Trackside Tuesday: A New Kind of Silly Season

05/20/2014 @ 6:07 pm, by Scott Jones34 COMMENTS

Marc Marquez Scott Jones Le Mans MotoGP

The first lap of the French GP worked out very well for MotoGP fans. First, Andrea Dovizioso accelerated past Marc Marquez, putting the pole sitter and race favorite into second position. Moments later Stefan Bradl passed Marquez on the outside, Marquez into third.

As the pack entered the Dunlop Chicane, Pol Espargaro passed Marquez, putting 93 into 4th. Valentino Rossi passed Marquez at La Chapelle, 93 now in 5th. Jorge Lorenzo pushed past at Garage Vert, and Marquez went off track to rejoin in 10th place.

Not a good start for the Championship leader, but a wonderful half first lap for fans. Instead of Marquez riding off into the distance, yawn, he had to work his way up from tenth place.

The following laps showed clearly the degree to which Marquez rides at a level higher than anyone else on the premier class grid. The confidence with which he made pass after pass was a pleasure to watch, and for me, much more enjoyable than seeing him ride a time trial at the front while the rest of the pack tried in vain to catch him.

Not only was it fun to watch Marquez ride back to the front, but there was some fantastic racing between Dovi, Rossi, Bradl, and Pol Espargaro for the lead of the race, instead of for second place.

Watching all of this on my flight home from France – I see only part of the story while photographing it – I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with Livio Suppo in 2012.

It was one of those conversations that, being off the record, contained all sorts of things I wish I could’ve repeated. But at one point we were discussing the problem of how the best rider on the best bike often equals poor entertainment value.

I started describing an idea I’d had based on the old IROC series (in which cars were prepared to be as equal as possible in order to make driver skill the difference between winning and losing).

“Wouldn’t it be interesting,” I said, “if we abandoned the rider-factory contract model and made riders independent?” To my surprise, Suppo started explaining my idea to me, as he’d been thinking of the same thing for years himself. I sat there wondering if I had somehow heard this from him at some point, and then fooled myself into thinking I had come up with it on my own.

Whether I did or not, the idea goes like this: instead of factories putting riders under contract, riders enter the series on their own, with their own personal sponsorship from any source other than a manufacturer entered in the series.

Manufacturers enter machines they have designed and built, and non-factory teams can lease or buy chassis/engine combinations as needed to enter with their own sponsorship agreements.

Each weekend a given rider is on a different machine, and each machine has a different rider. The best rider is the one who can deliver the best results on a variety of machines over the course of the season. The best team is the one to achieve the best results with each rider.

Each team gets a turn with Marc Marquez on its bike. He rides the Repsol Honda one weekend and the Ioda ART the next. So does Danielo Patrucci. We get to see what the best rider can do on the worst bike, and we get to see what backmarker riders can do on the best machines.

Because each race weekend is a different combination of rider/machine, teams that under the current system receive little or no TV coverage suddenly get lots when a top rider is on their bike. And riders like Petrucci, who give everything they’ve got each weekend on underpowered machines, get multiple chances to show how good they are.

The best rider is on the best motorcycle only a handful of times a season, but even then it’s not the case that settings have been refined from weekend to weekend, so the combination is less potent than under the current system.

In theory, racing is more competitive and more entertaining. Riders prove their own talents by being the best over a season on a variety of machinery. Factories prove their machine is the best by winning points regardless of the rider.

I suspect you could get riders and satellite teams on board with this idea, but I doubt you’d get the factories to go for it. Honda, of course, is perfectly happy having Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa on their bikes each weekend.

And there are many other reasons why this idea is flawed and doomed to remain just an idea. I expect one or two to show up in the comments below.

But over the coming years, as Marc Marquez rides away from the pack on his Repsol Honda again and again, I will be thinking fondly of this idea, wherever it came from originally, and wishing I could see how he’d do on Hayden’s RCV1000, or the PBR machine, or (just consider it!) on the Ducati.

