Jerez is always a very special weekend. When Valentino Rossi described the first race back in Europe using those words, he spoke for everyone in the MotoGP paddock.
Everyone loves being back in Europe, because the atmosphere changes, the hospitality units fill the paddock, the catering staff, hospitality managers, runners, cleaners, general dogsbodies – in other words, the people who actually do any real work – return to fill the paddock, and old friends are reunited after a long winter away, often doing something else to subsidize the meager pay they take for the privilege of working in Grand Prix during the summer.
The paddock becomes a village once again, awaking from the long winter slumber. The setting helps.
The charming old city of Jerez is showing the first shoots of economic recovery, not yet enough to match the full bloom of spring happening on the surrounding hillsides, the slopes covered with wild flowers, but there is a much more positive vibe than there has been for some years.
There is a sense of optimism. That sense of optimism flows into the paddock, already buzzing after a sizzling and surprising start to the 2015 MotoGP season.
With over 100,000 people expected to pack the stands on Sunday, Jerez feels like the right way to kick off the long European leg of the championship.
Ducati is to lose the first of the special concessions granted at the start of the 2014 season.
The two podiums which Ducati scored at Qatar bring its dry podium total to three, which means that the fuel allowance for all Factory Option Ducati bikes will be cut from 24 liters to 22 liters, as we reported on Sunday night.
The allowance of 22 liters is still 2 liters more than the 20 liters used by Yamaha and Honda, who race without any concessions.
“It’s just nuts to be separated by one second over the 5 km around this place.” It is hard to argue with Eugene Laverty’s assessment of just how close the times are after free practice for MotoGP. Laverty is either really close to Marc Márquez, or a long way behind Marc Márquez, depending on how you measure it.
The Irishman had a solid day of practice to come up just over a second shy of Márquez’s best time on Friday evening. His problem is that as impressive as his time was, there are eighteen riders ahead of him.
It is, quite frankly, ridiculously close. “I don’t know when was the last time you saw down to 21st was inside 1.3 seconds,” Jack Miller said in awe. “It’s almost like we’re in Moto3 again.”
The closeness of the field was a frustration for everyone on the grid. Miller, Scott Redding, Nicky Hayden, even Valentino Rossi cannot believe how tough the field is. “This practice is unbelievable, because there are ten bikes in three tenths!”
That does not make it any easier to pick a winner, however. Marc Márquez is the least troubled of the riders on the grid, fast both in race trim and on a single lap.
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When the flag drops, the speculation stops. Though usually, a rather more forthright word is used instead of speculation.
After the long winter of testing, of trying to assess who was trying what on which lap to try to compare lap times, MotoGP is underway for real. Everyone on track is looking for race pace, and a fast lap to ensure they get into Q2. It is a whole lot easier to comprehend, and infinitely more thrilling.
Conditions had not looked promising ahead of practice. Strong winds blew down the front straight in the late afternoon, raising fears that they would coat the circuit in dust and sand.
Then shortly before the action was due to kick off, a few drops of rain started falling, threatening to at least delay proceedings should it continue. But the wind dropped and the rain stopped, and the 2015 MotoGP season got underway as planned.
Fears about the track were unfounded, lap times quickly heading towards something resembling race pace.
The engineers have had two weeks to pore over the data from the first MotoGP test at Sepang, identify problems, analyze strengths, and find more ways to go faster. Their analyses have been translated into designs, into new parts, into yet more software, ready to put their theories into practice.
On Monday morning, at 10am Malaysian time, the MotoGP riders get to try out all of the new parts and ideas thought up by their factories and teams in search of a few more fractions of a second.
The eyes of the world will not be on what the engineers did between Sepang 1 and Sepang 2, however. Attention will be focused on Yamaha and Ducati, who will be testing hardware which has been a long time coming.
Yamaha is bringing its fully seamless gearbox to the Sepang 2 test, and Ducati will roll out its Desmosedici GP15 for the first time. Both could make a significant impact.
The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is a machine that has been long in the making. It represents Gigi Dall’Igna’s next step forward for the wayward Ducati Corse MotoGP team, and it is the dubious honor of holding the hopes of Ducati fans around the world, who see the machine as the silver bullet that will return Ducati to the forefront of racing prowess. No pressure.
Since theDesmosedici GP15 was a no-show at Sepang, Ducati held a special unveiling ceremony in Bologna today, and also used the opportunity to unveil the 2015 team and its livery.
The most obvious change that can be seen on the GP15 is the re-routing of the exhaust, with the undertail pipes collecting on the right-hand side of the machine, rather than coming in from both sides and meeting in the middle.
Also, the 90 degree V4 engine has been rocked backwards, giving more room to the front tire, and thus a more compact stature inside the frame.
The bodywork is obviously different, and the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is physically slimmer, with a much smaller tail section. The twin-spar aluminum chassis remains, though it is of a completely new design. Easy to see as well are the carbon fiber subframes fore and aft.
Can you spot any other changes in the high-resolution photos after the jump? Let us know in the comments.
Who has the best bike? Is it Honda? Or have they been passed by Yamaha? Did the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang answer that question? After Monday, we thought the answer was yes.
After Friday, it’s clear that it’s not clear. There is still a long way to go to the start of the season, and the only thing we can be sure of is the fact that this is going to be a fantastic year in MotoGP. When it’s hard to point to who has an advantage, it means the racing is going to be tight.
So how did the balance of power swing from Yamaha to Honda? Yamaha turned up at Sepang with a bike that was ready to go. They had plenty of parts to test, but following the Yamaha philosophy, all of those parts offer just a small, but positive change.
The bike was fast, and got a little bit faster. That meant that Yamaha were quick on the first day, and got a little quicker day by day.
Honda, on the other hand, turned up with four different bikes for Marc Márquez, and three for Dani Pedrosa, and the two Repsol Honda riders spent the first day of the test running back-to-back comparisons.
They had pretty much narrowed down their choice by the end of Wednesday, confirming their impressions on Thursday, then getting on with the job of improving the bike through Thursday and Friday.