2016 Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Temperatures, Fast Ducatis, and Interfering Teams

It's the Sachsenring all over again. Or almost: when the MotoGP bikes were here in July, air temperatures were in the low 30s, and track temperature was around 50°C. During FP1, the air temperature was just 9°, and track temperature was 14°C. "The temperature this morning was pretty extreme," Jorge Lorenzo said after practice was over. "Only a few times in my life have we been riding in such cold conditions."

Cold temperatures meant cold tire crashes, especially in the morning. The most obvious was Dani Pedrosa's crash, who fell at Turn 9 as he touched the front brake, the front folding as if the track were wet. The crash caused the session to be red-flagged, as Pedrosa's Honda ended up puncturing the air fence and landing on top of the tire barrier.

The crash seemed to be a warning of the excesses of tarmac run off, but Pedrosa was happy that there wasn't a gravel trap at the edge of the track. "I crashed in fifth gear, so I was going very fast," Pedrosa said. "From one point of view I think, most of the run-off area was asphalt so maybe the bike didn't decelerate enough. But on the other side I was very lucky it was only asphalt, because I crashed so fast that if I went into the gravel I would have tumbled over and over with a lot of speed." There are upsides to asphalt run off sometimes.

Smoother isn't always better

The cold temperatures gave something of a false picture of the state of play. Dani Pedrosa finished the day down in 19th, over 2.5 seconds off the pace of the Ducatis. Pedrosa's crash knocked his confidence, but his biggest problem was getting temperature into the tires. "I could feel that every lap I was out, I lose temperature in the tire, instead of gaining temperature." When he tried to push to generate heat, he crashed. Things were a little better in the afternoon, but not much.

It was a similar story for Jorge Lorenzo. "It was difficult, especially to enter the corner with confidence," Lorenzo said. "The rear tire didn't get to a good temperature and we all have temperature problems." The Movistar Yamaha rider's problems stem in part from his riding style. "In cold conditions, I am a smooth rider, on braking especially, more or less like Pedrosa," he said. "We have a little bit more problems to get the tires working with more temperature. We struggle a little bit more compared to the riders who are more aggressive on braking." Hence riders like Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow being further up the front.

Sometimes, colder is grippier

The cold temperatures weren't a disadvantage to everyone, however. Maverick Viñales was pleased with the cold, the Suzuki always suffering with rear grip in the heat. When temperatures are lower, the Suzuki creates drive out of corners, something which is a real benefit at the Red Bull Ring. When temperatures rise, the grip goes away, though this was less of an issue in Austria than at other tracks. "We were also competitive for grip, because the asphalt is quite good," Viñales said.

New winglets may also have helped. The GSX-RR sported larger winglets in Austria, helping to reduce wheelie and improve acceleration out of corners. "We improve at the end of second gear, third and fourth," Viñales told us. "Not so much wheelie and we can put a little bit more power. Still we are finding how exactly much power we can put, but today we can feel already that the bike is a little faster."

Winglets did not help Aleix Espargaro as much as he might have wanted. The Spaniard crashed heavily, hurting his hands. The Spaniard suffered a fracture of a metacarpal on this left hand, and sprained the thumb of his left hand. He is hoping to ride again on Saturday with some physiotherapy to help relieve the injuries.

Wings give drive, give speed

It was the factory Ducatis that benefited most from the winglets. Andrea Dovizioso ended the day as fastest, two tenths ahead of his teammate Andrea Iannone, and over eight tenths quicker than Maverick Viñales. How big is that advantage? The gap between Dovizioso in first and Viñales in third is the same as the gap between Viñales in third and Jack Miller in fourteenth. The Ducatis are going to be hard to beat in Austria.

Where are they gaining? For a start, both Dovizioso and Iannone are feeling very comfortable with the set up of their Desmosedicis. But above all, the difference for the Ducatis is in acceleration. "The Ducati have a lot of horsepower," Valentino Rossi explained, "but what they are able to do better compared to the Yamaha and Honda is less wheelie. For this reason, they are very fast in acceleration. Because it looks like the bike accelerates more with less wheelie on the front."

Having less wheelie gave the Ducatis an advantage everywhere, Jorge Lorenzo added. "Our bike, and also the Honda have more wheelie than the Ducati, so the combination of more power and less wheelie and more top speed creates a big difference in these kinds of long straights coming from slow corners," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. Horsepower is important in Austria. "As you can see, the difference between Moto2 and MotoGP is bigger than normal, and from Moto2 to Moto3 is bigger than normal. That means that the engine is very important here."