We’d never know what was going to happen on any given weekend, and we’d have more situations like the first eleven laps of the French GP. And that sounds pretty good to me.

Photo: © 2014 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • M

    It’d have to be on the same track all season.

  • chris

    if marquez signed for ducati or suzuki, we wouldn’t need these fantasies.

    there are allowances for factories that are behind, but no uh… disallowances for factories that are ahead.

  • calisdad

    I hadn’t been a fan of MM93 simply because he was given the best bike to show what he could do. I lot of guys would do better on his bike. Let’s see what he could do on CE5’s bike and erase all doubt.

    One thing that’s changing my mind are recent photos such as yours Scott. If you look, his shoulders are on one side of the bike, his butt another, the front wheel is going in one direction, the back wheel still a different direction. One has to wonder what’s going on. Is it simply corner transition or is he wrestling more out of the bike than it wants to give. I’m beginning to think the latter.

  • Xan

    The only way something like this would ever happen is if they mandated so many specs on the machines that they were very close in performance. The problem then becomes homogeneous riders. As you eluded to, the inability to tweak YOUR bike as the season goes on means too much chance. The logistics of giving every rider a chance to vent practice on every bike would be insane. It old inevitably lead to much more conservative riding or much more injury.

  • Xan

    @calisdad I’ll go ahead and correct you. He EARNED the best bike. Do you think repsol just drew his name from a hat, and handed him the thing?

    If you’re actually following him closely, you’ll know that he’s doing things no one else is doing in lean angles, braking, etc. The statement that other guys “would do better on his bike” is nonsensical. He is breaking other people’s lap records nearly every race on a bike that isn’t new this season.

  • MM93 is just too fast for these guys !! Apart from a “newcomer ” only Stoner is capable of beating MM for the title , or MM himself ..

  • DuckDuckBang

    the round robbin of bikes idea is silly. the only way to truly separate the tech and the riders abilities as much as possible would be a one manufacturer series. but obviously, this skews everyone to a certain way of riding (to the strengths and weaknesses of that bike).

    obviously there are a few examples of this already at lower levels and it’s great to watch and know everyone is on a relatively even field. but it would be an interesting economic equation at the top level, one that i don’t think is even close to reality.

    there is no doubt in my mind that there are no other riders outside of Marquez who would have achieved what he is doing on the Honda. This did not happen overnight or come out of nowhere. Sure there would be other young riders who would do well on the best bike, but Marquez is where he is because of alien talent having been on display for a very long time. I have no doubt you could put him on other bikes and he would adapt.

    all riders have to ride with issues but theres a limited handful of riders who ride and ride around any issue.

  • AC

    @calisdad Tend to agree. Look at Vettel. Basically handed the best car on the grid for four years straight. The Red Bull is not performing this year and where is Vettel? Contrast that with the things that you saw Schumacher do in the crap Benetton…this is the difference between true champions and the Test Tube Racers. Marquez is amazing but he’s been given all the opportunities to do so and he is on the best bike and on the team that is writes the rulebook in MotoGP. Dovi’s 3rd in Austin, now that was a skilled racer. Or the things Simoncelli did on the Gresini Honda in his last year. Test Tube Racers, yawn.

  • crshnbrn

    How’s this for silly;

    Qualifying as currently laid out, but bonus points awarded to podium finishers based upon how far back on the grid they came from. A good rider could make up for a poor finish at another race by sandbagging in Qualifying and working his way thru the field during the race.

  • smiler

    The inevitable comparisons have started based on the statistical facts of the season start.
    The racing occured, for the fifth race of the year, on other parts of the track than that which 93 occupied.

