The satellite bike situation for the coming five-year contract period in MotoGP is starting to crystallize.
Today, KTM and Tech3 announced that the French team wil be staying inside the stable of the Austrian factory for the entire five years of the MotoGP period, from 2022 to 2026.
That Tech3 would stay with KTM was hardly a surprise: the French team won their first ever premier class race last season with Miguel Oliveira, and the team is an important part of KTM’s talent structure, which brings riders through all the way from the Red Bull Rookies to MotoGP.
But the fact that it is a five-year deal is unusual, satellite team contracts in MotoGP are usually only for two to three years.
Saturday was a tough day at the office for the Grand Prix paddock. Conditions were treacherous precisely because they were so deceptive.
The sun was shining, and if you measured the asphalt temperature in the sun, it looked pretty good. But there was a cold wind blowing across the track which would cool tires and catch you unawares.
Which is precisely what it did, riders crashing in droves in all three classes on Saturday. There were 27 fallers on Saturday, more than any other Saturday at Jerez in the past five years.
It is a truism to point out that it is just Friday, and too early to be getting excited about who is where on the timesheets. But the reason it is a truism is because (the clue is in the name) it’s true.
Friday is just the first day of the weekend, and not everybody is up to speed right away. Things change over a weekend, especially once the engineers have had an evening to examine the data.
The weather and the track changes too. The tail end of storm Lola has just passed over Jerez de la Frontera, and temperatures are slowly returning to normal after an unseasonally cold and wet period.
The mercury is creeping higher once again, and with every degree of temperature and every ray of direct Andalusian sunlight, track temperatures are increasing, bringing more grip.
In addition, every bike that laps the track lays down a little rubber, creating more and more grip. And there are a lot of bikes turning laps at Jerez: in addition to the usual three Grand Prix classes of Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, there are also the Red Bull Rookies and MotoE.
The MotoE bikes, in particular, help the MotoGP teams. Like MotoGP, MotoE uses Michelin tires, and the big, heavy machines lay down a lot of Michelin rubber which helps create grip for everyone, and especially MotoGP.
The 2021 WorldSBK calendar has been updated once again in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After delaying the Australian round provisionally until the end of the season, the Phillip Island event has now been postponed until 2022. And a race in the Czech Republic, in Most, has been added in the middle of the calendar.
Normality returns, at last. MotoGP is finally back at a track where the schedule follows the same pattern as the rest of the year, at a circuit which everyone in MotoGP – riders, teams, manufacturers, tire makers, equipment manufacturers – knows like the back of their hands, and at its normal slot in the calendar, late April and early May.
After Qatar and Portimão, two tracks which held so many unknowns, we are very firmly back in known territory.
It is hard to overstate just how well everyone knows the circuit. From CEV to Red Bull Rookies to Grand Prix to WorldSBK, and even BSB and CIV, the Circuito de Jerez Angel Nieto is used to race, to test, on track days and practice days.
Riders have hundreds of laps at the circuit under their belts before they even reach the Grand Prix paddock.
There is good news and bad news for MotoGP. The good news is that the VR46 team will, as expected, make the full-time leap to the premier class for 2022, replacing the departing Esponsorama team.
The VR46 team has signed a five-year deal with Dorna to compete in MotoGP during the next contract period, from 2022-2026.
Which bikes the VR46 team will use is still to be determined. The choice appears to be between Ducati and Aprilia, with a decision to be made in the next month or so.
Given that VR46 are already fielding Luca Marini in MotoGP via a collaboration agreement with the Esponsorama squad, alongside Enea Bastianini, the most logical step would be for the team to continue working with Ducati.
The idea behind setting the grid in Grand Prix racing is simple: after two 15 minute sessions, the rider who sets the fastest lap gets to start from pole position, the other riders ranked in order of their best lap times.
Of course, the fact that qualifying is split into two sessions to prevent people using tows to artificially boost their starting positions (more on that later) is already a distortion, as the quickest riders left in Q1 have sometimes posted faster times than those who made it through to Q2.
It was hardly ideal circumstances to make a return to the toughest class in motorcycle racing after more than eight months without riding a bike. Overnight rain left the track covered in damp patches, making the surface treacherous and unpredictable.
But that didn’t deter Marc Márquez: though he wasn’t the first out of the pits in FP1, he was on track soon enough. And he was fast soon enough too, ending the morning session as third quickest, just a quarter of a second slower than Maverick Viñales.
Drawing conclusions from times which are 2.5 seconds off the race lap record and 3.5 seconds off the best pole time is a little premature. But Márquez was fast again in FP2, in much drier and consistent conditions.
After a month in the desert, MotoGP returns to something more resembling normality. The Grand Prix paddock has left Qatar behind to fly to Europe, gathering at the Circuito do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal.
The change is all-encompassing: from the wild temperature swings from day to night of Qatar to the temperate climes of Portugal’s Algarve coast in balmy springtime; from dust and wind to mist and sunshine. From the bright artificial spotlights to being bathed in natural sunlight.
Above all, though, the change is from having a narrow window where everything resembled race conditions, that golden hour from 7pm to 8pm, to having usable conditions both morning and afternoon.
From a track where Michelin couldn’t bring a selection of tires which would allow a choice for the race at night, to a track where the teams should be able to find a tire that works for their bike, instead of having to bend their bikes to suit the only tire that will withstand the the weird conditions that prevail in the Qatari night.
Not that tires won’t be an issue at Portimão. Last year’s allocation has been tweaked, based on data collected at the track when MotoGP visited for the first time.
And because we go there now in mid-April, rather than late November, when the sun is higher in the sky and radiating more heat into the ribbon of asphalt the riders have to traverse.
MotoGP is to get a head start on the implementation of LED flag panels for the remainder of the 2021 MotoGP season, starting with this weekend’s Portuguese GP at Portimão.
The panels, which will be made compulsory by both the FIM and FIA from 2022, are to be transported from track to track by LED panel manufacturer EM Motorsport, and used for each race.
Four months after getting off the Ducati, with no contracts signed for 2021, Andrea Dovizioso is riding again.
The Italian has spent the past three days testing the Aprilia RS-GP at a private test at Jerez, sharing the track with Yamaha, KTM, and Honda, in between the sessions for the MotoE class.
On Wednesday afternoon, the final day of Dovizioso’s test with Aprilia, the Italian spoke to the media about the test, his motivation for testing the RS-GP, his plans for the immediate future, and what he thought of the test so far.
He was very cagey in his responses, not wanting to give away too much, but reading between the lines he still had plenty to say.
He did not want to enter into detail about how the bike felt, insisting that the first thing he had to do was to find the right riding position before he could be comfortable trying to push the bike to its limit.