Ben Watson made the long trip to Indonesia, for rounds eleven and twelve of the 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship, with the aim of scoring points and keeping himself in the hunt for a strong position in the MX2 championship standings. Things did not quite pan out as expected though and the hand injury that he sustained in Germany could not take strain. What is next for Watson? This bumper MX Vice interview from Semarang covers all of that.
MX Vice: Obviously we are doing this between motos, which is never a good thing. You are not racing and you wanted to be. Catch us up on what has happened since Palembang. You did not race Sunday there, but you had full intentions of coming here and at least trying.
Ben Watson: Yeah. I should have been racing obviously last weekend. It was only thirteen days after my surgery that I tried to race. Honestly, I was feeling good. My hand felt fine and the surgeon said crack on. After two weeks, go try. Being a twenty-two-year-old who just loves to race, I was going to try and get back out there as quick as possible. That was a little bit of a mistake. Honestly, I was in quite a lot of pain Saturday through the qualifying race. I could ride though and it was bearable. I just tried to take it a little bit easy. I didn't do a lot in the first sessions, then in the qualifying race I was just trying to get a half-decent position for the gate.
I had an easy race and took my time a little bit. I finished tenth, so I was happy with that and satisfied. Then Sunday morning I had all intentions to just try and do the same, have two steady rides and just take some solid points. There is still a long way to go in the season. My position in the championship is still not over, let's say. I got there on Sunday morning. I tried to do the warm-up and I was just in so much pain. I said to myself, "I'm being a little bit silly now. I need to stop, rest up a little bit and be a bit more smarter." I did that. I was hoping that during this week it would get a little bit better, then we would see how I feel this weekend.
My trainer, Jacky [Vimond], he was really pushing for me to get an x-ray, just so I can see there is nothing wrong. Then it's in my head that it is just pain and you can go through that. He said, "Try and leave it until Friday to get the x-ray, then it is just before the race and you are ready to go." Friday was going to be a little bit of a busy day, so I went on Thursday afternoon. I checked out the x-ray and found out that the plate had actually come out of the bone on one side. Three screws had come out of it. It was just down to riding too early, basically. With the bone being fixed, you don't really feel so much as if it was just left.
I guess the feeling that I was having was a little bit false and the bone, it was just too early for it. It's obviously moved a little bit and then pulled the plate out. That's a little bit of a bummer. I can't ride literally a few days after again on a track with huge jumps and fast straights, so I made the decision with the team and everybody supporting me for it. We will sit out now for a couple of weeks just to really let me heal and get back to one hundred percent. For me, in the championship, my goal is not really achievable now. Everybody is so focused on getting back to one hundred percent. I'm so lucky to have a real supportive team and, of course, all of Yamaha behind me and sticking behind me, no matter what decision I take.
When you finished the qualifying race last week, obviously you were pumped that you got a tenth and all that. Did you kind of have an idea that you wouldn't be able to race? Did the pain already start to creep in a bit more and it start to get a bit swollen? Were there signs there or did it kind of come as a surprise?
No, Saturday was okay. It was bearable. I kind of surprised everyone, I think. I had many texts on Saturday evening saying, "Surprising you can finish tenth just thirteen days after surgery and breaking two bones in your hand." I was like, "Honestly, it feels okay." I had all intentions on Sunday just to try and do the same. Not bust my balls to do a good result straight away, because of course I hadn't rode for two weeks as well. I woke up on Sunday morning and my hand was massive.
It was really swollen. I just had a bad reaction during the evening of course. The bone and everything was moving again. It was like re-breaking it, in a way, so I understand why I had a lot of pain, but when you are racing with the adrenaline you don't feel what you would if you were just to fall over in the street. It comes as a surprise to a lot of people but, for me, I was ready to go again Sunday. Just it wasn't for me.
When you went for an x-ray this week, I guess you went to the medical centre here or did you go to an Indonesian hospital?
No. Normally they have a medical centre at the track with an x-ray set-up. Here in Indonesia, the flyaways, they do not have that onsite. I just decided to walk to a hospital. It's literally next to my hotel. I walked over there. They did an x-ray really quick. Surprisingly, the hospital was really nice and really clean. Everything was modern in there. Come from the slums and then you walk in there. It was quite a big surprise. Everything was real quick. It was no hassle. I just went in there and said I needed an x-ray. I got it done, just because actually Jacky wanted me to do it for my head. Unfortunately, I saw something that I didn't expect.
I figured you would have a few horror stories from an Indonesian hospital. Were you a bit scared to go in there, not knowing what the hell you were getting yourself into?
Yeah, because of course when you are in a country like this you don't know what people are going through. There are diseases and stuff out here that if we get then it's going to be a shock to us. You see people literally walking through the drains, because everything is all open here. You see them walking through, just bare hands and unblocking a hole. I'm sure if some of us from Europe did that, we'd be bent over and finished the next day.
When you go into hospital, before a race, it's the last place you want to go. I was really surprised at how good it was and, let's say, professional. Here you see some things and they are pretty insane. The scaffolding here next to the track is just made from bamboo. It's an eye-opener, but I was pleased to see the hospital like it was.
How bad is the hand now then? Obviously the plate has come a bit loose and all of that, which is not good, but do you need another surgery? How many weeks have you added onto the recovery?
