Analysis

Valencia MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Premature Conclusions, New Engines And Frames, And Strange Crashes

What conclusions can we draw from the first day of testing for the 2020 season? Not much, other than a lot of factories have brought a lot of new parts. And it really does feel like a lot of new parts, with new chassis for KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, new engines all round, and a host of other bits and pieces in preparation for the new season. New riders, too, with Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona, and Alex Márquez all moving up to MotoGP for 2020.

It is particularly tempting to jump to early conclusions about the rookies. There is a clear pecking order, an easy way of deciding who is adapting quickly, and who is taking their time. By that measure, Iker Lecuona is the man to beat, the Red Bull Tech3 KTM rider finishing just under 1.5 seconds off the leading gaggle of Yamahas at the test. Brad Binder, in the factory Red Bull KTM team, is just under 2.4 seconds behind quickest rider Fabio Quartararo, while the latest addition to the class, Alex Márquez, was last, 2.7 seconds slower than the Petronas Yamaha rider, and nearly 2.2 seconds slower than his brother Marc.

King of the rookies

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Valencia MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: The Dangers Of Racing, And The Season In Miniature

In these subscriber notes:

  • The dangers of motorcycle racing
  • Marc Márquez' remarkable season
  • Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
  • Jack Miller rides again
  • Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
  • What riders think of Johann Zarco
  • Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
  • Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha

The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.

Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.

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Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Alex Marquez, Johann Zarco, And The Madness Of Paddock Rumor

This was supposed to be a quiet weekend. Winding down at the last race of the season, with only the most symbolic of prizes still on the line: the team championship; third overall in MotoGP. But the final round of MotoGP at Valencia has exploded into a frenzy of rabid rumor, wild speculation, and bizarre conspiracy theories.

It all started off with Jorge Lorenzo announcing he would be retiring at the end of 2019. Though the rumor had been floating around the paddock since the summer, it still came as a surprise. The rumor mill had calmed down a little since LCR Honda had first announced that Johann Zarco would be stepping in to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the last three races of the season. There had been a lot of talk of whether that meant Honda would sack Lorenzo, or Lorenzo would leave Honda for another team, with no satisfactory outcome.

Lorenzo's retirement was the sort of surprise which you half expect. After an evening of digesting the idea of MotoGP without Jorge Lorenzo, the hive mind of the paddock turned to thoughts of who might replace the Spaniard. On Friday, it didn't seem like it would be settled any time soon, rumor suggesting that Honda would not make a decision before the Jerez test.

The replacements

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Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Crashes, Impossible Schedules, And An Impressive Debut

Valencia is a fine place to celebrate the end of the MotoGP season. For the vast majority of the paddock it is close to home, at most a couple of hours by airplane, car, or train. It has a fine building in which to host the end of season awards ceremony, the Palacio de Congresos, designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. And it draws a massive crowd, over 100,000 fans turning up on Sunday to watch a race which usually doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, beyond rider pride (and there is little much grander than rider pride).

But it also has its downsides. The track is neatly folded inside a tight little bowl, but at the cost of having a lot of left-hand corners, and only a couple of rights. And with the season at its current length, the race is in mid November, and even when the sun is shining, temperatures can be Baltic, something the winter winds don't do much to help.

Caution is advised in these conditions. With the track temperature in the mid teens, even very soft rubber on the right hand side of the tire is not enough to save you at Turn 4 if you try pushing too hard, too early. As Valentino Rossi found to his cost. In FP1, the Italian entered the first right hander of the circuit a little too fast with a new tire, and found it wasn't quite up to temperature. "Sincerely, I made a mistake, a stupid mistake, because I had the soft front, but I pushed a little bit too much already in the first lap, and I crashed."

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Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Lorenzo's Retirement, Lorenzo's Replacement, And A Track Where Lorenzo Won So Often

It has been a long year in MotoGP. Valencia is full of tired faces, the cold and windy weather a good reflection of the mood of the paddock. The last race of the season should be a festive occasion, but after eighteen races, and the last four overseas, there is little energy or enthusiasm left for the season finale.

Valencia made a fitting backdrop for Jorge Lorenzo's announcement that he would be retiring. It came as a surprise to almost everyone – except for one canny journo who had put a bet back on the Spaniard hanging up his helmet back in August – but it was a move which was widely understood. Spinal and head injuries are the two greatest fears of motorcycle racers, and the fact that Lorenzo came very close to suffering a life-changing injury made it easy to find sympathy for him.

There was respect not just for Lorenzo's choice, but also for the Spaniard's achievements. Until Marc Márquez came along, Lorenzo looked set to go down in history as Spain's greatest ever premier class rider. Even then, he remains the only rider so far to have won a title in the Márquez era. He was a rider whose ability to carry corner speed astounded his rivals, left them befuddled at how he could go so fast through corners without crashing. He leaves MotoGP as the fifth most successful premier class rider, and the sixth most successful rider of all time in all classes.

