The current status of MotoGP’s silly season? Two down, plenty still to go. Valentino Rossi may have joined Marc Marquez as the only other factory rider to have put pen to paper for 2015 and 2016, the rest of the grid is still in the middle of negotiating their riders for next year. Even Cal Crutchlow, who has a contract to race with Ducati in 2015, but more of that later.
Whenever I have the pleasure of running across MotoGP’s official statistician and number cruncher Dr. Martin Raines, he likes to point out to me exactly why we are living through a golden age of racing.
His arguments are backed with a battery of indisputable facts and figures, which boil down to a single fact: the races have never been closer. Not in terms of gap between the podium finishers, not in terms of gap between first and last, nor between all points finishers. This is an era of truly great racing.
As if to underline his point, the Barcelona Grand Prix served up a veritable smorgasbord of fantastic races: a strong win and thrilling podium battle in Moto3, a surprisingly hard-fought Moto2 race, and to top it off, perhaps the most exciting MotoGP race we have had since 2006, with four riders slugging it out and swapping places right to the final lap.
The winner of the MotoGP race may have been predictable – any bet against Marc Marquez looks more and more foolish each week – but in Barcelona, Marquez’s victory looked in doubt all the way to the final couple of corners.
The 2015 MotoGP grid is shaping up to look even stronger than this season. There are increasing signs that the weaker teams on the grid are set to disappear, with the strongest teams in Moto2 moving up to take their place. In addition, there is a chance that some of the stronger existing MotoGP teams could expand their participation as well.
It is an open secret that the Marc VDS Racing team is weighing up a switch to MotoGP. Team boss Michael Bartholemy has had initial talks with the team owner Marc van der Straten about adding a MotoGP entry to their line up, but they are still a long way from making a decision.
Bartholemy told us that a decision on their participation would come at Assen at the earliest, but admitted that it was still a very serious option.
Saturday Summary at Mugello: Signs of Marquez’s Weakness, The Importance of Equipment, & The Rocketship Ducati
Knowing that not everyone is in a position to watch qualifying and races when they are live, we try to operate a no-spoilers policy for at least a few hours after the event.
For us, this means no results in headlines, nor on the Twitter feed. But, as the mighty motorcycle racing Twitter personality SofaRacer put it today, “I know you don’t like to Tweet spoilers David. But ‘Márquez on pole’ and ‘Márquez wins’ technically, erm, aren’t.”
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Marc Marquez took his sixth pole of the season, and his seventh pole in a row on Sunday. Marquez remains invincible, even at what he regards as his worst track of the year.
His advantage is rather modest, though. With just 0.180 seconds over the man in second place – the surprising Andrea Iannone – it is Marquez’s smallest advantage of the season, if we discount Qatar, where he was basically riding with a broken leg.
You get the sense that Marquez is holding something back, almost being cautious, after being bitten several times by the track last year, including a massive crash in free practice and then sliding out of the race.
It makes him almost vulnerable for the first time. His race pace is still fast, but he has others – Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, even the Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso – all on roughly the same pace.
If you are not following the 2014 Isle of Man TT, you are missing out on some great racing already, and we’re only once race into the TT fortnight. Getting down to business with the big bikes, the Dainese Superbike TT has set the standard quite high, with some proper-good road racing happening on the Isle.
We won’t spoil the results from the race, but we will say that the 132 mph barrier was broken during the Superbike TT. Bruce Anstey, the 44-year-old Kiwi, put down a “mega” 132.298 mph lap, while on his Honda/Valvoline Racing by Padgetts Motocycle Honda CBR1000RR SP.
The late evening practice sessions have finally given way to the mid-day races at the Isle of Man, and that means that the 2014 Isle of Man TT has started in earnest. As always, the Dainese Superbike TT was the opening event, which is just the perfect way to start the TT…with the big toys on the Mountain Course, right?