    To say it was a pleasure to watch 93 pass people is to draw scant pleasure from another dull season. Rossi again the only rider providing the entertainment and this is because the interest for him lies in racing and the compettion as much as it does in the winning. You could say it is the taking part that counts, however he at least relishes the opporunity to test his ability rather than run from the front, something Lorenzo prefers. Simoncelli was the same. The thought of having a rider whose only real ability we have seen is to ride quickly should be an issue for Dorna. When you look at the previous 2 seasons in Moto2, Marquez mostly qualified at the front, stayed there by some margin. On the occasions he was further down the grid, he usually did not make it onto the podium.

    Some comparisons to other riders are relevant.

    Fast Freddie: Freddie took his first major class podium in his 3rd ever world championship event. It was 93’s 78th. Freddie then took his first major class win after 8 events, for 93 it was 79. Finally, Freddie won his first major class title after just 24 races while it took 93 96 races. Also on a 2 stroke.

    Mick: When he joined Honda there were never less than 4 other factory riders on the same bike as he was. He spent several seasons racing Schwantz, Rainey, Gardener and company before muscling his way to the top.
    93 fractured his femur and was back racing in 4 weeks, heralded as the rider showing his metal. Doohan nearly lost his leg, was permanently disabled, back in 8 and nearly won the championship. No one has ever described the RCV as Evil. However this was an apt and constant description for the NSR.

    Stoner won his titles on a very average bike, the Ducati, not the same bike as the one Rossi failed miserable on but like him or not he took it to the front then sealed the deal on the RCV, showing every other Honda rider how to ride it.

    Mike Hailwood. Apart from winning the TT 12 times. The final time was 11 after he retired and nearly won it twice. Racing was different then but his achievements show both a depth and bredth of talent.

    Honda even paid him a fortune not to race for any other team in order to retain him if they returned to racing.

    He won his MotoGP titles with 2 different manufacturers and in 2 different capacities. He came in the top 3, 13 times. 13 not 3.

    Rossi. There is little point mentioning Rossi in the same company as 93. The fact he has finished no more than 1.5 secs behind 93 this year, aged 35, clearly on an inferior bike but is still relishing the possibility to tangle with and beat 93 really say it all.

    People think F1 is dull. However Lewis Hamiliton, although dominent is being pushed to the line in each and every race by his team mate. Unlike 93.

    So how about reserving god like status to those that really deserve it and ackowledging that that past 3 seasons in MotoGP have been the weakest ever in terms of manufacturer competition, team mate competition and the depth of the field.

    If you look at WSBK then you can see how different the series is and although not as quick the level of competition and diversity is something MotoGP can only dream of right now. 4 riders within 20 points at the top, 5 manufacturers in the top 6 and 8 different riders on the podium so far this year.

    I like the riders who are being put forward as riding gods to actually be that.

  • The whole “its only the bike” argument irks me. If it is purely the bike that is handing MM all his wins, why isn’t Pedrosa also riding rings around everyone?

    Like Stoner in 2007, arrived on the Ducati as the 2nd rider then proceeded to win the title by 125 points clear of 2nd place and while his team mate finished in 7th!! Yes the Ducati was a rocketship that year but why didn’t Loris annihilate everyone also?

    I don’t believe it is purely the bike, its a combination of talented riders on capable machines. That is what racing is all about!

  • The whole “its only the bike” argument irks me. If it is purely the bike that is handing MM all his wins, why isn’t Pedrosa also riding rings around everyone?

    Like Stoner in 2007, arrived on the Ducati as the 2nd rider then proceeded to win the title by 125 points clear of 2nd place and while his team mate finished in 7th!! Yes the Ducati was a rocketship that year but why didn’t Loris annihilate everyone also?

    I don’t believe it is purely the bike, its a combination of talented riders on capable machines.

  • TG727

    AC you are an absolute fool! While I too think Dovi is a great racer, why is it that you give him more credit than Marquez when he rode a honda and didn’t score NEARLY as many wins/podiums?? It’s not just the bike. It’s simply that fact that this kid is an amazing rider. I’m not even a huge Marquez fan but I respect and recognize an exceptional talent when I see it.

