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David Emmett

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2022 promises to see a major shakeup of the MotoGP calendar. Today, one of the pieces that will make up MotoGP’s calendar was announced, with the news that the Rio Motorpark has signed a five-year deal with Dorna to host the Brazilian round of MotoGP from 2022 to 2026.

The new venue will see MotoGP return to Brazil after an absence of 18 years. From 1995 to 2004, Grand Prix racing was held at the Nelson Piquet Circuit in Jacarepagua, to the southwest of Rio de Janeiro, and before that at Goiana in the north of Brazil  between 1987 and 1989, before moving to Interlagos near Sao Paulo for 1992.

Looked at objectively, motorcycle racing is a pointless exercise. Sure, it has some benefits. The engineering involved helps make motorcycles better, safer, and more efficient.

The determination of riders to return to action as quickly as possible makes them willing guinea pigs for medical science to try out new ideas for faster and better recovery from injury.

But in the grand scheme of things, being able to ride a motorcycle around a track faster than anyone else is fairly meaningless.

Unsurprisingly, that is not how the actual competitors see it. For motorcycle racers, being able to go around a track faster than anyone else is the most important thing in the world.

To paraphrase former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, it is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that. That is precisely how riders end up as willing guinea pigs for medical science.

“I mean the championship is, we can say, over,” Andrea Dovizioso told the pre-event press conference on Thursday in Buriram.

With five races to go and a total of 125 points at stake, Marc Márquez leads Dovizioso by 98 points. Mathematically, the title is still open, but you would be not be wise to bet against Márquez winning the championship this season.

In FP1, Marc Márquez demonstrated both why he is leading the championship, and how the championship isn’t over until it has been put beyond mathematical doubt.

On his first run of the weekend, the Repsol Honda rider went out and posted a string of laps in the 1’31s, a second or more clear of his rivals. On his second run, he repeated that pace, becoming even more consistent.

On his third run, he exited with new soft tires, front and rear, with the intention of putting in a quick lap to secure a spot in Q2 on Saturday.

It was the same strategy as in Aragon: go out in FP1, and if you feel good on the bike, post a lap good for Q2 at the end, so that you can spend all of FP2 working on race setup in conditions that will most closely resemble the race. With rain forecast for Sunday, it seemed like the right choice.

On paper, the Chang International Circuit at Buriram is a very simple proposition.

A tight corner followed by a short straight, then a tight corner followed by a very long straight, and then a long hairpin followed by a medium-length straight. And then a bunch of complicated twists and turns to get back to the start and finish line.

Of course, a track is never the same on paper as it is when motorcycles actually race on it. Sure, Buriram has three straights which determine a lot of the circuit’s character.

But there is much more to it than just getting the bike turned and getting on the gas as quickly as possible. There are a plenty of places with a choice of lines, where a canny rider can find an opening on the rider ahead. And the nature of that tighter interior sector is such that a bike which isn’t a basic drag bike can make up a lot of ground.

Take Turn 3 (the long back straight has a kink formally designated as Turn 2), the long hairpin at the end of the straight. Not perfectly flat, it offers a choice of two lines: stay inside and hug the inside kerb, and try to make the ground up on corner exit; or run in wide and cut back to the second apex carrying more speed. Both lines work.

Both lines get you to the corner exit at roughly the same point in time. And both suit two very different bike characters. It may look point and shoot, but it really isn’t.

For the second time in his MotoGP career, Valentino Rossi is to change crew chiefs. At the end of the 2019 season, David Muñoz, currently crew chief for Nicolo Bulega in the Sky Racing Team VR46 Moto2 team, will replace Silvano Galbusera as crew chief for Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team.

The news was first broken by Spanish daily AS.com early on Thursday, and confirmed by Rossi later in the pre-event press conference for the Thailand round of MotoGP at Buriram.

“Yes, it’s true,” Rossi said in response to a question from Mela Chercoles, the journalist who broke the story. “Next year I will change my chief mechanic. It was good, because after the Misano race we spoke with Silvano, because we want to try to do something to be stronger.”

Rossi explained that there were a number of factors involved. “It was different factors together, because also Silvano wanted to work for Yamaha, but he wanted to try something with less stress and also with less days out of Italy.”

