If there is one complaint made about MotoGP it is that it is an almost entirely Spanish sport. The three title candidates in MotoGP are all Spanish, the three title candidates in Moto3 are all Spanish, and Scott Redding has his hands full holding off another Spanish rider, Pol Espargaro, for the 2013 Moto2 title. Spaniards dominate in all three classes, and it has been a long time since the Spanish national anthem hasn't been heard on a Grand Prix weekend.
So at first glance, the news that the Spanish CEV championship is to fall under FIM control and host rounds outside of Spain looks like increasing the stranglehold the Spanish have over Grand Prix racing. By raising the importance of the Spanish championship and therefore diminishing the status of other national championships, the FIM is making the situation worse, and handing even more control to Dorna, who run both the MotoGP and the Spanish CEV championships.
Though superficially attractive, there are some fundamentally wrong assumptions underlying that analysis. At the heart of the fear is the misconception that Dorna's main aim is to promote Spanish riders. The opposite is true: Dorna's main source of income is the sale of TV rights, and selling them as broadly as possible. Having too many Spanish riders in the series makes it hard to sell to broadcasters outside of Spain, hence Dorna's push to get more non-Spaniards into the series, especially in the Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Riders from outside of Spain are receiving preferential treatment in MotoGP, while pressure is being put on teams to reduce the number of Spaniards in the top class. The signing of Pol Espargaro has been a major bone of contention between Dorna and Yamaha, the repercussions of which are not yet fully worked out.
If half a second is a long time around Misano, seven tenths of a second is almost a geological era. Jorge Lorenzo was lacking grip and braking stability on Saturday; on Sunday morning, Ramon Forcada stiffened the front to improve Lorenzo's braking, and the factory Yamaha man crushed the opposition in the warm up. Four hours later, the reigning world champion did exactly the same again in the race, destroying his rivals in the first three laps, and holding on for a victory that was both overwhelming and important.
The first three laps? Lorenzo probably won the race in the first 100 meters off the line. Lorenzo had fluffed his practice starts on Saturday, bogging down and not really getting off the line. On Sunday, he was so fast away off the line that he had two bike lengths before he had even changed up into second gear. By the time he crossed the timing line at the end of the first sector, he was already 0.4 seconds ahead. By the end of the first lap, he was 1.2 seconds ahead. It was already game over.
There was the small matter of the remaining 27 laps, of course, but Lorenzo controlled the race imperiously. Every time one of the Repsol Hondas chasing him got a little closer, Lorenzo responded, upping his pace to match either Dani Pedrosa or Marc Marquez, depending on who was leading the chase. The gap climbed to three seconds, dropped to two seconds, climbed again to four before Lorenzo crossed the line nearly three and a half seconds ahead of Marquez. It had been a typically Lorenzian performance, ruling the race with an iron fist, crushing the opposition before it even had a chance to consider trying to put up a fight.
Half a second at Misano is a very, very long time. At a short track like this, gaps are measured in tenths, not seconds. The gap from 5th to 12th, for example, is 0.505. Yet the gap from Marc Marquez on pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider with the second fastest time, was 0.513 seconds. A huge difference.
Despite another one of his fast crashes in free practice, from which he keeps walking away almost unhurt, Marquez stayed calm, posted an impressive fast lap in his first run of Q2, and then followed it up by obliterating Casey Stoner's 2011 Misano pole lap record by over two tenths of a second. The lap was stunning - another trademark of Marquez since his switch to MotoGP - and beyond the capability of anyone to follow. The Repsol Honda man looked unstoppable during qualifying.
Not just during qualifying. There has only been one session of practice in which Marc Marquez was not fastest at Misano, and that was Q1, a session he did not participate in. Marquez has now scored six poles in his first year, joining Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as the only riders to have started from pole so many times in a season. He is, in case you haven't noticed, downright impressive.
2013 Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Seamless, Ducati's New Exhaust, And Race Direction's View Of Rivas And Marquez
So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears. Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition. The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.
You didn't even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.
2013 Misano MotoGP Preview: On Yamaha's Seamless Gearbox, Marquez' Misdemeanors And The Veto That Wasn't
Will they or won't they? "They", of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time. That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications - including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro.com - predicted that Yamaha's seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.
They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. 'It will be here for the weekend,' he said, going on to clarify: 'tomorrow.' Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.
It was not by any means a magic bullet, Rossi was at pains to stress, but it would make it easier to ride over the full length of a race. There is no real gain in terms of lap time, but with reduced tire wear and reduced strain on the rider, it did add up to gains in total race time. 'It was a nice feeling not to feel this dropping of power for a few milliseconds,' Lorenzo explained. 'You don't feel it on the seamless - it is like a scooter, an automatic bike.' The biggest gain was in shifting up through the gearbox with the bike banked over, Lorenzo said. With the conventional gearbox, the bike would move, but with the seamless, 'the bike doesn’t move and you save more the tires and are in more in control of the bike.'