  • Dan Hughes

    Terrible idea!!!!
    Moto GP is a wonderful spectacle, don’t turn it into NASCAR. Sit back and enjoy the beauty of the best rider on the bike he is comfortable riding show us all his greatness! plenty of good racing behind him and it is still great racing even if it may not be for the lead. Don’t f@#k it up!

  • MTGR

    I’m sure the powers that be will cry safety concerns over an idea like this, but really it would be no worse than limiting testing as they always seem to do anyway. And it would have to be better for the riders and the teams than the current world trend of homogenizing everything in racing in the name of equality.

    Equality will never truly exist when some teams have millions to spend and others thousands. Basically you just turn the world elite class into spec-class-club-racing. It limits riders options and forces everyone to develop bikes that will work with one particular tire, or fuel, or rider style. An idea like this would actually allow more of the freedom of development the factories claim to want and the riders the opportunity to compare on truly equal footing with their peers as they all claim to want. Plus, sponsors would have more reason to back even the slower teams.

    Problem is, racing has become big business, so despite everyone claiming to want these things what they really want is for any uncertainly (as in the opening laps last weekend) to stop interrupting their “guaranteed” return for investment in the right pony.

  • Xan

    @AC: The comment about Honda writing the rulebook, followed by praise for Dovi is pretty rich… Seeing as to how Ducati managed to get a 3rd bike class added for themselves this season. Nice try though.

  • Watch MM on corner entry and exit. Do it in slo-mo and watch his front end. Then compare him to any other rider. Its fascinating!!! His front end is constantly sliding/folding/etc. and he’s constantly catching it. His bike seems to be sliding 100% of the time and he’s comfortable like that! No one else is and until someone starts, ‘color him gone’! IMHO, the only guy that could push him is reitred down under. MM is a pure joy to watch!

  • Kroeter

    Good sports fantasy talk but there are too many variables to make it a reality:
    1. Rider contracts, what happens to those?
    2. Sponsorships, do they stay on the bikes or move to the riders?
    3. Scheduling, to fairly determine which bike each rider gets for each track.
    4. Umbrella Girls, will be confused by the weekly shuffling.

  • proudAmerican

    Ummm…can you imagine how furious the factory Honda team would be to see Bautista completely ball one of their $5 million Repsol bikes, potentially the week before Marquez was supposed to ride it?

    And hey, don’t beat-up on my hypothesis–we all know if someone’s gonna be out-of-control on the GP grid, good chances are it’ll be Alvaro…now that D-Angerous is gone.

  • Frank

    @ smiler: ‘On the occasions he was further down the grid, he usually did not make it onto the podium.’

    Did you ever watch Marc in Moto2 and 125? I’m pretty sure he won a few races from dead last on the grid, not even including his stalled start that has become a youtube phenomenon. And for all of those people that are saying it’s all the bike, etc etc – keep telling yourself that. It’s probably easier to believe that then believe the things that you are seeing Marc do as he defies physics on race Sunday.

    Mentioning Dovi’s podium in Austin as evidence of a ‘real’ racer is silly. I like Dovi. He is consistent and fast and does his job. But let’s not forget just how far back 3rd was from Marquez. Let’s not also forget that COTA was a disaster of a race because Bridgestone brought back the 2013 tire to appease Lorenzo. Rossi would have podiumed in Austin were it not for his front tire absolutely dissolving after the first third of the race. A number of riders could have also faired a lot better with the 2014 spec tire in Austin. Every race, every track is different. The only thing that has been constant so far this year is the fact that Marc Marquez is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the field… every week.

  • L2C

    “Wouldn’t it be interesting,” I said, “if we abandoned the rider-factory contract model and made riders independent?”