More power, less wheelie

The winglets really do help the Ducati accelerate, which is why they fought so hard against them being banned. Winglets help keep the front of the bike down, even from a relatively low speed. A source familiar with the Ducati had seen the data for identical bikes both with and without the winglets, and the difference in acceleration was clearly visible. Less wheelie means Ducati can use more horsepower, and translate that horsepower into drive onto the straights. At tracks where bikes are exiting in third or fourth gear onto the straights, the Yamahas and Hondas are at less of a disadvantage, as wheelie is less of an issue out of fast corners. But corners like Turn 1 or Turn 3, where the bikes are back to first or second gear, wheelie becomes a major issue. If you don't have to cut power to reduce the wheelie, you simply end up losing out.

Fat lady yet to sing

What can Yamaha or Honda do about it? Not much, is the short answer. "We have to just give the maximum, try to fix all the small details to go a bit faster on the straight, but you know, is very difficult to go faster on the straight," Valentino Rossi said. "You can try to exit faster from the corner, but on the straight, the level is what it is." That doesn't mean he was just going to roll over and accept it, however. "I don't want to start just for third place," Rossi said. "It's just Friday, we have Saturday, and especially the race is always different." If he can stay in the draft of the Ducatis, then he would be in with a chance, Rossi felt. Tire degradation could end up being a factor in a race over 28 laps. It was a long race, and much could still happen.

Dovizioso, too, was keen to ensure that not too much was read into the lap times. "I always say, everybody looks at the lap time or pace in practice and says 'it is like this'. It is not. There is a way to do the lap time, a way to set up the bike and a way to use the power," Dovizioso explained. "In different tracks, some riders are fast in practice but not in the race. Because some riders are fast in practice, but maybe in the race, without full power and on used tires, they are not at the front. That why I say, OK, we have a margin, but we have to keep working for the 28 laps."

Which of the Ducatis might win? Andrea Dovizioso is the most likely candidate, not only because he was fastest on Friday, but also because Andrea Iannone injured a rib in a motocross training crash during the summer break. Friday was the first time Iannone had been back on a bike, and the rib injury was causing him more problems than he had hoped. Acceleration was a real problem, hanging on to the Desmosedici proving to be more difficult than he expected. Doing 28 laps in excruciating pain from your ribs is a tough ask.

The Yamaha riders may not be starting for third place, but realistically, risking it all to stay with the Ducatis may not be the best course of action. Neither factory Ducati is in the title chase, while Rossi and Lorenzo are busy trying to recover points from Marc Márquez. "For me, for sure is more important Lorenzo and Márquez than the Ducati," Rossi said. "A good goal would be finishing in front of Márquez if it's possible," Lorenzo agreed.

R U RLLY FSTR?

If the weather in Austria brought back memories of the Sachsenring, so did proposals to allow some minimal communication between the teams and the riders. The proposal is very modest indeed – very short messages, passed with the transponder signal at each timing loop, which is four times a lap – and a very far cry from the calls for the introduction of ship-to-shore radios which came after the flag-to-flag race in Germany.

That does not mean that the proposals are not dangerous. At the moment, riders are left to race for themselves, and either make up strategy as they go along or work to plans set out before the start of the race. Communicating via pit boards is very limited, especially given the very brief amount of space present, and the tendency of the riders to either miss their pit board, or ignore it when they do see it.

If the teams have greater freedom to communicate with the riders, they will try to impose greater control on them. The more information they can pass along, the more the teams can steer the rider in a particular direction. With a pit board, teams have to choose what they tell the rider, and which information to pass on. If communication via transponder is allowed, the teams will be able to send four times as much information to the rider, plus still use the pit board once a lap.

How important is strategy?

An example of how this may work out came in the excellent documentary, produced by Dorna, on Jorge Lorenzo's championship year, "Jorge Lorenzo Guerrero". There is a scene towards the end of the documentary, shot in Lorenzo's motorhome, where he, his pit board man, his advisors, and team manager Wilco Zeelenberg are discussing the options for putting information on the pit board. With just three lines available, they had to figure out what was important. Lorenzo needed to win or come second, if Rossi came fourth, but the Spaniard also needed to know where the two Repsol Hondas were, and how fast they were going.

