Exclusive Interview: Miguel Oliveira on racing in Portugal, Moto3 and media exposure
After a delightful interview with Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira last year, right before the unfortunate premature end of his Rookie season, we made it our goal to have another chat with the surprisingly mature youngster at the German Grand Prix this year. By then the 17-year-old had already scored his first ever podium in the world championship with a third place finish at Catalunya and was looking to regain the good form he had shown in the first races of the season.
In this lenghthy interview we were able to catch up on the current state of Portuguese racing, how things have changed for him since his Rookie season and discussed the substantial switch to the Moto3 class.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us again. This is now officially your second year in the world championship, although you only did half of last season. How much has your experience from last year helped you this season, especially at the tracks you already knew? Is it even any help with the bikes being so different?
Well, I don’t consider it much of a help, because these bikes are really easy to ride. In the training sessions it’s very easy to follow some rider or the other, it’s really very good. So it’s easy to learn circuits with this bike. With the two-stroke bike it’s a little more difficult I think, but I don’t consider it a big advantage to know a circuit when you’re on the Moto3 bikes.
When you were helping with the development of the bike last year you also said after your first few runs that you found it easy to ride. What exactly is it for you that makes the Moto3 bikes so much easier to ride?
It’s the four-stroke engine really. In terms of lines on the track it’s really easy to find your lines on the track or to follow other riders to find the line. In terms of chassis also, this bike, like FTR and Suter, they make a really good chassis to ride, so I think the main key of what makes this bike really easy to ride is the engine of course.
Explaining it for someone who hasn’t raced the 125cc or the Moto3 bike, how do you feel that difference when you’re on the bike, is it maybe easier to get into the corners or pick the bike up or how exactly does the difference show?
No, it’s just the engine. On braking this bike stops really fast. You know, when you brake on the two-stroke, the bike just keeps going, because there’s no engine brake. So with the four-stroke bike obviously the engine brake stops you a little bit more than the two-stroke and this is the big difference. And at the beginning it’s not easy to adapt, because you have to use the rear brake and everything and maybe some chattering can happen on the entrance [of the corner], but it’s really easy.
Aside from the change in the class, things have changed a lot for you this year. Not only were you a Rookie, but also the team structure and everything around it was very different last season. Now you’re with a very large and experienced team sponsored by Repsol, which also produces and draws a lot more media attention. How do you experience this heightened media exposure and everything around it?
Well, when you are on a team with this level, with this communication level, it’s really good for your image, even when you don’t… You know, it’s really easy to communicate about a rider who wins, no matter what team he’s in. But obviously the work that’s behind all this, the rider himself, the image around him and everything, this is really important and I think we have this in this team. Also with Repsol as sponsor, with the presentations and everything, it makes it really big. Even if you don’t make a good result, you’ll still be exposed in the media one way or another with the results in newspapers or something else, so that’s really good.
How is the atmosphere with the team, how did you feel coming into this structure? Do you feel at home now?
Yeah. Well, with every team I go to I try to be nice and try to adapt, but it’s really easy with these people, they are really professional mechanics, so it makes it really easy for a rider to follow a path, to learn. And this year I’m learning a lot with my technicians. Of course it’s a new bike, so they are also learning, but for myself in terms of riding skills and riding techniques I’m learning a lot.
I’m not sure if you can answer this question, but what did actually happen last year? There’ve just been rather cryptic press releases by the team stating that allegedly you violated your contract obligations and the whole thing appeared rather strange from the outside, because it looked like it came out of nowhere.
Well, I know as much as you know. [laughs] Because it was really bad for me, but I can say that this closed a window, but seven new ones opened. So I joined Monlau to try the Moto3 and I don’t regret anything of what happened in the past with that team [Machado]. I thank them a lot, because they gave me the opportunity to go to the world championship as the first Portuguese rider and that’s very important for me and I’ve learned a few things there, so obviously I just have thank them. It was a little sad how it all ended, but you know, it’s a new era with Moto3 and I entered this new team, so I’m really happy.
Speaking of which, having done some development work as well last year with the Honda Moto3, do you feel that work still helps you or has the bike evolved so much since then that it isn’t much of a help anymore?
I don’t think there is much comparison. I’ve tried developing the bike, I started with the Honda chassis and engine and at the end of the preseason we actually changed to Suter and it maybe wasn’t quite like throwing all the work out of the window, but it didn’t give you much information, we just knew that this chassis was not what we’ve wanted.
This year you looked very competitive from the beginning, you were strong in preseason as well as during practice and qualifyings on race weekends, but it didn’t quite come together in the races. What’s your assessment of the start and the first half of the season?
The start of the season was really good. All the practice sessions I was at the front and we could be strong in every practice, but I couldn’t finish races. I think I crashed too much. It was bad luck. I think it was a few small details. The track conditions didn’t help anyone, like in Le Mans or in Jerez. So we were at the front, everybody crashed and I couldn’t avoid to crash as well. In Estoril we were at the front and some problem happened to the bike, we don’t know why. And the last few races I wasn’t so happy with the results. You know, 10th places is not what I expect and it’s not what I work for. I work for more. I work for being in the top five at least, I think we have the potential to be there. So the last two races [before Sachsenring] I didn’t have a very happy feeling.
What was the main issue during those weekends, did you run into problems with the bike setting? Because also in practice sessions, compared to before, you weren’t at the front that much and seemed to struggle to qualify well.
I think it has to do with many factors. My riding style is not so… Well, especially in fast corners. I’m really good on braking and in the circuits that have really fast corners where you just have to brake a little bit, I have a bit of difficulty.
So you have to adapt your riding style more?
Yes, just trying to learn how to adapt my riding skills in the different circuits, but be the same in every track. Obvisouly the first circuits and races with some really hard braking points helped me a lot.
Last year you were a Rookie in a team which wasn’t one of the big players so far and nobody really expected very much. But this year with this big team and also featuring at the front more from the beginning, do you feel more pressure with people expecting certain results from you or is it just the pressure you put yourself under?
Well, first of all, I really don’t care much about what people think of me or my results or their expectations. I know their expectations are too high. I don’t feel pressured, because last year I didn’t have any experience at all, just got to know the circuits and I didn’t learn much and also I crashed a lot of times, so I couldn’t finish any races. I think in total I finished five or six races and that’s not much. I consider it like I made some “wildcards” last year. [laughs] Not like the whole world championship. So this year is a really serious year for me and I consider this one like the first.
Especially in the second half of the season there’ll be a lot of circuits coming up which are new for you. When you don’t already have any reference points, what do you do differently on race weekends?
Well, especially in the training method. Instead of being out on the track for a little time, I try to be on the track for many laps to learn, to take different lines and try new things, because it is a new circuit of course.
This year you took your first podium at Catalunya. Was that a turning point for you after so much promise at the beginning of the year, to show people that this is what you are able to do? Do you feel now like you can fight for that regularly?
I know that I can fight every race to be on the podium. But that podium I don’t think it was really a turning point, because I was already motivated, but it was just the result of our work. We worked hard and I think we deserved that place and it really showed what we are capable of to do in all the races.
Looking at the rest of the year, you said your riding style is the main thing you still need to work on and with so many new circuits coming up, what are your expectations until the season finale?
Well, my expectations are high. I want to be on the podium regularly at every race, so I think now we have to improve a lot on the bike in terms of acceleration, because KTM are really far at the front and dominating the high speeds, so I think we have some work to do. The rest, about my riding style, I just try to adapt faster to the circuits.
The reception in Portugal was pretty big when you came back home after Catalunya. We talked about this last year, that there’s not such a big fanbase for MotoGP, but do you feel like this has changed now, with you being more exposed in the media and getting on the podium?
Yeah, I think I’m trying to change that culture a little bit. Of course with the media coverage and everything the people are more aware of motorcycling and especially me, because I’m the only representative of this class, but in general I think the mentality has changed a little bit.
There’s been a lot of talk that next year there might be no Portugese Grand Prix [At the moment Estoril is absent from the provisional 2013 calendar, the only race still subject to confirmation being Argentina]. How much of an impact do you think would that have overall on the Portuguese racing scene? Or wouldn’t that be much of an issue, because there are other places people could go?
Obviously we will protest. [laughs] That’s normal. But for me personally it’s really sad, because I think Estoril and Portugal has potential to have a MotoGP race. I think more than Spain in some circuits. Spain has four circuits in the world championship and takes out Portugal which has been for a decade on the calendar. It’s a little bit sad. But the government has changed there, so it’s a little difficult to decide and they are the guys to decide and the money here plays a very big role.
Speaking of Spain, you spent a big part of your career in Spain as well. Not quite from the beginning, but then steadily going through the ranks of the Spanish Championship and regional Cups. Do you think it’s more of an advantage or a disadvantage for Portuguese riders to have Spain so close with such a big competition, i.e. they could always go to Spain if they don’t find anything in Portugal? Does that maybe stop Portugal from having its own racing culture?
Of course the position Portugal has compared to Spain in terms of racing, it’s very difficult, really different. But obviously, having Spain right next to us, it makes it really easy to go, but it all has to do with the mentality of the people. Instead of spending the money in Portugal they obviously could go and spend it in Spain and learn a lot [there]. I think it has to do with the mentalities, but I think it’s a really good advantage to have Spain right next to us. But I think we have to improve what we have in Portugal, because otherwise we just will be good outside the country and I think that can not happen, we have to be good and we have to create this high level inside Portugal as well.
How do you see the potential for Portugal now to grow a new base or do you see a good newcomer already who can maybe follow in your footsteps?
I don’t think the base has been created there, not at all. In Portugal right now the level is too low and I think there’s not good enough conditions economically to have another good rider.
Last year you said that you want to study medicine and become a doctor. Do you want to start studying while you’re still racing or do you want to race as long as you can and then begin your medical career? So far only Karel Abraham managed to successfully study on the side.
My plan is to make it both at the same time. I think I have time to do that. To go to university I just need to do one more year in school and then I go to university. Obviously I’ll try to enter in medicine, because it is what I’d like to do. So I think I will try to do both at the same time. Motorcycles take up a lot of time, not physically but mentally, because you know, before a race weekend you start to become a little more nervous and for the concentration that’s not good. I have to be at school as long as I can, I can’t just disconnect, turn off one button and turn on another one on the other side. It’s really difficult mentally, but I’ll try to do it.
We also have a question for your from one of our Twitter followers who wants to know if you have a lucky charm that you take with you during races or if youmaybe do anything special that gives you luck.
No. I consider that our luck is made by our work. You know, if we work hard, we probably have more luck, I think. [laughs] I think good luck and bad luck, it just a thing that follows you around in every sport.
So you’re not superstitious like many other riders are?
No, not at all.
Most riders have certain routines when they get on the bike. Do you have something like that as well, like always putting the left glove on first for example?
Not really, only when I get out of pitlane I always make the cross sign, that’s normal for me.
Miguel, thank you for your time.
Interview and photos by Simona Vogel for Vroom Media