Analysis

Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Yamahas And Suzukis vs Hondas and Ducatis - The Battle For Assen

Is there still such a thing as a Honda track, a Yamaha track, or a Ducati track (or even a Suzuki track)? Once upon a time, it seemed like there was. MotoGP would go to Indianapolis, and you knew that a Honda would win. Go to Mugello, and chances are, a Yamaha would emerge victorious.

In the press room, we would spend hours trying to decipher why one bike or another would win at a particular track. Was it temperature which counted? We suspected that, but then a Yamaha or a Honda would win at a cold track one week, and a hot track the next. Was it the layout or the type of corner that mattered? Hondas dominated the stop-and-go layout of Motegi, and then got destroyed by the Yamahas at the stop-and-go layout of Le Mans. In the end, we figured it all came down to grip: in low grip conditions, the Hondas were quick; when there was plenty of grip, the Yamahas were unbeatable.

That disappeared in recent years, killed by the technical developments which led up to the switch to Michelin tires. 1000cc engines, spec electronics, and the regulations which have seen the bikes grow ever closer in performance. With the differences between the machines so small, other factors had a greater impact on results than just the character of the bike. No longer can you predict a winner based on which bike they are on.

Character matters

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Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: Lorenzo, Confidence Loss, And A New Surface

It has been a bad few weeks for Jorge Lorenzo. During the Barcelona race, he lost the front and wiped out three of his rivals (or rather, three of Marc Márquez' rivals), Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi. The next day at the test, on an out lap, he launched the bike at Turn 9, suffering a huge crash and causing himself a lot of pain.

Eleven days later, and a relatively normal crash in Assen saw him bang himself up very badly. Lorenzo lost the front going into the fast left at Ruskenhoek during FP1, not an uncommon occurrence. The problem was he was doing over 200 km/h, so when he hit the gravel he started to tumble, not quite ragdolling through the stones, banging his chest and his back as he went.

The consequence of the crash is severe. So severe, it forced Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig to have to talk to the media, something Puig tries to avoid as much as possible (and being team manager means he can avoid it an awful lot). "Basically I am here to explain about his condition," Puig said. "Normally I am never here. So I am just here to tell you the situation…and probably you already know. So I will re-confirm."

Explaining the crash

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Assen MotoGP Preview: Worshipping At The Cathedral Of Speed

Four weeks after press releases full of rolling Tuscan hills, the cliché machine is running out release after release containing the phrase "The Cathedral of Speed". There are of course good reasons to employ a cliché (and press releases usually benefit from trite language, as their objective is to promote the team and its sponsors, rather than the literary skills of press officers), but to call Assen the Cathedral of Speed is to raise the question of whether it still really deserves that moniker.

Much has changed since the first ever Dutch TT in 1925. The first thing that changed was the very next year, in 1926. The first circuit ran over public roads between the villages of Rolde, Borger, and Schoonloo, but the council in Borger refused to pave one of the sand roads on the original course. So in 1926, the race was moved to Assen, run between the villages of De Haar, Hooghalen, and Laaghalerveen to the south of the city of Assen.

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Barcelona MotoGP Race Round Up: The Roll Of The Dice

Luck has always played a role in racing. Sometimes the rain falls just after you set pole position. Sometimes your main rival has a technical problem at a track where you knew they would beat you. Sometimes the rider ahead makes the smallest mistake and opens up the perfect gap for you to aim through. Things happen over which you have no control, and you have to hope the dice will roll in your favor.

Perhaps you can load the dice a little, sometimes. Bear in mind the saying attributed to golfing legend Gary Player: "the more I practice, the luckier I get." Luck can be made, on occasion, opportunity recognized and seized. If you tackle the conditions you find, rather than the conditions you wish you had, you at least have a chance.

Conditions at Barcelona put everyone on the back foot. Temperatures rose from relatively cool to typically scorching, after a week of heavy rain. That rain brought down the dust and sand blown north from the Sahara by the Sirocco winds, leaving the track dirty and green. No grip and constantly changing conditions made consistency an illusion. Finding the right race tire was more guesswork than science, Sunday morning warm up being critical. The Barcelona race looked to be a lottery.

Off balance

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Silverstone's New Surface: Precision Engineering To Ensure Racing In The Rain

The 2018 British Grand Prix at Silverstone was a miserable affair from every possible perspective. On Friday, the riders complained bitterly about the bumps which had appeared, despite the track having been resurfaced over the winter, a complaint which echoed the Formula 1 drivers, who had raced there several weeks earlier.

On Saturday, in a downpour, several riders crashed at the end of Hangar Straight, including Tito Rabat. Unfortunately for Rabat, Franco Morbidelli crashed immediately after him, his bike slamming into Rabat and shattering the Avintia Ducati rider's leg. Rabat would face a very long recovery to come back from such a severe injury.

Things got worse on Sunday. Heavy rain drenched the track after warm up, and continued steadily throughout the day. Mindful of Rabat's accident, and the fact that there was standing water at several points on the track, the racing was delayed in the hopes of better weather. When better weather didn't arrive, it was called off altogether.