The discussion went back and forth, over all the scenarios. Should Rossi's position be on the pit board? Did Lorenzo want the gap to second on the pit board? What if Pedrosa got a slow start, but was closing rapidly? What if Márquez was getting closer, but Rossi was on the move? There was no way Lorenzo could see all of this information, and so in the end, he had to make choices, and try to win the race.

If the proposal currently under discussion had been allowed, Lorenzo would not have had to make any choices. The positions and gaps could have been displayed every lap, changing as his bike passed over the timing loops. If Pedrosa started closing rapidly, Lorenzo could have known. If the gap between himself and Márquez became too small, Lorenzo could have been told. If Rossi came through the field fast enough to latch on to the leaders, Lorenzo's team could have told him.

Flag-to-flag races would be similar. At the moment, the teams can only display the gaps to others, the number of laps to go, and a lap time. If they could send information to the dashboard, the team could inform their rider of the current fastest lap time, and if that rider was on slicks or wets. Instead of riders making decisions, the team would send more forceful messages telling them when to pit.

Racers should race

This is the real danger. Riders come and go, but teams stay in MotoGP for a very long time indeed. In the long run, the interests of the team are far greater than the interests of an individual rider. The more control a team has, the more they will try to impose their will on their rider, and manage the rider's race from pit lane. Give the teams an inch, and they will take a country mile.

Sure, the current proposal is very limited indeed. But even with just a few characters four times a lap, teams will do their best to start managing the race for their riders. The fleeting messages between team and rider may help spice up TV coverage (which is the main reason Dorna like the proposal), but they will eventually help kill the racing. Let the rider ride, and let the team watch from pit lane. When the flag drops, the bovine fecal matter stops. What MotoGP does not need is to hand teams another method of flinging yet more bovine fecal matter at the riders during the race.


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Total votes: 102
Total votes: 76

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Comments

Don´t worry, David. Racers, especially motorcycle racers, will not be dictated to from the pit wall, the depths of the garage or even from some dark corner of the competition department back in Japan or Italy or Austrla. I recall Donington 1993. Rainey was injured and barely able to ride. Schwantz was leading on points. It was looking bad from Team Roberts. Then Doohan took out both Suzuki riders (Kevin and Alex Barros) on lap one and suddenly Wayne was leading, riding very, very hurt. Luca Cadalora had never won a 500 race, but he soon saw that he had the pace to win. 

The Team put out the board "P2 OK." They put it out before he passed Wayne and afterward. But Luca, who knew exactly what they meant, kept pushing and won the race. There was no joy in the Roberts garage and that win cost waye five valuable points and created a tense situation.  

With all the authority of Marlboro, Yamaha and King Kenny urging Luca to back off, he went on to win his maiden GP. No amount of addtional info would have changed that...not even Leo de Graffenreid reading the fine print of the cofidential contract, or Roberts jumping up and down on the wall would have altered Luca´s mindset that day. 

When did I wish I had a better means of communication? Last round of FIM CEV European Championship of 2015 at Valencia. My son went into the final race third in points, but only three points out of first. He was holding off Ivan Silva and thinking about making a move on Carmelo Morales. Second was good enough for the title if Silva was third, but if Silva passed Kenny, the title was Silva´s. Then Kenny misread a confusing board and thought he saw "Silva Out" when what he saw was "Silva O.4" and he let off and almost got passed. That is when he made the big push and pulled clear of Silva to sit on Morales´s wheel, ready to pounce. Then Silva crashed on the brakes for turn four with two laps to go. So they made the board again...this time SILVA OUT. He was puzzled...wasn´t that the same board he saw before when Silva was on his wheel. Fortunately he had a look back and saw no one on either side. Looked twice on both sides. Finally understood second was OK. 

Championships have been lost because of misread or unseen boards and that is a tragedy for the rider AND the team. It is the team who pays the money, supplies the bike and does the donkey work. So it is not unsportsmanlike or against the spirit of the game to allow the rider to have basic information via a format that he can read "at his leisure" and not off some board waggled at him off pit wall sometimes just as he is making a draft pass or sitting up (as in some circuits) to brake. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping a rider informed of the world he is emerged in during the heat of a race. I have seen many riders furious because they couldn´t understand the board, seen many crew chiefs enraged because the rider didn´t understand the board after all the planning. The Dorna smart screen is a good idea, probably better than the radio since the message is there to be seen when the rider is free to look at it rather that a flash down a high speed straight or a burst of unexpected language inside the helmet. 

