Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand and a VIP pavilion.
It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.
You would think that the season opener couldn’t get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous.
The phony war is finally over. The last MotoGP test has finished, with riders completing their final day of testing at Qatar. The next time the MotoGP grid assembles, it will be for something of real value: race wins, and world championship points.
Did the last day of the test offer any clear indications as to what might happen in two weeks’ time? Plenty, though they were as confusing as all of testing has been this year.
Johann Zarco managed to be both blisteringly fast and worryingly slow simultaneously. Danilo Petrucci managed to do exactly the same, though in a diametrically opposite manner.
Valentino Rossi managed to impress both in terms of race pace and a single fast lap, but he was still worried whether his pace would last race distance.
Maverick Viñales was terrible for the first six hours of the test, then brilliant in the last forty minutes, after basically wasting a day and a half.
Underneath the surface drama, the two biggest winners of the preseason just got on with their work. Their headline times were great but not breathtaking, but the race pace of Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez was impressive.
There is a peculiar type of athlete mathematics. It involves a failure to grasp the concept of percentages, leading to elite athletes promising to give “110%”, or sometimes even “1000%”.
Logic dictates that an athlete putting 100% of their effort and reserves into an activity would lead them to collapse and die of exhaustion as they crossed the line.
That would deny them the joy of victory, but more importantly, it would drastically curtail an athlete’s career to just a single event, making it a rather fruitless avenue to pursue.
Of course, what they actually mean when they talk of giving 110% is of course making the maximum effort to achieve a goal.
Some, commendably, refrain from mathematic hyperbole, sticking to the 100% maxim. Marc Márquez belongs to this group, speaking of giving 100% during practice and races.
A case can be made that Marc Márquez is the rider who most closely approaches 100% while riding. The list of legendary saves the Repsol Honda rider has chalked up at tests and races seems to grow every time he gets on the bike.
Of course, he gets plenty of chances to practice: Márquez had 27 crashes in 2017, second only to Sam Lowes. Respected motorcycle guru Kevin Cameron believes that Márquez’s saves are not saves, but actually the result of a technique he studies.
With every monster save Márquez manages, that gets harder to argue with.
The Qatar MotoGP test may be the moment of truth for the factories and riders, but the most important things we learned from the first day of the test were unrelated to the action on track, or perhaps even the 2018 season.
The biggest news of the day came when Valentino Rossi spoke to the press, telling Italian media that he is close to signing on with the Movistar Yamaha team for another two years, meaning he will race in 2019 and 2020.
Rossi’s revelation came in response to a question about whether the Sky VR46 team would be taking over the satellite Yamahas to be vacated by Tech3 from 2019.
“Firstly, I didn’t expect Poncharal to leave Yamaha,” Rossi said. “So we considered possibly having a team in MotoGP. It would have been great opportunity, but we won’t do it. For the next two years we won’t do it, also because it’s very likely I’ll be racing. I see it as a possibility for the future, once I’ve stopped but not in 2019 or 2020.”
Those are a remarkably information-dense couple of sentences. Firstly, Rossi acknowledges that he is close to signing a contract extension with Yamaha for two more seasons.
This is hardly news – he was half expected to sign a new deal at the Sepang test, but it looks likely that any new deal will be done before the season starts.
Secondly, he admits that the Sky VR46 Racing Team is interested in having a team in MotoGP. Again, this is hardly earth-shattering news.
Considering it is August here in Indiana, MotoGP has had pretty much perfect weather for the 2012 Red Bull Indianapolis GP thus far, with only a brief rainstrom hitting the track late Thursday afternoon and into the evening. With perfect conditions for Saturday, qualifying proved to be an eventful day for all the classes, as a number of riders had crashes that warranted the red flag coming out at the American circuit.
With riders continuing to complain not only of the three different types of asphalt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but now also about the fine dirt on the course, the issue of whether IMS is safe for MotoGP has been raised with the six red flags that were out in the four qualifying motorcycle sessions held today. Though no one hit any obstacles or walls, with three riders questionable for competing in Sunday’s MotoGP class race, it is not a stretch of the truth to say that the Indy GP will be challenging.
As we mentioned last week, Andrea Dovizioso agreed to take the factory Ducati seat vacated by Rossi’s departure for Yamaha. His signature, it appears, was subject to certain conditions, though. According to reports in the Italian media, Dovizioso demanded guarantees of support and development from Audi before putting pen to paper.
Italian TV station Mediaset is now reporting that Dovizioso has now received those guarantees, and has signed a two-year deal to ride for Ducati in 2013 and 2014. Ducati’s choosing Dovizioso over Cal Crutchlow – Dovizioso’s British partner at the Tech 3 squad had earlier been offered the ride at Ducati – is an indication of the the future direction of the Bologna factory.
