The FIM have today released the provisional version of the MotoGP calendar for 2014. As expected, there are few surprises: with the addition of Argentina and Brazil, there will be nineteen races on the calendar, though Brazil is not expected to be ready to host a race next year, the event likely to be postponed until 2015. Laguna Seca is gone from the calendar, leaving just two US races on for 2014. And once again, there are four Spanish rounds on for next season, although Jerez is marked subject to contract.
The season opens with the night race in Qatar on March 23rd, though this decision is likely to face criticism from the riders. Moving the race two weeks earlier increases the risk of the evening dew which settles on the surface hitting earlier, while the bikes are still out on track. That was the case in previous years, when the race was held earlier, with some major crashes as a result. The dew settles quickly and is impossible to see under the lights, but renders the asphalt extremely slippery within a very short period.
With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders. In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.
For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from 6 to 5 per season. Each rider now has 5 engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out. While Honda and Ducati are right on course to last the season, Yamaha find themselves unexpectedly struggling. An unidentified design flaw has seen Yamaha losing engines too rapidly for comfort. Both factory Yamaha men have had an engine withdrawn, while there are question marks over the life left in one engine each allocated to Valentino Rossi and the two Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders.
"This is the reality," factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso told the media after finishing 7th at Qatar, some 24 seconds off the pace of the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Hopes had been raised on Saturday night, after the Italian had qualified in fourth, posting a flying lap within half a second of polesitter Lorenzo. While Dovizioso's qualifying performance had been strong, he had at the time warned against too much optimism. The Desmosedici is good on new tires, but as they begin to wear, the chronic understeer which has plagued the Ducati since, well, probably since the beginning of the 800cc era, and maybe even well before that, rears its ugly head and makes posting competitively fast laps nigh on impossible.
The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly, a chassis issue, which is a mixture of weight distribution, gearbox output shaft layout, frame geometry and, to a lesser extent, chassis flexibility. And secondly, a problem with engine response, an issue which is down in part to electronics, and in part to Ducati still using just a single injector per throttle body. The weight distribution problem causes the bike to want to run wide at corners, making it hard to keep it on line; the throttle response issue just makes this worse, with the throttle either very harsh and aggressive, and difficult to control, or, when the revised electronics package is used to soften power delivery, makes the throttle response feel remote, and removes the connection between throttle and drive from the rear wheel.
Much has been made in the days since the thrilling MotoGP season opener at Qatar of the charge of Valentino Rossi through the field and the pace he ran to catch the group behind Dani Pedrosa. Speculation has been rife that had Rossi got a better start - and more importantly, got a much better qualifying position - he could have matched the pace of Lorenzo, and taken the fight to him. But just how realistic is the idea that Rossi could have run with Lorenzo at Qatar, and that Rossi could have matched the pace of his teammate? Reality, or just wishful thinking?
There's one way to assess the relative performance of the two riders, relatively free from speculation and conjecture: by comparing the fastest lap times of the two, and seeing whose pace is better. Setting the fastest laps of Lorenzo against the fastest laps of Rossi - and the fastest laps of all top five riders, including Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow - should give a much more objective few of the relative speed of the riders.
At least, that's the theory. In practice, there are a number of factors which influence the lap times set by each rider which need to be taken into account. When was the lap time set? Where was the rider in the running order when the time was set? What strategy was the rider pursuing when the lap times were set?
Rossi vs Lorenzo
With the MotoGP paddock once again assembled for the start of the season at Qatar, the four organizations who make up the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, took the opportunity to meet and discuss and adopt a number of rule changes. The rules cover a number of areas, including testing for all three classes, the 2014 technical rules for MotoGP, and further steps to control the real cost of engines in Moto3.
The most significant part of the press release is perhaps also the least obvious. The GPC confirmed the 2014 technical regulations previously agreed upon, after Dorna received assurances - and detailed proposals - that the manufacturers were prepared to supply private teams with affordable machinery. The news that Yamaha has agreed to lease engines to teams was the final piece in the puzzle which ensured that the rule package for 2014 would be adopted. Honda had previously agreed to build a customer version of their RC213V machine, five of which they will supply to private teams, and with Yamaha supplying four engines for lease - or more likely, a package including a Yamaha engine in a Yamaha-inspired chassis built by FTR - the grid will have at least twelve prototypes, nine MSMA-supplied privateer machines, and three other bikes, two of which could be factory Suzukis. Ducati has not been asked to supply privateer teams, unsurprising given the fact that the Italian factory is the smallest manufacturer by a very, very long way, and designing and building a separate engine or bike for customer teams is simply beyond their resources.
Bridgestone issued their customary post-race debrief press release after Qatar today, and in this edition, Shinji Aoki discusses how the exceptionally dusty conditions in the desert affected tire wear. He also touches on tire choices, and how a year of data with the tires has made it easier for the teams to find a set up which will last. The press release appears below:
The 2013 MotoGP season opener can be reckoned a success. Today, Dorna issued a press release reporting a massive rise in TV viewing numbers. Some key figures: Spain saw a rise of 44.6% compared with last year, in Italy, 5.28 million viewers watched the races, while in the UK, audience numbers were up by 75%, due in no small part to the success of Cal Crutchlow.
Below is the press release from Dorna with more detail on TV audience numbers:
What was the big story of the MotoGP season opener in Qatar? It's obvious: The Doctor is back. After a failed pass on Andrea Dovizioso, in which he ran wide and hit his brake lever protector on the back of Dani Pedrosa's rear tire - "The protection saved me, because for sure I crash [without it]" he said afterwards - he upped the pace and chased down the group containing Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow, passed them all, and after a thrilling battle with Marquez, went on to take second place in his first race back with Yamaha. If anyone thought that Rossi might have lost it, this was the race in which he proved that he was still capable of being at the front, the only condition being that he has a decent machine underneath him.
That reading of the race, though both attractive and seductive, is not the complete picture. Viewed with a more jaundiced eye, Rossi was comprehensively thrashed by his teammate - "In this weekend, I think it is impossible to beat Lorenzo," he admitted - closed down on a group being held up by a struggling Pedrosa, who had been troubled by a lack of rear grip all weekend, then had enormous difficulty dealing with a MotoGP rookie, racing for the first time in the class. Is that beautiful palace on the horizon real, or was it just a mirage, a trick of the light in the desert?
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's race at Qatar:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams: