How do you win a MotoGP race? In the Michelin era, you need a strategy. With all six tires which the French manufacturer brings to each weekend capable of lasting the race, selecting the right tire for your bike, and your setup, is crucial. Once the race is under way, you have to manage your pace, know when you can push hard, and when you have to sit and wait. Watch for weakness by your rivals, try to match them when attack without wrecking your own chances. With spec electronics and a wide range of tire options, MotoGP is a more intellectual game.
But it has also become more of a gamble. To find the ideal setup, the best strategy is to focus on the race during free practice, rather than worry about qualifying. But that risks leaving a rider stuck in Q1, and having to juggle front tires for Q2. You get an extra rear tire if you go through from Q1 to Q2, but not an extra front.
Even if you get to Sunday afternoon with what you believe is the right tire choice, front and rear, and with a setup which you believe will last the race, you still have to wait to see how the track has changed after Moto2. Teams know that the grip changes after Moto2, but predicting how it changes is impossible. "It's a bit of a gamble," Dani Pedrosa said after the race. "Sometimes it's a bigger effect, sometimes it's a smaller effect, so you don't know exactly. It's hard to say." Getting all these ingredients right is incredibly complicated. Winning a MotoGP race is hard, as it turns out.
There are many ways to win a race, but the one place you can't win it is in the first corner. But that doesn't stop riders from trying, as there is much to be gained. For some, a clean getaway is a golden ticket to a win. Their plan is simple: lead into Turn 1, try to break the opposition on the first laps, then manage the gap and their tires for the rest of the race. For others, finding the right group is key. Maybe there is another rider they fear, and if they can tag along with them, they have a chance to follow, and attack at the end. This leads to much jockeying for position going into Turn 1.
The start is also the most difficult and dangerous part of the race. Though tires are heated, and riders have tried to add more temperature on the warm up lap, they are still not quite at the optimum operating temperature. The bikes have a full tank of fuel, and a setup aimed more for having 10kg less fuel on board, and none of it quite so high up. Riders' heart rates and adrenaline levels are higher than at any other point during the race. And there are 24 bikes all aiming to occupy the same slim section of tarmac at the same time. So much can go wrong that it is really easy to lose the race in the first corner.
Making a mistake
Which is exactly what Jorge Lorenzo did at Aragon. Lorenzo and factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso had been fast all throughout practice at the Motorland Aragon circuit. The two Ducatis had the pace to match and even beat championship leader Marc Márquez. They were on a roll, coming off three straight wins, Dovizioso taking victory at Brno and Misano, while Lorenzo had beaten Márquez in Austria. Marc Márquez had not won a race for two months, his last victory having come at the Sachsenring.
Starting from pole, Lorenzo got ready to take the ideal sweeping line into Turn 1. He got a strong start, but he found Marc Márquez in his way. The Repsol Honda rider had switched to the soft rear tire on the grid, believing that this gave him the best option of taking on Andrea Dovizioso, his biggest obstacle to a fifth MotoGP title. The soft rear gave Márquez a quicker start, and the Spaniard lunged into Turn 1 in the lead. A little too hard, perhaps, Márquez running wide and onto the dirty part of the outside track.
This is where it all went wrong for Lorenzo. "I braked on the dirty part of the track and my front wheel locked," Márquez told Spanish media. He nearly lost the front end, backed off the throttle, and ran wide off the outside kerb at Turn 1. That line took him straight across the path of Jorge Lorenzo's Ducati, leaving Lorenzo two choices: back off and run wide along with Márquez, or try to force the bike to turn, and hope he could make the corner.
Lorenzo took the latter path, which proved to be the wrong choice. He leaned the bike still further, and as he cracked the gas to start the drive out of the corner, the rear came around on him, flinging him up into the air in an old-fashioned highside. He came down hard on his right leg, dislocating his big toe and breaking his second metatarsal bone. His race was over.
Lorenzo was absolutely furious, blaming Márquez for his misfortune, though he acknowledged it may not have looked like that to anyone not on the bike. "From the outside, I entered too fast, I leaned too much and I entered too wide onto the dirty part, that's why I crashed," Lorenzo said on Sunday night. "From what I experienced, I entered in the normal line to make the corner as I did in the last seven years here at Aragon, but I saw Marc going to the inside very aggressively and not making the corner, because you saw where he finished, in the green."
