MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
2013 MotoGP season review (Part 1)
This is going to sound corny as hell – I believe the biggest winners of the 2013 MotoGP World Championship were the fans. MotoGP had had a dark few years of tedious racing, working itself into a technical tangle, just like Formula 1.
A combination of engineering changes and 250-derived riding styles had developed beautifully balanced bikes, which, when ridden by inch-perfect ex-250 riders, could do the same lap times from lights-out to chequered flag. Valentino Rossi’s former crew chief Jeremy Burgess referred to these races as “procession races”, and he was right (as he usually is).
The biggest change in 2013
Yamaha's MotoGP team looks set to gain another sponsor for 2014. According to the PU24.it website - the same website which broke the news of Rossi's decision to drop Jeremy Burgess - sportswear manufacturer Adidas is set to sponsor the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo next season.
The deal is said to be part of a larger contract, which will involve the Team Sky VR46 Moto3 squad as well. The deal appears mainly aimed at the Italian market: according to the PU24 website, one of the benefits for Adidas will be better visibility for its ads on the Sky Italia channel, which will be broadcasting MotoGP in Italy next year, and which is also a co-sponsor of Valentino Rossi's Team Sky VR46 Moto3 squad. The deal is rumored to be a two-year contract, though how much money is involved is currently unknown.
Interviewed At The Sachsenring: Jeremy Burgess Speaks About Ducati, And Rossi's Return To The Yamaha
Following Valentino Rossi's shocking decision to part ways with his long-term crew chief Jeremy Burgess, there has been much speculation about Rossi's reason for the split. Mick Fialkowski spoke to the experienced Australian earlier this year at the Sachsenring, where Burgess shed some light on the last few seasons of their cooperation. Burgess told Fialkowski about their time at Ducati, the return to Yamaha, and where Rossi has struggled this season. With the benefit of hindsight, this interview makes for a highly illuminating read.
Mick Fialkowski: Jeremy, what went wrong at Ducati when you were there for two years with Valentino between 2011 and 2012?
Jeremy Burgess: I think you probably have to ask that to Ducati, because we tried very hard to get them to work in a way that we had been using for many years but unfortunately it was a mentality of Ducati which even Valentino wasn't able to change. As much as we tried and as you can see this year, the situation doesn't seem to have improved significantly at all. I think there have to be some really big changes in the way Ducati believes that they should go about their MotoGP racing.
Q: What do they need to change?
JB: The people at the circuit are very good. These projects are not lost by the people working at this level. The people in each garage here work to the level of the equipment and the funding that they have. If there is somebody in the higher position that is blocking the development or not believing what the riders are saying and believes that their design is OK, then this is when it suffers at the race track. Ducati regularly tests in Mugello, they compete in MotoGP and see the results every week. It's really in the hands of the directors of the engineering group to put the right people in place back in Ducati.
Q: After years with Honda and Yamaha, were there any significant differences between working with a Japanese and an Italian factory?
JB: Very much so. The Japanese factory listens to what we say and responds to our requests. Ducati, whether they've listened, they've heard, for sure, but they didn't respond. They believed for some reason that what they've had was good enough and that in some miraculous way everything would be OK next week. And then it wasn't and of course you start to lose the bond between the engineers and the rider to work together to improve the machine. Fundamentally Ducati needs to regroup, go back, try and build again and perhaps hire the very best rider, change their structure and their strategy somewhat.
Q: What were your first thoughts when Vale told you that you're going back to Yamaha for 2013?
Though most of the contracts were settled some time ago, there were still a few question marks on the 2014 MotoGP grid. The official entry list released by the FIM today answers some of those questions, but the answers it gives may yet turn out to be wrong. The list features 11 entries to be run under the Factory rules, which means 20 liters of fuel, 5 engines per season and the freedom to use proprietary software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU. The remaining 13 bikes will be run as Open entries, which gives them 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines per season, but forces them to use the Dorna-controlled spec software on the Magneti Marelli ECU.
The 2014 season looks set to follow the pattern established in 2013, with Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo likely to dominate. Of interest is the fact that Marc Marquez has been entered with number 93, rather than the number 1 which the world champion is allowed to use, but this may yet change before the start of the season. Marquez would dearly like to retain 93, but Honda is keen to see him run the number 1 plate.
In part one of our interview with Mike Webb, the MotoGP Race Director talked about the penalty point system and how it had worked in 2013. In the second part, talks about the tire debacle at Phillip Island. Webb explains what the teams were told about the rules and the penalties they would incur, and he discusses the incident on the exit of pit lane between Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo. He explains how Race Direction felt the dry flag-to-flag race went, and whether the situation could be handled any differently.
Webb also explains why penalty points are only handed out at the front of the race, while the battle mid-pack can be much fiercer than anything happening for the lead. Finally, Mike Webb casts an eye on the future, and explains the next steps towards improving safety, and improving communication with the riders.
Q: Phillip Island. First of all, I've seen the sheet of paper that was passed out to all the teams …
Mike Webb: Several sheets of paper, unfortunately. It changed several times, we were forced to. There was Moto2 for a start, that changed several times, and the same situation in MotoGP, where we had a meeting with the tire supplier, and they told us, OK, this is how many laps the tire can safely do, our recommendation from the tire supplier is that how many laps the tire can do, now it's up to you to make a decision on the race. And that information changed, during Saturday and then after Sunday warm up, so we had three different instructions to the teams based on what the tire companies told us their tires were able to do. And the last one was of course after warm up on Sunday, which is a horrible time to change anything. I know I hated that whole thing, but it was forced on us.
