Piecing The Puzzle Together: What Caused Jorge Lorenzo's Crash At Qatar?

After a poor start, which saw him drop from ninth on the grid to thirteenth at the end of the first lap, Jorge Lorenzo was making steady progress through the field at Qatar. His lap times were starting to come down to match, and on some laps even beat, the pace the leaders were running. As the halfway mark approached, and less than four seconds behind the leaders, Lorenzo started to believe he was capable of salvaging a decent result from a difficult start.

That all ended on lap 13. The Spaniard crashed out of the race at Turn 4, when his front brake failed and he had to drop the bike in the gravel. "I just felt that the level of the front brake was getting closer to my fingers and I didn’t have brake," Lorenzo described the incident afterwards. "I lost some meters so I tried to use less front brake and more the rear to try to delay this thing that was getting worse lap-by-lap. Unfortunately when into this turn four the first part of the brake was OK, but suddenly I just missed completely this brake so I had no brake and was going very fast through the gravel to the wall and I jumped off the bike to avoid hitting the wall."

What had caused Lorenzo to crash? "The bike came to the box without one part," Lorenzo said. "Some mechanics went to the corner to see if they could find it and luckily they found it – it was very difficult, but they found it. One part was missing from the bike. I don’t know if it was before the crash or after the crash." Both Lorenzo and team boss Davide Tardozzi remained vague about the problem, referring only to "parts" in general, and not specific components. The entire braking system had been handed to Brembo for further examination.

Silent strategy

On Wednesday, two days before the start of the Argentina round of MotoGP – and 17 days after Lorenzo's crash – Brembo finally issued a press release on the cause of the problem. It was, however, almost entirely devoid of any useful information. It read:

"In relation to what happened to the rider Jorge Lorenzo of Ducati Team during the Qatar MotoGP Grand Prix, Brembo is really disappointed that the withdrawal of the rider during the lap 12 was caused by an issue connected to the braking system. At the end of accurate analysis of our technicians, we confirm that the issue has been identified and resolved so that this anomaly can’t recur."

Firstly, Lorenzo crashed early in lap 13, not lap 12, a minor error which can be overlooked. But the lack of detail is both frustrating for media and fans alike, and does not help to assuage the situation. PR professionals will tell you that the best way to respond to such situations is to be as open and honest as possible. This was pretty much the opposite of that.

Pieces of the puzzle

Despite the lack of official information from Brembo, we can piece together roughly what happened from statements from Ducati staff and riders at Argentina. In an interview with MotoGP.com presenters Amy Dargan and Matt Birt, Davide Tardozzi was keen to emphasize both that he had confidence in Brembo, but also that the problem had not been caused by the team. "Brembo released something two days ago where they made an excuse to Jorge, because there was a technical problem. We still don't know what it was exactly, but they promised to us and to everybody that this won't happen again, because it was not a problem from the team," he said.

When pushed, Tardozzi did let slip that the problem was with one of the brake pads. Ducati mechanics had gone to the corner where Lorenzo crashed after the race in search of the parts which had been missing from the bike. "We strongly tried to find the brake pad that was gone, and we brought back the whole system to Brembo," Tardozzi said. "They immediately checked it after the race, and they took it back to Italy, the calipers and the brakes. They didn't tell us too much, they made an apology, and that's it. It was not a problem from the team."

Last week, Tardozzi had told Paolo Scalera of Italian website GPOne.com that the problem had been caused by excessive wear. "As I said, it was an abnormal consumption that we are unable to explain," Tardozzi said. "Disc and pads have a maximum wear that must be respected. When they are reached, the system is replaced."

Component choice

In the pre-event press conference, Lorenzo's Ducati Factory teammate Andrea Dovizioso revealed that the problem had come from using a particular type of pads and discs which the Italian's side of the garage had stopped using last year. "As they explained it was some issue with the brakes and it can happen to everybody as it is something very dangerous for our sport," Dovizioso said. "I think they have everything under control and that material we used last year and we didn’t want to continue. There was a big problem but we were not sure and we didn’t want to use it. Maybe Jorge felt better and he wanted to use it, I don’t know."