Lorenzo said that Márquez had blocked his line, and that was what precipitated the crash. "When he saw that I was there, he tried not to let me pass into the corner and I didn't have any options other than to go onto the dirty part. And because we were very wide and already the other riders were coming, if I didn’t want to lose five or six positions, I had to open the throttle."
That was a risk, Lorenzo acknowledged. "Obviously I didn't expect the rear was like this or I would not have opened the throttle like this, I would have put the bike straight and gone outside the track. But I didn't have any more options. In Misano, the crash was completely my fault. This time Marc destroyed my race, destroyed my foot, destroy also the big possibility I have to win, and probably also the Thailand race."
Lorenzo had not bothered going to Race Direction to complain, he said. "I didn't go and I will not go, because one of the things that make me more upset is that from the outside everyone thinks I crashed because I leaned too much on the dirty part of the track and that it was my mistake. It was not like that and Marc knows; He didn't leave me space, he made a block pass like in the past and I didn't have any options other than to crash or go outside the track."
The other side
Márquez had little to say about the crash, mostly because it was something which happened behind him. He had only seen Lorenzo after he lost the front of his Honda RC213V, Márquez told Spanish media. "That's when I saw that Lorenzo was on the outside and was cutting back inside. But there was no contact, I released the brakes completely so that I would only run wide."
The problem, Márquez believed, was that the grip on the outside of the track was drastically less. "Ffor sure when you get onto the dirty part of the track, you slide a lot. Something similar happened with Dovizioso, when he passed me at Turn 14. We touched, he went inside, I went outside, all the way to the green part. I almost crashed. But this is just one of those things, a racing incident, when you get to the dirty part of the track when braking after the start, you also have to keep calm and not open the gas fully."
Whose fault was it? Watching the start footage from the multiple camera views available on the MotoGP.com website. The helicopter footage shows that Márquez ran hot into the first corner, and the wide on the exit. From the onboard footage from Márquez' bike, you can hear that he closes the throttle as he runs out wide, and doesn't get on it again until very late. And from the onboard video of Lorenzo's bike, you can hear that he crashes just after he touches the gas.
Did Márquez cause Lorenzo to crash? Márquez clearly makes a mistake into Turn 1, running wide, and wrecking Lorenzo's line. Lorenzo deemed it a block pass, a move he felt was at best unfair. "For me, at this moment it's not illegal, but for me should be a gentleman's agreement or move when riding. For sure, a block pass is the opposite of that," he said.
The crash, however, is surely down to Lorenzo. When Márquez cuts in front of him, Lorenzo has two choices: to try to brake and run wide, or to try to cut back and hold his line. If he runs wide, he probably stays on the bike. If he tries to cut back and hold his line, but waits a fraction before touching the gas, taking account of the lower grip on the dirty part of the track, he probably stays on the bike. But as Lorenzo says himself, he didn't want to lose a few positions, so he opened the gas, and the bike spat him off.
If Márquez is guilty of anything, it is of entering the corner too fast, and trying to win the race in the first corner. That impetuousness forced Lorenzo into a situation he did not want to be in, but it was Lorenzo who chose the wrong option. There are no rules against running in hot at Turn 1, a particular issue at Aragon, where the layout of the first corner is similar to Misano, where such problems can also occur. But it is no surprise that the rider who runs in hot to Turn 1 is Marc Márquez. This time, it wasn't Márquez who paid the price, but rather Lorenzo. If I were to be cruel about it, I might say that Márquez' ambition outweighed Lorenzo's talent.
Busy at the front
With Lorenzo out, you might have expected the race to turn into a duel between Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso. That battle happened, but they were not left to fight alone. Dovizioso took over the lead in the aftermath of the first corner incident, moving from third on corner entry to first on corner exit. Márquez came back in second place, but found himself in direct combat with Andrea Iannone, the Suzuki rider having gotten a very strong start. Behind him, Iannone's Spanish teammate, Alex Rins sitting on his tail.
The leading group started out quite large, as everyone sized their rivals up and considered their options. Dani Pedrosa and Aleix Espargaro sat behind the front four, with Alvaro Bautista and Cal Crutchlow directly behind, the LCR Honda rider having been another victim of Lorenzo's crash, forced to brake to miss the prone Ducati. Bautista was the first to crash out, followed a couple of laps later by Crutchlow.
Crutchlow's crash came because he understood the dynamics of how the race would play out, and needed to be in the right group if he was to be in with a chance of a podium. "I was feeling quite good with the bike, but I had to come from too far back," Crutchlow explained. "I knew that in the next three laps, I had to clear Aleix and Dani to have a shot at the podium. But Aleix was hard to pass, because he was running the soft tire, and he could get the drive." The crash was a result of the rear of his bike snapping sideways while braking for Turn 1, creating more brake pressure and causing him to lose the front.
As Crutchlow had predicted, three laps later, the front group broke up. Andrea Dovizioso led, while Marc Márquez tried to keep him in his sights. The two Suzukis sat with Márquez, until the two leaders upped their pace. It wasn't until Dovizioso and Márquez joined battle in earnest and started holding each other up that the Suzukis could catch up again.
At first, it looked like Dovizioso was trying to win the race as slowly as possible, the Italian circulating comfortably in the 1'49s, with no real attempt to attack. He was perhaps waiting for the advantage of his hard tire choice to pay off, the performance drop of the hard less than the drop of the soft rear. But that suited Márquez as well, allowing him to keep running a pace that did not stress the soft rear too much.
Things hotted up at the halfway mark, Dovizioso dropping from the low 1'49s to the low 1'48s. That was the signal for Márquez to respond, he said after the race. "When I was behind him in the race, I felt really good, really smooth," Márquez told the press conference. "He pushed a lot in the mid-race. Then I said, okay, now it’s time to push. I was able to follow him. Then I start to see that he was sliding too much, more than usual. I said, okay, we will arrive until the end."
War broke out well before then, however. The battlefield was mostly the Bus Stop chicane, or Turns 12, 13, 14, and 15. Márquez launched his attack from his eponymous corner, accelerating out of Turn 10 to gain speed through Turn 11, to set up an attack at Turn 12. He tried once and got past, only to have Dovizioso come back again a couple of laps later. Márquez tried again at the same place, but this time, Dovizioso had been warned.
As the battle grew more intense, Márquez and Dovizioso began to hold each other up, allowing Iannone and Rins to come back again. The two Suzukis had also fought over the right to give chase, the Italian getting the better of that battle.
Iannone arrived on the back of the leaders just as the fight between Márquez and Dovizioso reached its peak. On lap 19, Márquez went all in at Turn 12, cutting inside to take away Dovizioso's line. This put Iannone right on the tail of the pair through Turn 13, while Dovizioso prepared to attack into 14. Márquez tried to hold his line, but the Ducati was too close, so he was forced wide and not the green strip beside the kerbs.
Iannone, unhindered by any opposition, flew through at Turn 14, and briefly into the lead. His lead lasted only a few meters, however, as Márquez recovered his composure and cut inside at Turn 15. He had no speed, though, forced to give it all up to hold his line, and as if choreographed, Dovizioso and Iannone flew past Márquez on the exit of Turn 15. Down the hill they charged, Márquez using the horsepower of the Honda to whip out of the Suzuki's slipstream, and back into second.
If he wanted to win this race – and boy, did he want to win this race, at what is effectively his home track with a corner named after him – Márquez could not afford to wait much longer. With three laps to go, Márquez went all in at Turn 1, taking the lead back from Dovizioso. Dovizioso countered at Turn 4, but that attack left him just a fraction wide, and Márquez took advantage by pulling his Repsol Honda hard inside through the tight left hander of Turn 5. It was time to drive home his advantage, and Márquez pushed as hard as possible to keep the Ducati at bay to the line.
It was Márquez' sixth victory of the season, but more importantly, it put a halt to the run of wins by the Ducatis. That, perhaps more than anything, was why Márquez was so elated at victory. This was not just about winning at Aragon, but about reasserting himself on a weekend when he faced stiff competition. "I know that here I will have a great chance," Márquez told the press conference, "but during all weekend I was fast but Dovi was very, very fast. Was the strongest guy."
