A number of the MotoGP teams have had a busy test at the Aragon circuit over the past two days. This is the test that played a role in not being able to move the Silverstone race to the Monday, a public holiday in the UK, as the trucks needed to travel the 2000km from Towcester to Alcañiz and set up ready for testing.
On Wednesday, Suzuki, Yamaha, and KTM were the factories taking to the track, with the Pramac Ducati squad also present. Thursday saw Yamaha and Pramac depart to make way for the factory Ducati squad. The teams were met with much better weather than at Silverstone, allowing two full days of testing, with the track improving as it got cleaned up with bikes circulating.
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.
Confirming what had been the suspicion at the MotoGP test in Thailand, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team has confirmed that Hafizh Syahrin will race with the squad for the 2018 season.
The Malaysian rider showed good pace on the Yamaha YZR-M1, and promises a great deal of potential to the satellite MotoGP squad – more importantly, he fit into the tight criteria that team boss Herve Poncharal required for Folger’s replacement.
It is hard to envision a worse time to lose a rider for the season. Jonas Folger’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the 2018 MotoGP season to focus on his health was a hammer blow for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team.
Just weeks before the start of testing for the new season, and long after riders good enough to race in MotoGP have signed contracts, Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal is left looking for a replacement.
It is a massive task, especially as Poncharal is refusing to break any contracts to take a rider. “You would be amazed to hear how many phone calls I have had, and who from,” he told us.
“There were some interesting names, honestly, but priority for me, the basis for me is that I will never take or enter into any kind of discussion with someone who has a contract.”
That attitude is born not just from a sense of what is right, but also from self interest. “At the end of the day, everybody is working hard, everybody is trying to finalize and make a plan,” Poncharal said.
“Finally you end up with a contract, and when both parties sign, this needs to have a value, because if a rider signs something thinking, ‘OK, worst case scenario, this is what I have, but if there is a better opportunity, I’m going to take it…’ then why do we sign a contract?”
There were signs that the MotoGP Silly Season could be wrapped up early last week in Bologna, at the launch Ducati’s MotoGP team.
Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti said he expected to sign the riders for the factory team ‘quite early’. “Quite early probably means the second half of February or the first half of March,” he clarified.
So before the lights have gone out for the first race of the 2018 MotoGP season, Ducati hope to have two factory riders wrapped up, and they are unlikely to be the only factory to have done so.
It is apparent that the riders have taken note of this, and are adjusting their strategy accordingly.
After Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport ran a story suggesting that Ducati were about to sign Pecco Bagnaia to the Pramac team, Danilo Petrucci has told the same paper that 2018 will be his last year with Pramac.
“[Team boss] Paolo Campinoti and I both know this. He pulled me out of the gutter, but we know this is our last year together. The cycle is complete.”
Poetry aside, Petrucci’s announcement is significant. The Italian has a contract with Ducati that promises him a seat in the factory team if one becomes available, in much the same way that Andrea Iannone did previously. But the question is, will there be a seat there for Petrucci to take?
With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.
Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.
The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.
The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.
All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.
The 2018 season starts off with a nasty surprise for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. On Wednesday, the team announced that Jonas Folger will not be racing in 2018, leaving them without a second rider for the coming season.
The reason Folger gave for pulling out of racing is to focus on recovery from the health issues he suffered at the end of 2017.
The German was forced to pull out of the three Asian flyaways, after health problems later diagnosed as Gilbert’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the liver which causes chronic fatigue.
Folger still does not feel at 100% fitness, and decided to take a year out of racing to focus fully on his recovery.
Michael van der Mark is to get his MotoGP chance after all.
After missing out at Aragon, when he was called up to replace Valentino Rossi, but Rossi raced to a stunning 5th place, Van der Mark has been drafted in to replace Jonas Folger in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team.
Van der Mark will take Folger’s place at the Sepang MotoGP race next weekend.
Broc Parkes is to step in to replace the still ill Jonas Folger in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team at Phillip Island. The Australian veteran is already part of the Yamaha family, riding for the manufacturer-backed YART World Endurance team.
Parkes is an obvious choice, being both Australian and having previous MotoGP experience. Parkes previously rode for the PBM team in 2014, when he was teammates with Michael Laverty aboard Aprilia-based ART machines.
There is still no news on when Folger will make a return to MotoGP, as the team has not yet released any information on a diagnosis of his illness.
Jonas Folger has been forced to pull out of the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, and may be absent for the remainder of the overseas triple-header as well.
The German has been taken ill with what could potentially be a recurrence of the Epstein-Bar Virus, which he suffered from previously. Japanese test rider Kohta Nozane is to replace him in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team for the Motegi round at least.
Folger took ill on his travels to Japan, suffering from a complete lack of energy, forcing him to miss a number of official Yamaha events. He had hoped that some rest would mean he was strong enough to race at Motegi, but rest has not helped.
Silverstone was its glorious best on Friday. The sun shone, fans wandered round in t-shirts and shorts, and bikes bellowed their way around a magnificent circuit. It was a good day for motorcycle racing.
“First of all, riding the MotoGP at Silverstone with this incredible weather is great,” Valentino Rossi summed up his day. “I enjoy it a lot, because this track is fantastic and this weather is a big surprise for everybody.”
So good has the weather been that it has given the small contingent of British journalists in the MotoGP paddock a new hobby.
A conversation overheard on Friday afternoon: “I’ve just been over to taunt some Italians about the sunny weather.” “Ah yes, I was just doing the same to an Australian.”
Two weeks ago, we English speakers were getting stick about having to pack winter coats and rain gear for Silverstone. Revenge is all the sweeter when served up under blue skies and radiant sunshine.
The good weather complicated tire selection for the MotoGP teams. Many a rider was out trying the hard rear much earlier than expected, trying to judge how it would hold up over race distance.
The warm weather has pushed the temperatures to the upper range of the Michelins’ operating window. The tires are still working, but everyone is having to go a step harder than expected.