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The Comprehensive Barcelona MotoGP Test Round Up: New Frames, New Aero, And Usable Updates For Assen

The Monday post-race MotoGP test in Barcelona felt unusually important, unusually busy, even unusually productive. It seemed like a lot of manufacturers had brought a lot of parts to test, more than just the usual electronics updates, setup tweaks, minor component updates. There were new frames, exhausts, fairings, and even a selection of tires for the riders to test.

Conditions were perfect: hot, sunny, dry, almost identical to conditions on Sunday, making the work of testing easier. A little too easy, perhaps: with a layer of Michelin rubber on the track, the grip was outstanding, far better than it was during the weekend. The nature of the surface at Barcelona is also such that it takes rubber easily. Which is not necessarily the blessing it may seem.

"This morning was very, very fast," Valentino Rossi said. "Until 12:30 you can make a very good lap time. In the afternoon it was hotter, for sure. But it looks like the track is better than yesterday, especially at the end."

The siren call of good grip

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Barcelona MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Crash That Changed The Championship, And Hope For Yamaha Yet

On Saturday night, I wrote that it was impossible to make sense of the times set in practice, to judge who had pace and who didn't, who could be fast for the full length of the race, and who could only be quick for a few laps. There were too many confusing factors: different riders running different tires at different times. Distilling that into a clear picture of what might happen was impossible.

I was right: it turned out to be impossible to predict how the race would turn out. But I was not right because of some great skill in reading between the lines of the timesheets. I was right because of something I had completely overlooked. Sometimes, weird stuff happens and throws everything into disarray. A wildcard, a joker, and any predictions you might have made go right out of the window.

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Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Chaotic Conditions Cause Confusion - Pick A Winner From That

It has been a strange weekend so far in Barcelona, with changing conditions once again the culprit. First, there was the heavy rain on Wednesday and Thursday, which left the track coated in fine sand and dust blown in from the Sahara. Then there is the rapidly changing weather: temperatures have been rising rapidly every day, with track temperatures 10°C higher on Saturday than they had been on Friday, with a similar increase expected again on Sunday. Track temperatures for the race are expected to be well over 50°C, spelling disaster for grip levels.

Completing the trifecta of problems, the Moto2 race is likely to leave a thick layer of Dunlop rubber on the surface, which will make grip levels even more unpredictable. "After Moto2, it will be worse," Michelin's Two Wheel Motorsports manager Piero Taramasso predicted on Saturday evening. "Many times this problem happens when you have aggressive asphalt, which is the case here, and on a track in very hot conditions, which is also the case. So I think that tomorrow after the Moto2 race, the conditions will be not as good as we would like."

Another day of track action and the running of the Moto2 race may help sweep some of the dust and sand from the track, but the rubber the Moto2 bikes leave behind in the forecast hot and humid conditions will leave the surface greasy and without grip. "The track will be cleaner, but without Michelin rubber on the track," Taramasso said. One step forward, two steps back.

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Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: New Parts, Seen And Unseen, And No Grip

Why are the MotoGP bikes so much slower at Barcelona than last year? In FP1, fastest man Marc Márquez was a second and a quarter slower than Valentino Rossi was in the first session of 2018. Fabio Quartararo, fastest rider in FP2, was 1.2 seconds slower than Jorge Lorenzo was in the same session in 2018. "If you compare to last year, in FP2 somebody did a 1'38 and many riders were able to do a 1'39, but this year, nobody was able to do a 1'39," Takaaki Nakagami wondered. "More or less 1 second slower than last year."

The answer came from the skies. When I walked to my car this morning, I found it covered in thick drops of very fine dust. According to the locals, this is a fine dust carried from sandstorms in the Sahara, 1000km south of Barcelona. Heavy rain earlier in the week, then brief showers overnight, and at the start of the afternoon, left this fine Saharan sand all over the track, making it dusty, and robbing it of grip.

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Barcelona MotoGP Preview: The Home Of MotoGP, Chasing Contracts, And The Value Of Q2

If MotoGP has a home, it is in Barcelona. There are many other places which have a solid claim to that title, of course. The Grand Prix championship was born in the Isle of Man, the 1949 TT being the first event to count towards the motorcycle racing world championship. Freddie Frith won the 350cc class race on 13th of June of that year, the race which kicked off the championship. (Dorna is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the start of the championship this week, so keep an eye out for that). But the Isle of Man hasn't been on the calendar since 1976, the circuit rightly ruled too dangerous to race a Grand Prix at, even by the standards of the 1970s.

If not the Isle of Man, is Britain the home of Grand Prix racing? The UK once provided the bulk of the riders in the championship, and many of the bikes. But British influence has waned, and though the paddock is still full of Brits, especially in organizational capacities, there are just a handful of British riders in the championship, and the Moto2 engines of the British brand Triumph are actually produced in Thailand.

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