Read on our website for better formating, or continue with DriveTribe ↓
An interview with Maria Herrera was one of the first things we put down on the list when Paddock Sorority was created not long ago. During Thai GP, we talked to her team because MotoE does not travel outside of Europe. Finally during Valencia GP, we had the opportunity to team up with EPaddock.it to have a joint interview with Maria on Friday before E-Pole.
All photos (including featured cover) © Christian Bourget
Maria Herrera is one of the only two women who have started on the grid of Grand Prix racing and scored points this decade (and this data is set and done since we’ve finished all the Grand Prix of this decade). She started in Moto3 back in 2013 as a wildcard entry at Aragon, then in three races in 2014, then ran for full seasons between 2015 and 2017. In 2018 she went away to race in World SuperSport 300. This year she is back in Grand Prix racing with MotoE World Cup.
Saying that Maria previously raced for three full seasons in Moto3 between 2015 and 2017 oversimplifies her difficult circumstances in those three years. 2015 was a simpler year with her aboard Laglisse team’s factory Husqvarna. The story changed in 2016. Her team withdrew from the championship and she had to take over to become an owner-rider. In 2017, she again had to step in when her team folded. This kind of experience makes her value the stable team environment she currently enjoys at Angel Nieto Team’s MotoE squad, “When you have a team for many years, you can improve without pressure, and you know the work is also about your next year. When I think of next year now I know I have a good bike and a good team. I think the most important thing for a woman is that the team believe a woman can be a world champion. At this moment, it’s difficult to find a team that believe in us.”
Being female is still a lot of time a negative in securing a ride, but in attracting sponsorship, sometimes being a woman can be a plus for some alternative, non-traditionally motorsport sponsors. However, this hasn’t been the case for Maria. “I don’t have any sponsors outside of the traditional ones. I had Repsol, but after I finished my first years in Monlau, they stopped to sponsor me.”
Before having any sponsors, the initial funding for a rider usually starts with their own family, so it is common to see their family travel around with them everywhere in their career to support them as well as to take care of their day-to-day. Most MotoGP audiences are now familiar with Julia Marquez, father of eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez and double World Champion Alex Marquez. He has a big presence in the Repsol Honda box (an even bigger one next year now that the brothers will be at Repsol Honda together). Similarly, Maria’s father Antonio also follows her to her races. The two times we mentioned above when Maria had to become an owner-rider when her team folded, Papa Herrera was the one raising funds/sponsorship to buy out the teams. “My family has been supporting me every year throughout my career. Since I was six years old, we would go to the track together, just like today. All my family is here this weekend. I’ve been lucky. My dad has been riding bikes since he was 20 years old. He believes in me, a woman rider. Sometimes the paddock is the problem, when they don’t believe in me. But my family have been with me in every race.”
As we mentioned above, Maria’s career hasn’t been the smoothest. In difficult situation, besides raising the necessary funding, her family would also be a source of strength and emotional support for her to keep going, working hard, and living her dream. “For sure I had some dark moments. But my family supported me through all those moments. I continue to work hard for my passion, for my goal. I want to be a world champion and live my dream as a rider. Sometimes when you push a lot on your team, you may not always find the support from them, and that would be difficult for me. I showed everyone that I can ride like a man. When I have a good bike, I showed everyone I can win. When I was in the Spanish championship, I battled with guys such as (Pecco) Bagnaia, and I beat them.”
The other woman who had experience in Grand Prix racing this decade was Ana Carrasco. 2015 season was her last in Moto3. She moved to WorldSSP300 in 2017 and became the first woman to win world championship in 2018. This year there have been as many as four women competing in WorldSSP300, and Maria competed briefly in WorldSSP. But in Grand Prix racing, no other young women have joined the paddock since Maria’s full season debut in 2015. Not enough girls are in the various ‘Road to MotoGP’ championships to promise a future with more girls on the grid. Is it more and more difficult for women to make it into MotoGP? “I can see more and more younger girls on the track in junior championships. I feel really happy seeing them. I think they saw me and Ana and wanted to follow us. But yeah getting into the world championship is difficult. You have to demonstrate 2-3 times more than the men. If you don’t have the sponsors’ support, it’s a lot of money on the family. It’s impossible for us. It’s difficult to see more girls in the paddock being riders instead of being umbrella girls.” Maria isn’t just happy to see young girls competing. As she herself has been through a lot of difficulties trying to make it in the motorsport world, she also wants to pave a better path for girls who aspire to be a motorcycle rider. She has been the trainer for Campus Femenino under RFME coaching female riders, and she wants to do even more in the future, “I want to have a summer riding school mostly for women but also for men. I feel like I had too much stones in my way, and I want to clear them for other women. This will be a long-term project in the future. Currently I focus on my career.”
When MotoE World Cup was announced, Maria found her way back to the Grand Prix paddock. But MotoE is new, and it took Maria some time to adjust to this new bike. “It was incredible the first time I tried the bike. The MotoE bike is so big and heavy for me, and the hand lever position was too far for my original riding style. I have to adjust my hand levers closer. You have to be smooth with the bike, similar to a (SSP)600 bike. I like the riding style. But when you do changes to the setting, you feel the bike change too much. When you have a good setting compatible with your riding style you have a good lap. When you have the setting you have to stick to the style. The breaking point is different for MotoE because the bike is heavier than a (SSP)600 bike.” In Misano, Maria and the team’s hard work paid off. Maria did her personal best result of P6 and P5 respectively in Race 1 and Race 2 at Misano. “I was more comfortable with the bike in Misano. We found a good setting. It worked amazingly at that track. They moved the hand levers closer to me, this is the most important thing for my improvement.” (To learn more about customizing bikes/cars and gears for female racer, we strongly recommend listening to the Women in Motorsports Conference episode of Paddock Pass, fascinating discussion on this topic from Maria and Shelina Moreda.)
To push for a good race result in a race as short as only 7 laps, the starting position on the grid, the start and first lap of the race becomes especially important, “The start and the beginning of the race, including your position on the grid, is important. For example, Di meglio was the fastest man in Misano but he had to start from the back of the grid, he couldn’t fight to the top. This is the one important thing for the race. Obviously you also need to concentrate on the first lap.”
In Valencia, Maria struggled with the rear as she couldn’t get enough grip in the low temperature. The sub-optimal condition also caught ‘The Doctor’ Valentino Rossi twice on Friday, who criticized the timing of Valencia GP. The timing of course is due to the calendar getting longer and longer, but the MotoE World Cup runs only a subset of the calendar and wasn’t scheduled for a round in Valencia when it was announced back in 2018. We couldn’t help but wonder had the season gone ahead in Jerez and concluded in Misano as planned, what would have been Maria’s result of the season? Would it be much better than 14th with 27 points?
But life is not about shoulda woulda coulda, and Maria already made history together with the inaugural MotoE World Cup. She is coming back next year with the team to make more history and she’s also trying to find a ride in WorldSSP to continue her history making in WSBK world. Now with the season done and dusted, she can go recover from her knee injury, enjoy some holiday skiing activity, and train to fight better in 2020. We look forward to seeing her in MotoE and hopefully also WorldSSP next year.
We would like to thank Pietro Ardemagni from EPaddock.it and the Angel Nieto Team for making this interview happen. This is truly an important milestone for us.