This is the second part of our two-part series on how the silly season for next year’s MotoGP rider line up may play out. If you missed the first part, you can catch up with the situation in the Honda and Yamaha factory teams here.
Up until late in the 2013 season, changes in the rider lineup for Yamaha and Honda’s MotoGP squads looked to be limited. Though all four riders will technically be on the open market at the end of 2014, the most likely scenarios for 2015 and beyond looked fairly settled.
Either the lineups of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams would remain identical, or Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa might swap seats. The biggest question mark, it appeared, hung over whether Valentino Rossi would continue racing after 2014.
Two major shake ups changed all that. For Valentino Rossi, the replacement of Jeremy Burgess with Silvano Galbusera – and the increased role for electronics engineer Matteo Flamigni – has helped him find at least some of the time he was losing to the three Spaniards who dominated MotoGP last year, making it more likely he will stay on at Yamaha for another couple of seasons. That leaves the situation at Yamaha look more stable than before.
The biggest change, though, came at Ducati. The top of the entire Ducati Corse department underwent radical change. Gigi Dall’Igna was brought in to replace Bernhard Gobmeier as head of Ducati Corse, while Davide Tardozzi joined Paolo Ciabatti and Ernesto Marinelli to help manage the MotoGP and World Superbike teams.
The arrival of Dall’Igna and Tardozzi has had a major impact, and will likely become even more significant as the season progresses. Dall’Igna has greatly improved communications between staff at Ducati’s Bologna headquarters and the race teams at the track, making for a much more efficient organization.
It has been a long and confusing wait for the 2014 MotoGP season to begin. An awful lot has happened since the MotoGP bikes were rolled into their packing crates after the Valencia test and shipped back to the factories and workshops from whence they came. There have been shock announcements, shock testing results, and shock training crashes.
There have been last-minute rule changes, made in an attempt to keep all of the different factions in the paddock from rebelling. The final rules for the premier class were only announced on Monday, and even then, they still contain sufficient ambiguity to confuse.
But this confusion and chaos cannot disguise the fact that 2014 looks set to be the most intriguing championship in years. Gone are the reviled CRT machines – unjustly reviled; though slow, they were still jewels of engineering prowess – and in their place is a new class of machinery, the Open entries.
A simpler demarcation has been made, between factories running their own software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, and the Open teams using the championship software supplied and controlled by Dorna.
The latest rule change adds a twist, allowing underperforming Ducati all the benefits of the Open class – 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, 12 engines per season instead of 5, unlimited testing and a softer tire – until they start winning races. But the 2014 grid looks much more like a single coherent class than the pack of racing motorcycles that lined up last year.
Continuing our look back at 2013, we come to seventh place man Stefan Bradl. Here’s how he fared in 2013. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; and part 6, Alvaro Bautista.
In his first season of MotoGP, Stefan Bradl did exactly what was expected of him, learning slowly, building speed, and getting better week after week. He impressed his team, crew chief Christophe ‘Beefy’ Bourguignon expressing admiration at his calm and intelligent approach after the first test on the bike.
He did not crash too often, finished inside the top six on a regular basis, and even got close to his first podium.
After such a strong start, he was expected to do even better in year two. The target was the occasional podium, and to be the best of the satellite riders.
Strong support from Honda meant that Bradl had the tools to do the job, though starting the season using Nissin brakes instead of Brembo put him at a slight disadvantage, the Nissins offering fractionally inferior brake release.
Though Bradl improved, consistently finishing inside the top six, it was not what he or Honda had hoped. The Aragon test in June gave Bradl a boost, trying the same forks which the factory riders had already been using, and switching to Brembo brakes, at least at the front.
Mixed emotions greet the final race of most MotoGP seasons. There is sadness at the prospect of four months or more without racing. There is interest and expectation, as fans look past the race weekend to the test which immediately follows, when the bikes for next year appear and the riders switching teams get their first shot at a new ride.
