Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don't have time to write about. Here's what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
About those chassis
Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the "new" chassis and one of the "old" chassis. (The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year's chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The "old" chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.)
Valentino Rossi was constantly clear about which chassis he favored, and which chassis he used. Yet Viñales consistently refused to answer questions on the subject, claiming he had been banned from doing so by Yamaha. So how can one rider answer and the other refuse?
Yamaha, like all Japanese factories, are unnecessarily secretive. It was clear that Viñales had been banned from speaking about the chassis when he was asked a question about it, and before answering it, he cast a glance at his PR handler. The imperceptible shake of the head was enough to ensure his silence.
If Viñales has been banned from speaking about it, then Rossi has almost certainly been banned from speaking about it too. But Rossi knows Yamaha's options are limited. After all, what are they going to do, fire him? There are often financial penalties involved here too, (honesty compels me to point out I have no idea if this is true in this specific case) yet a man of Rossi's wealth is unlikely to be sensitive to the fines imposed by a strict employer. Yamaha probably know better than to even try. Yamaha and Valentino Rossi have a long and prosperous future together, both before and after he retires. You don't throw away that kind of money over a petty dispute over chassis.
Jorge Lorenzo's travails at Ducati continue. He worked hard, with very mixed results: 6th in qualifying, 23rd in warm up, and all sorts of results in between in various sessions. Lorenzo ended the race in an unremarkable 11th place, three places and five seconds behind his teammate. A track with grip helped him sometimes, but when conditions where half and half, damp patches on a drying track, he was truly awful. He acknowledged that is very much his Achilles heel. He will have to improve, and soon. The Brno test will be important. He will have to hope it does not rain.
He will also have to hope that the new aerodynamic package Ducati will bring to the Brno test will be an improvement. Lorenzo has struggled with feel from the front end, and having some pressure on the front wheel should help. But the new aero package will have to be better than the long since abandoned hammerhead fairing. Danilo Petrucci and Michele Pirro will be testing the new aero package at Misano next week. So if anyone happens to be on vacation in Rimini, they may want to plan a little day trip...
Improvement for Iannone?
If Jorge Lorenzo's problems are much dwelt upon, Andrea Iannone's are even more public. Iannone suffered criticism from Suzuki legend Kevin Schwantz at the Sachsenring, who stated that if Iannone is worried about taking too much risk, then perhaps he should go off and race karts. Iannone replied rather cheekily by tweeting a picture of a kart after the race, with a comment about how he now had time to spend in his kart.
In truth, Iannone had a slightly better weekend than in previous races. He was still a long way from the front, but he was making forward progress during the race until he crashed. He looked at last as if he was at least putting some effort into it.
We will have to see what happens now with Iannone and Suzuki. I spent 30 minutes talking to Suzuki boss Davide Brivio at the Sachsenring, for a series of articles for MotoMatters.com subscribers on identifying talent and choosing riders. Brivio spoke at great length about nearly all of the riders Suzuki has signed at one time or another. The one rider he barely mentioned was Andrea Iannone. Make of that what you will.
Pol Espargaro got into Q2. Both Espargaro and Bradley Smith scored points in the race. Smith finished ahead of seven other riders. All these and more are clear signs of progress for the Austrian factory.
Smith and Espargaro both spoke of the main problem the bike has: it won't turn easily, and so you end up carrying too much lean angle, which uses up the tires faster. That will not be addressed until next year, which suggests that it requires a major change to the engine. Espargaro was optimistic the proposed change (which they would not tell us about) would fix the problem, Smith wanted to ride the new engine first before making a judgment. Until then, they will have to see what they can do with just chassis and suspension modifications.
Though everyone was focused on the race at the front, and especially the battle between Franco Morbidelli and Miguel Oliveira (and also the crashes of Alex Márquez and Tom Luthi), perhaps the most remarkable part of the Moto2 race was the strength of the current crop of rookies. Pecco Bagnaia gained his third podium of the season (he has four in total, but one came after Mattia Pasini was disqualified at Barcelona for using illegal oil), confirming the sense that he is a very special rider. Bagnaia benefited enormously from spending time riding the Mahindra, which was clearly an inferior bike in Moto3. (So inferior that they have withdrawn from the series.) That is paying off now, with the Italian finding ways to be more competitive than his bike sometimes warrants.
Further back, Jorge Navarro bagged 6th and Brad Binder took 7th. It was a strong showing by both riders, but especially for Binder, who is still struggling with pain in the wrist and arm he injured in testing late last year. Three Moto2 rookies in the top 7 is a very healthy showing, and promises much for 2018.
Vacation? What vacation?
The Sachsenring was the last race of the summer break, with five weeks until the next race. The riders all head off for some well-earned rest and relaxation, before returning with a vengeance at Brno.
That doesn't mean they will spend the next four and a half weeks laying on a beach though. All of the riders we asked about the vacation plans said the same: one week doing very little, then the next three weeks training harder than ever, working especially on their fitness. There is very little time to train during the season – especially with so many back-to-back races, and so turning up in the best physical shape possible at the start of the second half of the season is crucial. MotoGP may be taking a five-week break, but the riders only get a week of real rest.
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