The deal appears to signal that Ducati has accepted that they need to focus their development on building a bike to suit a traditional Grand Prix style, as displayed by the Italian. It is perhaps a signal to Ducati’s new owners Audi that they understand the magnitude of the problem, and that the loss of Valentino Rossi is being taken very seriously indeed.
Now that three races have passed, giving the paddock time to digest the news of Casey Stoner’s shock decision to retire and consider what effect it will have on the future line up of the MotoGP grid. The riders’ representatives have been very busy at the past few races, putting out feelers to factories and teams, weighing up opportunities and gauging the market value of their riders. With summer approaching, Silly Season for the 2013 Championship is very much open.
Two more decisions have accelerated developments, and drawn the lines of the 2013 season a little more clearly. Firstly, Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to stay with Yamaha for next season – “if Jorge wants to win championships,” said Lorenzo’s team boss Wilco Zeelenberg at Barcelona, “his best option is to stay at Yamaha.” The strength of the team and the state of the bike do seem to have been the key criteria for Lorenzo’s decision, the Spaniard opting for performance over financial gain.
The second development is the dropping of the Rookie Rule, preventing newcomers into the MotoGP class from going straight to the factory teams. The rule was popular with some team owners, but it also created major headaches for them: a big-name rookie like Marc Marquez does not come alone, but brings a small army of sponsors, advisers, mechanics, and assorted hangers on.
Room has to be made for these people and these sponsors, and long-term relationships have to be put aside to make way for them, which team managers then have to try to reestablish a year later once the rookie has gone. The abolition of the Rookie Rule clears the way for Marc Marquez to enter the Repsol Honda team, but it also opens up opportunities for other rookies at Yamaha or Ducati.
With these developments in mind, we can start to take a look at the current state of the market, the range of options open to riders in MotoGP, and what bikes may be on the grid for next season.
Despite a drizzle in the morning, the weather held for MotoGP’s race session in Catalunya. With Casey Stoner sitting on pole, the reigning-World Champion knew he had a bevy of Yamahas to content with come race day, with the big question being whether the softer tire option would prove to be a calculated gamble for the riders running it. With a number of Spaniards calling the greater Barcelona area home though, Stoner’s pole-position advantage was anything but a guarantee of a good result.
With testing concluded at Jerez, the MotoGP paddock has just two short weeks before the opening round at the Losail International Circuit is underway. Heading into Qatar, there are few surprises from last season though, as the Honda of Casey Stoner continues to dominate the time sheets, while teammate Dani Pedrosa and top-Yamaha man Jorge Lorenzo trail closely behind.
Yamaha’s package looks very refined and balanced, and appears to have gained a step on the Honda machines. This should make for more interesting racing moments, where the more balanced Yamaha YZR-M1 will excel at certain tracks, while the more powerful Honda RC213V will shine at others. Also coming more into play will be the strengths and weaknesses of Honda and Yamaha’s top riders, whose particular track preferences could be the x-factor at some of the races.
Still at best, MotoGP is shaping up to be a three-man show, with maybe Ben Spies and some other riders occasionally mixing the order of things up. This statement is of course a direct reflection on the progress of Ducati Corse, which despite having made improvements to the Ducati Desmosedici GP12, is not really any closer to making up the difference to the front of the pack. Now using a completely revised aluminum frame, the team still seems to be struggling to find a starting point from which to build from, and in the process they have killed enough spare parts to start a pick-and-pull MotoGP junkyard.
With rumors swirling around where Colin Edwards will land next year, we grabbed a moment with the Texas Tornado to ask him about one rumor that keeps cropping up: him on a claiming rule team for the 2012 season. Of course, you don’t just ask Colin Edwards direct questions, and expect direct answers, as the Texan enjoys a good laugh.
Getting some MotoGP-rookie hazing, Edwards had some fun with A&R while talking about CRTs, but what the Texan did say (or in some cases, didn’t say) is pretty interesting. One thing is for certain, the two-time World Superbike champion was very keen on having a pepped-up production motor inside a prototype chassis for his bike next year.
With an official announcement likely to come at Misano, the question now is where Colin will end up for 2012. Welcome to Silly Season 2011 ladies and gentleman.
Ben Spies clinched the MotoGP Rookie of the Year award while a racing at Phillip Island this weekend, adding another bullet point to the Texan’s impressive resumé, and achieving the next logical step in his GP career. Currently the highest ranking American in the MotoGP series, Spies holds a 11 point advantage over the Kentucky Kid Nicky Hayden. Both Americans have had a great season this year, and it will be exciting to watch the pair finish out the last two races of the season.
Moving up to the factory Yamaha team for the 2011 season, Spies will play second fiddle to Jorge Lorenzo, the reigning MotoGP World Champion. We’ll have to anxiously await Spies’ arrival on the factory-spec bike at the test in Valencia, following the conclusion of the 2010 MotoGP season, where we’ll get our first glimpse at what Spies can do on the more powerful factory M1. Team Texas: 1, Team Marco: 0.
Photo: Ben Spies (Personal Website)