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.
The problem Lorenzo faces is that we have been to several Yamaha circuits already this season, and the result was the same. At Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, Brno, and Silverstone, it wasn't a Yamaha on the top step. At all but Brno, it was Marquez who ruled the roost, regardless of what the form book said. At Brno, when Marquez suffered a technical hitch, Pedrosa stepped up and won. Even though the pairing of Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda is nigh on unbeatable, Pedrosa has Marquez' back when the champion fails.
Silverstone had been Lorenzo's best hope of a win so far this season, but Marquez had triumphed there as well. There had been some comment on the aggressive passes which Marquez had put on Lorenzo at Silverstone, but Lorenzo carefully avoided any criticism of Marquez, instead implying that the issue was down to Race Direction, and what they are prepared to allow. "The rules are the rules," Lorenzo said. "I have to play by them as best as possible." Could that be considered a warning? Where in the past, the Movistar Yamaha man has championed clean and scrupulously fair riding, it appears he is prepared to take a different approach.
While all the talk seems to be of Marquez and Lorenzo, there is one man who would dearly love to win at the circuit. If Mugello is Valentino Rossi's spiritual home, Misano is his actual home Grand Prix. Tavullia is close enough to the Misano track that you can actually walk there, something which Rossi fans will do on Sunday, as they have for every GP held here. When asked to list his targets for the rest of the season, he said his first was to win a race. But there were two problems with this target, he conceded: Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo. Problems are there to be overcome, of course, and so Rossi will be working from the first practice to chase a competitive set up to challenge for a win. "Misano is my track," he told the press conference. "I love this place."
Misano is also the track of Ducati. Like Rossi, Mugello may be the spiritual home of the Italian factory, but Misano is the place where they host their biannual World Ducati Weekend, and where they spend a lot of time testing. The factory Ducati men – that's all three of them, Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone – tested here in August. The times set by all three riders were fast, but more importantly, they all have a head start on bike set up. The most important factor, Dovizioso said, was that they were fast on the harder tire, the one which both they and the factory Hondas and Yamahas are likely to race.
That will be crucial for Crutchlow, the English rider suffering at tracks where he hasn't ridden the Ducati before, as he has to spend the first day relearning braking markers and finding reference points. With that work already done at the test, he can instead start to work on set up. Crutchlow will not be challenging for the podium at Misano, but he will be looking to salvage something of his honor and his self respect. The goal is to cut the gap to the front runners to something a little more respectable. After the disaster at Silverstone, it is badly needed.
Crutchlow is unlikely to be matching the pace of the two Andreas; an extra year on the Ducati is of countless worth. Both Dovizioso and Iannone could create real problems for the front runners at Misano, with Dovizioso possibly posing a real threat. The factory Ducati rider is brimming with confidence after the race at Silverstone, where he drastically cut his gap to the leaders, and battled all race long for a spot on the podium. In the end, he had to settle for fifth, but he trailed Valentino Rossi, who took third, by less than three quarters of a second. With a test under his belt and a fire in his belly, Dovizioso could prove to be something of a handful.
A fast and motivated Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone will wreak havoc on the plans of the satellite riders. Bradley Smith comes to Misano keen to build on the pace he showed during practice at Silverstone, and to avenge the cracked rim he suffered at his home race. The crack was a stress fracture without a direct cause, and had forced the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team to reevaluate their policy on the mileage put on parts such as wheels. Parts are to be changed more quickly, in the hope of avoiding a repeat.
The biggest threat to Smith's target at Misano – the Tech 3 rider's aim now is to try to be in the top 6 every race – are the two Ducatis. The softer tire in qualifying give them an outstanding chance of starting from the front of the grid, which in turn will allow them to hold the riders behind them up. Smith will lead the charge of the satellite riders, with Pol Espargaro, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista all chasing the Ducatis in the hope of a strong finish.
Off the track, there should be a few things resolved at Misano. First and foremost, Gresini is expected to announce their intentions soon, possibly as early as Friday, if the rumors are true. Current paddock gossip has Gresini announcing that they will be running Aprilia's factory team either on Friday or Saturday, and relinquishing the factory Honda RC213V at their disposal. Riders are expected to be Marco Melandri and Alvaro Bautista, though Aprilia has reportedly spent a lot of effort trying to court Scott Redding. Redding has his eyes on something higher however: a ride on a factory Honda RC213V.
Will he get it? That is by no means certain. Redding's contract with Gresini states that if he meets certain performance goals – goals he has already far exceeded – Gresini will offer him a Honda RC213V for 2015. The problem is, of course, that Gresini will not be in a position to offer him a factory Honda, as the Italian team is completely out of cash now that their sponsor has left them high and dry. The rumor is that not only have Go&Fun told Gresini they will not be able to meet their commitments for 2015, they have yet to fulfill their commitments for this season.
If Gresini switch to Aprilia, they will be in breach of their contract with Redding. If they don't switch to Aprilia – and there is still reasonable doubt that they may not, the benefits of collaborating with Gresini as opposed to running their own team are far from clear – then Gresini still won't be able to afford a factory RC213V, unless they can find a seven-figure sponsor by Sunday. That is the deadline set by Honda for Gresini to make a decision on whether they will be leasing the factory bike or not. That means Gresini will also be in breach of contract, but without the money from Aprilia to compensate Redding.
