The German round of MotoGP is to stay at the Sachsenring circuit until 2016. Dorna announced today that they had signed a five-year deal with the ADAC, who own the Sachsenring, to keep the race at the circuit. The race had been under threat earlier, after projected losses for the German GP meant that circuit feared not being able to afford the event.
Three races in 15 days, right in the middle and most important part of the season. MotoGP lines up at Assen with one third of the season gone. By the time the triple header is finished at Mugello, just over two weeks’ later, we are half way through the season and the title is a lot closer to being settled. These three races are crucial.
Not that it changes anyone’s approach. During the press conference, I asked the riders if they took a more cautious approach, knowing that the cost of injury is much, much greater now than it is when there is more time to recover between races. They looked at me as if I were stupid – a conclusion they have some justification for drawing – and told me that they treat these three races the same as the first race, the last race, and every other race in between. Flat out, and trying to win. It is impossible to win championships without winning races, as Casey Stoner likes to point out, so it is better to focus on that than on worrying about what might happen.
Honda is working on a simplified version of its RC213V MotoGP machine to sell to teams as a CRT bike. Working together with Thomas Baujard, journalist for the French magazine Moto Journal, we have learned that work on the V4 machine is already underway, though a production date for the bike is not yet known.
HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto confirmed to Baujard at Silverstone that work was ongoing on the project, though Nakamoto did not like it being referred to as a CRT bike. “Not a CRT bike,” Nakamoto told Baujard, “it is a production racer!” When asked later about the engine layout, Nakamoto confirmed that the bike was a V4 rather than an inline four. “It is a replica of this bike,” Nakamoto told me, pointing to the Repsol Honda garage, “But cheaper. It is easier to use an existing design.”
Now that three races have passed, giving the paddock time to digest the news of Casey Stoner’s shock decision to retire and consider what effect it will have on the future line up of the MotoGP grid. The riders’ representatives have been very busy at the past few races, putting out feelers to factories and teams, weighing up opportunities and gauging the market value of their riders. With summer approaching, Silly Season for the 2013 Championship is very much open.
Two more decisions have accelerated developments, and drawn the lines of the 2013 season a little more clearly. Firstly, Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to stay with Yamaha for next season – “if Jorge wants to win championships,” said Lorenzo’s team boss Wilco Zeelenberg at Barcelona, “his best option is to stay at Yamaha.” The strength of the team and the state of the bike do seem to have been the key criteria for Lorenzo’s decision, the Spaniard opting for performance over financial gain.
The second development is the dropping of the Rookie Rule, preventing newcomers into the MotoGP class from going straight to the factory teams. The rule was popular with some team owners, but it also created major headaches for them: a big-name rookie like Marc Marquez does not come alone, but brings a small army of sponsors, advisers, mechanics, and assorted hangers on.
Room has to be made for these people and these sponsors, and long-term relationships have to be put aside to make way for them, which team managers then have to try to reestablish a year later once the rookie has gone. The abolition of the Rookie Rule clears the way for Marc Marquez to enter the Repsol Honda team, but it also opens up opportunities for other rookies at Yamaha or Ducati.
With these developments in mind, we can start to take a look at the current state of the market, the range of options open to riders in MotoGP, and what bikes may be on the grid for next season.
For the past few years, attending a MotoGP round has been a disheartening experience for most British fans. After sitting in traffic for several hours, they then faced a day of getting soaked to the skin while watching their local heroes – if any were actually on the grid – circulating around at the rear of the pack. At the end of the day, they faced yet more hours sitting in a chaos of traffic chaos, with usually another downpour of rain, just to get home again. They loved it, of course, but it tested their courage.
2012 would be different. The miserable weather magically disappeared for race day – it was far from perfect, but it remained largely dry – Scott Redding got on the podium in Moto2, and Cal Crutchlow put on a heroic and brilliant performance in MotoGP. It might be fair to question the wisdom of Crutchlow’s decision to lie about his foot not being broken and race anyway, but there is no question about his bravery or pain threshold, nor, after starting at the back of the grid and slicing through the field to finish 6th, matching the pace of race winner Jorge Lorenzo, about his ability. The British fans have a hero again. More than one, in fact.
The rookie rule is to be dropped for the 2013 season. The Spanish daily El Pais is reporting that Dorna and IRTA have decided that the rule preventing MotoGP rookies from being signed to a factory team had to be scrapped due to the difficulties presented by the limited number of bikes available to ride. As a consequence, it was felt it was better to drop the rookie rule altogether, rather than create more problems for existing satellite teams by maintaining it.
Ducati is to test the latest version of their Desmosedici GP12 engine next week at Mugello. Ducati team manager Vitto Guareschi said that Franco Battaini is to start testing the bike, complete with the new engine, next week, in preparation for handing the machine over to Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi for a final test on the Monday after the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello. If that test is successful, then both factory Ducati riders will have the new engine available as part of their allocation from Laguna Seca, the race directly after Mugello.
The weather has been a cruel mistress at Silverstone this weekend, much as it has been every year MotoGP has paid a visit. The track is built around an airfield, and consequently sits on a plateau just enough above the surrounding area to catch any wind which may be about. On Saturday, that was a lot, with the wind blowing hard and gusting harder all day, catching many a rider out, especially on the way into Brooklands. The wind also blew in occasional showers, though it blew them back out again just as fast, a small blessing on an incredibly difficult day.
Despite the conditions, three men braved the wind to take pole in each class, to varying levels of surprise. That Maverick Vinales should take pole in Moto3 is much as expected, Silverstone being the Spaniard’s third pole position in a row. Though his advantage is relatively modest, there has been no one to mount a serious challenge to his supremacy all weekend, and if he gets a decent start he will be a very hard man to beat.