Race Director Mike Webb Interview, Part 1: On Penalty Points, Precedent, Jerez, Sepang And Whether Motorcycle Racing Is A Contact Sport
It has been a busy year for MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb. Since taking on the job of ensuring that MotoGP events take place safely and efficiently, stepping into the shoes vacated by Paul Butler at the start of the 2012 season, Webb has faced some tough decisions and unusual situations, his second year in the job even more eventful than the first.
In response to criticism over the warning system in 2012, a new penalty points system was introduced to allow for harsher penalties for persistent offenders. There were several high-profile incidents involving Marc Marquez in his rookie season, including a clash with Jorge Lorenzo at Jerez, a touch which severed the traction control sensor of teammate Dani Pedrosa's Honda and caused Pedrosa to crash, and the situation at Phillip Island, where the new asphalt at the circuit caused the tires to degrade much more than the two spec tire manufacturers had expected, requiring last-minute adjustments to the race schedule on the fly.
We spoke with Mike Webb extensively at Valencia, on the Thursday evening before the race, covering the above subjects and more, and reviewing his second year as Race Director. In the first part of the interview, Webb talks of whether motorcycle racing is a contact sport, how the penalty system has worked out, explains why Marc Marquez was not given points at Jerez, why Jorge Lorenzo wasn't penalized for the touch at Sepang, and of changing perceptions.
Q: You're at the end of your second year in the job of Race Director. Was it easier than the first?
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the second day of testing at Valencia:
2013 Valencia Post-Race Test Day 1 Round Up: Rossi's New Crew Chief, Crutchlow's Strong Debut, And Gigi Dall'Igna On Ducati's Future
Having a test on the Monday after the last race of the season is a rather cruel punishment for the MotoGP riders. The Sunday night after Valencia is usually a rather festive affair, with teams holding parties to mark either the departure of one rider, the arrival of a new one, celebrating success or drowning their sorrows. For those 'lucky' enough to go to the FIM Gala awards, a stately and formal affair, there is also the need to blow off some steam afterwards, riders never very good at sitting still for a couple of hours while official presentations are made. Most people in the paddock are usually a little worse for wear on Monday morning.
Several years ago, the riders were given respite on Monday as journalists were allowed to ride the bikes, but as technology and tires have moved on, just getting the tires to work requires the kind of commitment and riding talent sorely lacking among the denizens of the media center (though they would only admit it under severe torture). Tired of spending many thousands of euros to repair the damage done after the inevitable crashes, that idea was abandoned, freeing up the Monday testing slot. The last couple of years, it was filled by the Moto2 and Moto3 tests, but a single day was not much use, and so the Moto2 and Moto3 teams will now test separately.
So the start of testing saw quite a few bleary-eyed riders turn up for work on Monday afternoon, the test supposed to start at noon. Though the track was clear, and the weather was perfect - warm, dry, with thin clouds preventing the track temperatures from going sky high - much of the action was confined to pit lane, where hordes of reporters thronged around the Ducati, Gresini and Tech 3 garages, where Cal Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro were due to make their debut. There was also plenty of ogling at Yamaha's 2014 machine, though there were virtually no discernible differences between it and the 2013 bike it replaces. MotoGP bikes tend to change in small evolutionary increments - a different frame wall thickness here, a weld moved a couple of millimeters there, or even more intangible, the invisible world of bits and bytes that control so much of MotoGP performance nowadays - so of the thirty of forty people milling around Jorge Lorenzo's 2014 bike, there may only have been two or three which could genuinely spot the differences. I was not one of them.
Press releases after the first day of testing after Valencia:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the race on Sunday at Valencia:
2013 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Mistakes, Engines, And How To Win A Championship
After all the drama, the talk stops tomorrow. Two titles on the line, and five men to fight over them. On Sunday, there will be no talk of crew chiefs being sacked, of team bosses appealing for penalty points, of teams concocting dubious plans, of teammates, team strategies or team orders. When the red lights go out, and the thunderous roar of four-stroke racing motorcycles fills the natural bowl which cradles the tightly wound ribbon of tarmac that is the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, it is every man and woman for themselves, and the devil take the hindmost. Nearly a hundred young men and one young woman will take to the track on Sunday. Most have already had their dreams of glory shattered; three more will share that disappointment; only two will etch their names permanently into the history books.
Both the Moto3 and the MotoGP titles are still undecided, the winner of each race likely to be crowned champion. The Moto2 title is already decided, and going on the evidence of practice and qualifying, the race could be over within a couple of laps, Pol Espargaro hoping to top off his championship with a win in the final race in front of his home crowd. The HP Tuenti Pons rider has been fastest in every session so far, usually by a comfortable margin, so his objective looks well within his grasp. Others may try to prevent an Espargaro victory march, but it doesn't look like either Tito Rabat, Jordi Torres or Nico Terol will be able to do much about it. Espargaro has deserved his title, repaying the faith Yamaha put in him when they signed him to the Tech 3 MotoGP team at Qatar, before the very first race of the year.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Saturday's qualifying at Valencia: