Analysis

2018 Qatar MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Making A Weird Weekend Even Weirder

Qatar is always a strange place to kick off the MotoGP season: a windswept circuit in the middle of the desert (though not for long, as the suburbs of Doha are rapidly approaching the track), racing under the floodlights, around a circuit with just a single grandstand a VIP pavilion. It is an odd location with a weird atmosphere. The race feels surreal, part of a science fiction spectacular, an impression reinforced as you drive back to Doha afterwards, the huge Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers awash with ever-shifting patterns of blinking lights.

You would think that the season opener couldn't get much odder, but series organizer Dorna has found a way. In response to complaints of dew forming after 9pm in the evening, rendering the track treacherous (and incidentally, buying room to run the race later at night should a rain shower threaten to upset the apple cart), the race times have been shifted. MotoGP is now the only class that runs in the dark, with FP2, qualifying, and the race all taking place after sunset. Moto2 and Moto3 will both practice and race during daytime.

The unfortunate side effect to the new schedule is that MotoGP now has two radically different sets of conditions. FP1, FP3, and Warm Up all take place around 3pm, when the sun is still hot and the track is scorching. FP2, FP4, qualifying, and the race all take place after dark, once air and track temperatures have dropped by a significant margin. It is not quite as bad as Moto2, however: the intermediate class holds FP2 and qualifying after dark, but will race at 5:20pm, 25 minutes before sunset. They will start the race in sunlight, finish it in the dark, and heaven knows what the difference in track temperatures will be between the start and the end of the race.

Back to top

The Comprehensive, Cover-All-The-Bases 2018 MotoGP Preview: Yes, It's A New Golden Age

It seems safe to say we are living in a new Golden Age of MotoGP. The stomach-churning tension of 2015 was followed by an unimaginably wild 2016 season, the racing turned on its head by the combination of Michelin's first season back in MotoGP and the switch to fully spec Magneti Marelli electronics. 2017 saw the surprises keep on coming, with new and unexpected names such as Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco becoming serious factors in the premier class. The field got deeper, the bikes more competitive, domination a thing of the past.

All the signs are that this trend is going to continue in 2018. Preseason testing has shown that there is now little to choose between four or maybe five of the six different manufacturers on the grid, while the sixth is not that far off being competitive as well. Where we once regarded having four riders capable of winning a race as a luxury, now there are ten or more potential winners lining up on a Sunday. This is going to be another thrilling season, with the title likely to go down to the wire once again.

Once upon a time, winning a championship meant being on a factory Honda or Yamaha. The balance between the two bikes shifted from year to year, as one of the two would find an incremental improvement the other couldn't match. One year, Honda would find more top speed which the Yamaha couldn't compensate for. The next, Yamaha would add stability on the brakes, which allow its riders to match the Honda going into the corner, then leave it for dead on the way out. It was a game of small steps, the championship swinging one way then the other.

Back to top

Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

Back to top

Carmelo Ezpeleta's Grand Plan, Or The Long History Behind Tech3's Switch To KTM

Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3's decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making. If MotoGP hadn't switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn't been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn't collapsed under the weight of tranches of "ninja" loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not.

How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century. Through the last 1990s, the popularity of Grand Prix racing was waning, while the World Superbike series went from strength to strength. The manufacturers were losing interest in the 500cc class, as two strokes were gradually disappearing from the road.

Big bore four strokes were the flavor of the month among motorcycle buyers, and the factories were investing less and less in their two stroke racers. The manufacturers expressed an interest in racing four strokes in the premier class, and Dorna sketched out a contract with the MSMA, the organization representing the manufacturers, and MotoGP was born.

Back to top

Michelin To Bring Stability To Tire Allocations For 2018, Says Piero Taramasso

Michelin's return to the MotoGP paddock has been nothing if not eventful. Since taking over from Bridgestone as official tire supplier to MotoGP, Michelin has had both spectacular success and highly visible failure. Lap records (and more importantly to Michelin, race time records) have been broken, but there have also been delaminating tires, compulsory pit stops, and at the start of their time, a lot of crashes as the riders, teams, and Michelin all struggled with the front tire.