“At the same time Yamaha wanted to try to make the test team stronger for next year to improve the work in Europe. I didn’t expect it at the beginning, but speaking together we decided to change so Silvano will go to the test team next year.”

With five races to go, Marc Marquez leads Andrea Dovizioso in the MotoGP championship by 300 points to 202, a difference of 98 points.

He is within a couple of points of wrapping up the title, and looks nearly certain to do so at either Buriram in Thailand or Motegi in Japan.

What does Marquez need to do to wrap up the title in Thailand? The Repsol Honda rider will become champion if he leads Andrea Dovizioso by 100 points after the Thai Grand Prix in Buriram.

Marc Márquez is the highest paid MotoGP rider in the world. His salary is rumored to be in the region of €15 million a year, and while the numbers bandied about for rider salaries can be wildly inaccurate, there is evidence to suggest this is not far off the mark, if you will excuse the pun.

HRC is said to give riders an automatic €2 million a year raise for winning the championship, so Márquez’s five MotoGP titles in theory add up to a tidy €10 million since he entered the premier class. And that is on top of the base salary he stated out with, and any extra wages he may have negotiated for himself.

He is worth every penny of that to HRC. Without Márquez, Honda’s championship trophy cabinet would have been conspicuously bare. In the five seasons in which Márquez won the MotoGP title, the second-placed Honda rider finished third, fourth, sixth, fourth, and seventh respectively.

For a factory that regards itself as the pinnacle of motorcycling, not winning championships is not an option. The dry spell between Nicky Hayden’s 2006 title and Casey Stoner’s in 2011 is still a painful memory for Honda.

In all likelihood, how you view Sunday’s MotoGP race at Aragon will be a matter of perception. For many people, it will be a forgettable affair, the race over after the first couple of corners, Marc Márquez clearing off into the distance.

For a few, it will be the greatest display of motorcycle racing they have ever seen. Both views are valid, because, in all likelihood, Marc Márquez will win Sunday’s race by something approaching the largest margin in a dry MotoGP race ever.

That might seem like a bold prediction, but just look at Márquez’ performance so far this weekend. In FP1, he came within a quarter of a second of the outright lap record. In FP2, he was posting times in race trim to match his rivals best laps on brand new soft tires.

In FP4, he was a ‘mere’ four tenths faster than Maverick Viñales, but of the 17 full laps he posted in the session, 6 were faster than Viñales’ best lap. And 10 were faster than Fabio Quartararo’s fastest lap in the session, the Frenchman finishing third in the session.

Securing pole position was almost a formality, his 61st pole maintaining his 50% record. (And stop to think how insane that is, that Márquez starts from pole in half of the races he contests.)

He was a third of a second faster than second-place man Fabio Quartararo, and didn’t really look like he was trying. He had time to spare on ramping up the pressure on his rivals, choosing his position to make sure they knew he was there, and coming through.

The last lap of last weekend’s Moto2 race remains controversial. Augusto Fernandez ran wide at Turn 11 in Misano, and used that space to get a run on Fabio Di Giannantonio into Turn 14, passing the Italian to take victory. The Speed Up team appealed the decision, but eventually it was upheld.

That decision did not sit well inside the paddock, however. At the pre-event press conference for the Aragon round on Thursday, Marc Marquez said the riders intended to raise the issue in the Safety Commission.

Everyone not called Marc Márquez will be worried at the Motorland Aragon circuit. They will be worried at the fact that the reigning champion, and last year’s winner, went out and put in a fast lap in FP1 on soft tires.

They will be worried because that lap was 1.6 seconds faster than anyone in FP1, and 1.1 seconds faster than anyone in FP2.

But above all, they will be worried that it was a demonstration of his confidence in his own pace. Márquez went for a quick lap during FP1 thinking of Saturday, and the likelihood that rain would prevent anyone from going faster during FP3.

More importantly, it allowed him to spend all of FP2 on his race pace, in conditions likely to be similar to race time on Sunday afternoon.

It was a typical stroke of strategic genius, Márquez and his team giving himself a head start on preparing for the race.

Not only has he had more time figuring out whether to use the hard or the soft rear tire for the race – as so often, the medium is neither fish nor flesh, the drop not much smaller than with the soft, the grip not much less than with the hard – he has also had time to work on race setup.

Márquez is already two steps ahead of everyone else before they have even lined up on the grid.