Worrying about undue influence from the team is what we call in Spanish being "más papista que el papa."

Talking about boards and team orders. In 1999 Emilio Alzamora won 125cc title in part just because team director Angel Nieto used the board to indicate to Emilio´s team mate to give up 15th place in Australia? In that case the team mate was more obedient that Luca at Donington....it was Angel´s son Gelete. That is the supreme authority that not even Marlboro can match!

 

 

 

Total votes: 106

What actually happened there. I gather they crossed paths with Iannone attempting a pass whole they were both on fast laps, but Laverty seemed overly annoyed for some reason. It's understandable that he's not going to just move out of the way for Iannone while he's on a hot lap, but equally if Andrea is faster and Laverty is holding him up he's entitled to pass him as well.. unless his attempt to get through was particularly crude. What was the reason for Laverty's rage?

Total votes: 71

David you refer to "calls for the introduction of ship-to-shore radios which came after the flag-to-flag race in Germany". Calls plural? From more than one source?

Maybe I missed something but the situation as I understand it is:

  • Rossi missed out on a good result at Sachsenring.
  • Rossi asked for a change in rules to stop it happening again.
  • Dorma are changing the rules.

I love a good conspiracy theory but surely it's not that simple?

Total votes: 80

As I understand it, there were a number of teams who asked for this to be considered. It's nice and simple to blame it all on one rider, but like all simple answers, they are usually wrong. 

Total votes: 67

Like Lorenzo's tricycle symbol when being followed. There is nothing currently other than a rider's ego and his own stubbornness stopping him from taking a pre-planned and complex message and acting as directed. To worry about a team exerting more control over their rider with more comm. ability is a bit premature and off the mark, I do believe. It's not like we are going into this from the point of zero communication.

The pitboard - not to mention the team boss adding his own hand gesture or icy glare from the pit wall - can transmit all the inforation needed for significant control right now. It only doesn't happen because riders - especially GP superstars - are particularly, if not impossibly, difficult to control.

This new proposal is good. Don't worry about it getting out of hand so long as bikes are ultimately controlled by the human onboard.

Total votes: 76

I have to agree with Dennis on this one.  We've already seen "team orders" when it comes to motorcycle championships.  It's not as if that's anything new.  What this would do is allow the team to inform the rider of where they are on track relative to the other riders.  As far as I'm concerned that is high priority imformation.   While I've never raced motorcycles proffesionally, I have raced proffesionally as a cyclist and I can tell you there have been races lost simply because I wasn't aware of where my competitors were.   Knowing if you are catching, or being caught, can be exceptionally useful information.  Knowing if the track conditions are changing can also be a deciding factor in a race win.  We've seen plenty of races the past few years where this level of communication could have altered the outcome of a race. 

    I think there would still be strategy involved here as well.  The messages have to be something that can be decifered at a glance.  It will essentially be a mini pit board on the dash.  The teams still need to come up with their own shorthand of letters and symbols to convey the infomation as efficiently as possible, while determining which information will be prioritized and how it will be presented.  They also have to decide when it will be presented.  What circumstances will trigger a change in information priority.  There is still plenty to develop, think about, and generally suss out when it comes to text based dash communication, and I for one and all for it. 

 

BTW:  as far as the disruption of having someone talking in your ear while racing, I have to wonder if it would really be that bad.  Look at WRC.   Those guys are going "balls to the wall" through the woods around blind corners with a navigator dictating the course to them the entire time.  They manage to make it work.

Total votes: 82

F1 drama is slowly creeping in the sport we all love.
I fear soon the radio/dashboard communications will become more interesting than the actual racing.
Also shows the influence Rossi has on the Motogp rulemakers...
Goodbye to the flag to flag to madness? Satelite riders' only chance of winning a race?

Total votes: 71

What is this constant dsire to fiddle? Dorna claim to want to drive down costs. If that is really true set the rules now and do not change them for 10 years minimum - it will be cheaper for everyone. 

 

Oh, and satellite teams would likely make ground on factory teams with such stability too. Solving another apparent problem.

Total votes: 66