It is hardly surprising that the first two years of Michelin's return did not go entirely to plan. Having been out of MotoGP since 2009, it was predictable that Michelin would run into unexpected problems. The spate of front end crashes which marred the first Valencia test was quickly remedied as riders learned to fathom the different nature of the Michelins, teams adapted the geometry of the bikes, and Michelin changed the profile of the front tire to improve the contact patch. The extreme tire wear was dealt with by using harder compounds, which Michelin then slowly adjusted back in search of the right balance.

By the end of their second year in the class, Michelin had a much better understanding of the demands of MotoGP, and tires had become much less of a talking point. That is something of a double-edged sword according to Piero Taramasso, head of Two-Wheel Motorsport for Michelin. "We want people to speak about the tires, but in a good way," Taramasso joked to reporters on the final day of the Qatar test. "But I know this is not the case, I know that when we do well, nobody speaks about the tires, when something goes wrong, everybody speaks about the tires, this is the way it is since forever."

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: The Fast, The Slow, And Learning By Crashing

The phony war is finally over. The last MotoGP test has finished, with riders completing their final day of testing at Qatar. The next time the MotoGP grid assembles, it will be for something of real value: race wins, and world championship points.

Did the last day of the test offer any clear indications as to what might happen in two weeks' time? Plenty, though they were as confusing as all of testing has been this year. Johann Zarco managed to be both blisteringly fast and worryingly slow simultaneously. Danilo Petrucci managed to do exactly the same, though in a diametrically opposite manner. Valentino Rossi managed to impress both in terms of race pace and a single fast lap, but he was still worried whether his pace would last race distance. Maverick Viñales was terrible for the first six hours of the test, then brilliant in the last forty minutes, after basically wasting a day and a half.

Underneath the surface drama, the two biggest winners of the preseason just got on with their work. Their headline times were great but not breathtaking, but the race pace of Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez was impressive. They reinforced their status as the title favorites going into the first race of the season through sheer consistency. While others raced up and down the timesheets like hyperactive kittens from day to day and hour to hour, Márquez and Dovizioso were always there or thereabouts, just getting on with business.

There were others, too. Cal Crutchlow has been repaying HRC's faith, especially with a phenomenal long run on Saturday. Alex Rins has shown every sign of growing into the rider we thought he could be. Rins' Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone (absent due to illness on Saturday) may have been quicker, but Rins has shown the kind of consistency that puts him in the top five just about everywhere he goes.

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Marc Marquez Moves The Markers, Tires Matter, MotoGP More Art Than Science

There is a peculiar type of athlete mathematics. It involves a failure to grasp the concept of percentages, leading to elite athletes promising to give "110%", or sometimes even "1000%". Logic dictates that an athlete putting 100% of their effort and reserves into an activity would lead them to collapse and die of exhaustion as they crossed the line. That would deny them the joy of victory, but more importantly, it would drastically curtail an athlete's career to just a single event, making it a rather fruitless avenue to pursue.

Of course, what they actually mean when they talk of giving 110% is of course making the maximum effort to achieve a goal. Some, commendably, refrain from mathematic hyperbole, sticking to the 100% maxim. Marc Márquez belongs to this group, speaking of giving 100% during practice and races.

A case can be made that Marc Márquez is the rider who most closely approaches 100% while riding. The list of legendary saves the Repsol Honda rider has chalked up at tests and races seems to grow every time he gets on the bike. Of course, he gets plenty of chances to practice: Márquez had 27 crashes in 2017, second only to Sam Lowes. Respected motorcycle guru Kevin Cameron believes that Márquez' saves are not saves, but actually the result of a technique he studies. With every monster save Márquez manages, that gets harder to argue with.

