Jorge Lorenzo’s disappointing performance at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans has been the cause of some debate. The factory Yamaha man finished a lowly seventh, his worst finish (other than DNFs) since his rookie season in 2008, and finishing off the podium for the first time since Indianapolis in 2011. To say this was an uncharacteristic performance from Lorenzo is something of an understatement.

So what went wrong? Immediately after the race, Lorenzo made it clear that he believed the problem was with his rear tire. He had had no grip whatsoever, and been unable to get any drive from his rear tire.

He told the press afterwards that the only logical explanation he could think of for his problems was a defective rear tire. Lorenzo had been fast in the morning warm up, though it was a little drier then, and the set up used was very similar to then. In 2012, Lorenzo had won at Le Mans by a huge margin, so he could not understand why he was struggling so badly in France.

Bridgestone naturally denied there had been a problem with Lorenzo’s tire. After the race Bridgestone officials told the press that they had examined the tire together with Yamaha engineers and found nothing wrong with it.

In their customary post-race press release, Bridgestone’s Motorsport Tyre Development Manager Shinji Aoki reiterated this stance. “As is always the case in these situations, his engineer thoroughly examined Jorge’s race tyres which were found to be in good working condition,” he is quoted in the press release as saying.

“In addition, I examined the tyre myself and personally discussed the matter with the Yamaha engineers and we all agreed that Jorge’s lack of rear grip was not attributable to his tyre.”

What do we know ourselves? Though nobody is saying anything other than official statements, there are still some clues we can piece together from the data available. The key fact is visible from the race footage, available to those with a video pass on the official MotoGP website.

Jorge Lorenzo rides the sighting lap using the harder of the two wet compounds on his front tire. The hard front is clearly visible at the point 1’43 in the footage (from here on in, all times will refer to this official footage), as it is the tire without the white banding on the sidewall. The white stripe on the sidewall is used by Bridgestone to signify that a particular tire is the softer of the two compounds available.

Lorenzo arrives at his grid slot 30 seconds later, and engages in a hurried discussion with his crew. He clearly asks for changes to be made, for at 2’32, Lorenzo’s crew chief Ramon Forcada points at the front tire. A few seconds later, Lorenzo can be seen explaining a problem with the bike to a member of his crew (the team member has his back to the camera).

Lorenzo’s body language is clear, showing the front tucking, and the front wheel shaking. He appears to be indicating that he has a problem with grip at the front of the bike. A flurry of activity follows, as his crew begins to work on the bike.

On the basis of this advice, his crew decide to change the front tire for the softer option. This is borne out both by the tire selection sheet issued by Bridgestone after every race, and also by footage from the race.

At the 22’14 mark in the footage, as the riders rounded the double right-hander at Raccordement at the end of the second lap, the footage shows a shot of Lorenzo’s front wheel, in which the white stripe is clearly visible.

It seems a reasonable hypothesis to believe that the front tire swap was accompanied by a set up change, altering the balance of the bike to exploit the grip of the softer front tire. Whether or not they reverted completely to the settings used in the morning warm up when the track temperature was lower, and Lorenzo used the same tire combination, is unknown, Lorenzo only saying that the set up was “almost identical” to the set up used in the morning, with “slightly softer rear suspension”.

But with neither Yamaha nor Bridgestone finding a problem with the tire, it seems safe to assume that it was this set up change which left Lorenzo without any grip. If a rider comes in from the sighting lap saying he has no grip on the front, then the natural reaction is to move the weight forward or lift the rear of the bike to put more weight on the front tire.

Putting more weight on the front logically means you have less weight on the rear, and that results in less grip at the rear. That can be solved with suspension changes, but making those changes on the grid after the sighting lap gives you no chance to test that you got them right. In such difficult circumstances, with grip already lacking, a small miscalculation can have major consequences.

Logically examining the situation, it seems that the problem with Lorenzo’s bike was not down to a defective rear tire. This conclusion would appear to be supported by Lorenzo himself, as the Spaniard deleted a couple of tweets on Sunday night, which he had posted earlier, and in which he suggested his rear tire was to blame.

