With so much happening at the front of all three races at Silverstone last Sunday, it is easy to overlook the battles behind. Especially when those battles seem to be falling into a fixed pattern, repeating the results of previous races. A glance at the results of the MotoGP race Silverstone gives you a sense of deja vu. While the top three swapped places, positions four to six were identical to their finishes at Brno, places seven to nine differed only in the riders who crashed out, and Aleix Espargaro took tenth spot, as he did in the Czech Republic. A pattern is definitely starting to form here.
The biggest victim of that pattern is probably Valentino Rossi. Finishing fourth for the third race in a row is frustrating. Battling for fourth with Alvaro Bautista for the third race in a row is even more frustrating. Finish over ten seconds off the leaders for the third race in a row is positively depressing. 'It's like arriving at a party and not being invited in,' Rossi joked afterwards.
The problem is the early part of the race. Rossi lost nearly four seconds in the first four laps, and by the halfway mark, the Italian was over seven seconds behind the leaders. Where Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez are at full speed right from the start, Rossi struggles to match their pace. As the race goes on, Rossi's pace gets closer to that of the front men, but by then, the gap to the front is simply too large. The factory Yamaha man continues to struggle with braking, his problems still not completely solved, and until then, racing at the front is difficult. 'We need another step,' Rossi told reporters.
What Yamaha needs is either the new seamless gearbox or an uprated chassis to help with braking stability, and all four Yamaha men need the help in that area. Even Jorge Lorenzo, who held off Marc Marquez in a heroic battle at the front, is starting to plead with Yamaha for help. His team manager Wilco Zeelenberg refused to pick one development over the other. Asked if he'd prefer help with braking over the seamless gearbox, he replied: 'whatever comes first.' There is still no ETA on the seamless gearbox, though if it is to come, it should arrive at the Misano test. Until then, Rossi looks set to extend his string of fourth places, while Lorenzo will continue to struggle to hold off Marquez and Pedrosa.
While Rossi was disappointed with fourth, Alvaro Bautista was happy with fifth place. The Go&Fun Gresini rider has made a step in the second half of the season, and has now consistently found a spot in the second group. Bautista's work developing the Nissin/Showa combo is starting to come together, and while the gap to the leaders is still large, it is not as big as it has been previously.
While Bautista has gone forward, Stefan Bradl has gone backwards. The German put on a brilliant display at Laguna Seca, following on from a strong race at the Sachsenring, but at Indianapolis, he was once gain nearly 25 seconds behind the leaders. He still has the speed over a single lap, as witnessed by his fourth spot on the grid at Silverstone, and his frequent strong showings in practice, but over a full race, Bradl is losing out. At Silverstone, the problem was corner speed, as it had been at Brno. A lack of edge grip at full lean left him spinning the rear, rather than driving out of the corner, and a sixth was all that Bradl could manage.
While Rossi, Bautista, Bradl for the second group - Cal Crutchlow oscillates between closing on the leaders and dropping back into that second group, when he hasn't crashed out of the race - the Ducatis continue to fight a battle of their own, even further behind. The frustration at the lack of progress is showing, with even team manager Vitto Guareschi commenting that the bike is simply too slow. 'We are one second behind,' he said at Silverstone, and that deficit is not getting better fast. Andrea Dovizioso crashed out of eighth place, and was at a loss to explain what happened. He did not feel he had done much wrong, he said. 'It is hard to call it a mistake,' Dovizioso said. 'I was just right on the limit.' That the limit on the Ducati is harder to feel is obvious, the front still not giving much feedback.
At least the new engine spec is something of an improvement. The new engine is slightly more responsive, offering the riders a little more control. Dovizioso explained that it helped cure the pumping of the rear suspension, by allowing the rear tire to spin up more controllably, and also helping to get the bike turned, albeit only marginally. There is still an awful lot of work to do, but at least some of that work is happening. Most of the work, however, is invisible, and involves internal changes in working procedures at Ducati Corse. Now that Warren Willing is getting more and more involved, ideas are being pushed at Ducati, but these will take some time to come through. A genuinely new bike is likely only to appear at the Sepang tests in early February next year.
Aleix Espargaro is continuing to rip up the CRT class, finishing 10th once again and extending his lead in the CRT standings. His success is two-edged sword, however, as ending as best CRT rider will automatically extend his stay at Aspar. While staying with his team for another year would be a good thing, Espargaro is being tempted by the offer of a Yamaha at Forward. More power and a proven chassis (at least until FTR get their version of the chassis finished) would give him a better chance to match the satellite riders, though the big question mark hangs over the development of the spec ECU software. While the ECU hardware is outstanding, software updates from Magneti Marelli have been slow in coming.
Aprilia, meanwhile, look set to continue as a non-MSMA entry - or as they will be known next year, a MotoGP entry, without the factory option. The Italian factory will bring a completely new bike for next year, with pneumatic valves, revised engine spec and, so rumor has it, a version of the seamless gearbox. The engine will be fitted to a new chassis with new aerodynamics, but the restrictively tight limit of 20 liters of fuel is preventing Aprilia from making the switch to a factory option bike, and keeping the use of their own software.