Rising MotoGP star Brad Binder is still learning from rookie mistakes

Binder: I thought it was all over (0:45)

Binder admits that he struggled to adapt to new classes and thought his MotoGP dream would never come true. (0:45)

By crossing the finish line first at the Czech Republic Grand Prix in August, Brad Binder became the first MotoGP rider to win a premier class race in his rookie season since Marc Márquez in 2013.

The Spaniard won the World Championship that year and followed it up with five more. It is thus natural that expectations are high for the 25-year-old South African, but Binder does not yet believe the hype.

Outsiders could be forgiven for assuming that he always knew his day atop the MotoGP podium would come. In truth, there were times when Red Bull KTM's Binder had to convince himself.

"It was definitely a really tough start for me [in Europe]. I've never been somebody that's arrived and done really well straightaway. It's always taken me a while to find my feet in each class and start to get good results," Binder told ESPN.

"It's been difficult. It's been a long, hard road to get here, for sure. There have been moments when I thought it was all over. Somehow, we [Binder and his support structure] have managed to put things together and made this whole dream a reality."

Although not discounting the importance of luck, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his famous book, Outliers, that "achievement is talent plus preparation". Binder was never short of either.

Born in Potchefstroom, he moved to Europe to pursue a career in racing aged just 12. Two years prior, he had converted to motorbike racing after becoming a South African national karting champion aged eight.

The teen initially struggled to adapt to life in Europe and fought his way up the ranks the difficult way. RW Racing GP handed him his 125cc bow in 2011, aged 16, as a replacement for the injured Louis Salom. He did enough to convince them of his worth for a full-time Moto3 spot the following year.

A season in that class with RW Racing GP and two with Ambrogio Racing yielded no wins. It took until 2016 for Binder to pick one up in his second season with Red Bull KTM Ajo. That year, he won the World Championship by a whopping 142 points.

Binder then moved up to Moto2, where he finished eighth, third, and then second in the World Championship over the following three years -- all with the same team. He then took the step up to the top class for the current season.

If anybody thought that Binder would outgrow taking the tricky route to triumph by the time his premier class career started, they have been proven spectacularly wrong.

Unimpressive performances in qualifying have left him with a mountain to climb in each race. However, in true Binder fashion, he has refused to let this break him and risen to the task repeatedly.

A difficult start to the season saw Binder finish 13th in the Spanish Grand Prix from 11th on the grid and then crash out in Andalusia.

Then came the heroics of the Czech Republic as Binder battled his way up from seventh on the grid to take the chequered flag. His lifelong hero, Valentino Rossi, rode up to him and offered what appeared to be a congratulatory word.

"He's that guy that I've been watching on tv since I was a child, so it's insane to see, but I definitely couldn't hear it because the bikes were quite loud," Binder recalled laughingly when asked what the seven-time premier class world champion said to him.

"He pretty much just gave me a look like, 'Jeez, how did that happen?' And he said 'congrats,' you know. It's cool -- I'm racing against the guys that I've looked up to my whole life and it's awesome. I'm really enjoying it so far."


Binder describes the moment Rossi congratulated him at Brno

Brad Binder admits he didn't hear what Valentino Rossi said to him after his first MotoGP win in Brno.

Binder followed up his success in Brno with a dogged display in the Austrian Grand Prix, fighting his way up to fourth place from 17th on the grid. The following weekend's Styrian Grand Prix saw him climb from 14th on the grid to within touching distance of the podium before costly mistakes saw him slip down to eighth.

"It would be great to qualify a little bit better, but the main thing at the moment is that I find it takes me a good two days to really try and work out what to do to go fast and how I need to ride the bike to be as fast as the top guys," Binder acknowledged.

In any case, at fourth place in the World Championship, he is within touching distance of leader Fabio Quartararo, just 21 points behind heading into the San Marino Grand Prix on September 13. Each race win is worth 25. The title race has been blown wide open by Márquez's injury-enforced absence.

However, Binder is managing expectations: "I definitely wouldn't say I'm a World Championship contender by any means. You know, it's my rookie year and I have a lot to learn.

"I've made so many mistakes already this season, it's not even funny. I feel like I've spent more time on the gravel traps or off the side of the track than on the line.

"It's been a tough year for me... I've made a lot of mistakes myself and the only one to blame is me for them. The good thing is that the proof is there that when I do a good job and I stay clean on track, I manage to stay right up there."

On the track, Binder is bold and brave. Off it, he comes across as surprisingly self-effacing. He speaks of a collective "we" when discussing those responsible for his triumphs, but only an individual "I" when analysing his mistakes.

However, his willingness to face his imperfections is likely partially responsible for his steady improvement.

After all, mistakes can be costly in MotoGP. This year has seen some particularly frightening crashes, but a seemingly undeterred Binder has nonetheless stuck to his attacking style of racing.

He said: "I think the main thing you have to do is just be realistic. We all know that motorcycle racing or any motorsport in general is extremely dangerous. Things are going to happen -- accidents do happen. The only thing we can do is try to stay as safe as possible on track.

"The tracks at the moment are extremely safe -- our protection is amazing with the leathers, helmets, boots, and all of that. The positive thing is: [pauses] how do I state? Most of the time, there's an accident and everyone is okay, but, you know, the reality is it's not always like that.

"As riders, it's something we try to forget about. I think that's the only way you can do your job properly."

Binder claimed that the mutual respect between MotoGP riders helped them to feel safe on the track.

"The thing is: you have to put a lot of trust and faith in the guys around you when you're lying on top of each other in a corner or you're going through a deep on the breaks or something like that," he explained.

"You've got to just kind of know that the guy is not going to just turn in front of you. You're pushing everything to the limit, but I find that it's a lot safer racing against the guys in MotoGP than maybe some of the guys in Moto3... I think by the time you get to MotoGP, you're more aware of how everything works."


Binder: It can take 10 years to be an overnight success

KTM's Brad Binder discusses the public underestimating what it takes to be a MotoGP rider.

MotoGP is a remarkably demanding sport not only in terms of technique, but also physical preparation. It has been widely reported that riders can lose up to four kilograms in body weight during a single race.

Binder, who is the subject of an upcoming Red Bull documentary about his career, feels that the general public isn't fully aware of the strain of MotoGP racing: "Maybe a lot of people do underestimate a little bit [what it takes to be a MotoGP rider]. The first thing that jumps to mind is that it can take 10 years to become an overnight success.

"It's strange because I've seen it a lot on social media about how all of a sudden I'm there, but I've never been anywhere, but it's been the best part of 10 years fighting to try and get to where I am today."

His journey through the ranks is worth looking back on as a textbook example of the result of perseverance through adversity. However, as the career he spent over a decade building enters a critical stage, it appears the only way from here for Binder is forward.