The key to victory had been choosing the soft rear tire, though he had had a battle on his hands to persuade Honda to let him run it. "I got up this morning and I said, 'I want to take a risk today'," Márquez said. "In the warm up I didn’t feel good but I pushed, I crashed. I started to think why I crashed, and then we spoke together with Santi, my technician and he was a little bit agreeing already. I said 'I want the soft rear.' Then started big meetings, discussions inside the team with HRC because I didn’t try that soft tire in the afternoon with hot temperature. But I said, I believe in this one. I can manage. Another thing is, it was the only chance to fight against Dovi. Because with the hard I felt good but for my riding style was not working in a good way, especially on the entry."
The right tire
The fact that three of the top four riders raced the soft rear tire rather underscored Márquez' choice. "I think in hindsight, if you look at it, the people who raced the hard rear tire made the wrong choice," Cal Crutchlow said. "Because three of the top four were on the soft rear."
It was not just a matter of choosing the right tire, you also had to use it right. In the latter part of the race, as he fought his fierce battle with Dovizioso, Márquez found a way to hold off the Ducati rider. "In my turn, Turn 10, I had a really good drive when I was behind him. Then I was able to overtake him in Turn 12. Not easy, but in a good way. Then he started to know. He’s really smart. He started to defend there. Then I started to push in another part of the track to use the tire in another way."
That had allowed Márquez to take victory, despite fearing that Dovizioso would be stronger than him. "I said yesterday that Lorenzo and Dovi were the two guys with more rhythm, but at this race Dovi was faster than Lorenzo, especially with the used tire," Márquez said. "Dovi was able to be in 1'48 in the practice. Lorenzo was struggling more with used tires."
The contrasting styles of the Ducati and the Honda had made for a vivid spectacle, Márquez said. "Ducati is riding another way. They don’t lean the bike. They just use the drive and is another kind of riding style, another kind of motorbike," the Repsol Honda rider explained. "But in the end the lap time is the same one. So, for that reason also the battles and the fight are really nice to see. Because he was very strong in one part of the track, I was very strong in another part of the track, but in the end, the compromise means that in the end, was exactly the same lap time. This is good because it means that for next year we need to work hard. Now we have time to work. Me and Honda will improve for be the best bike and the best rider."
Progress you should fear
Despite finishing second, Andrea Dovizioso was happy to be competitive at a track at which they had struggled in the past. This pointed to the major steps Ducati have made, even since 2017, Dovizioso told the press conference. "I’m so happy how much we improve from last year. This is the point. Unfortunately we couldn’t win. We try until the last lap. But we have to study and analyze the reality. In the reality we did a good step, a huge step. Also in this race I think we can learn something for the future. Is very, very positive."
Dovizioso had learned a lot sitting behind Márquez, he said. "I was able to stay with Marc until the end. I expected to see Marc at the end struggling a little bit more, but he had really good speed. He was riding really good, very well. On the right corners he was losing a lot for the tire he had, but on the left corners he was better. So I couldn't really fight with him. I did some fight, but I didn’t have really a lot of cards. Second is okay. It’s important for the future to improve again what we learned this weekend. But we have to be really, really happy. From the first practice to the race our speed is really, really good."
The fact that they had been so quick was a very positive sign for some of the tracks coming up, Dovizioso said. "Philip Island for sure is the worst track for our bike, and it will be a really interesting weekend. I think we can be very competitive there this year. I don’t think it will be like some other tracks. What happened this weekend I think is very, very important, more than Misano. In Misano it was very important, but here even more because this is the confirmation of our improvement. This improvement is the reality, but is even better for the future."
Still not done
Victory for Márquez put him 72 points clear in the championship, and took him a big step closer to wrapping up the title. But Márquez was fearful of complacency. "It's not finished yet," he said. ?Since I don’t have the points that say that they cannot overtake me in the championship, it's not finished."
This was one of the most important lessons of previous seasons, Márquez explained. "Now we can make this mistake, start to think that is already there. In 2014, I was thinking already about the championship at Misano, and here, and then I was pushing too much. I crashed two races in a row. I made this mistake. Thought too much about the championship. We need to keep focused. We need to keep working because in MotoGP anything can happen, mechanical problems, human mistakes, on the track, weather conditions, injuries, you never know."
