Picking up the pieces from the San Marino GP, we look at the fallout and what’s happening with riders Romano Fenati and Christophe Ponsoon.
The summer break – if an extra weekend off can be counted as an actual break – marks the end of the first half of the 2018 MotoGP season, but it also marks a significant point in the MotoGP Silly Season.
With Marc van der Straten telling the riders and crew of the Marc VDS MotoGP team that the team will not be competing in MotoGP in 2019 and beyond, the final shape of the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost clear.
There was no official announcement to mark the withdrawal of the Marc VDS squad, it was indirectly confirmed when the team sent out a press release announcing that they had extended their deal with Alex Márquez for the Spaniard, younger brother of Marc, to remain in Moto2 for another season.
Emilio Alzamora, who manages both Márquez brothers, had been pushing for Van der Straten to keep at least one grid slot in MotoGP for Alex Márquez, a move which had the strong backing of his brother Marc.
Alex Márquez remaining in Moto2 is tacit confirmation that there is no seat in MotoGP for the Spaniard.
The jockeying for manufacturers among satellite teams has begun. First out of the gate is the Reale Avintia Racing team, who have renewed their contract for another year with Ducati. Ducati will supply two Desmosedici GP17s to the team for the 2018 season.
The question of who will follow is still open. The Tech 3 team is firmly tied in with Yamaha, and the Marc VDS team has a strong commitment from Honda, though the results they have booked with the RC213V have not been as expected.
When former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his comments about “known knowns and unknown unknowns” in 2002, he was widely ridiculed for producing what seemed like incomprehensible gibberish.
Yet since his appearance at a press conference on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, the phrases he coined that day have demonstrated their usefulness, being employed in an ever greater array of contexts.
Rumsfeld’s phrase fits remarkably well with the 2017 MotoGP grid as well. The three categories apply just as well to different groups of riders on the grid. We have the “known knowns” of the Aliens, riders who are guaranteed to win races.
We have the “known unknowns”, the wildcards such as Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso who could easily stage a surprise.
Then you have the “unknown unknowns”, a group of riders for whom any result would be imaginable. Given the events of last year, any one of them could end up on the podium, or even winning a race.
But they are just as likely to finish outside the points, or anywhere in between. There is no way of knowing on Thursday night where any of these riders might finish on Sunday.
Hector Barbera has broken his left collarbone in a training accident, the Avintia Ducati team announced via its Instagram account. The 30-year-old Spaniard was training with a 600cc sport bike at the Valencia circuit when he crashed, fracturing his collarbone.
Barbera is due to undergo surgery at the Dexeus Institute in Barcelona on Thursday, where Dr. Mir will put a plate on his collarbone to correct the problem.
Barbera’s crash puts his participation in the next test at Qatar in doubt. The test is due to kick off on March 10th at the Losail circuit, and run from March 10th to 12th.
In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.
That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions.
The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating.
Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.
Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams.
“You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it’s a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test.”
First Ducati at the halfway point. That must be particularly sweet for Hector Barbera, given his reputation inside and outside the MotoGP paddock.
With so many Spanish riders packing the grid, Barbera is one of the riders Dorna are believed to be keen to ditch. Yet the Avintia Ducati rider keeps finding sponsorship to ride, and keeps proving that he is still fast enough to compete. Both with and without a tow.
MotoGP Silly Season is nearly at an end. With the confirmation that both Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow will be staying in their seats for 2017, the list of possibly vacant grid slots grew much shorter.
Those that remain empty are growing ever closer to being filled, leaving only three seats open, and one seat still completely free. So, it is time to take a look at the current state of play.
With the announcement that Aleix Espargaro would be joining Aprilia for two years, the last of the factory seats was filled. The factory rides filled up quickly in 2016, starting with Valentino Rossi and Bradley Smith at Qatar, and culminating eight races later at Assen with the signing of Espargaro.
The timing of the Aleix Espargaro/Aprilia announcement was peculiar to say the least. Making a major announcement that a rider had been signed to a factory rider – a signing everyone already knew about – on the Sunday night after one of the most remarkable MotoGP races in recent memory was guaranteed to achieve the absolute minimum of media coverage.
The 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the best and most memorable of all time. The title was tightly contested between two of the best motorcycle racers of all time, while two more of the best motorcycle racers of all time won races and helped make the championship exciting.
It saw a resurgence of Ducati, bringing the grand total of competitive manufacturers back up to three, along with a solid return to the fold of Suzuki. It also saw rising young stars join the class, showing promise of becoming possible future greats.
Above all, 2015 offered fantastic racing, with the results going all the way down to the wire. We were treated to triumph and tragedy, the title battle ebbing and flowing between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo almost week to week.
We saw races decided by fractions of a second, brave passing maneuvers rewarded, while hubris was punished mercilessly. We saw controversy, including one of the most controversial incidents in many, many years, where a clash between riders looked like deciding the championship.
The title went down to the wire, decided only at the final race, in another event which was filled with controversy. It was eerily reminiscent of the 2006 season, the first year I started writing about MotoGP. The aftermath of the 2006 season also has valuable lessons for 2016.
With the flyaways fast approaching, MotoGP’s silly season for 2016 is reaching its climax. All of the factory seats are taken – including the seat at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri – and the top satellite rides are filled as well, either officially or unofficially.
A few pieces of the puzzle remain, but fitting those together is more or less complex, depending on the team and the rider involved. Here’s a look at where we stand so far.