It’s very easy to jump to quick conclusions during the early stages of a season. Momentum swings from one bike to another, and while some riders are ascending, others are having an off weekend.
However, the third round of the Superbike World Championship has definitely shown that Chaz Davies and Ducati are the form package at the moment.
The Welshman and the Italian bike claimed their first wins of 2016 in Aragon, but having been in the thick of the fight for five wins in the opening six races, their pace has not been in question.
What had been in question was top speed. While the Ducati MotoGP bike is a verified rocket, the WorldSBK specification Panigale R has traditionally struggled to keep pace with the Kawasakis on straights.
In the opening rounds we saw this when Davies was easily overtaken by Rea in both Australia and Thailand. Last weekend the tables were sensationally turned.
One statistic captured the state of play in Argentina after the first day of practice. Of the eighty-three (83!) Grand Prix riders who took to the track on Friday, just a single rider failed to improve their time from FP1 to FP2.
That rider was Tatsuki Suzuki, and the reason he did not manage to improve his time was because he crashed early in the session, leaving himself too little time to go faster.
Why is this remarkable? Normally, there would be somewhere between four and eight riders who do not manage to improve their time between sessions on Friday.
At Mugello in 2015, for example, there were six in MotoGP, five in Moto2, and eleven in Moto3, a grand total of twenty-two, and broadly representative of a normal race weekend. The fact that almost everyone managed to go faster illustrated the problem with the track perfectly.
The problem? The track is filthy, to put it simply. As a result of a lack of use, the dust and dirt which settles on any uncovered surface just settles into the asphalt, and is never swept from the track.
With no bikes or cars circulating regularly, the track remains green, its virgin surface unsullied by the dark rubber of motorized monsters. No vehicles on track means no grip.
That this Silly Season – the (bi)annual round of rider contract negotiations – was going to be remarkable has been obvious for a very long time.
Only very rarely have the contracts of nearly every rider on the grid ended at the same time, leading to a frenzy of speculation and rumor about who could and will be going where for the 2017 season.
That this year is special was made obvious at Qatar, where both Valentino Rossi and Bradley Smith announced they had already signed two-year deals for 2017 and 2018 before the flag had even dropped for the first race.
Jorge Lorenzo has been the key figure in this year’s Silly Season, however. Of the four current MotoGP Aliens, he is the most likely to move, and to be offered big money to do so.
Valentino Rossi is nearing his retirement, and his long-term future is tied up with Yamaha, so re-signing with the Japanese factory was a no-brainer.
Marc Márquez may leave Honda at some point in his career, but at the moment, he has too many ties binding him to HRC.
Dani Pedrosa may be a proven winner, but he is the only one of the four not to have won a championship. It is Lorenzo who is attracting all of the interest.
It now appears that Lorenzo’s future may already be settled. Well-informed sources inside the paddock have told me that Jorge Lorenzo has already signed a deal with Ducati, and perhaps at a record price.
Certainly at a price which Yamaha would be unwilling – and probably unable – to match.
They call it Silly Season for a reason. Every year, the MotoGP paddock engages in intrigue and speculation as to where certain riders will land for the upcoming season.
Lately, this means that the MotoGP Silly Season has its ebbs and flows, as the contract cycle for many of Grand Prix racing’s riders have come into synch with a two-year cycle. As such, it is game-on for this year, as the 2016 season has turned into a perfect game of contractual musical chairs.
We have already seen Valentino Rossi sign a two-year deal with Yamaha Racing, likely The Doctor’s last contract in MotoGP, as many expect the nine-time world champion to retire at the end of that stint.
We have also already seen Bradley Smith sign a two-year deal with KTM’s new MotoGP entry, which is perhaps the ideal situation for both the Austrian factory and the British rider.
These are both important pieces to the Silly Season puzzle, but the seat that everyone is watching the closest is that of Jorge Lorenzo, and whether the reigning world champion will remain as a Yamaha rider, or try his hand elsewhere – likely at Ducati.
The first race of the 2016 MotoGP Championship is finally in the bag, and the boys at the Paddock Pass Podcast have all the analysis and insight from Qatar that you have been waiting for.
There’s a great discussion about how the Michelin tires and spec-electronics have changed/not-changed the racing in the MotoGP class; of course the events in the Moto2 class cannot go without some discussions; and the boys wrap-up with a quick chat about Moto3 and who they have their money on this season.
Since there were some contract announcements at Qatar, the lads also have a wee chat about the current state of affairs in the MotoGP silly season. If you’re a true motorsport fan, you won’t want to miss this one.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
Practice, like testing, doesn’t really count for much, riders will tell you. When you talk to the afterwards, they will tell you that they didn’t set a really fast lap because they were working on setup, trying to figure out which tire will be best in the race, or working on race pace rather than one lap pace.
Maybe they were saving tires, maybe they ran into traffic, or maybe there wasn’t enough time left in the session to go for a fast lap. Even the rider who is fastest will tell you they were surprised, they were not really pushing for a time, but it just came naturally.
All valid explanations, but not necessarily true, of course. After all, free practice is just free practice, and as long as you are inside the top ten, with a good chance of advancing straight to Q2, then there is no reason not to dip into your Bumper Book of Excuses to fob off journalists with.
They are unlikely to challenge you on such excuses, because as long as your explanations are plausible, they have no way of countering them. It is impossible to know the mind of Man.
Qualifying is different. Qualifying matters, because there is something at stake. Not as much as on Sunday, and the forty-five minutes for which motorcycle racers sacrifice everything, the only forty-five minutes during which they feel truly alive.
But still, riders know the excuses afterwards will sound a little hollow. Qualifying is not the time to be laying all of your cards on the table, but you do have to be able to ante up, and to maybe call for a card or two.