So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears. Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition. The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.
You didn't even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.
Crunching the numbers, it looks like this isn't the quite the same version of the seamless transmission tested at Brno back at the beginning of August. Based on footage collected at the trackside back then, gear shifts were taking on average 0.016 seconds. A quick sample of the sound clips taken this morning reveals shifts have gotten faster, the average coming in at 0.011 seconds, with most hitting 0.010 or thereabouts. That is just two thousandths off the speed of the Hondas, which where coming in at 0.009 at the Jerez test before the start of the season. Yamaha may have delayed the introduction of their (ludicrously expensive, like Honda's) seamless gearbox, but it is well worth the wait. Yamaha have done it right.
Both Rossi and Lorenzo were delighted with the gearbox after practice, Lorenzo telling the press he was 'very, very happy' with it, and Rossi echoing those sentiments. Lorenzo once again reiterated that in a straight line, acceleration and upshifts were like riding a scooter. Rossi corroborated that, saying that although the gearbox would probably not help on a single fast lap time, it was much less demanding to ride overall. 'I think is not a big improvement about lap time, about the top performance for one lap, but it is more stable in acceleration and the ride is less demanding. You can concentrate more on the line and try to take the bike more to the limit,' Rossi said. 'The bike is more easy to ride, and in acceleration, you can put the bike more precisely where you want for the next corner,' he added. Was the plan to use the gearbox for the rest of the weekend? 'The plan now is to use the gearbox for always. Or until a better one comes along!' Rossi said.
What was notable was not just the positive reception the gearbox got from the factory Yamaha riders, but also the effect it appeared to have on their demeanor. Though Jorge Lorenzo was clearly happy, he denied it was an extra motivation. 'I am always 100% motivated,' Lorenzo said, so it was hard to be more. But Valentino Rossi seemed positively energized. The Italian was closer to the front than he has been for several races, and was obviously raring to go. Having the new gearbox at his home race (the Misano circuit is almost in his back yard) added an extra motivation to the Italian, allowing him to grab 3rd spot in FP2, finishing ahead of his teammate for the first time in a long time. He feels he can compete, and it shows in both his body language, and on the timesheets.
Has the appearance of Yamaha's seamless gearbox effected their rivals, the Repsol Honda men? Both Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa denied it. He was not worried about Yamaha's seamless gearbox, Marquez affirmed, before enquiring fervently whether Yamaha had actually used it. The effect it had on their mental state may be questionable, it certainly did not slow either Marquez or Pedrosa down. Marquez dominated the morning session, then topped the afternoon session as well, though teammate Pedrosa got to with a few hundredths of his best time.
Marquez was clearly back to full strength, the Spaniard insisting that his shoulder was almost 100%, and that it certainly wasn't going to be an excuse this weekend. His approach to the race certainly seemed to suggest he would not be needing any excuses, going out and trying to dominate from the start. That approach had drawn some mild criticism from the man he replaced at Repsol Honda. In a recent interview with the Italian magazine Motosprint, Casey Stoner said he felt Marquez was not paying sufficient respect to his rivals. 'Sometimes it looks like he is trying to humiliate them,' Stoner told Motosprint. The irony of Stoner making such a statement is not lost on those who remember the Australian going out and doing exactly the same thing.
Yamaha are not the only team to have brought something new to Misano. Ducati are also present, this time with a brand new exhaust system. Designed and built by Akrapovic, the new exhaust is markedly different from the former, Termignoni-branded item. The new exhaust was quieter, and featured a smaller internal diameter. Weight distribution had been improved, although both Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso denied they noticed much difference in handling. The biggest difference was in the noise, especially on closed throttle entering corners. Some places, Dovizioso explained, the noise was so loud it made it hard to concentrate, making it physically more difficult to ride the bike purely because of the vicious and deafening rasp from behind.
The narrower pipe diameter should also help the driveability of the Ducati. More midrange and less focus on top end should be good for the Ducati. But it is clearly not the magic bullet Ducati riders dream of. It is, once again, a small step in the right direction, making the bike a little bit easier to ride. The gap is still huge, as laid out by Andrea Dovizioso. His aim was to have a race pace under 1'35 a lap, he said. The problem was that race pace for the front men looks like being under 1'34 a lap, a second or more close. There is still a lot to do.
Finally, the FIM today announced the sanction imposed on Dani Rivas, who caused a crash at Silverstone by spending his time arguing with another rider, and not looking where he was going. He crashed into the back of Steven Odendaal, breaking bones in the South African's foot. Rivas will be forced to sit out two full races in addition to Misano, which he is missing due to the injury he suffered in the crash. Rivas' two-race ban will take effect from the next race at Aragon, and will see him miss Sepang as well.
Rivas' two-race suspension gave much pause for thought. Two years ago, at Phillip Island in 2011, in a similar incident, Marc Marquez had rammed into the back of Ratthapark Wilairot at high speed, as Wilairot was cruising around the track after the flag had been waved to signal the end of the session. Marquez knew he was no longer on a hot race track, with riders focused on setting the fastest time possible, yet he continued to lap at very high speed, as he had been asked to by his team. Marquez, however, was penalized by having a minute added to his qualifying time, putting the Spaniard on the back of the grid. Rivas, for a similarly dangerous violation of the rules of behavior after the end of a session, was handed down a two-race ban.
When confronted with the discrepancy, Marquez was at pains to point out that he believed the two incidents were not the same. 'I think it was a little bit different,' Marquez said. 'On the lap in Australia, yes I was fast, but also Wilairot was so slow on the line, was with first gear. So it was my mistake, but it was also his mistake, because OK, it is the finish lap, but you cannot go with first gear round all the circuit. And Dani Rivas was completely different. You know that there they practice the start, and he was talking with another rider, so that is dangerous. In the end, Race Direction take that decision, maybe one race was enough, but it was a dangerous moment for all the riders, because in the end he touched just two or three riders, but there were many riders there.'
While the decision reeks of class justice - it is easy to hand Dani Rivas, who plays no real role in the championship, a two-race ban, whereas punishing a championship contender would cause a lot more trouble, and create a lot more protest - the penalty imposed is also perhaps the sign of the new Race Direction signaling a change of direction. The penalty on Rivas, as well as the penalty points for Marquez for his crash at Silverstone, caused when still pushing hard as yellow flags were being waved, look more like Mike Webb seizing the opportunity offered him by the new points system to make a point: dangerous riding simply will not be tolerated, unlike before. The penalty on Marquez had been imposed under the former Race Director Paul Butler, who retired at the end of 2011. Mike Webb wants to take MotoGP in a slightly different direction, and looks to be imposing stiffer penalties. Despite that, some feel that Marquez deserved more of a punishment for his behavior at Silverstone. The trouble is, it would be a very brave man who would impose a one-race ban on Marc Marquez, as the young Spaniard is widely regarded as the savior of MotoGP, and the darling of Dorna and the Spanish media and fans. And with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta's right hand man Javier Alonso also part of Race Direction, pushing through tougher penalties may be tougher than it seems. We shall see how this story develops over the next few months.