To be honest, I haven't added on anything at the moment. The bone is still in a good position. From the first x-ray to now it's not really changed. Actually, I'm using my hand like normal and like anyone. If you saw me, you wouldn't think I have got a problem at all. I can lift anything. I can pull anything heavy. I have no pain from it. It's just the plate has moved a little bit. I have an appointment on Wednesday when I go back just to get a few options. I'm not going to disturb the bone anymore.
The only thing that I might do is just have the plate removed. That will save doing that at the end of the season anyway. I'm going to see what the options are, but actually I'm not going to disturb the bone anymore. To be honest, even if I do have a surgery, it will just be to take the metal out. From then, we'll just let the cut heal and it shouldn't be too long before being back riding. Now I'm a couple of weeks into recovery. I'm already at the stage where I can use my hand normal in day-to-day life. Motocross is just a little bit too brutal for it at the moment.
Obviously if Palembang had gone well, the plan was to just race through the rest of the season. Is Loket still an option or is that off the cards completely now?
No. To be honest sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth in the championship… That all means the same to me. I know that I can do a lot better than that, so I'm not really interested if I'm fighting for sixth or if I am fighting for ninth. It both means the same for me. Of course last year I finished fourth and my goal was to be better than that, so that is out of sight now. I'm just focusing on getting myself back to one hundred percent.
If it takes until the end of the season then I will wait until the end of the season but, for sure, I'll be back for the last few races. We'll see for Motocross of Nations. Of course maybe I'll be out of that. I think I'm lucky with the injury, because it's not honestly anything serious at all. It's just going to be a couple more weeks tops that I'll be off the bike. It's good. I'm hoping to come back and have a strong end to the season.
Obviously around Portugal time you were proper bummed with how everything was going. Bad luck was following you everywhere you went. Has this injury kind of put you back to that or are you quite surprised how upbeat you are mentally and all of that? Are you just kind of taking it on the chin or gutted?
No, taking it on the chin. Honestly, it's just one of those things. You see now, two of the best riders in the world are sat at home on their sofa as well. I could be Jeffrey [Herlings] right now. If that was anyone else, I think they'd have topped themselves by now. I can't imagine what he is going through. For me I just have to kind of take it on the chin and just stay positive. I'm going to miss a few weeks off the bike and that's it. I'm going to come back and I'm sure I won't have any trouble.
It's just something small in my hand. You see it quite a lot in motocross, this injury. I'm staying positive about it. The championship hopes were not gone early, but everything was going hard for me and that kind of side of my racing was off my mind. I wasn't focused on the championship at all. I just wanted to find the fun in my riding again and just try to start enjoying myself when I'm out there on the track. Honestly at some points like in Portugal and a few of the races around there, Mantova, I really wasn't enjoying it at all.
When I don't have fun on the bike out on the track, then I'm not going fast let's say. I just wanted to find myself in that area and then I started getting back to myself, then this injury came. It's just one of them things. I'm good. We'll see in a few weeks when I'm back on the bike.
That is the sh*ttiest thing, because obviously Latvia was a huge step in the right direction. Then even Germany in free practice you were top early on, lost it, and then went top again before the crash. It was definitely going in the right direction. Who knows where you would be now if obviously this hadn't happened.
Yeah. The thing is I love it when the conditions are difficult, when the temperature is really hot and the track is sketchy and people are not comfortable with that. That's when I am in my element. I find it so frustrating with the track prep this year that just made it like… You just see so many injuries, because it's not what we are used to. For me, everybody is going faster now. The bikes are a lot better.
You come to somewhere like here and they have got these Indonesians who have never seen a motocross race in their life watering the track, plus the marshals on the track and stuff. That side of it is quite difficult to get over. I don't know where I would be now. I do like it when it's real difficult like this. You see some riders struggling with the heat in the last ten minutes and I know, in myself, that I'm strong in that side of it. It's difficult to be here watching, but what can I do? I have taken it on the chin. We'll see in a few weeks.
You hinted there at the Motocross of Nations. You are obviously still in the running for it. You’re not taking yourself out of that conversation. If they wanted you, which I would presume. I’m no rocket scientist but I would presume they would, you’re open to it and you should be ready.
Yeah. The MX2, I can see some of the riders. Of course Adam [Sterry] is now heading towards sixth in the championship, I think. It's hard to say. For an MX2 rider right now, to put a name on someone is going to be difficult. You have quite a few 450 riders, but one would quite happily drop onto a 250. It's going to be quite tough for Mark [Chamberlain]. I know for a fact that, by that time comes, I'll be back to one hundred percent and very ready for the Motocross of Nations, especially in Assen. I always have normally a pretty solid weekend there. I'm still fully focused on that. That is definitely in and out of my mind. I'm very confident that I'll be back way before this.
Just so people know, you are back here next year. I think your initial contract was two years, which ends now, then there was an option, but you are back?
Yeah. Yamaha did take the option on me. That was quite a while ago now. It was not anything that was going to be released or blown out of proportion, because I signed three years when I did the contract. I was very happy about that, because obviously the team is so supportive. Everything is done perfectly here. I can't fault anything. There is nothing that I'd want to change from the guys. I'm really happy to have this family, let's say, around me again next year and all of Yamaha. They are all so supportive in all aspects. It's going to be really good. I'm very focused on my final year in MX2 and, of course, hopefully doing the same with Yamaha for MXGP.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer