The upcoming MotoGP round at Aragon looks like being another busy week for official announcements. Press officers representing Dorna, the FIM and the teams will have their hands full managing the stream of news expected to come in Spain.
The two most eagerly awaited announcements are the MotoGP calendar, and the Moto2 and Moto3 rider line ups, in that order. The MotoGP calendar is almost certain to feature 19 races, and look very similar to the 2014 calendar, with the addition of Brazil, and the moving of the British Grand Prix from Silverstone to Donington. As usual, the season will kick off in Qatar, the Losail circuit paying a premium for the privilege.
The Qatar race had been expected to be run on 22nd March, that date coming a week after the F1 season opener in Australia, and a week before the second F1 race of the season at Sepang. However, it looks like MotoGP will be moved back a week to the 29th, as the 22nd of March sees the two biggest clubs in Spanish soccer face off, with Real Madrid set to meet Barcelona at the Camp Nou stadium on that Sunday night. While MotoGP is massive in Spain, it is still dwarved by the interest in soccer, and TV audiences will suffer. Moving to the 29th would mean running on the same weekend as F1, but the late evening slot for the race means there would be no overlap between the races.
Misano was the stage for a flurry of negotiating among riders, though much of it was dependent on the fate of Scott Redding. As was previously the case with Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow, Redding was proving pivotal in which seats would be available. With Redding now firmly ensconced in the Marc VDS Racing team for the next two years, the other seats can start to fill up.
Below is a list of all of the seats currently filled and available in MotoGP, with notes on individual contracts and speculation on who could fill the empty seats. PBM has sold its grid slots to IRTA, who will be selling them to Suzuki. The IODA team have made no announcement on their future, but they seem unlikely to continue, given the dearth of funding for the project. The grid as it stands consists of 24 bikes, two more than IRTA's target of 22. All 24 will get a start, but the grid slots with the worst record at the end of 2015 will lose their IRTA travel allowance.
Here's the state of play so far:
It would be fair to say that Sunday at Misano turned into a perfect Italian fairy story. After being forced to sit through two renditions of the Spanish national anthem after the Moto3 and Moto2 races, the Italian fans were finally able to bellow along with Il Canto degli Italiani, or the Song of the Italians, at the end of the MotoGP race. Valentino Rossi took his eighty-first victory in MotoGP in front of a crowd awash with yellow #46 banners, at the track just a few miles from his home. It was Rossi's first victory since Assen last year, and his first victory at Misano since 2009.
But the happy ending to the fairy tale was Rossi's win was no fluke, and came with no asterisk attached. There were no riders out through injury, as there were at Assen in 2013. Rossi came to Misano determined to score a good result. His team worked perfectly to give him a competitive bike, improving an already strong set up. The Italian dominated practice, qualified on the front row, and got a strong start. He then chased down his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, beat up Marc Marquez, and drew the Repsol Honda rider into making a mistake.
This was the Valentino Rossi of old, the man that many (myself included) feared had disappeared. He had not. A shoulder injury, two years on the Ducati, and then a year to adapt to the Yamaha had merely left him working out how to go fast again, and get back to winning ways. That Rossi was prepared to suffer through the Ducati years, then put in the long, hard hours of work adapting his style to the new realities of MotoGP, changing his approach, learning new skills and putting them to use on track speaks of the hunger Rossi still has for success. Valentino Rossi is unquestionably one of the most talented riders ever to have swung his leg over a motorcycle. But he owed this victory to far more than his talent. Dedication, hard work, ambition, mental toughness: these were the keys to his win at Misano.
2014 Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Prospect Of A Rossi Win, And Mika Kallio, The Forgotten Man
It looks like we might finally have found a Yamaha track. After Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, Brno, Silverstone, all places which were supposed to favor the Yamaha, but where a Honda won, Misano looks like it could be the place where the reign of Big Red comes to an end. Jorge Lorenzo took his first pole since Motegi last year, Valentino Rossi got on the front row for the first time since Phillip Island last year, and Marc Marquez was off the front row for the first time since Barcelona, 2013. In fact, this is the first time that a Repsol Honda has been missing from the front row of the grid since Valencia 2010. That is a very long time indeed.
Jorge Lorenzo's pole nearly didn't happen. In the first sector of the lap – the tight section through the first five corners – Lorenzo made a couple of mistakes which he feared had cost him a couple of tenths. He thought about pulling in and abandoning the lap, giving it one more shot with a fresh tire if he could change it fast enough. He rejected that idea, then went on to post what he described as an 'unbelievable lap'. His first fast lap had been trumped by Andrea Dovizioso, the Ducati man making clever use of Lorenzo's slipstream. But that first lap had made the Movistar Yamaha rider realize that he was not using the ideal lines. It helped make sure his second exit counted.
While Lorenzo aced qualifying, Valentino Rossi laid down a withering pace in FP4. Fast out of the gate, the Italian's race pace was mid 1'34s in his first run, then low 1'34s in his second. More importantly, his crew made a change to the bike after his first run, which made a big improvement, and allowed him to drop his pace. Rossi described FP4 as 'a great practice', and praised the work his team had done on the bike. "We started well, the bike was good, but we improve a lot," Rossi said.
2014 Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Wet Weather, A Terrible Surface, And A Raft Of Rider Announcements
For anyone on a budget, Misano is one of the cheaper MotoGP rounds to attend. Ticket prices aside, the area has a large amount of tourist accommodation, and the race takes place right at the tail end of the tourist season, when hotel prices are starting to drop. Buses run to and from the circuit from Riccione, making transport to and the track affordable. Misano is a great circuit to go to if you are trying to keep costs to a minimum.
Misano may be a cheap weekend for fans, but it certainly wasn't cheap for the teams in all three classes in MotoGP. The rain-drenched conditions on Friday saw riders crashing left, right, and center, in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. They racked up a grand total of 62 crashes in all three classes, in just a single day. Given that crash damage on Grand Prix machinery tends to start at a minimum of around a thousand euros, going up arithmetically with the severity of the crash and the class the bike is racing in, a conservative estimate of the grand total for repairs on the first day of practice would be enough to pay for a ride in Moto3. Or possibly even on a MotoGP Open class bike.
The cause of those 62 crashes? The water certainly didn't help. Rain fell through the night and all day, leaving the track soaked and standing water on some part of the track. But it wasn't just the water, the surface of the track itself was very poor, and rubber left on the track made braking on the racing line a treacherous affair, riders in all three classes going down as the front locked up. The fact that Bridgestone had started the MotoGP riders off on the harder of the two wet tire options didn't help either. It was an understandable choice: in previous years, when riders have used the softer wet tire, they have ended up being destroyed at Misano. But on a track with standing water to cool the wet tires, tire temperatures were never raised enough for the soft tires to start to show any significant wear. The harder front tire never really reached the temperature at which it started to offer any real grip.
2014 Misano MotoGP Preview: On Honda At A Yamaha Track, Ducati's Test Bonus, And The Redding And Crew Chief Merry-go-round
With Marc Marquez back to winning ways at Silverstone, the Misano round of MotoGP (or to give it its full name, the Gran Premio di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini) is the next venue to host the Marquez MotoGP record demolition steamroller. At Misano, Marquez can equal Mick Doohan's record of twelve wins in a single season, clearing the way for him to break that record at a following round.
What are the odds of him actually achieving that? Misano is a circuit where he has had a great deal of success, having won in 125s and both the Moto2 races he contested here. A mistake during last year's MotoGP race meant he lost ground on the leaders, though he recovered to finish in second. Going by his past record, Marquez is once again favorite to win.
It should not be that simple, however. Misano is what we used to call a Yamaha track: Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have won five of the seven races contested here since MotoGP made a return to the circuit in 2007, after a fourteen year absence. Lorenzo has won the last three in a row at Misano, and took second when Rossi won in 2008 and 2009. This is a circuit which Lorenzo has always gone well at, and after a strong showing at Silverstone, you would expect him to be extremely motivated. "We arrive here in good shape," Lorenzo told the press conference. At Silverstone, his team had done a great job to give him a competitive package, matching tires and set up to make the bike competitive. Lorenzo was aware that his previous record at the track was no guarantee of success. "The past doesn't give you any advantage for this year, so we all start from zero," he said.
Most of the previews of Misano you will read over the coming few days will focus on whether Marc Marquez can match Mick Doohan's record of twelve wins in one season, whether Valentino Rossi can finally get an elusive win in front of his home crowds, and whether the test at Misano last month will give the Ducati riders a better chance of a decent result in Italy. My own preview, once I write it, will likely focus on these issues, and more. But they won't be the most pressing issues at the San Marino round of MotoGP by a long stretch. The fortunes of the major players in the premier class will matter to them and to the fans, but further down pit lane, careers will be saved and dreams will be shattered.
The culprit? The Aragon deadline for entries in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. By the end of this month, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams will have to submit a list of their intended riders for the 2015 season, and pay a deposit. IRTA will then go through the list and finalize the entry list for the two support classes for next season. Though the teams will not be held exactly to the rider line ups they submitted, they have to be credible. Anyone claiming that Marc Marquez has agreed to race for them in both the Moto2 and Moto3 categories next season will have their applications rejected.
With 32 places in each of the two classes, there are a lot of seats up for grabs. But there are more than enough riders to fill those seats many times over. The further up the points standings a rider is, the better his chances of securing a ride for next year, but even then, it is not simple. Scoring points is often not enough: it is whether a rider has scored the number of points expected of him, or in many cases, agreed in the contract they signed.
Silly Season Round Up: The MotoGP Merry-Go-Round, Moto2 And Moto3 Madness, And Guessing At The 2015 Calendar
The period since the MotoGP circus rolled up at Silverstone has been pretty frantic. Almost as soon as the teams and riders arrived in the UK, the negotiations over 2015 and beyond started. The developments around Gresini's impending switch to Aprilia triggered a further round of haggling and fundraising, with several teams and riders trying to cover all the possible permutations of the Honda RC213V becoming available. The submission date for the Moto2 and Moto3 entries intensified the bargaining over rider placements, the field split into those who must pay, and those who will be paid. Time for a quick round up of all that has happened.
The most pressing problem in MotoGP at the moment is the situation around Scott Redding and the Honda RC213V being abandoned by Gresini. Where that bike goes depends on just a single factor: money. Aspar is interested in the bike, but cannot raise the extra money it would cost over and above the cost of a Honda RCV1000R. Marc VDS Racing is in a desperate scramble to find the last 1.9 million euros they need to plug the gap in their budget if they are to move up to MotoGP. LCR Honda could perhaps find the budget to put Redding alongside Cal Crutchlow, and having two British riders would greatly please CWM FX, the British foreign exchange trading firm stepping in as a title sponsor. CWM have already fronted the money for 2015, but would have to increase their sponsorship if LCR were to take a second RC213V.
The Gresini/Redding situation has repercussions elsewhere. Until Redding finalizes where he will be riding in 2015, Ducati will be holding open the seat at Pramac, complete with full factory backing. Redding's priority is to be riding a Honda RC213V, but if that plan falls through, then there are worse options than a factory-backed Desmosedici GP15. The Ducati is very much his second choice, however: if you had to choose between the bike being ridden by the current world champion, and a machine which hasn't been built yet, which, Ducati management assures everyone, promises to be better than the bike it replaces, a bike which hasn't won a race since 2010, then the time taken to make your decision would be measured in nanoseconds.
2014 Silverstone MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Three Great Races, A Fast Ducati, And A Tough Home Round For British Riders
The crowds at Silverstone certainly got their money's worth at this year's British Grand Prix. The weather turned, the sun shone, the temperature rose and the fans were treated to three scintillating races, along with an action-packed support program. The Moto3 race was the usual nail-biter, the race only decided on the entry to the final complex at Brooklands and Luffield. The Moto2 race was a throwback to the thrillers of old, with three men battling for victory to the wire. And the MotoGP was a replay of the 2013 Silverstone race, a duel decided by raw aggression.
That the MotoGP race should be so close was a surprise. After Friday practice, Marc Marquez looked to already have the race in the bag. The championship leader was fast right out of the box, setting a pace no one else could follow. Where the rest complained of a lack of grip from the cold conditions, and of struggling with the bumps created by F1, Marquez simply blew everyone away. A night of hard work figuring out set up solutions by crew and suspension technicians saw most riders greatly up the pace on Saturday, the front end now riding over the bumps, rather than being jolted around by them. Marquez still took pole, but the pace in FP4 looked much closer.
The concerns which the Yamahas had was mostly temperature, and so a bright, sunny day was exactly what they needed. It completed the transformation of Jorge Lorenzo from Friday. The tire brought by Bridgestone – the same compound as last year, but with the heat treatment layer which makes the edge of the tire a fraction stiffer – was not working for the Movistar Yamaha rider on Friday, but come Sunday, Lorenzo's crew had solved nearly all of his problems. "We improved the bike so much from Friday," he said after the race. They had found more corner speed during the morning warm up, and that gave Lorenzo the chance to fight. Once the lights dropped, Lorenzo took off like a scalded cat and tried to make a break from the front.
It has been a long, hard weekend of negotiating in the paddock at Silverstone for a number of team managers. Especially for everyone involved in the situation revolving around the Go&Fun Gresini team, and the rider they have a contract with for 2015, Scott Redding. Meetings have been held with factories, team managers, riders and sponsors, in a bid to get everything back on track for next year.
At the core of the problem lies the impending loss of title sponsor Go&Fun by Gresini. Without the money the Italian energy drink firm brings in, Gresini can no longer afford the factory option Honda RC213V it leases from HRC. Without an RC213V, Redding will not ride for Gresini. And without bikes from Honda, Gresini will have to find another way of surviving in MotoGP.
Silverstone was the deadline HRC had given Gresini to tell them whether he would be racing with Honda next year. If Gresini could not afford the RC213V, this would give Honda the time to find an alternative slot for the bike. Rumors that Gresini would not be able to afford the bike had started a flurry of activity, both rumored and real, among other teams and factories. If an RC213V were to become available, there were teams who were willing to snap it up. If Redding were to become available, there were teams and factories who were keen to see him on their bikes.