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David Emmett

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Jorge Lorenzo is set to retire from motorcycle racing. The 32-year-old Spaniard has decided to end his career as a result of the disastrous season at Repsol Honda, hampered by extreme crashes and severe injury, and never having become comfortable on the bike.

“I always thought that there are four significant days for a rider,” Lorenzo told a specially convened press conference at Valencia. “The first is you first race, the second your first win and then your first world championship – not everyone can win a world championship but some of us made it – and then the day you retire.”

The decision to retire came because he could no longer summon the required energy to continue at the level which was necessary. “Everything started when I was three years old, almost 30 years of complete dedication to my sport,” Lorenzo said.

“People who work with me know how much of a perfectionist I am, how much energy and intensity I have always put into my sport.”

“This level of perfectionism requires a lot of motivation, that is why after nine years at Yamaha – so wonderful, probably the best years that I enjoyed in my career – I felt that I needed a change, if I wanted to keep this full commitment to my sport.”

“That’s why I wanted to move to Ducati, it gave me a big boost of motivation and even though the results were very bad, I used the motivation to not give up and keep fighting until I achieved this beautiful Mugello victory in front of all the Ducati fans.”

Hungary is a potential candidate to host a MotoGP race from 2022, when the current calendar expands to 22 races.

Over the summer, Dorna signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hungarian government to host a race for five years, between 2022 and 2026, at a new circuit to be built in the country.

The memorandum of understanding is just the first step on a long and tricky road to actually organizing a race.

With MotoGP testing becoming ever more restricted for full-time MotoGP riders, the so-called contracted riders, the importance of test teams has grown.

Where in previous seasons most Japanese manufacturers have used Japanese riders based in Japan to push the development of their MotoGP bikes, in recent years, they have all switched to using teams based in Europe with ex-MotoGP riders as test riders.

Suzuki have Sylvain Guintoli, Honda have Stefan Bradl, and Yamaha had Jonas Folger for 2019.

But not for 2020, it seems. In an interview with German-language publication Speedweek, Folger announced that Yamaha has decided not to continue with the German for next season.

The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired.

That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021.

And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore there options for the next season but one.

This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you.

Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.

The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans.

Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.

Winning championships starts with winning races. But there is more to winning races than just turning up on Sunday, whacking the throttle wide open and holding it there for as long as possible when the lights go out. Winning a race is a long, drawn-out process, involving planning, strategy, assessing your strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes, after looking at the pace of your rivals, checking it against your own data, balancing expected tire life against performance, and watching where the rest of the grid is stronger and where they are open to attack, you have no choice but to admit someone else is faster.

It then becomes a question of trying to see what is possible, and trying to find a different way to succeed. Winning may be hard, but it is never out of the question.

So riders explore other ways to try to beat their rivals. The race doesn’t just happen on Sunday, it starts in practice. You can try to win by going faster than everyone else, but sometimes, you can win by making your rivals go slower.

You try to get into their head, intimidate them. Sometimes you do that by posting an explosive lap that nobody believed you were capable of, and which they fear to copy.

Sometimes you do that by following them around on track, watching them, copying them, making them aware of your presence all the time. After all, every ounce of energy spent worrying about you is one which can’t be spent on trying to go faster.

The point of motorcycle racing is to go faster than everyone else. And because motorcycle racing is a sport composed of many different parts, there are a lot of different parties wanting to be fastest.

Riders want to be fastest to win races and championships. Factories want to be fastest to win championships, but also to have the bike with the highest top speed, and to collect lap records. Even tire suppliers want to collect lap records. That, after all, is how they measure progress.

Since coming into the class, Michelin have shattered a lot of records set by Bridgestone, the previous Official Tire Supplier to MotoGP. But not all of them, and if you speak to people from Michelin, this is something they are far from happy about.

But they keep chipping away, circuit by circuit, looking for ways to improve the tires to allow the bikes to go faster. This is the way Michelin creates competition for itself, and sets goals for its R&D department to pursue.

So far, they have done pretty well, taking the race lap record at nine of the tracks which MotoGP raced at prior to 2016, when they took over from Bridgestone.

Their record on outright lap records is even better. Up until Friday morning, Michelin still had five circuits where they hadn’t beaten the fastest ever lap set during practice or qualifying by Bridgestone.

How quickly things can change. At Phillip Island a week ago, Valentino Rossi was being feted for his 400th Grand Prix start against a background of concern over the nine-time champion’s pace.

Sitting seventh in the championship with 153 points, behind both Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales and Petronas Yamaha SRT rider Fabio Quartararo, questions were being asked whether it was time for Rossi to retire.

And yet a year ago, at Sepang, Rossi came within four laps of winning the race, or at least taking the race down to the wire with Marc Márquez. The Italian crashed out at Turn 1, washing the front out and handing victory to his arch rival. But the race was as clear a sign as you could get that Rossi was still competitive, still capable of winning races.

Jorge Lorenzo finds himself in a similar situation. At Phillip Island, he had one of the worst races of his career, finishing 66 seconds behind his teammate, the winner Marc Márquez.

Lorenzo is on his way out, the media and fans said, he can’t ride the Honda. Yet in November last year, at the Jerez test, Lorenzo was fifth fastest overall, a tenth of a second behind his teammate, and 0.160 slower than fastest rider Takaaki Nakagami.

It is clear that circumstances matter. Sure, riders lose their pace over time, start to slow down with age, take more time to adapt to one bike rather than another. But riders don’t go from winning races one year to being mid pack or much worse the next of their own accord.

There is more going on than meets the eye – in Rossi’s case, a search for speed and the balance between grip and tire life, in Lorenzo’s, a return from a vertebrae injury combined with a bike he still doesn’t trust completely. So changing circumstances may help change their fortunes.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmelo is to host a round of the World Superbike championship in 2020. The event is to be held from 18-20th September 2020, between the Portimao and Magny-Cours rounds of the series. 

The addition of Barcelona presages a few of the changes coming in both the WorldSBK and MotoGP calendars in future years. Next year, WorldSBK loses Buriram in Thailand to MotoGP, and also looks set to lose the race at Laguna Seca in the USA. Instead, WorldSBK will head to Barcelona in September, and the German circuit of Oschersleben in August.

The elements prevailed in the end. The weather gods threw rain and wind at the Phillip Island circuit on Friday, and after showing their power to pose real peril to the riders, the riders and Dorna surrendered to a power greater than them.

The very strong gusting wind was just too dangerous to make riding at the Australian circuit safe.

Miguel Oliveira’s crash was the last straw. The Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider was caught out by the changing wind in the early part of FP4, got pushed wide on the entry to the terrifyingly fast first corner, and took a massive tumble through the gravel.

It looked like a huge crash, and Oliveira was very lucky to come away with no broken bones, though he had heavy bruising on his arm and hand.

“I was slipstreaming Zarco and at that point I was a little bit more close to the left side of the track,” Oliveira said.

“And from the morning to the afternoon the wind just completely changed the way and was really sideways going onto the straight. I rolled off to let Johann pass and when I braked, I braked completely sideways and the wind just pushed me out of the track.”

Strong winds have forced Dorna to cancel qualifying for the MotoGP class at Phillip Island.

Wind with gusts of over 70km/h made conditions impossible during FP4, and after Miguel Oliveira suffered a massive crash at Turn 1, blown off line and onto the grass, an impromptu meeting of the Safety Commission voted to cancel qualifying, deeming it too dangerous to continue.