Yesterday, we discussed who is going where in the factory teams in MotoGP. For the most part, those deals are either public, or really badly-kept secrets. Today, we'll look at the situation among the satellite teams, a situation which is much, much less clear-cut than the factory squad, in part because the factory deals have not all been announced yet. The number of changes are suprisingly few, reflecting in part the problems in MotoGP. As costs rise, the cost of being competitive is growing, and more importantly, the cost of failure is increasing as well.
As a consequence, teams are not willing to take chances on unproven but promising talent. The learning curve in MotoGP is now so steep - electronics, bike setup, but most especially tires - that it takes half a season to start to get your head around the class. Limited testing has made the situation much, much worse, raising the penalty for rookies entering the class even further - the scrabbling around for substitute riders for Valentino Rossi, Hiroshi Aoyama and Randy de Puniet illustrating the case perfectly.
With MotoGP now one third through its 18 race season, the effect of the engine-life regulations - restricting each MotoGP rider to just 6 engines throughout the entire season - is starting to become clear. The latest engine information list - assembled by IRTA and MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb, and distributed (if you can call it that) by Dorna - provides an interesting perspective on the impact the regulations are having, and how the factories have approached the problems posed by limited engines.
The clear winner that emerges from the list is surely Honda. Of their six riders, three (Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, and San Carlo Gresini's Marco Simoncelli) have used just two engines, and not had to have a third engine officially sealed. Dovizioso and Simoncelli have distributed their races equally, with three races on each of the two engines, while Dani Pedrosa has four races on his number 1 engine, and just two on his number 2 engine.
Marco Melandri has been ruled out of Saturday's Dutch TT MotoGP race at Assen. The San Carlo Gresini Honda rider crashed at the revised Ruskenhoek corner, and landed heavily on his shoulder, dislocating it. The Italian has been taken to the local hospital in Assen for further treatment, and will take no further part in the proceedings.
The crash was a rather strange affair. Melandri overshot the Ruskenhoek, entering the runoff area at high speed. The Italian was unable to follow the narrow tarmac run-on lane, though, and ran onto the grass on the inside of the corner. The rear began to slide just before Melandri got back onto the track, and as soon as the rear tire touched grippy asphalt, the Italian was catapulted off his bike in a huge highside, landing on his shoulder.
Melandri's crash reduces the MotoGP grid to 15 again for Saturday's race, and a shoulder dislocation could mean the Italian missing next Sunday's MotoGP race at Barcelona. With three races on three weekends, this was always going to be the danger zone for MotoGP. The Barcelona round will see numbers bolstered by Wataru Yoshikawa filling in at Fiat Yamaha, but with two test riders on the grid, the situation remains perilous.
With the MotoGP paddock reconvened at Mugello - and it really is a stunning setting for a motorcycle race - the atmosphere is hectic and frenzied, and it's only just Thursday. There are many reasons for that atmosphere, but mostly, it comes down to two key facts: 1) We're in Italy, and 2) We're at Mugello.
Being in Italy means that some riders are on double duty, with Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso doing their usual press debriefs in addition to appearing at the press conference. The usual Thursday pre-event press conference was positively heaving, the room packed to the rafters and all seats taken, a change from most other Thursday conferences. It's not just that every Italian newspaper has sent extra journalists to the round, but journalists from around the world are seizing the opportunity to attend one of the most spectacular races of the year, and follow it up with a few days in Tuscany.
It's not just journalists either: the teams are in the same position. One team representative said they had ten times the number of guests here that they have at other races, sponsors grabbing their chance to spend a long weekend in Tuscany, and enjoying the food and wine the region is rightly famous for.
One day after the last-lap thriller of a Spanish Grand Prix, the MotoGP riders were back on track for a one-day test at the Andalucian track, the first of two scheduled for the season. As on Saturday during qualifying, it was the Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa which was fastest, finishing ahead of the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Differences were small, however: the top 12 riders finished inside 1 second, and just 1.5 seconds covered the entire field.
The riders had plenty to test. Yamaha were testing minor chassis modifications, some electronics and a revised engine which provides improved acceleration, which both Rossi and Lorenzo declared a slight improvement. Lorenzo spent a lot of time working on his starts, which have so far been his weak point, while Rossi also found some setup changes which solved a rear grip problem.
Every year, as the MotoGP season commences, a veritable jungle of MotoGP Fantasy Leagues springs up around the internet, give fans the chance to test their skills in running a MotoGP team against like-minded individuals. Although we're big fans of those kinds of games, MotoMatters.com wouldn't be MotoMatters.com if we didn't do things just a little bit differently.