Márquez may not have been willing to say the title was over, but Dovizioso admitted he had pretty much give up on winning the championship, and not just because Márquez was still fit and healthy. "To gain 72 points in five races to Marc is impossible," Dovizioso said. "The only way is if he will not race." Even if Márquez didn't race, clawing back 72 points would be difficult, with a competitive Jorge Lorenzo, and the two Suzukis, Cal Crutchlow, Dani Pedrosa, and the two Pramac Ducatis to be at every week. "Even that is difficult to make 72 points," Dovizioso said. "So if we want to be realistic, no. In the race, anything can happen, so is open mathematically. This is the situation."
Is the championship really over and done with? Not entirely, though Márquez took a bit step towards it at Aragon. Even if Márquez was forced to miss the rest of the season, Dovizioso would basically have to finish every race on the podium, more or less.
Yet the dream scenario for Márquez isn't playing out either. Ideally, the Repsol Honda rider would want to wrap up the title at Motegi, Honda's home track, in front of the company's senior management. But to do that, he needs to take 3 more points than Dovizioso from the next two races. Going on test times, Márquez might beat Dovizioso at Buriram in Thailand. But he might lose again to Dovizioso in Japan. Unless disaster strikes, Márquez should become champion in Phillip Island, at the latest. But oh, how he would dearly like to get it done in Japan.
Compare and contrast
Marc Márquez did give a good evaluation of the strengths of the Ducati after the race, and how it compared to the Honda RC213V. "Of course, our bike has a very strong point on the tight corners," he said. "Also in the braking, I was feeling really good on this racetrack, but Ducati is a different bike, a different style of riding. Even Dovi is thinking a lot on the bike. You understand really well when he wants to push, when he’s changing the riding style. In the middle of the race he tried to push. He went one second faster. I nearly lost his slipstream but I was pushing too."
There were one or two areas where the Ducati was particularly strong. "They have really strong points, especially in the drive area, they are very, very strong," Márquez noted. "Especially when the tire is new, for that reason they are always on the front row and the pole position because they are using a lot of torque and they are able to use this torque to the wheel and pushing in a good way. In that area we are losing a little bit, but is not the Ducati like last year. These Ducatis are working, even the riders improve, you can see. These Ducatis, already last year they finish a good way. This year especially the second part of the season they work in the small details and they are fast everywhere. In a different way, but they are fast everywhere, every race track. So is important because that means that this is competition. You need to work and you need to improve if you want to fight again for another title."
Andrea Iannone's third place was both good news and bad news for Suzuki, as it meant that they have now amassed a total of 6 concessions points, and will lose the freedom to develop the engine during the season next year, and will no longer have unlimited testing. But Suzuki were far from upset by this: "This is what we have been working for," an elated Davide Brivio said after the race.
But it was also vindication of Iannone, the man pushed out to make way for the youngster Joan Mir. Iannone can be mercurial, but when he gets it right during a weekend, he is a force to be reckoned with. At Aragon, he rode with his head, as well as his heart. "I think this is a really good race for us," Iannone said afterwards. "In any case it’s a really great battle, because first of all I fight a lot with my tires, especially with the rear tires. It’s really important to manage the best for all the race. During the practice we worked I think in the good direction, worked a lot with electronic side, and also me with the throttle. For the race I tried to not push a lot and not push the bike to slide, spin. I think this is a really good strategy."
His strategy was to try to stay as close as possible to Márquez and Dovizioso, even though that was very hard at times. "I lost a little bit to Dovi, Marc and Alex," Iannone said. "But in any case, I remained calm, I tried to manage for the race the tire situation. At the end, the last five or six laps, I start to recover a little bit the gap. I think it’s a really good strategy. Really good battle, especially on the corner 15. In any case, when I pick up the bike, the Honda and Ducati are really fast, faster than us on the straight. I think this is the negative point for the race of today, but in any case it’s a good race."