    A better solution, Scott, would be an NBA-style draft lottery where the “lottery is weighted so that the team with the worst record has the best chance of obtaining higher draft picks.” Paul Bird Motorsport, IodaRacing Project, Avintia Racing, Cardion AB Motoracing would stand a chance of working with top draft choices like Marc Márquez and Pol Espargaro for the rookie’s first two seasons in the premiere class.

    The top teams, especially the championship team from the previous season, would be prevented from continuing to control the talent pool. At least that would be the immediate effect with regards to new talent.

    Factories and other premiere class teams wouldn’t be able to start negotiations with Moto2 riders a season in advance of actually signing the riders. This would spell the end of silly season for rookies, and teams that underperform would actually stand a chance of improving their teams and their brands over time.

    This same system could be applied to Moto2 and Moto3 as well.

    That’s my bright idea, which I only thought about for two seconds. Probably a few significant flaws with that one, too.

  • irksome

    1st place or 3rd or 9th, it’s still racing. I wish they’d show more back-markers going at it when 93 is lapping by himself.

    Then again, sometimes I get more thrills attending vintage races than watching MotoGP. You guys should come watch the sidecars; they’re friggin’ insane.

  • pooch

    I think the umbrella girls would look cute going ‘omg… like, which bike am I meant to be at ? this is like, such, a disaster….serioahsly…’ :)

    ‘it’s the bike’ – come on, Marquez slayed the Moto2 field on an inferior bike. I expect Marquez would slay the field on a tricycle. He is a freak of nature. I don’t think even Stoner could match him – Stoner also was happy wih the bike sliding around everywhere – but not quite to the same extent. Marquez rides like injury and risk simply do not matter, and he is crashing way less than in 2013. We are heading into a Doohan-esque era of domination I believe.

    Ah… lets just try to make MotoGP more like Moto3. Cause Moto3 rocks, week in, week out.

  • Moto3

    Winning at MotoGP is a perfect combination of rider and bike. MM93 is that combination this year. Without some major rule changes for the factory teams, MM93 will continue to win. He won last year due to the misfortune of the other top riders as well as his lack of points robbing misfortune. Yamaha has no power and Ducati no handling . Honda has both. Pedrosa is fast, but he is not a racer like Rossi or MM93. That is why he will never get a the title.
    Rossi won titles with two manufactures in four and two stroke configurations. If MM93 can do that, He will have achieved greatness. ( Vettel is in the same boat in F1)

  • crshnbrn

    @L2C: Good idea! It’s kinda like the Rookie Rule only taken a little farther. The big difference I see between the NBA and MotoGP is the sponsors. Getting them to agree to anything remotely like what you propose would be a huge stumbling block.

    @3B43 Agreed! At Le Mans with 8 laps to go, there was a shot of Marquez making a left hand corner with the rear tire drifting and leaving an arcing trail of rubber and the front wheel was in the air. Incredible!

  • AD

    Lets be honest, if you are riding at this level, there is very little between all the riders in ability, if you’re not good, you’re not there! Yes, bikes make an obvious difference from factory to factory, however what really separates the wheat from the chaff, is that those precious few who can seemingly just get that little bit more, a tenth here or there consistently, not for one lap in qualifying to get on the front row, but in a race situation lap after lap. MM has only one championship…so far, but he is showing similar traits to those before him, the Rossi, Doohan, Stoner, Rainey, Freddie….

    We have to be able to enjoy his brilliance now and hope that someone can step up to the challenge.

  • Thefundaddy

    I like it.

    Send it to Mr Ezpleleta in a note attached to a box of chocolates.

  • DuckDuckBang

    “4. Umbrella Girls, will be confused by the weekly shuffling.”

    most important point raised in this post.

