Coming into the weekend of Jerez, we knew several things to be absolute certainties. 1. Jerez is a Yamaha track. 2. Ducati always does terribly at Jerez. And 3.
The Hondas will struggle against the might of the Yamaha. After qualifying, a swift dose of reality has flushed those preconceptions out of our systems, showing them up for the fallacies that they are.
After qualifying at Jerez, we have an all Honda front row. Two Yamahas start from the second row, but their performance during both qualifying and free practice was far from convincing.
The first Ducati sits on the third row, but during practice, Jorge Lorenzo made the Desmosedici GP17 fly, finishing second in FP3 and fourth in FP4.
Where did this shake up come from? The issue is mainly one of grip. After the rain on Friday, there is very little rubber on the track, and the warmer track temperatures have made Jerez its normal, greasy self.
The Yamahas perform well when grip is high, whether that be in warmer or cooler temperatures. Extra grip merely helps the RC213V want to wheelie, something for which it needs little encouragement anyway.
Robbed of its winglets, the Ducati needs extra rear grip to get good drive out of corners, and exploit its strongest point.
There was plenty to talk about after the first day of practice in Jerez, though none of the real talking points came from the action on the track. Rain in the morning proved that the track has great grip in the wet.
On the other hand, a drying track in the afternoon proved that you don’t really learn anything at all in sketchy conditions. Some riders pushed with a soft tire, some didn’t. Some riders took risks to set a time, some didn’t.
The session was pretty meaningless, most riders agreed. Nobody had fun out there, with the possible exception of Pol Espargaro on the KTM. But more of that later.
Off track we learned a lot more. It looks like next year, LCR Honda will expand to a two-bike team, with Takaaki Nakagami moving up to ride alongside Cal Crutchlow, with backing from Moto2 sponsor Idemitsu.
Rumors persist that the Sky VR46 team is to move up to MotoGP with two Yamahas, though Valentino Rossi denies it. The contract to supply Moto2 engines has been signed, though a few details remain to be wrapped up, meaning the actual engine manufacturer will not be announced until Le Mans.
And all of these have various knock-on effects, which will effect the entire series in one way or another.
First, to the on-track action. For a circuit which is not supposed to suit the Honda, there sure were an awful lot of RC213Vs crowding the top of the time sheets, both in the wet and in the dry.
The reason the Honda is good in the wet is simple, according to Marc Márquez: a wet track takes Honda’s biggest weakness out of the equation, leaving its strongest points intact.
A full paddock marks the return to some semblance of normality for the MotoGP circus.
This is why the riders and teams regard the first European round as the “real” start of the season: the riders sleep in their motorhomes rather than hotels, the teams eat in hospitality units instead of makeshift tents, those hospitality units adding a touch of vibrant color which is missing from overseas rounds.
At the rounds outside Europe, the paddock is so obviously a workplace, a temporary spot which is only filled during the day. Inside Europe, the paddock becomes a village again, noise, music, and chatter filling the daytime and the night.
The return to Europe also saw an immediate return to work. Aprilia headed to Mugello, to a wasted private test where cold temperatures and the threat of rain kept Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes huddled inside their garages.
“Every time we headed out of pit lane, it started spotting with rain,” Lowes joked. He was frustrated at not being able to get many laps, but especially because Aprilia had spent money to hire the whole track for two days, and that money had basically been wasted.
Espargaro was exasperated by the sheer amount of testing Aprilia are doing. “We have many days of tests,” the Spaniard told us. “Too much, actually. For example after America, I landed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I jumped on the bike, and it was a disaster because I couldn’t sleep, I was super tired.”
Aprilia are testing almost on a weekly basis until Valencia. “I go two days home and then on Monday I fly to Le Mans, we test here in Jerez, then we have a test in Barcelona… We have many tests.”
And so to Europe. Though the three opening races are at remarkable locations, and often throw up fantastic racing and real surprises, it is hard to shake the feeling that Qatar, Argentina, and Austin are appetizers.
MotoGP serves up its main course once the circus returns to Europe, and enters the long hard grind through to the summer break.
That is not to denigrate Qatar, Argentina, or Austin. Qatar is a great track which always manages to provide exciting racing, despite its location.
Termas de Rio Hondo is an outstanding circuit, fast and flowing, challenging the riders and rewarding courage and skill. Austin is one of the best events of the year, though with an entirely predictable winner each year. But Jerez is where MotoGP gets serious.
Think of it like Texas hold ’em poker. At Qatar, the riders are dealt their hands, but the two cards they have may give them a false sense of how strong their hands really is. Argentina is the flop, the first chance to put a full hand together.
Austin is the turn, an extra card which may not change much, but gives a better sense of the balance of power in the game. But at Jerez comes the river: with all the cards out in the open, it is down to the rider to make the difference, to bluff, gamble, and play the hand they have been dealt to the best of their ability.
Brad Binder has had surgery to fit a new plate to his broken left arm. The original plate, which had been fitted over the winter after he had broken the radius in his left arm, had worked loose, and was not holding the bone together properly. Binder has now had that issue corrected in Barcelona.
The South African had broken his arm in a big crash at Valencia in November, and had undergone surgery to fix the bones in place. This surgery had not taken properly, however, the bone not knitting together properly.
Binder had ridden despite the pain, but in Argentina, the pain had become much worse. An examination of the arm showed that the plate had become partially detached, and the bone had broken again. Despite the pain, Binder rode to a tenth place finish in Argentina, a remarkable result all things considered.
Episode 24 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is available for your audio pleasure, and it covers everything from the Spanish GP in Jerez, Spain. David, Neil, and myself host this show, and we give a lengthy analysis of Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, and the likelihood of Maverick Viñales’ defection to the Movistar Yamaha squad.
We also discuss the progress of the satellite Ducati machines, especially the standout season that Eugene Laverty is having on the Aspar Racing Ducati GP14.2.
There is also a length discussion about what is occurring in the support classes, with a good chunk of our conversation covering the happenings in Moto2 and Moto3. Hardcore GP fans won’t want to miss this episode.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
Jerez is an important punctuation mark in almost every Grand Prix season. Whether it kicks off the year, as it did ten or more years ago, or whether it marks the return to Europe after the opening overseas rounds, the racing at Jerez is always memorable and remarkable.
Not always necessarily exciting, but always portentous, marking a turning point in the championship.
So it was this year. The MotoGP race saw a shift in momentum, and Valentino Rossi win in a way we haven’t seen since 2009. The Moto2 race solidified the positions of the three best riders in the class, and edged winner Sam Lowes towards a role as title favorite.
And in Moto3, Brad Binder broke his victory cherry with one of the most astounding performances I have ever seen in any class, let alone Moto3.
Put to the back of the grid for an infraction of the software homologation rules, Binder worked his way forward to the leading group by half distance, then left them for dead. It is a race they will be talking about for a long time.