In Argentina, Lorenzo was keen to put the whole affair behind him. He hadn't asked Brembo what had happened, he said. "I don't want to waste any time on it, because it's an unlucky situation and they are the experts, they are the ones who control everything, they will find a solution. It shouldn't happen, but it happened." Everyone at Ducati, including Lorenzo, still had full confidence in Brembo, they were keen to convey.

The incident was reminiscent of what had happened to Jonas Folger during the warm up at Silverstone. The (then) Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider had a massive crash at Stowe, when his brakes failed. The cause of that crash was never fully revealed, but was also believed to be a problem with the brakes.

The nature of the beast

What conclusions can we draw about the causes of Lorenzo's from all the above, despite the lack of detail from Brembo? It appears that at the very least one of Lorenzo's front brake pads was suffering excessive wear, meaning that the brake lever was coming back to the bars. At some point, the pad or pads had lost so much material that they stopped being effective or generating any friction and stopping power. That was the point where Lorenzo had been forced to abandon ship once he hit the gravel.

Brembo's press release contains perhaps a hint of what might have been the cause. "At the end of accurate analysis of our technicians, we confirm that the issue has been identified and resolved so that this anomaly can’t recur," Brembo wrote. There appears to have been an unlucky confluence of brake pad and disc materials, and perhaps manufacturing circumstances, which caused this particular set of brake pads and discs to stop functioning correctly, and force Lorenzo to drop the bike in the gravel.

The underlying problem, of course, is that motorcycle racing is a test of both rider and equipment, and every material used in MotoGP is pushed to the very limit. Sometimes, when you are working at the outer limits of performance, you break them, which at these speeds can have serious consequences. As Andrea Dovizioso explained in the press conference, "This is something that shouldn't happen, as it is dangerous in our sport if you don’t have brakes, but everything is on the limit and it is not so easy to manage everything in an easy way." Tolerances are razor thin in MotoGP, and sometimes they are exceeded, no matter how methodical, careful, and conscientious all those involved are.

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Being Qatar and many riders complaining of the sand that blows onto the circuit, maybe this particular combination of pad and rotor were susceptible to sand getting caught up in them causing excessive wear…

Let me guess, pad material wore down and pad backing was dragged out between the rotor and caliper. Pure speculation, but as useful as what Brembo said. Without the holding power of the caliper body, the pins won’t hold the pad.

One sticking piston on a multi-pot caliper might just do it, resulting in the Jorge's described loss of braking capacity, and uneven wear will follow.

I'm guessing that, as they pare weight everywhere, the pads are thinner than road version, in which case abnormal wear might lead to loss of friction material and then spitting the backing plate.  But I would expect that if there are holding pins they must fracture to allow that to happen.....

I'm not sure that the forces would be in the correct orientation to break the pins - even if all the pad material was gone.  I could, perhaps, see this happening if the pads were the type which aren't held in by pins, but surely they aren't using those in motogp.

The other option is that the adhesive material came free from the brake pad backing.  This would explain the symptoms of brake fade, and would explain how a piece came free from the brakes - when pads should be held in by pins.

but I’d plump for the adhesion strength of the bonding to the backing plate. But let’s face it, we ain’t gonna know...

I had a 'similar' failure once - the brake pad ware out to the limit that it fell out of the caliper. But I'm quite sure that MotoGP brakes have nothing in common with cheap french car brakes :D

Back to reality, I'm really dissapointed in lack of information Brembo presented. I've read all the news I could find and none could present any technical information - so thank you very much David for the info above.

Since MotGp is also a great show for innovations it's a real pitty that the factories are so secretive. And I think that there is also a lack of 'specialized' techno reporters in search for the secrets. At least much less than in F1.

Great Manz, we'll miss you!

When Lorenzo says "...and I jumped off the bike to avoid hitting the wall." - Is that taken as guidance to race organizers that there's a problem with that section of the track (and that a wall needs to be moved, more runoff area needed, more gravel, etc.?)