Pol Espargaro’s Moto2 pole is hardly unexpected – the Spaniard is one of the main candidates for the title this year, and is looking particularly fearsome at Silverstone this weekend – yet it is his first ever pole in the class. A front row regular this season, things have really come together with the Pons team and the Kalex chassis, the bike performing exceptionally well in the windy conditions. Mostly, though, Espargaro’s performance is down to the man himself: he has led every session at Silverstone so far, his advantage over his rivals increasing each time.
The big surprise came in MotoGP, Alvaro Bautista snatching his first ever pole in the premier class. Luck – and judgment – were certainly on Bautista’s side, the San Carlo Gresini man timing his first fast run just right, the first light showers appearing shortly after he claimed the spot atop the timesheets. Though the rain may have hampered his rivals – Casey Stoner, in particular, was confident he could have gone a lot faster than he had, his crew finding a big improvement just before the rain came down – Bautista’s time was of itself highly respectable, and came on top of strong performances throughout free practice.
“It was an up-and-down day,” Ben Spies said after practice on Friday, and truly, he spoke for a large part of the paddock. It started with the weather: the overnight rain continued for the better part of the morning, leaving the track soaking during FP1. The sun came out at lunchtime, quickly drying out the track, helped by the strong winds buffeting the circuit. The dry track helped, the wind certainly didn’t. “That’s what happens when you build a circuit on an airfield,” Cal Crutchlow commented curtly, after complaining about being blown around by the gusting wind in the afternoon.
Two topics dominated Thursday’s round of talk at the rider debriefs and press conferences – well, three actually, but the Marquez/Espargaro clash at Barcelona was really just rehashing of old ground – and the talk was about contracts and tires, probably in that order of importance. With Casey Stoner retired and Jorge Lorenzo having renewed his contract with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to the other players in the field, and so every rider speaking to the press was given a grilling as to their plans for next year.
That interrogation revealed only a very little. In the press conference, Jorge Lorenzo admitted he had been made an offer by Honda, and had only decided to sign for Yamaha once Lin Jarvis upped his original offer in response to Honda’s. Lorenzo would not be drawn on the size of the sums involved – a clumsy and badly phrased question in the press conference asked by me was easily evaded by the Spaniard – but logic dictates that it would be more than the reported 8 million a year his previous contract was worth. But money was not the main driver behind the signing, Lorenzo said. “I listened to my heart, and my heart said Yamaha.” As Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg said at Barcelona, and repeated again at Silverstone, Lorenzo wants to win championships, and Yamaha gave him the best shot at doing that.
MotoGP’s 2013 Silly Season is one of the most complicated in many years. Though the retirement of Casey Stoner has opened up the market, the real complication lies with two factors, and the way those two interact. The issue can be summed up in a single question: what are we going to do with Marc Marquez?
It has been clear for some time that Marc Marquez is going to be one of the hottest properties in MotoGP in 2013, the Spaniard expected to graduate to the premier class at the end of this season. Under normal circumstances, this would not be an issue, but the situation that MotoGP finds itself currently in means that we are a very long way from normal circumstances.
The combination of the global financial crisis and the radically depleted field, a consequence of the cost hyperinflation the switch to 800cc caused back in 2007, has meant that the series finds itself in a period of transition, with the return to 1000cc machines just the first step in a major rules shakeup.
The scale of the proposed changes – a rev limit, a single ECU, one bike per rider, a cap on lease prices, and a limit to the number of bikes each factory can provide – means that discussions about the rules are ongoing, the situation changing at each Grand Prix as the haggling and horse-trading between the factories and Dorna continues.
Marquez was expected to fall victim to the Rookie Rule, the provision introduced when Ben Spies entered MotoGP in 2010, preventing a rider from going straight to a factory team in his first season in the class. Both HRC and Repsol, the Spanish oil giant who have backed Marquez throughout his career, have made no secret of their preference of putting Marquez directly into the factory Repsol Honda team.
The Rookie Rule prevents this happening, leaving Repsol and Monlau Competicion, who run Marquez’ Moto2 team (and the 125cc team he raced in before that) casting about for alternatives. Their preferred option, if Marquez cannot go straight to the factory team, is for Monlau to move up as an independent satellite team running Marquez as the sole rider. The team would be backed by Honda, and Marquez would have full factory-spec equipment at his disposal.
But that itself poses a problem. Under the current proposals, which look very close to being finalized, each manufacturer will only be allowed to supply a maximum of four riders with bikes in 2013, two riders in a factory team and two riders in satellite teams.
With the direct route into the factory team blocked, Marquez causes a dilemma, for Honda, and for the satellite teams involved: placing Marquez with either the San Carlo Gresini or the LCR satellite teams will cause problems with the teams’ existing sponsors, and if Marquez brings his own team of mechanics with him, then it would also mean satellite teams breaking long-standing relationships with mechanics already working for the teams.
Likewise for Honda, if HRC grants Repsol and Monlau’s wish of creating a separate team for Marquez, that could mean being forced to take away a bike from one of the two Honda satellite teams.
To hear the perspective of the satellite teams themselves, I spoke to Lucio Cecchinello at Barcelona, owner of the LCR Honda team currently fielding Stefan Bradl in MotoGP. Cecchinello and Gresini are the parties in the most difficult situation, and though Cecchinello pronounced himself a supporter of the Rookie Rule, he was clear that the current set of circumstances made the situation even more complicated than it would normally be.