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Another Chapter In Silly Season, And Yamaha's (Un)surprising Speed

The Qatar MotoGP test may be the moment of truth for the factories and riders, but the most important things we learned from the first day of the test were unrelated to the action on track, or perhaps even the 2018 season. The biggest news of the day came when Valentino Rossi spoke to the press, telling Italian media that he is close to signing on with the Movistar Yamaha team for another two years, meaning he will race in 2019 and 2020.

Rossi's revelation came in response to a question about whether the Sky VR46 team would be taking over the satellite Yamahas to be vacated by Tech3 from 2019. "Firstly, I didn't expect Poncharal to leave Yamaha," Rossi said. "So we considered possibly having a team in MotoGP. It would have been great opportunity, but we won't do it. For the next two years we won't do it, also because it's very likely I'll be racing. I see it as a possibility for the future, once I've stopped but not in 2019 or 2020."

Those are a remarkably information-dense couple of sentences. Firstly, Rossi acknowledges that he is close to signing a contract extension with Yamaha for two more seasons. This is hardly news – he was half expected to sign a new deal at the Sepang test, but it looks likely that any new deal will be done before the season starts. Secondly, he admits that the Sky VR46 Racing Team is interested in having a team in MotoGP. Again, this is hardly earth-shattering news.

Back to top

2018 Qatar MotoGP Test Preview: One Last Chance To Get It Right

The last test of the preseason is something of a moment of truth for the MotoGP factories. From the tropical heat of Malaysia and Thailand, the paddock heads to the Arabian peninsula, and cool desert evenings of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. Air temperatures start in the mid 20s°C rather than the mid 30s°C, and drop into the high teens heading into the evening. That temperature difference means that air density is a couple of percent higher at Qatar. That in turn means more oxygen going into the engine, and better combustion efficiency.

Translating all that from vague engineering platitudes into real-world racing, colder air means more power all the way through the rev range. Engines run better, pick up more aggressively, and pull harder flat out in the cool Qatari evenings than in Sepang's punishing tropical heat. An engine that seemed docile in Sepang suddenly feels aggressive at Losail. An engine which was just about manageable in Thailand is a barely controllable beast in Qatar. And with just two weeks to go before the start of the 2018 MotoGP season, it's too late to fix the problem. Riders are left wrestling a wild bull for the rest of the year.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of Honda's past couple of seasons. Engines which seemed OK at Sepang suddenly turned out to be much tougher to handle at Qatar, and as a consequence, the tighter European tracks, racing on days when air temperatures struggled to get out of the teens. It was the story of Suzuki last year, who woefully misjudged their engine at the beginning of the season, a decision made more difficult by have two new riders on the bike.

Will it happen again? The Qatar test should at least provide a pointer or two to just where each of the factories stand with their engines. Though riders may try to be noncommittal about their engines, not wanting to tip their hands ahead of the upcoming seasons, there may perhaps be clues in their words, or perhaps the consistency of the different riders on the same bike. Testing isn't racing, of course, and the proof of the pudding only comes on Sundays in MotoGP. But we might get a hint.

Back to top

2018 Phillip Island WorldSBK: What we saw in Australia - A recap of Phillip Island

The opening round of the 2018 WorldSBK season is in the books and certainly provided us with plenty of excitement and plenty to talk about.

New schedule:

The 2018 season will see three free practice sessions on Fridays, and from the outset we saw the benefit of this schedule. In the past, if a rider crashed or had a technical problem on Friday it severely hampered their weekend. Any time lost was magnified because you could easily lose 60 minutes of track time. The new schedule sees three 40 minute session, to ensure the riders have the same amount track time. A crash on his out lap in FP2 saw Alex Lowes miss the entire session and while the loss of track time hampered the Englishman, getting out in FP3 allowed him to set a time good enough for entry into Superpole 2. The schedule will also allow riders to use Friday afternoon for a race simulation, whereas in the past this was harder to achieve.

Back to top

Pages