Another season of MotoGP approaches, and as every year, the fans (and far too many journalists) will spend the first race struggling to pick out which rider is which, after the traditional off-season merry-go-round and livery change. The wise heads over at Spanish motorcycle magazine Motociclismo.es have anticipated this problem, and thoughtfully snagged all of the riders at the last Qatar MotoGP test and got them to hand over their helmets for a quick snapshot. The result is an overview of the helmets of all 17 MotoGP riders, as they are going to be used in MotoGP for 2010. The one exception ('t was ever thus) is Valentino Rossi, who as always is using his "Old Chicken" helmet throughout testing, but is likely to return to a more traditional design once the flag drops.
Nicky Hayden's 2010 helmet. For the rest of the helmets, head over to Motociclismo.es and see all 17.
Overall times from both days of testing at Qatar:
Casey Stoner finally managed to break Valentino Rossi's stranglehold on testing on the final day at Qatar, the Australian putting his Marlboro Ducati on top of the timesheets early on, and only occasionally ceding the lead to the Fiat Yamaha man. The Australian was fast throughout the session, not even a minor crash slowing Stoner down.
Despite finishing half a second down to the rider he has annointed as his main challenger, Rossi pronounced himself happy with the way the test went, telling GPone.com that he believed the new Yamaha M1 had proved it was competitive at Qatar. The Italian also tested some tires for the 2011 season; after testing a hard front in Sepang, Rossi tried the softer compound 2011 front tire at Qatar, but revealed he did not believe it represented a huge leap forwards.
The first day of the final test for the MotoGP class before the season commences saw Valentino Rossi continue his domination of testing, ending the session three tenths ahead of his nearest rival Casey Stoner. The Fiat Yamaha rider was constantly at the top of the timesheets, only really ceding the top spot when he paused for dinner late on in the evening. Despite the track cooling and the evening dew which started to form, Rossi took another half a second off his best time to stamp his authority on the session.
Casey Stoner found himself demoted to second, at a track where he has won three years in a row, but the Australian pronounced himself happy with the test, telling GPOne.com that the bike was working really well, especially on used tires. The Ducati Marlboro rider did comment that he would like some more power with the long-life engines, as would everybody, but he praised the new engine character, which made the Ducati much easier to ride.
It is a truism that motorcycle racing fans love to collect items connected to their favorite sport. If your budget can't quite stretch to a genuine FTR Moto2 bike, then Indianapolis Motor Speedway can help you out, while helping to do good. The legendary US racetrack is auctioning off a collection of various memorabilia for an excellent cause, the American Red Cross' relief effort in earthquake-stricken Haiti.
Honda is caught between a rock and a hard place. Like all of the other manufacturers, Honda has been hit hard by the recession, and is looking to cut costs wherever it can. However, the factory is also desperate for another World Championship, having had only one since Valentino Rossi left the factory in 2004 after winning nine out of the previous ten. The factory has to find a way to win another MotoGP title without breaking the bank.
The way they have selected to marry those two very different objectives is simple yet efficient. As of this season, all of the teams, whether satellite or factory, will be given the same bike. The only difference between the two machines will be the electronics, which control the performance of the bike to a significant degree.
The move marks a huge change in direction for Honda. In previous years, HRC supplied two different specifications of machine: A factory spec RC212V provided to the factory Repsol Honda team and a few selected satellite riders; And a satellite spec for the other satellite teams. The different spec of these machines could be significantly different, with different chassis, engines, fairings and exhaust systems. Even the factory spec machines were not identical, the Repsol bikes always at least a few iterations ahead of the bikes supplied to satellite rider.
Looking back at the two days of MotoGP testing at Sepang throws up only a few surprises. The Aliens continue to dominate, as ever, and Colin Edwards is still firmly in place as #5. Behind, the top 5, the picture is a little more interesting. Loris Capirossi's strong outing on Thursday shows that the Suzuki can be fast, but the GSV-R has a long history of being outstanding in testing, yet falling short during the season. Whether it's business-as-usual for Suzuki or a breakthrough will have to wait until the first few rounds have been run.
Ben Spies continues his methodical improvement, but with the Texan complaining of jet lag and telling reporters that he is still very much just learning, he should soon be edging Colin Edwards out of 5th spot and closing on the top 4. Spies is holding station with Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian improving but still looking for more pace.