Ben Watson interview - Moving Up

Posted on November 16, 2020

23 year old Ben Watson finished off his MX2 career in style, winning a couple of GPs and placing himself on the podium on a regular basis. The young Brit showed what he is capable of when he gets in his groove and will now head into 2021 and the MXGP class with not only a lot more confidence, but also the backing of the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team.

Mid-season Watson might have been thinking of joining a privateer team and fighting a lot harder in his MXGP debut season, but now, with one of the best teams in the paddock behind him, there is no reason why he can’t continue his path to a very consistent and rewarding 450 career.

The story of his rise at the end of 2020 and the way he was rewarded is a great story about pushing hard and not giving up. With just a month or so to go before the end of this season the likeable Englishman didn’t know where he was headed, and one single day in September, in the deep sand of Lommel his dream day was rewarded with not just his first ever GP victory, but a bonus not even he expected.

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MXlarge: Firstly, congratulation on getting your factory ride. There must have been a time in the year that you were a bit worried where you might end up?

Watson: I didn’t have any clue. All season I was doing okay, there or thereabouts and riding okay, but not showing anything special and definitely I didn’t deserve the ride I have now. Obviously with the virus and everything it was difficult, and teams were cutting budgets and the Yamaha MXGP team was cut to two riders. It was never an option to be with the factory team, but Yamaha wanted to keep me and I wanted to stay because being on a Yamaha it was important to feel as comfortable as possible in the MXGP class. I just was speaking with Yamaha the whole time and I did have a contact with Yamaha, but I didn’t know where they wanted to put me. I had a contract with Yamaha Europe, and it was up to them where they wanted to place me you could say. It was a waiting game, and I focused on my riding and didn’t stress about it too much. Near the end of the season I started riding better and when you are winning GPs and getting consistent podiums, I don’t know, it changed the mind of a few people.

MXLarge: I actually thought maybe you got the rider and wasn’t telling anyone and that was why your results improved, that it too some pressure off?

Watson: No, so during Lommel everything was almost nearly fixed with Yamaha but being on the factory team was never really an option. And then, I was having a good week and just before the last race, the guys in charge at Yamaha Europe came over to me and said he was working on some things and it was really difficult, and I told him I wasn’t stressing out and I was just focusing on what I was doing. Then he came up and said please have a good day tomorrow, it will make my life easier.

MXlarge: Did he tell you you had the ride at that moment?

Watson: No, I had no information what they were planning, I had no idea where I was heading. Then I won the Grand Prix the next day, and as I was coming down the podium from the win, Louis the owner of the Monster Energy Yamaha MXGP factory team said welcome to the team.

MXLarge: So, your day, I mean winning a Grand Prix, can it improve, but I guess it did?

Watson: Yes, exactly that. Emotions are running high anyway, just won my first GP and many people couldn’t wish for a better day and then I walk down from the podium and get that news and to be honest, it was hard to take it all in. A day you couldn’t imagine getting better, got better and a day I will never forget.

MXlarge: Obviously going to MXGP, and we see it every year, if you don’t have the tools to do the job, your career can be over in a year or two. You now have the tools to I think, like Thomas (Olsen) I think both you guys have the potential to be a top five to top ten guy pretty quickly, or even better. Is that what you are thinking?

Watson: Especially when you have guys around you who have so much experience like Glenn and Jeremy. They are a little older, they have more experience. To have those guys around me and me being the rookie and have those guys helping, with the testing and the knowledge of the 450 bike, I am 100% sure I will have a really good package.

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MXlarge: Obviously those two guys are two of the nicest guys in the paddock, so the team moral will be pretty nice?

Watson: Yes, I think the team will have a really nice environment and I have been so welcomed. A tour of the workshop and we all want to work together, do physical training together and ride a lot together, so the environment will be really nice. It makes the job easier and you look forward to it more.

MXlarge: Obviously, you went from a privateer team to Kemea in the MX2 factory team, and now factory MXGP. Is it similar, or is the MXGP team more professional?

Watson: Yes, but in different ways. I came to Kemea from a smaller team and they had more resources, and it was a big step coming to Kemea and now I have joined the factory MXGP team it seems a little bigger and better again. I mean I was never short of anything at Kemea, and I had everything I needed, so that hasn’t changed, but if you compare work-shops and stuff the MXGP team seems bigger and better, but that won’t change support and stuff.

MXLarge: So, you have ridden the 450 after Trentino, how did it feel and what type of feedback did you get from the team?

Watson: We had a really good two days of testing. I don’t think they guys were surprised, but it went better than we expected. Going from the 250 to the 450 they say is difficult and some people can’t adapt to it. I guess nobody knew what to expect and it was Monday and Tuesday after the GP, so it was a strange feeling. I enjoyed it a lot and was comfortable straight away, being that it was a Yamaha and I had my own seat, my own handlebars my own levers and even things like foot-pegs and tyres were the same, I just needed to get used to the engine and it was fine.

MXlarge: Going back to Glenn and Jeremy, both those guys have had careers where they haven’t missed too many GPs, both really consistent guys. From memory you are pretty similar, you haven’t had too many big injuries, have you?

Watson: Not really, some small niggly things and the big one with my foot in 2016. I mean Jeremy has done like 85 GPs without missing a race and that is pretty impressive, and Glenn had a good run until his recent injury, and he is training again and ready to go.

MXlarge: Watching motocross riders, as somebody who isn’t competitive and doesn’t really like speed, I am often amazed how competitive and close to the edge you guys want to go. It is like a sickness, or drug. All us fans look at MXGP and it is just ridiculous how competitive it is and how dangerous it is. Are you excited to be going, and also a little scared?

Watson: I am definitely exciting. People look at our sport and think we are crazy, but in Arco for the final round, we were watching the guys climbing the mountainside. We were looking at them and thinking, how crazy they are to do it and they were probably looking down on us and thinking we were crazy with the big jumps and speeds. For us though, it is normal, it is what we have been doing all our life and something we are comfortable with. It doesn’t feel crazy or scary. I think the intensity from MXGP coming from MX2 will be different and obviously you have the older guys who don’t want the kids to come through. I will have new things to learn and I have a lot to be excited about.

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MXlarge: The calendar has been released, and we don’t know how it will look once the season starts, but what do you think of what we have so far?

Watson: I like it. It looks good, because I like to get out and travel and I like the fly-away and going to new countries and getting to ride my bike, and for me it looks good. For the teams with the virus and the restrictions it might be difficult, but I think this is the A calendar and they might have a B calendar, which if things are struggling we will see maybe more European tracks.

Yamaha and Roman Borak images