This year’s event brings all sorts of questions. Will Michael Dunlop continue the domination he began back in 2013? Or will John McGuinness reclaim his crown, and make further progress into besting Joey Dunlop’s outright TT race win record? How about fan favorite Guy Martin, and his hunt for his first Isle of Man TT race win? Thankfully, some of those answers can begin to come forthwith.
The paradox of the motorcycle racer is that every race is a big race, yet no race is more important than any other. The pressure on the MotoGP elite is so great that they have to perform at their maximum at every circuit, every weekend.
Every race is like a championship decider, not just the race which decides the championship. There may be extra pressure at a home race, or on a special occasion, or when a title is at stake, but the riders cannot let it get to them. There is too much at stake to be overawed by the occasion.
Still, Mugello 2014 is a very big race indeed. It is Valentino Rossi’s 300th Grand Prix, and a chance for him to return to the podium on merit again, and not just because the crowds were calling his name.
It is the best hope of a Jorge Lorenzo revival, the Yamaha man having won the last three races in a row at the spectacular Tuscan track. It is the best hope for Ducati, the Italian factory having run well here in the past.
And it is the first realistic chance for Marc Marquez to fail, the Spaniard has never found the track an easy one, though it did not stop him winning there.
The performance of the RCV1000R has been a source of some disappointment for the teams who stumped up the roughly 1 million euros a season in bike costs, as well as for the riders who have been hired to race the bike. After reports that a Honda test rider had lapped with 0.3 seconds of the factory RC213V machine, expectations of the bike were very high indeed.
On the track, the RCV1000R has not got anywhere near the times expected of it. Comparing the fastest race lap of the fastest RCV1000R rider against the slowest RC213V rider shows an average difference of 0.730 seconds over the first five races of the season, four tenths more than Honda had managed with a test rider.
Teams have complained, riders have been open in criticizing the lack of power, and the current teams have been eyeing the Open class Yamahas fielded by the NGM Forward team with some interest.
As the MotoGP circus descends upon the charming French town of Le Mans this weekend, there is one question at the front of everybody’s minds: can he do it? Can Marc Marquez continue his incredible string of poles and victories by winning at Le Mans?
On the evidence of the 2014 season so far, you would have to say he can. But Le Mans is a different circuit, and one where a gaggle of Yamaha riders have gone well in the past. This could possibly be the first race since Qatar where Marquez is made to work for it.
Marquez has a lot going for him in France. Leaving aside his form – a perfect record of poles and wins this year, as well as being fastest in over half the sessions of free practice so far – the track looks to play to the Honda’s strengths, on paper at least.
The stop-and-go nature of the Le Mans track sees the bikes spend a lot of time under hard acceleration, with slower corners needing hard braking. The Honda’s ‘V’ approach to the corners – brake late, turn hard, stand the bike up quickly and get on the gas – seems to be a much better fit to the Le Mans circuit than Yamaha’s ‘U’ style – brake early, enter faster, carry more corner speed and smoothly wind on the throttle.
And yet Yamaha riders have won four of the last six races at the circuit. Jorge Lorenzo has won the French Grand Prix at Le Mans three times, and each time with a very comfortable margin over his competitors. Valentino Rossi has won here twice on a Yamaha, in 2005 and 2008, and finished second behind Lorenzo in 2010.
It’s even a track where Colin Edwards has shone in the past on a Yamaha – and where perhaps he can do well once again, despite hating the current Yamaha chassis he is riding at Forward Yamaha. This is the first in a series of circuits where Yamaha riders have dominated in the past.
If Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi want to start fighting back against the might of Marquez, Le Mans is as good a place to start as any.
With the contracts of the four riders in Honda’s and Yamaha’s factory teams expiring at the end of 2014, real fireworks were expected when contract negotiations began for the 2015 season and beyond.
But as the season progressed, those fireworks have turned into something of a damp squib, with it looking increasingly likely that the factory line ups will see little or no change for 2015.
The first contract has already been signed. Today, HRC announced that they have reached agreement with Marc Marquez for another two years, meaning that the 2013 world champion will stay with the Repsol Honda team for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.