Iannone's podium put him ahead of Alex Rins once again, though the young Spaniard chalked that up to a strange feeling he had with the front tire, though he found it hard to identify exactly what it was. "I’m really happy," Rins said. "I think we passed these expectations that we made yesterday. Mostly during all the race I was riding very comfortable with the first group. But then when there were twelve laps to go I started to feel something strange on the front. It was a little bit difficult to stop the bike. Then in the last laps at turn five I lost all my possibilities when I lost the front tire, when it was closing."
Losing concessions was not a problem as far as Rins was concerned."It’s not a worry," he said. "It’s normal. Basically we have the preseason to prepare the engine, the bike and everything. For sure this season at Assen they brought a little bit of a modification on the engine and it gave us two or three kph more on the straight. But that base of the engine was the same."
Was Rins afraid of the same mistake happening as happened in 2017, when Suzuki got the engine wrong and used a crankshaft which was too heavy? "If in 2017 if I took the decision to use that engine, I would be worried. But I was injured and I didn’t try the engine," the Spaniard said pointedly. It had been Andrea Iannone who had chosen the engine, after Rins had been injured at Valencia.
Soft tires and determination
Behind the Suzukis, Dani Pedrosa crossed the line in fifth, finally starting to look competitive on the Repsol Honda, and equaling his best result this season. He definitely rued not choosing the soft rear. "Unfortunately, I think the tire choice was the big thing today," Pedrosa said. "It's a shame, because my riding and my pace was good, but the grip on the track was not as good, because maybe after Moto2 the grip wasn't that high, and the hard rear was not giving the grip that we had in practice. Going into the turn, sliding, and losing the rear a lot, both sides, and also going on the exit, so much spin. I think maybe the soft was more matching today because of the track conditions, and sure the soft at the end, you have to manage. But I believe that you have always more corner speed and more exit, and the guys in front running with the soft, they were taking time on the entry and exit of the turn, and this was the three tenths I was losing around the track."
If fifth was a good result for Pedrosa, sixth was outstanding for Aleix Espargaro. It was a result achieved more through will than as a result of the bike, the Aprilia rider pushing well beyond what the RS-GP was capable of, though coming out lucky every risk he took. "I'm happy sincerely, very happy. One of the better days of my career, sincerely, and it's just sixth place, but I'm struggling a lot this year," Espargaro said. "I was very aggressive in the first part of the race today and this is thanks to the changes we did, but it's still too on the limit. I know everybody is on the limit but I was over the limit, for them first 12 laps I was really risking a lot."
But Espargaro was quick to pour cold water on any idea that this result was a big step forward for the Aprilia. "It's not nice that I say this, but the bike is the same," the Spaniard said. "I think the people around me, the Aprilia engineers, are clever enough to know which is the level of the RS-GP. Many riders have ridden this bike in the past and the results are there. I'm the only one who is able to be competitive and even like this I'm struggling a lot, a lot, a lot. So they know that we have to change a lot and improve a lot the 2019 bike to be there."
One thing which had changed around Espargaro was that his new crew chief, Pietro Caprara, had altered their approach to practice. Instead of chasing lap times, Caprara had Espargaro working for the race instead. "With Pietro, we changed a little bit the way to work," the Aprilia rider said. "We work with I would say almost a full tank in all sessions, working a lot more for the race, working with the electronics."
They had also found some improvement at the test after Misano, Espargaro said. "We were two days in Misano," the Spaniard explained. "We did 200 laps almost. We changed a lot the balance of the bike with Pietro, we moved the weight of the bike a lot, trying to find better tire temperature, because it is one of the problems of this year."
Satellite vs factory
The last four places in the top ten were shared between the Pramac Ducati squad and the Movistar Yamaha team. Danilo Petrucci took seventh, happy despite a problem with his rear tire, when the tire rotated around 2cm on the rim, and went slightly out of balance. "The first ten laps I was there," Petrucci said. "Not pushing at my best because as always if I push the first three or four laps then I have some problems at the end. But then when I was with the front group, at lap 10 my gap with Dovizioso was around 2.5s. But then when I started to push, I start to have this vibration on the left side, which happens when the rear tire moves on the rim."