  • DogDBountyHunter

    What do you guys thing about this idea? Institute an NFL type draft each season for riders. Before each season starts, the teams with the worst record previous season, get first dibs on riders for next season. There is a draft and each spot is filled according to previous years record. So this way, each year, the worst teams get a chance at great riders. Great teams wind up with less than perfect riders and the sport may be more balanced. We have amazing riders like Marquez on perhaps an open class Honda or Aprilia or whatever, and a guy like Karel Abraham on the Repsol Honda top of the line bike. Maybe the mix of talent and machinery or lack thereof will result in more even playing field and less predictable race outcomes? Or maybe I’m drunk.

  • rt


    Haha. Marquez had an inferior bike in moto2? Ok.Lol. Go watch the 2012 aragon race and you can clearly see him gaining ground quickly on rivals in the back-straight. Better top speed than rivals.
    Am not doubting mm93s talent but his mot2 bike was way faster than others.

  • Yeeha! Stephen

    How about inverting the qualifying field or pulling lottery balls for starting positions?
    The best may still rise to the top, but it would be a lot more fun watching them try instead of just running away.
    Admit it, the first few laps of Moto1 this week were the best of the year.
    (actually the Moto3 race was the best of the year!)

  • Faust

    Too many variables here. Factory efforts aren’t going to invest tons of money into their bikes to watch Bautista and Abraham kamikaze them into corners. Some riders would have major advantages at certain tracks. There would be no real way to pull this off. Plus, these bikes ride and handle differently and the riders have certain electronic preferences they are used to. 90% of the time would be spent reconfiguring different bikes around the riders and practicing on an unfamiliar bike right before you need to run it at race pace would produce crashes all around. Just not feasible.

    As for the MM93 haters…really? He crushed Moto2 on a Suter chassis with a spec engine and no electronic rider aids….and people still doubt? Did you not see him in 125? It was amazing. If the premier class is the first time you’ve seen him, then I could understand why you would think it’s just the bike, but it’s simply not the case. The arguments about how the competition isn’t what it was when Doohan was racing are true, but then you have to discount Rossi, right? I mean you cannot point to what Mike the Bike, Ago, and Doohan did without leveling the same criticism towards Rossi as Marc. Who was Rossi racing against, and on what bike? Sete? Biaggi? Can’t you just give the guy his due? Pedrosa is much more familiar with the bike, and in the past few years it was Pedrosa and Lorenzo battling for the lead. Now MM is leaving them both behind. Why? Because he’s the best rider on the best bike, which is exactly what people said about Rossi when he was on Honda. I don’t know how anyone can watch him race and think it’s all the bike or it’s easy.

  • calisdad

    Those who think I’m a MM ‘hater’ need to read my post again. But lets be real for a second here. Ben Spies beat the best in the US then went on to dominate in WSBK only to be denied a factory bike because of a ‘rule’. The same rule that was conveniently scrapped when MM came to play. Their fortunes went in opposite directions purely for political reasons.

    The only way an IROC type of race could take place IMHO is if bone stock bikes were used – each factory drawing specific tracks so all the riders were on the same bikes on the same tracks. I don’t see MOTOGP riders putting themselves in that sort of risk. A lot of other qualified guys would love to give it a go tho.

  • Faust

    Why even mention Spies? He got a factory ride and did nothing with it. I personally love the guy, and I even ride my Duc with a Spies replica helmet, but let’s not rewrite history here. I agree the rookie rule was stupid and never should have happened, but Spies was not on the level of Marquez. He beat the best in the US, yes, but then again US racing is nowhere near what it once was and hasn’t produced a GP contender since Hayden. He beat the best in WSBK as well, but we’ve seen a lot of people find success in production classes and struggle in GP. The thing about GP is that the dollar values and sponsorship money needed to fund these bikes have turned it very political. Spies is a great guy, but he wasn’t going to bring in the European sponsor money. Repsol also had Dani and Dovi, and was trying to get Casey at the same time. There’s no way they were going to put Spies on a bike, so what factory team was Spies cheated out of? There weren’t many legit rides up for grabs. Oh and Spies won WSBK by a stunning…..6 points? Domination? We have different definitions of it.