Just before he cut his ear off, then later shot himself, the artist Vincent Van Gogh was appeared to have been the happiest that anyone could remember.
Van Gogh had secured a place to live and work in the south of France and had invited his friend, fellow-artist Paul Gauguin, to come and live with him, to share his work space. Van Gogh's hopes were that together he and Gauguin could collaborate on their painting, share their styles and force the art world to at least accept Van Gogh as a new master.
Gauguin did move in with Van Gogh, and they did work together. They left the flat each day and painted landscapes and other subjects. All was well.
Until it rained.
It rained every day and the pair were trapped in Van Gogh's flat. It was then that the collaborating stopped and the arguing began. Van Gogh expected so much from Gauguin in terms of his art, craft and life. Van Gogh would starve so he could buy paint. Conversely, Gauguin liked to drink and chase women. He did not miss meals to buy paint or agonize over the sun setting too fast.
They were both geniuses, but that's where any similarities ended. There's at least a half dozen versions of how their friendship fell apart; the most accepted one is that Van Gogh cut his own ear off after Gauguin ghosted him and left town. Van Gogh's dreams of an artistic collaboration were dead. Two years later he shot himself.
What's this got to do with motorbike racing?
In 2017 there will be two geniuses under one tent. World champion Jorge Lorenzo will race for the Ducati factory. This is where one Casey Stoner is in his second year as test rider and brand ambassador. It's the most widely accepted foregone conclusion in racing today that the collaboration of Casey Stoner as test rider and Jorge Lorenzo as racer will result in the world championship that Ducati has been chasing for nearly a decade now--since Stoner's title in 2007.
Certainly both men are racing geniuses. But, I am afraid that any similarities they share pretty much end right there.
Consider their riding styles:
Casey Stoner is probably the most aggressive MotoGP rider in the pre-Marquez era. His style, for nearly his entire MotoGP career, was to force the bike into doing his bidding with the rear end of the motorcycle. Watch the video of Stoner from Phillip Island the final year he raced--his style is more rodeo rider than GP rider. He rode the back so hard that not only did it look like he didn't care if he died, he rode like he didn't care if he died, was resurrected and died a second time too.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, from even his 250 days, has been a rider who makes lap time with the front end of the bike. Several times in 2016, when Lorenzo lacked confidence in the front end of the Yamaha, it got so bad his mechanics had to wonder why they were even putting fuel in the M1. Lorenzo has been hurt bad a few times when the M1 lacked adhesion from the front and it tossed him.
Stoner's ball-out style worked when he was a test rider for HRC because the racer was Marc Marquez, who is probably the only rider to out-Stoner Casey Stoner.
The trick for Ducati will be to get enough feel somehow in the front of the GP17 so that Lorenzo has a great deal of confidence in it.
You'll notice that it's been Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati and the media talking about how the collaboration with Stoner will bear fruit for Lorenzo's time at Ducati. Mr. Stoner, meanwhile, has occasionally said the right things on the subject, but you don't have to do much more than look at his face to know how he probably really feels.
And the look on his face says, to me, that all Stoner can or will do is basically to tell Lorenzo what works or worked for him on the red bike. Stoner has won a world championship on the Ducati so the results speak for themselves.
Does Stoner want to spend a season or two trying to help Lorenzo find his special place with the front end of the Ducati? That's an exercise that might be fraught with losing the front at high speed. If you're Casey Stoner, retired with all respect and dignity to a life with a hot wife and every day being Saturday, do you really want to risk losing your fingers trying to help Lorenzo find a setting on the historically vague front of the Ducati MotoGP bike?
Literally, what if it starts to rain and Stoner is trapped in the garage with Lorenzo and his multitude of suspicions and ghosts of crashes past? Lorenzo will not need to cut his own ear off, trust me.
If George Lorenzo is your rider, ideally, Casey Stoner is not your test rider. They are just too different.
If Lorenzo is your rider then you need to pick from a cast of riders who share his all-out approach regarding the front end of the bike. Also, again ideally, you'd need a rider who isn't some kind of really fast short person--you want someone who looks a little like Lorenzo, lanky and tall-ish for a MotoGP rider. You'd want a rider who rides like Lorenzo and who sort of looks like Lorenzo.
That rider might very well be Ben Spies.
Spies is the same size as Lorenzo, and shares that beautiful riding style where he's going to use 70 degree of lean and make the corner bend to his will.
I don't think Spies, due to his injury, can race a motorcycle again. But can he be a test rider?
That's probably a very good question.