Gresini relinquishing the RC213V will clear the path for the Marc VDS team to make the move to MotoGP, take Redding back under their wing, and field a truly competitive bike. The team have been busy trying to raise the necessary funds – a figure somewhere north of 6 million euros – but finding that kind of money in just six weeks has proven a predictably tough task, even for a team as adept at it as Marc VDS. I understand that they are short of their target, but by an annoying small amount. Small enough to be almost worth taking a gamble, large enough for it to be very expensive should they fail to make up the shortfall by the middle of next year.
No one at Marc VDS or Honda would give me a clear answer on whether the team was ready to step up to MotoGP next year. The nearest I got was a comment from Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo, who suggested that Marc VDS would be welcome in MotoGP, and that it was better that Marc van der Straten spend his money on motorcycle racing than on cars.
The two people with the power to make a decision were not yet at Misano. Team manager Michael Bartholemy was at Mugello, and was due to arrive late on Thursday evening, while team owner Marc van der Straten was due to arrive at Misano on Saturday. Bartholemy may have made a decision on whether to go to MotoGP, but that may yet change in discussion with Van der Straten.
It is a unique opportunity. Factory-backed Honda RC213Vs do not become available very often. The team's original plan was to go to MotoGP in 2016, once they have had a chance to evaluate the machinery on offer, and decide upon a rider. But the bikes available in 2016 will not be as good as the bike being given up by Gresini.
On the other hand, what is the added value of going to MotoGP? At the moment, the team is crushing the Moto2 championship, gaining massive EAV (equivalent advertising value) for the exposure they are getting by both Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio dominating the series. (It is also costing them heavily in win bonuses, but that is one of the costs teams are usually happy to bear). Going to MotoGP is a risk, and though Redding will surely be competitive on an RC213V, he will have his hands full trying to beat Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Is fifth in the championship more valuable than dominating in Moto2? And if it is, does the added exposure and revenue cover the greatly increased costs? The answer to that is not as simple as it seems.
The situation around the satellite Honda has left Scott Redding deeply frustrated. He has done everything that was asked of him, and much more. Yet still, Honda are not providing him with the support he had hoped to receive. The situation left him feeling "like an ugly duckling" he told a small group of reporters after the press conference. "I have the feeling that in many areas, people don’t have that last bit of trust in me. 'Maybe he can do it, maybe he can't', rather than 'We believe this guy can do it,' and it’s difficult to accept that," Redding said.
Redding is entirely dependent upon Gresini, for without a decision from Gresini, he is still bound by contract to the Italian squad. Buying his way out would have been expensive – 400,000 euros, he told us – but he was starting to regret he had not taken the chance. Redding has interest from both Pramac Ducati and Forward Yamaha, but he has already lost a very attractive offer because of his contract with Gresini. He could have gone to Forward, on a Yamaha contract, and with full factory backing. This, perhaps, is why it took so long for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team to confirm Bradley Smith – they were not sure they would have the bike to offer him, until Redding was forced to turn them down.
The fact that Jack Miller is set to move up to MotoGP – consensus in the paddock knitting circle is that the announcement will also be made this weekend, probably on Friday – has also antagonized Redding. Miller is set to work with Christian Gabarrini as his crew chief – and not Jeremy Burgess, as one of the more startling rumors has it this week – and this had stuck in Redding's throat. Redding is believed to have wanted Gabarrini for his crew chief, after his former crew chief Pete Benson had elected to stay with Tito Rabat in the Moto2 team. The fact that Miller has such strong support from HRC while Redding is forced to wait on the decisions of others, has left Redding feeling frustrated.
That frustration is clearly visible on the face of Redding when you speak to him. But stronger than that sense of frustration is the will to win. Earlier this week, I wrote of how tough it can be at the back of the Moto2 and Moto3 grid, and how it is down to the mental attitude of the rider to turn that situation around. Redding is the poster boy of that situation, always soldiering on, finding a way to be faster than his rivals, rather than griping about his disadvantages. He had always been at a disadvantage, Redding said, and had always had to find a way to overcome those difficulties. In a long conversation with a small group of journalists, Redding made clear just how much he hated losing, and the lengths he was prepared to go to to try to get a chance of a competitive bike. He knew what he signed up for this season, knew it would be tough, that he wouldn't be battling for wins. But there was no glory in best Open bike, Redding said, no glory in beating the other Open Hondas, it simply did not feel the same way as a genuine win. That was what he was chasing, and every time he went out on track, he was dead set on proving to everyone that he deserved to be on a faster bike. He has more than done that.
While the rider merry-go-round waits on Redding, the crew chief merry-go-round has come to a grinding halt. With Gabarrini set to go to LCR Honda with Jack Miller – or with Cal Crutchlow, if Crutchlow gets his way – all eyes were on Ramon Forcada at Yamaha and Mike Leitner at Honda. According to MCN's Matt Birt, Forcada is to stay with Jorge Lorenzo for 2015, confirming what Wilco Zeelenberg told me at Silverstone ("the plan is to keep the team together"). The signs are also good that Leitner will be staying where he is as Pedrosa's crew chief, Honda similarly disinclined to suffer the disruption which changing crew chiefs brings with it.
After a brief period of excitement, it seems as if all is to remain the same among the crew chiefs. Such is MotoGP.