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.
For a race that didn’t happen, there is a surprising amount of ground to cover in the show. First, David and Neil explain the circumstances and events from Sunday at the grand prix, and how Dorna and IRTA came to the decision to cancel the day’s races.
Then they discuss how the rain affected the Silverstone circuit, what options were available to the teams and riders, and what can be done for the future of the British Grand Prix…if there can even be one next year.
From there, the show turns to other news in the paddock: the creation of the Petronas SIC Yamaha; the 2019 calendar and how we won’t be racing in Mexico next year, after all; and the silly season contract news surrounding the various available test rider positions.
As usual, the show finishes with our winners and losers from the weekend, which you won’t want to miss.
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On Friday, the Hondas were looking pretty strong at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Dani Pedrosa led FP1, with Cal Crutchlow just behind him. In FP2, Marc Márquez opened a big lead over Crutchlow, with the rest some distance behind.
On Saturday, Marc Márquez looked just about unbeatable, despite his slip up in qualifying. Six tenths quicker than Johann Zarco, and effortlessly quick in a wet FP3.
Over a second quicker than his teammate Pedrosa in FP4, an advantage that was almost embarrassing. The portents were clear on Saturday night: this was Marc Márquez’ race to lose.
And that is exactly what he did, before the lights had even gone out. A combination of ignorance of the rules and panic meant he blew his chance of winning the race as soon as he jumped off his bike to try to restart it on the grid.
From there, he piled error upon error to make the situation worse. By the end of Sunday, he had managed to throw away any chance of salvaging points from the Argentina round, and run up a 15-point deficit to Andrea Dovizioso.
He had also managed to create a public relations disaster, though to be fair, he had more than a little help doing that.
Responding to the backlash in the media from this weekend’s Argentina GP round, Dorna CEO and MotoGP boss Carmelo Ezpeleta issued a statement via the MotoGP.com website, where he backed the decisions made by the MotoGP Race Direction officials.
Notably though, Ezpeleta’s statement focuses mostly on the decisions made during the starting procedure of the MotoGP race at the Argentinean round, and not the on-track action, which also gained the scrutiny of Race Direction.
Interesting too, Ezpeleta pleads the case for Dorna, noting how the media right holder for MotoGP is not involved in picking the FIM Stewards (that is the job of the FIM and IRTA), thus trying to absolve the Spanish firm from any controversial decisions, and the appearance of bias.
There has been a trend over the past decade for rider contract negotiations to get earlier and earlier. Where once, talks about new contracts would start sometime in June, and agreements finalized and signed during August, now, initial discussions start at the Valencia Grand Prix the year before a contract is due to end, and deals are signed in the first few races, or as in the past two contract cycles, before the season has even begun. The underlying causes for this trend are numerous, but at its heart, it comes down to the glut of talent that is in MotoGP these days, both in terms of riders and in terms of bikes. The best riders have more choice of competitive machinery, and there are more talented riders for the factories to choose from.
Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3’s decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making. If MotoGP hadn’t switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn’t been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn’t collapsed under the weight of tranches of “ninja” loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not. How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century.
It was a shock to hear that the venerable Tech3 team would be leaving the Yamaha family, come the 2019 MotoGP season, after all Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal cut his teeth with Yamaha. But, once the news of his move sunk in, we are not surprised to hear that he is headed to KTM for the 2019 season, as was officially announced today (and rumored for well over a week). That is right, for the 2019 MotoGP Championship, the Tech3 team – one of the most regarded satellite teams in the GP Paddock – will be racing the KTM RC16 MotoGP race bike, with full-factory machines from Austria. That last caveat is likely the tipping point and main reason for Poncharal’s switch, with Tech3 long having to put-up with having the leftovers from the Yamaha Racing factory squad.
MotoGP testing is to be further restricted from next season. At the meeting in Motegi of the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, the teams, factories, FIM, and Dorna agreed to limit the amount of testing which can be done next year and in 2019.
The 2018 testing season will look largely familiar, with a two-day test at Valencia on Tuesday and Wednesday after the race, then three three-day tests at Sepang, Thailand, and Qatar ahead of the start of the MotoGP season, and one-day tests after three of the European rounds (Jerez, Barcelona, Brno).
In 2019, the number of preseason tests will be reduced, with testing taking place only at Sepang and Qatar before the start of the season.
When you lose the first day of a MotoGP weekend to rain, the remainder of practice becomes incredibly hectic. FP3, especially, becomes insane. Teams and riders are trying to force 90 minutes of practice into half an hour, and then throw soft tires at the last 15 minutes in an attempt to avoid Q1.
Unfortunately, the constraints of temporal physics make it impossible to put the best part of race distance on the different compounds of tires, try different bike balance and electronics settings to measure their effectiveness, try to follow a rival or two to figure out where you are stronger and weaker than they are, and finally throw a couple of soft tires at a quick lap, all in just a single session of free practice.
Sure, there’s another 30 minutes of FP4 to try to figure things out, but usually, that is where you are trying to nail down the fine details, not evaluate radically different bike setups.
So on Saturday evening, when riders are asked what their strategy is and which tire they will be racing, there is a lot of shrugging of shoulders. Andrea Dovizioso was a case in point at Aragon.
“Still we don’t know,” he said. “Still there is a lot of work to do about setup and also the decision of the tires, because we didn’t really have time to work on them. The temperature was so cold in FP3, and in the afternoon the temperature change a lot. In the morning you can’t work on the tires.”
“We have only 30 minutes in the afternoon to try and understand something. I think for everybody, the decision is not clear. Still we have to study a lot of data and take a decision about the tires and the set-up. Maybe all three are an option but I don’t know.”
I, along with almost every photographer and a good part of the journalists present at Aragon, made my way down to the pit lane on Friday morning, to watch Valentino Rossi’s first exit on the Yamaha M1 since breaking his leg in an enduro accident.
It was overcast but dry, and there was a real sense of anticipation as Rossi limped to his bike, swung his leg awkwardly over it, then exited the garage smoothly and headed off down pit lane.
Before he and the rest of the MotoGP field had reached the exit of pit lane, the rain had started to fall. Not hard enough to leave the track properly wet, but enough rain to make using slicks impossible. FP1 was a wash. Fastest man Marc Márquez was 13 seconds off lap record pace.
The track dried out again during the lunch break, but once again, just as the MotoGP riders were about to head out, the rain started to fall.
They found the track in FP2 much as they had left it in FP1: too wet for slicks, not really wet enough for a proper wet test. And with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be dry and sunny, any data collected was of very little use indeed.
Discussions are currently underway to review the schedule of the MotoGP event at Qatar.
The current time schedule, with all three classes taking place after sundown, creates significant headaches for the class, as was apparent at the opening race of the 2017 season, when rain caused qualifying to be canceled and threatened to postpone the race to Monday.
We have learned that discussions opened at Jerez on alternative time schedules for the event. At the moment, nothing is decided and IRTA, who are tasked with organizing the event, are fielding proposals from everyone. They are at the very beginning of the process, one source told us.