The start of a new year, and though there is little going on in the world of motorcycle racing in the first week of January, there is still enough to fill our weekly news round up. Here’s what happened this week.
Dani Pedrosa, Honda, 4th, 206 points – Score: 8
If you wanted the very definition of a roller coaster career, look no further than Dani Pedrosa. Three world championships in the junior classes, and one of the most successful riders in the premier class.
He has never won a championship, but he has come within a whisker in 2012, winning more races than the eventual champion Jorge Lorenzo. Injury has dogged him, breaking most of the bones in his body, and fracturing his collarbone so often there is hardly a piece left intact.
His collarbone nearly ended his MotoGP career once, the plate fitted after his practice crash in Motegi in 2010 causing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, causing numbness and weakness in his left arm, making it almost impossible to last a race.
He suffered through 2011, until the removal of the plate on his collarbone fixed the problem. He was back with a vengeance in 2012, winning seven races and getting close to beating Jorge Lorenzo. That experience stood him in good stead in 2015.
Marc Márquez, Repsol Honda, 3rd, 242 points – Score: 8
This was Marc Márquez’s worst season in Grand Prix racing since 2009. From 2010 onwards, in 125s, Moto2, or MotoGP, Márquez has finished as either champion or runner-up.
Not only did Márquez finish outside the top two for the first time since finishing eighth in 2009, but this was also his worst championship points total since that year. You could say this was a very bad year for the Repsol Honda rider.
Yet it was also undoubtedly the year in which Márquez learned the most in his Grand Prix career. This was the year in which Márquez changed his approach, and gained a deeper understanding of how to win a championship, rather than just races.
Márquez crashed out six times in 2015, fully one third of the races. Four of those crashes were entirely on his own, and completely his own fault.
Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 2nd, 325 points – Score: 9.5
British MotoGP commentator Julian Ryder has one cliché he uses about Valentino Rossi all the time. “Never write Valentino Rossi off.” It may be a cliché, but in 2015, Rossi showed once again why clichés exist.
At the age of 36, he was past his physical prime, and not capable of keeping up at the front. Twenty seasons of top level racing had dulled his desire to compete.
Two seasons at Ducati and a poor return to Yamaha proved he was past his prime. With more money than he will ever need for the rest of his life and a fashion model girlfriend (who rides motorcycles), there was nothing to fire his motivation.
The VR46 racing team was proof Rossi was looking to his retirement, not another championship.
There was at least some truth in all of those statements, voiced by pundits and fans across the world. But they overlooked one crucial fact: you can never, ever, write Valentino Rossi off.
Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha, 1st, 330 points – Score: 9.5
All year long, everyone – engineers, journalists, pundits, other riders (with the possible exception of Valentino Rossi, for obvious reasons) – said the same thing over and over again: “Jorge is faster, but Valentino is more consistent.”
The statistics bear that out: Jorge Lorenzo led for 274 of the 448 laps raced this year, a fraction over 61%. He also had five poles and six fastest race laps, second only to Marc Márquez. Jorge Lorenzo was just plain fast in 2015.
This should be no surprise. After a difficult 2014, Jorge Lorenzo took this season deadly seriously. Last year taught Lorenzo that the cost of not being fit at the start of the season was defeat, and he has no taste for that.
So, testing is over and the winter test ban can start. Riders who intend to race in 2016 are banned from testing between December 1st, 2015 and January 31st 2016.
Engineers now have a long winter ahead of them to try to make sense of the data gathered at the test at Valencia and Jerez, or else send their test riders out in the chill of winter, as Aprilia intend to do at Jerez in a few weeks. Those engineers have an awful lot of work ahead of them.
The men and women at Ducati will be getting the most time off over the holiday period. It is clear from the first two tests that the Italian factory has hit the ground running with the new unified software, and have the systems working relatively well.
One Ducati engineer reckoned that they were already at about 50% of the potential of the software, far more than the 10% MotoGP’s Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli had estimated at Valencia.
Have HRC made the same mistake again? In 2015, the Honda RC213V was a nasty beast to tame, suffering with an excessively aggressive engine.
The engine was probably the single most important reason Marc Márquez could not mount a realistic defense of his second title, forcing him to try to make up in braking what he was losing in acceleration, and crashing out as a result.
At the Valencia test, all eyes were on Honda’s new engine, to see if they had finally fixed the problem.
Valencia turned out to be a little too complex to make a real judgment. The switch to spec-electronics and Michelin tires introduced way too many variables to be able to filter out a single factor, Honda engineers taking a long time to extract some kind of consistency from the new unified software all MotoGP bikes must now use.
The 2016 RC213V engine seemed a little less aggressive, but the new software made it hard to tell. The current test at Jerez was supposed to give a clearer indication, with HRC’s engineers having a better handle on the unified software.
Though the verdict is not yet in, it is not looking good for the 2016 engine Honda brought for the tests in Spain. Both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez have reported the engine as still being too aggressive, and difficult to manage, though the engine character has changed.
The final day of testing at Valencia was a repeat of the first day: a lot of crashes on the Michelin tires, the factory Hondas, Yamahas, and Ducatis working on the brand new spec-electronics, the satellite bikes, and the Suzukis working on their own 2015 electronics.
For the Suzukis, that was not such a problem. The new electronics were likely to be an improvement on their own electronics, both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro said, so missing out now was not such a problem.
Suzuki have another test planned at Sepang at the end November, at which they plan to switch the 2016 unified software. With two days of Michelin testing under the belt, testing the spec-software should be easier.
The 2016 MotoGP season got underway this morning, as the sound of MotoGP bikes out on track echoed round the amphitheater of the Valencia circuit, chasing away much of the bitterness and recriminations left hanging there in the wake of the 2015 season showdown.
With new bikes, new tires, new electronics, and new and old riders on new and old bikes, there was much to look forward to. It felt like MotoGP had a future again.
With new tires and new electronics, many teams had chosen to forego too many changes to their bikes, but there were still some novelties out on track. Honda had brought a 2016 bike, complete with a new engine.
Factory Yamaha had an intermediate version of their 2016 bike, complete with fuel tank moved to the rear of the bike. Despite Gigi Dall’Igna’s assurances yesterday that they would be testing nothing new to concentrate on the Michelins, Andrea Dovizioso confirmed that he had tried a new chassis.
At Suzuki, they spend the day working on adapting to the tires, and gathering more data for the 2016 bike. Engineers in Hamamatsu are getting that ready for the Sepang test – at least, that is what Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro are hoping – a bike that will produce more horsepower and have a fully seamless gearbox.
There was some shuffling of faces and equipment in the satellite teams, with bikes being wheeled from garage to garage, and a few riders moving along with them.
They say that truth is stranger than fiction. The more pressing question is how to distinguish between the two.
Narratives are easily created – it is my stock in trade, and the trade which every sports writer plies – but where does stringing together a collection of related facts move from being a factual reconstruction into the realms of invented fantasy?
When different individuals view the same facts and draw radically opposite conclusions, are we to believe that one is delusional and the other is sane and objective?
Most of all, how much value should we attach to the opinions of each side? Do we change our opinion of the facts based on our sympathy or antipathy for the messenger?
That is the confusion which the final round of MotoGP has thrust the world of Grand Prix racing into. What should have been a celebration of the greatest season of racing in the premier class in recent years, and possibly ever, was rendered farcical, as two competing interpretations of a single set of facts clashed, exploded, then dragged the series down into the abyss.
Bitterness, anger, suspicion, fear, all of these overshadowed some astonishing performances, by both winners and losers. Looked at impartially, the Valencia round of MotoGP was a great day of fantastic racing. But who now can look at it impartially?