Was this an error by Lorenzo’s crew? Arguably, but given the circumstances, such errors are easily made and impossible to rectify. Lorenzo made the best of a mediocre set up, coming home in seventh, but more importantly, coming home in one piece, and with a healthy 9 points scored.

The season is still long, though Lorenzo’s deficit to Pedrosa of 17 points is larger than he would like. His poor result at Le Mans would appear to be just bad luck, one of those things that happens in racing. Ironically, for the second race in succession, Lorenzo has lost points due to what might be regarded as ‘a racing incident’.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • jasinner

    Can we really assume anything from deleted tweets? I seem to remember Yamaha management making a big ado over social media usage of the riders recently. It makes more sense to assume that his boss told him to make those posts. All part of the blame game, business as usual.

  • It makes even more sense that Jorge is a Bridgestone-sponsored rider, and the tire manufacturer didn’t like false-accusations from one of its employees.

  • jkeDsnake

    Little baby Lorenzo, This goes to show how much more the motorcycle set up and electronics come to play nowadays in MotoGp, Sure theses are highly talented athletes but I still think the higher skills are show without all the electronics help. It is show here were unless the set up is perfect you go from 1st to 7th.

  • Tony C

    +1 on electronics dominating the races. A few years ago Lorenzo had a MASSIVE high side during a practice session. Due to some setup changes (or something rather), the traction control was turned off but didn’t get turn back on. Lorenzo exited a corner and grabbed a handful of throttle. HIGHSIDE HEAVEN!

  • JW

    JL will go down as one of the least liked champions in MGP history. His self conceived intiltement is getting old.

  • TexusTim

    excuses at this level are just not acceptable and in poor taste.

  • Micah

    Give the guy a break. It’s not like he was tracking down reporters to throw Bridgestone under the bus, the media came to him and asked what his thoughts were on his uncharacteristic performance. He told them what he felt was the problem, without having a chance to really investigate. I think we can all agree that something outside of his control was wrong and the rear tire was his best guess, after all he hasn’t been off the podium since Indy 2011. Incredible.

  • Alex MacPherson

    I can’t believe this drama is still going on. Move on Jorge…
    It will be interesting to see how he does in Mugello. If he doesn’t
    get podium there will be another sob story from him.

  • TexusTim

    hey micah I do understand his issue and agree somthing was wrong but I just think a little of lorenzo goes a long way….hey man I just got out of emergency surgery a few hour ago so dont be hard on me……..o heck that sounded like an excuss..bwawawawawahahah

  • smiler

    Time will tell but I think we are seeing Jor Lor under pressure from the Hondas and the rookie.
    No one really pressured him during his championship wins and lets face it he simply copied Rossi – leathers, antics, style, choice of bike.
    His complaint after Merguez pass in Jerez, in what was a perfectly reasonable pass because Lorenzo running wide to cut back into the apex left it too late and Merguez jumped in.
    Dorna tried to talk what was a very dull race into a major event but it was not.
    Now at Le Mans, last minute panic before the race. Clearly it was not the tire and that he said his set up was almost identical but actually not identical. If it was not identical then there is reason to believe last minute changes in set up lead to mistakes.
    Let’s see what happens in the next race.

  • Westward

    When one is winning, everything one says is like the gospel. When one is losing, everything one says is heresy…

    Lorenzo gave his honest opinion when asked what he thought was wrong.

    Of course Bridgestone, using their own methods will say their was nothing wrong, and what does one expect Yamaha to say to the contrary?

    Also, it is not far fetched for Yamaha to have demanding Lorenzo to delete his comments from twitter, without it being an admission of his reversal of thought.

    An independant specialist without any ties to MotoGP would be a more credible source in determining the tyres efficacy. Yet no such animal exists in the wild where MotoGP or WSBK are concerned…

    Having said all that, I still think Lorenzo is the Champion of Attrition. His major rivals this year are not injured, nor are they on inferior machinery as was the case during his title seasons.

    Also add to that, Honda’s superior power has finally over come Yamaha’s superior handling. Or maybe, bikes developed around Lorenzo’s riding style is not the best direction for Yamaha’s engineering…

  • Calisdad

    I have to agree that electronics is playing far too big a role these days but that’s just the evolution of the beast.

    As soon as Honda experiences a problem such as JL had we will see suspension setups being changed on the fly.