SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - To find out what makes Scott Redding tick, you might as well start with the stopwatch tattooed on his arm.
The British MotoGP rookie is still only 21 but already being compared to late compatriot Barry Sheene as a special talent. The story so far is inked on his body in a blend of pain and positive energy.
The old-fashioned timepiece has two hands with the outside one stopped at 48 seconds. The other, smaller and inside its own tiny circle, points to 45.
The 48 refers to the racing number of Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa, who died at the Misano circuit in Italy in 2010 after he lost control and fell into the path of Redding’s chasing bike - the number 45.
Redding, who became the youngest ever grand prix winner when he triumphed in his home 125cc race at Donington Park at the age of 15 in 2008, had no chance of avoiding his Moto2 rival and needed 10 stitches to sew up his own back injury.
The memory of that day, and the media spotlight afterwards, remains a sensitive subject but it is not one he shies away from. The tattoo is there for a reason, as a reminder and source of strength.
“The 48 was his number...and I’ve got my 45 inside there, so we’re close together and we’re pointing to the same direction,” Redding told Reuters in an interview after finishing an eye-catching seventh on his MotoGP debut in Qatar last weekend.
“He’s with me, he supports me and we ride together.”
On the same forearm, the youngest rider to rack up 50 grand prix starts has inscribed: “Don’t count every race, make every race count”.
It is a philosophy he has embraced since 2012, when he wondered why he was always thinking “I should have done this, I should have done that” and decided to change his mindset.
“Now when I come back from a race I don’t think ‘should, would, could’. I’ve done it,” said the man who was runner-up in Moto2 last season with three wins and three second places.
On his shoulder, partly hidden by a T-shirt sleeve, he has a sprocket and roses - a fusion of the emotional and mechanical - while close to his heart in every sense are the names of his late grandparents against a background of lilies.
“My gran was like my mum to me,” said the Gloucester-born rider whose sister has the same tribute in a different place.
“I don’t really know my mum. I grew up with my dad but my dad was working to pay for my racing so my nan and grandpa were looking after me. And they both passed away within a month of each other in 2010.”
Life has not been easy for Redding, a British rider in a sport dominated by Spaniards and Italians.
He rides a non-works Honda RCV1000R for the Gresini team, whose Spanish rider Alvaro Bautista has a factory-specification RC213V bike and should be the main points scorer.
Despite that, he was the highest placed rider on an Open-spec bike in Qatar and finished ahead of former world champion Nicky Hayden of the United States on a similar machine.
Redding still has only one British backer - bike insurance specialists Bennetts who have supported him for years - whereas continental rivals enjoy a wealth of home sponsors.
“I can survive, and do what I want to do, but I‘m not rolling in the dollars,” grinned the man who calls Spain home, even if it is really wherever he and a friend (‘lads on tour’) park the motorhome.
Spaniard Marc Marquez, the youngest MotoGP world champion after his sensational 2013 rookie season, is also 21 but their worlds are very different.
Redding doubts his bike, with its power disadvantage, will let him come close to the podium this season whereas Marquez won from pole in Qatar.
“I raced with him in the Spanish championship and used to beat him all the time. In my first year, when we were on a similar bike, I used to beat him,” said Redding.
“But then the moment came when the Spanish started to pump the money into him. He was with the factory KTM, then he was with the Red Bull on the factory 125 and gets his own team in Moto2 and then they change the rules for him to go to a factory Honda,” added the Briton.
”I’d been with satellite teams and then a little Belgian team took the chance with me. And now it’s MotoGP on a production racer with a satellite team. He’s getting the steps put in front of him, I‘m building my steps.
“And that’s the difference. That’s why he is where he is now. Because he’s had the steps given to him.”
Redding describes Marquez as “a talented guy with an advantage”, a man who came in and made all the other rookies “look a bit stupid” last year. He knows he also has the talent and just hopes the backing will come.
”I think I can take it to him one day,“ he said. ”I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. It’s just in the right time and the right place. First I need to get on that bike next to him in that garage.
“I need to get the bike from Bautista, that’s my target. Once I’ve got that I can fight for some top four finishes. Once I’ve got that, I need to get on that orange bike (the Repsol Honda that Marquez rides). That’s when it’s going to start.”
The aim for his first season was to beat Hayden, a recognized name. He did that in race one and now his aim is to do it consistently and move closer to one day picking up Sheene’s mantle.
No Briton has won a grand prix in the top category since Sheene in 1981, none has been a champion in any class since Sheene’s second 500cc title in 1977. Redding is the closest yet, leading Moto2 last year until he broke his wrist.
“When you speak about him, it puts the hairs up on your arms because he was such an amazing guy. And actually a lot of people say that I am like the next Barry Sheene, I look a bit like him and act a little bit like him in a modest way,” said Redding.
“When I break his records, from winning in younger classes, I think I do have the potential to be the first British winner (since him) if I can get the right machinery underneath me.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer