It’s here at last. After a painfully long preseason – Qatar’s position as the first race of the year, and their insistence on running at night, means that it is unsafe to run it much earlier, due to the danger of dew having disastrous effects on grip levels – the MotoGP paddock is assembled and ready to go racing. While there is always a sense of eagerness ahead of the first race at Qatar, it feels like the anticipation is even greater this year.
Whoever it is you happen to be talking to, the conversation always covers the same topics. Just how good will Marc Marquez be? Can Valentino Rossi really challenge for the championship again now he is back on the Yamaha? With Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa so evenly matched, who is favorite for the title? How quickly can Ducati return to form? And with six, maybe seven candidates for the podium at every race, how good is the racing going to be?
The long wait of so many MotoGP fans is nearly over. The 2013 MotoGP season is about to get underway, or rather, the phony war of testing, which is the first step on the road to the 2013 MotoGP season. In just a few hours’ time, the howl of the CRT machines will fill the grandstands at Sepang, joined two days later by the roar of the MotoGP prototypes.
The CRT machines have two extra days of testing ahead of the full test at Sepang, where the teams will have their first chance to test the new spec Magneti Marelli electronics system on track, after having first dialed the system on the dyno at their respective bases.
The system will be used by all of the CRT teams ,except for those running the Aprilia ART bikes, and so far, the reaction has been very positive to the capabilities of the system. This should come as no surprise, given that Magneti Marelli is the de facto standard in the MotoGP paddock, already in use by both Yamaha and Ducati, though both factories run their own custom software.
Jerez is to remain on the MotoGP calendar for at least one more year. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced the extension during the official presentation in Madrid of this year’s Spanish GP at the iconic Jerez circuit, stating that Jerez will stay on the calendar for 2013. He also confirmed that from next year, there will be just 3 races on the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), with Jerez and Aragon certain to stay, while Barcelona and Valencia could alternate, as is currently being proposed for Formula 1. Meanwhile, the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril appears destined to disappear from the calendar.
Rumors surrounding the fate of the Jerez Grand Prix had been circulating for a while, with the circuit still in financial problems over non-payment of debts to the consortium that carried out remodelling work at the circuit back in 2001. It was widely expected that Jerez would be dropped from the calendar, but sources close to the circuit owners were confident of being able to continue. Though the official confirmation is only for 2013, the chances of the race remaining at the track for the next five years look very good.
What a difference a tire makes. Last season in each of Cal Crutchlow’s rider debriefs that I attended, the topic at some point came around to the Bridgestone tire and how treacherous it was during warm-up. Once the tire reached operating temperature, it was fantastic if the rider could keep it hot enough. But until it gathered enough heat, it was flat out dangerous, as so many cold tire high-side crashes proved in 2011.
Crutchlow was one of the most outspoken riders in asking Bridgestone to change the tire design, which they have done for 2012. This year’s control tire warms up much faster, allowing riders to get through the early laps of a session without a dramatic high side, of which we had none in Qatar.
There’s a lot to talk about after the 2012 MotoGP season opener, but one thing that struck me in particular was the situation Casey Stoner found himself in for Qualifying Practice. Given the combination of a new 1000cc-based formula and a new tire from Bridgestone, several riders complained of the old nemesis: chatter, which we heard quite a lot about when the 800s arrived, and was for the most part ironed out as development progressed on the former MotoGP spec.
A sudden appearance of chatter ruined Ben Spies’ race, Dani Pedrosa qualified poorly because of it, and after QP (where he was bettered by rival Jorge Lorenzo) Casey Stoner had this to say to the BBC: “I’m more than upset about it to be honest. Not about pole position but for race pace tomorrow. It’s difficult because the huge issues we had on Thursday have just gone full circle and come back to them now. I don’t think my team are really taking enough importance on how big the situation is. They’re just kinda like, oh well, you’re fast, you can do it anyway. But I can’t. It’s not feeling nice when there’s that much chatter. And if we don’t fix it before tomorrow it’s going to make things very very tough. So we’ve got some work to do, and to try and get rid of it before the race is going to be a lot of hard work.”
It is sort of a weird accolade, but Ducati has been at the front of motorcycle dash technology and innovation implementation. Introducing a TFT liquid crystal display (LCD) on the Ducati Diavel, the Italian has continued its progression forward with an OLED dash on the Ducati 1199 Panigale.
Delivering a noticeably brighter and crisper display over its TFT counter-part, the Ducati OLED dash is one of those items that doesn’t necessarily do a job better than its predecessor (it reads the bike’s speed and other vitals just the same as the pervious unit), but the added quality and user experience is one of those touches that makes a Ducati, well…a Ducati.
The night schedule at Qatar means that writers and journalists end the weekend in a state of utter exhaustion. To bed at dawn for a few hours fitful sleep, up around noon, off the to the track for a full day’s – or night’s – work, then do the same thing over again. Race day is worse, the schedule is tougher, the adrenaline rush greater, the comedown even bigger. And there’s usually about twice as much work to do as well. It is still the greatest job in the world, of course, but it makes you long for sleep a couple of times a year. Qatar race-night round ups tend to be terse, and given my usual verbosity, this is no bad thing.