and I speak with him…but the level I am at is so high now. I think there are only two people in my life that I will sit down and listen to: one is my grandfather and the other is Alex [Salas] my assistant and confidante.
I think the race where I was the most nervous was my first Grand Prix at Qatar in 2011. I had the feeling that everything was so big and there was a lot of emotion. I remember riding out of the pitlane for FP1 in Moto3 and I felt so fast around that track but then after three-four laps one rider overtook me around the outside…and then another one! I didn't understand how that was happening because I was riding at my best. After FP1 I sat down with my father and I said “I don't know if I can make it here…I don't even know if I can do top ten…” It was so difficult and I was so far away but step-by-step I worked hard and understood what I needed to do with the bike. I made a lot of improvements in just three races.
Of course I was nervous as a kid when I was at the races but in another way I was also calmer, colder. After maturing and growing up I am more conscious of what is going on around me and the process I need to make. In the past I could be like a stone: I didn't care about anything apart from racing and winning.
What else? I’d be lying if I said I didn't get nervous about speaking in public and at big presentations. It is very difficult to speak well and to know if people hear you well. Another time I remember getting really stressed one time at home because I decided to go for a run with my dog and after a while I turned around and it had gone. I was looking and searching everywhere and was in tears. I’d never felt more stressed but was relieved when I went back home and found her there by the door.
I’m actually working on how to handle stress before the races and it is a hot subject for me at the moment because I seem to be having many bad starts. It is like a ‘routine’ now and I want to change it. So I try to prepare myself in a different way and that has included some meditation and visualisation before the start. I think this is another way I have improved: with mental training. It is a strange thing and not really something I have tried before but in this sport you always need to find a way to improve from today to tomorrow, from one session to the next. I always have to try to be better.
Of course you are aware of the fans and the public at races. It’s impressive that so many people can come to see you race. It is something quite unbelievable if you really think about it…but it makes you want to give them the best show. I like a good atmosphere and that’s why somewhere like Jerez – where you can feel the fans close to the track – is really nice. Also the stadium section at Catalunya: you feel like making an extra fast corner there just to show off.”