Hard act to follow

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Jorge Lorenzo Retires From MotoGP - A Career Retrospective

Jorge Lorenzo is set to retire from motorcycle racing. The 32-year-old Spaniard has decided to end his career as a result of the disastrous season at Repsol Honda, hampered by extreme crashes and severe injury, and never having become comfortable on the bike.

"I always thought that there are four significant days for a rider," Lorenzo told a specially convened press conference at Valencia. "The first is you first race, the second your first win and then your first world championship - not everyone can win a world championship but some of us made it – and then the day you retire."

The decision to retire came because he could no longer summon the required energy to continue at the level which was necessary. "Everything started when I was three years old, almost 30 years of complete dedication to my sport," Lorenzo said. "People who work with me know how much of a perfectionist I am, how much energy and intensity I have always put into my sport."

"This level of perfectionism requires a lot of motivation, that is why after nine years at Yamaha – so wonderful, probably the best years that I enjoyed in my career – I felt that I needed a change, if I wanted to keep this full commitment to my sport. That’s why I wanted to move to Ducati, it gave me a big boost of motivation and even though the results were very bad, I used the motivation to not give up and keep fighting until I achieved this beautiful Mugello victory in front of all the Ducati fans."

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Brembo Brakes: Santi Hernandez On Marc Marquez, Braking Style, And Why Scooter Brakes Are The Future

MotoGP remains a prototype racing series, despite the increasing use of spec components. In 2009, MotoGP switched to a single tire supplier, a spec ECU in 2014, and spec software in 2016. Bore and stroke, and the number of cylinders are specified, meaning that all six manufacturers in MotoGP use four-cylinder 1000cc engines with an 81mm bore.

Despite the fact that so much of the rest of the bike design is unregulated, some components become almost de facto spec. The choice of brake component suppliers is completely free, and yet every MotoGP bike on the grid is fitted with parts that come exclusively from Brembo, the Italian brake manufacturer which dominates the sport, on both two wheels and four.

At Brno, I had the chance to talk to two people with intimate knowledge of Brembo's braking components: Andrea Pellegrini, chief engineer for Brembo inside the MotoGP paddock, and Santi Hernandez, crew chief for world champion Marc Márquez in the Repsol Honda team. Pellegrini provided the perspective from the side of the brake manufacturer, while Hernandez gave an insight from the end users' point of view.

New tires, different braking styles

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Ask The Expert: Computrack's Greg McDonald On Why Marc Marquez Uses So Much Lean Angle

Introducing The Expert: Greg McDonald

Marc Márquez is a lean angle magician on a MotoGP bike. The Repsol Honda rider regularly uses 60° or more to wrangle his RC213V through corners. The rest of us – and his rivals – stand in awe, and wonder how he manages to get away with it.

Yet he has also said he would rather not use so much lean angle. There are easier ways around the corners, but with the 2019 Honda RC213V, using a lot of lean angle is the only way Márquez can maintain his competitiveness.

Why does he need so much lean angle? Keen to find an explanation for this I got in touch with Australian chassis expert Greg McDonald. McDonald worked as a GP and Superbike ‘insider’ for many years, but was previously reluctant to talk about the work he did for a string of factory teams, for commercial reasons.

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Jonathan Rea vs Alvaro Bautista: Where It All Turned Around

2019 saw Jonathan Rea face and overcome a new rival, but how did the dramatic season unfold?

The 2019 WorldSBK season is in the books and with testing around the corner, a new campaign is drawing near. After one of the most talked about WorldSBK title campaigns in memory, WorldSBK.com sat down with the protagonists Jonathan Rea and Alvaro Bautista, to get their thoughts on the season.

Having seen Bautista reel off eleven wins in a row, his coronation seemed a foregone conclusion. But a sudden series of crashes left Bautista reeling. With Rea in relentless form, the world champion overturned a 61-point lead to be crowned champion with two rounds remaining.

Facing the impossible

"I’ve never really seen a turnaround like this one," admitted Rea. "My target was always to win the championship but after four rounds it was…a big dream. We couldn’t see any weakness in the package of Alvaro Bautista and Ducati. It’s the strongest package I’ve ever faced. Winning at Imola was so important, because up until then we were drowning. That was a gasp of air that was enough to compose ourselves.

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Crunching The Numbers: Silly Season 2021 - An Unprecedented Youth Wave Conquers MotoGP

The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired. That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021. And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore their options for the next season but one.

This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you. Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.

The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans. Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.

Youth tsunami

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