Karel Abraham has signed a two-year deal with the Avintia team, which means that the 2019 MotoGP Championship gird is now nearly complete.
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.
12 Ducati racers. 12 Ducati Panigale V4 S superbikes. 12 race liveries to drool over. If you are not on the Adriatic Coast of Italy right now, you are missing out on one of the motorcycle industry’s best events…even if you don’t ride a Ducati motorcycle. This is because World Ducati Week 2018 is about to kickoff in Misano this weekend, and while the festival has plenty to keep you entertained, one of the highlights to the three-day event will certainly be the Race of Champions. Slotted to race will be a dozen names that should be familiar to motorcycle racing fans: Troy Bayliss, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, Michele Pirro, Chaz Davies (who will miss the race because of a broken collarbone), Marco Melandri, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Xavi Fores, Michael Rinaldi, Tito Rabat, and Karel Abraham.
We expected practice at Termas De Rio Hondo to be dominated by the weather, and we were right, though not in the way we expected.
Rain had been forecast for all of Friday, but it largely held off except for the odd wayward shower which caused more of a nuisance than any real disruption.
But a combination of a dirty track and strong and gusty winds made conditions difficult at the Argentinian round of MotoGP. It turned the field on its head: Andrea Dovizioso, the man who had won the previous race at Qatar, finished FP2 as 24th and last on Friday in Argentina.
The track played a big part in making life difficult for the riders (or more accurately, everyone not called Marc Márquez). The resurfacing had been a major improvement, removing the worst of the bumps, but the new surface didn’t really have any extra grip, the riders said.
“It’s positive about the bumps,” Andrea Dovizioso said. “Apart from Turn 4 all the other corners are much better, almost perfect. The grip is not good like the old one, maybe it’s worse, maybe it’s too new, I don’t know when they did.”
Valentino Rossi agreed. “The new surface is a bit better because we have less bumps,” the Italian said. “I think Michelin was a bit worried about the level of grip because they bring more tires. At the end the level of grip of the new asphalt is the same as the level of grip with the old asphalt.”
The real problem was the track still being dirty, and not being rubbered in, Marc Márquez explained.
“It’s good. In terms of grip, very very similar the new and old, you cannot feel the difference, because there is no rubber, it’s just dirty. But it’s so good about the bumps. Last year it was at the limit, quite dangerous with big bumps, but this year it’s completely flat,” the Spaniard told reporters.
It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin’s first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics.
2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past. All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018.
Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well.
Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.
The Aspar Team has announced that it has extended its contract with Karel Abraham. The Czech rider will continue to race for the team in 2018, with Abraham likely to get a Ducati Desmosedici GP16 for next season, while his teammate Alvaro Bautista contests a GP17.
With Abraham confirmed at Aspar, and Taka Nakagami announced at LCR Honda, that leaves only three seats still open.
The second seat at Marc VDS will probably be announced at Silverstone this weekend, with all signs pointing to “a rider with previous MotoGP experience” as the favorite to race alongside Franco Morbidelli.
Aprilia has today confirmed another of the worst-kept secrets in the paddock, announcing that they have signed Scott Redding to replace Sam Lowes in the Gresini Aprilia MotoGP team for the 2018 season.
The news came as no surprise, after it became apparent that Aprilia had decide to break Lowes’ contract at the end of this season.
Lowes had been contracted for two seasons in MotoGP, but Aprilia decided to invoke an escape clause, after the Englishman had struggled at the start of the season. For the full background to the story, read the Friday MotoGP round up from Austria.
The Pull&Bear Aspar Team will continue to race with Ducatis for the 2018 season. At Le Mans, the team signed a one-year extension of their deal with Ducati, which will see the Italian factory continue to supply satellite bikes to the team for next year.
Exactly what spec machinery the team will run is still to be decided. Depending on budget and the riders Aspar can sign, the team will either run two Desmosedici GP17s, or one GP17 and one GP16.
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.
Many (though not all) questions were answered at the Qatar MotoGP test. One of the most frustrating questions of the 2017 preseason has been answered at last, however.
For weeks, MotoGP pundits have been puzzling over what could be in the ‘salad box’ slung under the tail of the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. Was it a device to counter chatter (or ‘jounce’, as it is more properly known)? Was it something to do with Ducati’s patent on a variable exhaust nozzle for providing thrust?
At Qatar, MCN reporter Simon Patterson finally got a straight – though unofficial – answer from Ducati. The ‘salad box’ contains a bunch of electronics moved from the front of the GP17 to allow Ducati to use their new aerodynamic fairing.
That fairing has a much narrower nose, to allow for the large ducts and airfoil surfaces, which Ducati have used to replace their winglets. The reduced space in the nose forced Ducati to relocate the components which had previously been on a mount behind the front section of the fairing.
This revelation has allowed me to feel a brief sense of smugness. Since the ‘salad box’ first made an appearance, I had suspected that the contents of the box had more to do with relocating components from elsewhere, rather than any active function itself.
“The question may not necessarily be what is in the box,” I wrote before the Qatar test, “but what did putting whatever is in the box in there allow the Desmosedici GP17’s designers to move around elsewhere.” As it turns out what Ducati’s engineers were chasing was some empty space.