2013 Silverstone MotoGP Monday Round Up: Rossi In The Second Group, An Improving Bautista, And Aprilia's CRT
With so much happening at the front of all three races at Silverstone last Sunday, it is easy to overlook the battles behind. Especially when those battles seem to be falling into a fixed pattern, repeating the results of previous races. A glance at the results of the MotoGP race Silverstone gives you a sense of deja vu. While the top three swapped places, positions four to six were identical to their finishes at Brno, places seven to nine differed only in the riders who crashed out, and Aleix Espargaro took tenth spot, as he did in the Czech Republic. A pattern is definitely starting to form here.
The biggest victim of that pattern is probably Valentino Rossi. Finishing fourth for the third race in a row is frustrating. Battling for fourth with Alvaro Bautista for the third race in a row is even more frustrating. Finish over ten seconds off the leaders for the third race in a row is positively depressing. 'It's like arriving at a party and not being invited in,' Rossi joked afterwards.
Over 75,000 paying customers came oto watch the races at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, and each and every one of them got their money's worth. Three classes, three winners, battles to the very end, and serious consequences for all three championships, with two thirds of the races done.
The day got off to a great start for the home crowd with a calculated and determined performance from Scott Redding to win the Moto2 race. Redding had come to Silverstone with two goals: to win the race, and to further demoralize his main rival for the title Pol Espargaro. He succeeded totally in both objectives, much to the relief of the British fans.
When Redding turned up at his home track with a special patriotic livery, the Union Jack splashed all over the fairing of his bike, fans feared the worst. Bad memories of previous years when British riders had sported patriotic color schemes were imprinted fresh on their minds, and they feared that Redding had jinxed himself. Redding disagreed, and demonstrated his point by running in the top 3 in every session but one. He made sure that he always finished ahead of Espargaro, and once he qualified on the front row, posting a stunningly consistent string of fast laps in the process, he had the job half done.
Why do we keep watching motorcycle racing? Because sometimes magic happens. Today was one of those days. Two riders took their sport to the known limits in qualifying at Silverstone on Saturday, and then pushed at the edges to see what was beyond. What happened then took the breath of the crowd away, and left the press room sitting in stunned silence. And shutting the media up takes some doing.
Veteran broadcaster Dennis Noyes described the atmosphere in Parc Ferme after qualifying like being in a church. There was an air of awed reverence, quietness almost, as the teams of all three riders on the front row showed their respect for what they had just seen happen. Jorge Lorenzo had put on a display of as near perfect riding as it is humanly possible to achieve, destroying the lap record in the process. And then Marc Marquez had gone faster still, with almost effortless ease.
As Lorenzo stopped in Parc Ferme after qualifying, he gave a little shake of his head. He knew what he had just done - afterwards, he would say the lap was one of the best of his career, and that there was really only one sector where he could have found more time - and it had not been enough. It doesn't really matter what Lorenzo tries, matching Marc Marquez seems to be impossible.
2013 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Nicky Hayden Issues A Retraction, Some Intimidation, And Pedrosa Cheers The Media
The media duties are one of the more difficult parts of a MotoGP rider's job. Every day they spend at a racetrack, they have to spend 10 to 15 minutes answering a barrage of questions from the assembled press. The questions range from stating the obvious, to inane ramblings, to blatant provocation chasing a printable quote, and even, on the odd very rare occasion, to sensible questions provoking subtle and thoughtful answers. In terms of time, the scope of the questions can range from what happened five minutes ago to events of five or ten years ago.
So it is hardly surprising that from time to time, the facts of relatively ancient history get confused. Such was the case at Silverstone, when on Thursday, Nicky Hayden said he would have liked to test the carbon fiber frame he tried at Jerez back in late 2011. On Friday, Hayden made a retraction, or a clarification, or call it what you will. He explained that what he had actually tested was the aluminium monocoque frame which was the intermediate chassis between the old carbon fiber frame and the aluminium perimeter beam chassis of which the current bike is an iteration. He had not, he said, called for a return to the carbon fiber frame, he had merely stated he would have liked to give that aluminium frameless front chassis one more try, but he was thwarted when he broke his hand in a first-corner crash with Alvaro Bautista at Valencia, and was forced to miss the test.
2013 Silverstone MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Of Frayed Nerves, Stopping Marc Marquez, and Hayden's Quest For CF
As the last of three back-to-back races, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone sees the teams and riders looking a little more tired and frazzled around the edges than when they first convened after the summer break at Indianapolis. Tempers are a little shorter, stubble is a little longer, and eyes are a little redder. Add to this the fact that Thursday at Silverstone also plays host to the Day of Champions, and the teams and riders have a lot more PR duties to do, going up to the stage to help sell some of the items up for auction to help Riders for Health, and you have a group of tired and irritable motorcycle racing followers all clumped together in a room.
Despite the weather, the overwhelming consensus is a positive feeling going into the weekend. The track is widely loved, every rider I spoke to singing the praises of the circuit. What's more, the forecast fine weather has also had a positive effect on the general mood. In the past, Silverstone has inspired dread among the paddock, as it has all too often been cold and very, very wet. Moving the race from June to late August/early September has been a masterstroke, however, as the chances of warm dry weather are vastly improved. Nicky Hayden even half apologized to the waiting British journalists for having given them a hard time about the British climate.