And there is excitement of course, at the prospect of a race to wrap up the season. But with the title usually already decided in advance, there is only pride at stake, and not much more to play for.
This year, it’s different. Yes, the test on Monday is a big deal, with Cal Crutchlow’s debut on the Ducati, the Honda production racer making its first appearance, with Nicky Hayden on board, and the Aleix Espargaro giving the Yamaha production racer its first run out. But for the first time since 2006, the Valencia race really matters, and will decide who gets to crown themselves champion.
If Saturday at Sepang taught us anything, it is that if the new qualifying system for MotoGP is exciting, the new qualifying system with a little rain mixed in is utterly breathtaking. A brief shower at the end of Q1 left the area through turns 6 and 7 very wet, while the rest of the track was still mostly dry.
Add in the searing tropical heat which dries the surface quickly, and the color of the Sepang tarmac which tends to disguise wet patches, and qualifying becomes even more tricky. And then there’s the fact that Sepang is a long track, the two-minute lap time leaving the riders precious little time to turn laps while waiting for the surface to dry out.
Strategies went out the window, and already stressed mechanics were forced to work themselves into even more of a sweat as they rushed to set up two bikes, one dry and one wet, just in case the rain returned. Some riders went out early and despite being warned, found themselves thrown out of their seats and given a proper scare.
With qualifying being just fifteen minutes, the most likely scenario was that the last rider to cross the line would be the fastest, unless it started raining again.
Stefan Bradl has been forced to miss the Sepang round of MotoGP, after fracturing his ankle in a crash during FP4. The LCR Honda rider fell at Turn 1, sliding unhurt towards the gravel, but clipped his foot on the carpet on the outside of the kerb, which had been picked up by the handlebar of his Honda RC213V.
The impact was enough to fracture the right medial malleolus (the spur on the inside of the tibia visible as part of the ankle), ruling him out of action for Sunday’s race.
If half a second is a long time around Misano, seven tenths of a second is almost a geological era. Jorge Lorenzo was lacking grip and braking stability on Saturday; on Sunday morning, Ramon Forcada stiffened the front to improve Lorenzo’s braking, and the factory Yamaha man crushed the opposition in the warm up.
Four hours later, the reigning world champion did exactly the same again in the race, destroying his rivals in the first three laps, and holding on for a victory that was both overwhelming and important.
The first three laps? Lorenzo probably won the race in the first 100 meters off the line. Lorenzo had fluffed his practice starts on Saturday, bogging down and not really getting off the line.
On Sunday, he was so fast away off the line that he had two bike lengths before he had even changed up into second gear. By the time he crossed the timing line at the end of the first sector, he was already 0.4 seconds ahead. By the end of the first lap, he was 1.2 seconds ahead. It was already game over.
With so much happening at the front of all three races at Silverstone last Sunday, it is easy to overlook the battles behind. Especially when those battles seem to be falling into a fixed pattern, repeating the results of previous races.
A glance at the results of the MotoGP race Silverstone gives you a sense of déjà vu. While the top three swapped places, positions four to six were identical to their finishes at Brno, places seven to nine differed only in the riders who crashed out, and Aleix Espargaro took tenth spot, as he did in the Czech Republic. A pattern is definitely starting to form here.
After visiting three Honda tracks in a row, MotoGP finally heads back to a Yamaha track. Brno is fast, flowing, with a multitude of left-right and right-left combinations which favor the agility and high corner speed of the Yamaha over the more stop-and-go Honda tracks. Here, it is the Yamaha’s turn to shine.
Well, that was the theory. At the end of the first day of practice, it’s the Honda of Stefan Bradl on top of the pile, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, and Cal Crutchlow. That’s Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha. So much for Yamaha domination. Then again, with just three tenths of a second separating Bradl in first from Crutchlow in sixth, Brno is hardly seeing the Hondas dominate either. There is very little to choose between any of them.