Petrucci's teammate Jack Miller crossed the line in ninth, seven seconds behind Petrucci. Like his teammate, Miller also had a strange vibration, though for the Australian, it proved to be more of an issue with the gearbox, rather than anything else. These are the travails of being in a satellite team. Parts – gearboxes, wheel rims – get used for longer than with the factory teams, as budgets are much more limited. As MotoGP gets closer and closer, details grow ever more important. So using brand new parts as often as possible can make a minute difference over a single lap, but can have much greater implications over race distance.
The two Movistar Yamahas finished in eight and tenth. It is strange to say it of the factory Yamaha squad, but that was not a bad result for the team, given that the started from fourteenth and seventeenth on the grid. Aragon was a downright disastrous weekend for Yamaha, the M1 – both factory and satellite – proving to be completely uncompetitive. Part of that is down to the nature of the track, but so much of it is down to the fact that the Yamaha has stood still in terms of development for a very long time.
When was the last time that Yamaha had brought a big development step to the team, Valentino Rossi was asked? "It was in one test here in Aragon in 2015 that we made a big step with the bike," the nine-time world champion replied. :This is the last time. Was still with the Bridgestone. We did that test before the Assen Grand Prix, in June, and after in Assen, I won."
The lack of progress had made it hard to remain motivated, Rossi said. "It's a very difficult situation, because it's one year that we are in this technical situation. Now, also more, because our opponents, especially Honda and Ducati, but today also Suzuki, they did a big step. I am a little bit faster than last year in the race, because last year I was injured, this year I'm more in a good shape. Also because the bike is the same. The problem is that last year I finished fifth, and this year I finished eighth, and Márquez and Dovizioso are like ten seconds faster, so they made a big step. So in this situation, because we are a top team, it's difficult. It's difficult to find the motivation to fight maybe for the top 10."
Given that Yamaha's decline seems to have set in around the same time as the switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires, many people have pointed to the tires as the source of the M1's problems. But when that was put to Valentino Rossi, the Italian was having none of it. The problem, he insisted, lay with the factory, and the lack of development coming from it.
"For sure the problem is not the tires, because the tires are the same for everybody," Rossi emphasized. "So Honda and Ducati are able to go 10 seconds faster than last year with the same tires. But at the same time, OUR problem is the tires, because for some reason we are not able to make the rear tire work in a proper way. So our bike doesn't take the maximum grip from the rear tire, and we stress too much the tire in a bad way, and at the same time we are slow. So, we are slow and we stress the tire. This is the problem, but it's a Yamaha problem, because the tires are the same for everybody. Looks like the other factories work better in this way."
Rossi was not optimistic about next season either. He had already tried a version of the 2019 engine, but that engine was virtually the same as the current one, Rossi said. "I tried the first edition of the 2019 engine, but I think and I hope that it's not the final engine," he told us. "It's just a small modification, because it's very similar. But I hope that they continue to work, because for me, the engine is a problem for us, they have to make it better."
If Rossi in eighth was downbeat, Maverick Viñales in tenth was almost suicidal. "Well, honestly it was the worst race in my time at Yamaha, and the worst performance of the bike," was his blunt assessment. "The feeling was worse on the bike. I can’t say really precise comments because every area was working bad. There was not one area that was working OK. I wasn’t comparing myself to factory bikes; I was comparing myself to non-factory bikes, that were even better than me. Honestly. Yeah, I’m really disappointed with this weekend and Misano. I had really good speed at the test, but since Misano it seems we have gone backwards rather than forwards. There’s not much say – just try to forget this race, go home, relax, concentrate and try again at Buriram."
Were there any positives to be taken from the weekend? "No," Viñales said. "Honestly, no."
Márquez' victory meant it was 23 races in a row for Yamaha without a win, their longest ever winless streak since coming to Grand Prix racing. And to be frank, there is no end in sight. Things were not looking hopeful at the Buriram test, and Motegi is no longer a track where Yamaha can excel. Phillip Island might be their best bet, yet beating Marc Márquez at Phillip Island has proven to be exceptionally difficult in recent years. Yamaha's best hope of breaking the streak is to succeed when it rains.
Is the streak of 23 races without a win, a record for Yamaha, important to Valentino Rossi? "I hope that it's important for Yamaha to react," Rossi answered. "So maybe some top guys see the number, and ask, why?" Why indeed.
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