Motegi Race Notes: On Fuel Management, The Rookie Surprise, Ducati's Weakness, Rossi's Future, And Lorenzo's Progress

To win a motorcycle race, team, rider, and machine need to get as close as possible to extracting 100% of performance from both motorcycle and rider. In the Socratic Ideal of a motorcycle race, as the bike crosses the line, it runs out of fuel, explodes into a thousand pieces, the tires destroy themselves, and the rider drops down dead. That, however, would contravene the engine durability regulations, be extraordinarily expensive, and make winning a championship impossible.

Instead, what the riders and teams try to do is maximize the performance of the bike, and allow the rider to manage performance throughout the race. That means finding the right engine mapping to extract as much power as possible without burning through tires and fuel, and setting up suspension and electronics to keep as much edge grip, corner speed, and braking ability as possible for as long as possible.

In 2017 and 2018, tire consumption was often the limiting factor. Riders knew tire performance would drop significantly at some point, so they had to design their race strategy around that: either push hard from the beginning and manage to the end, or slow up the race and hope to keep as much performance as possible to make a dash for the end. Andrea Dovizioso was a master at this, which allowed him to control the races such that he could win them, or at least keep them close.

In 2018, and especially 2019, the tires have changed. Michelin have found a way to improve tire durability, and retain performance. As a result, this year's tires are both a little softer (though Michelin insist that is not a good way to think of the combination of compound and construction) and have more tire life. They can go faster for longer.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

The 2019 Michelins may have eliminated one element of strategy from MotoGP, but not all of it. The tires may be much more predictable, but there is still some variation in performance. And better grip for longer also means that the riders have more power available to them for longer, the electronics needing to cut power to preserve tire life less frequently. And at tracks with very high fuel consumption – with long straights from low gear corners, where the throttle is held open a long time – better tires means having to manage fuel much more carefully.

Like with tires, you can manage fuel in different ways. You can go flat out early on, try to pull a gap, and then manage the gap by being smoother and more deliberate (and switching to a more conservative engine map) in the second half of a race. Or you can hang back, sit behind other riders, saving fuel in their slipstream, and wait for the final laps to make a push for the lead.

Those were the strategies with which Marc Márquez headed into the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. "Today I was thinking to make the strategy for the race," the Repsol Honda rider said. "Try to follow somebody and attack in the end, or push from the beginning. Then I said, okay, today in the warm up I feel really good. I will push from the beginning."

Option A

So it was that Márquez, starting from pole for the first time at Motegi in the MotoGP class, focused all his energy on getting the jump when the lights went out for the start of the race. He entered Turn 1 ahead of Fabio Quartararo, the rider who has become his main rival in recent races, and pushed to try to make a break.

Quartararo, however, was having none of it. The Petronas Yamaha SRT rider latched onto Márquez' tail, knowing that his own best chance of winning was to lead the race. As Quartararo discovered at both Misano and Buriram, the Yamaha M1 is fast when he can pick and choose his own lines, but it is hard to use the corner speed advantage the M1 has when you are following another bike. "With our bike it’s good to make a gap from the first laps," he said after the race.

So Quartararo followed Márquez as closely as possible through the stop-and-go sections of the first few corners, and used the corner speed of the bike through Turn 6 to dive inside of Márquez at Turn 7. Now it was the turn of the Frenchman to try to get away.

Stick with the plan

Márquez could not allow that. So as they headed toward the hairpin at Turn 10, the Repsol Honda rider braked as late as he dared, forcing his Honda RC213V up the inside of Quartararo's Yamaha. Quartararo is a tough rider to pass, his strength lying in getting the Yamaha stopped and entering the turn, and Márquez had to flirt with the limit to brake and then make the corner. He ran a fraction wide as he entered inside Quartararo, forcing the Frenchman to sit up slightly, but he had the lead.

That put Quartararo slightly off line, so he cut back aggressively, in turn leaving the pursuing Jack Miller with a problem. The Pramac Ducati rider nearly clipped the rear of the Petronas Yamaha, and had to sit up on the inside of the corner, destroying his exit. Quartararo's move had saved his corner exit and allowed him to keep some drive onto the long back straight, but Miller's drive was gone, pushing him back into the clutches of Franco Morbidelli on the other Yamaha.

Now clear at the front, all Márquez had to do was execute his plan. The newly reconfirmed World Champion did just that, pushing hard to open a gap over the Frenchman. By the end of Lap 2, he had a gap of over 1.2 seconds. But Quartararo wasn't prepared to let Márquez escape just yet. The Petronas Yamaha rider inched closer to Márquez a tenth at a time, cutting the gap to just under nine tenths at the end of Lap 4.

That was the signal for Márquez to up the pace again, putting nearly half a second on Quartararo on Lap 5 before the Frenchman responded. For the next six laps, the gap yoyoed around the 1.1 seconds mark, Márquez responding every time Quartararo pushed to close it. It was only once they reached the halfway mark that Márquez finally broke the Frenchman. In the space of two laps, the Repsol Honda rider extended his advantage to over 2 seconds. Completing his strategy had just become considerably easier.

Running on empty

Opening that gap had come at a cost, however. The pace had been faster than expected. The analysis by Márquez' team after practice predicted he could keep up a pace of low 1'46s and still have fuel left over. "But the problem was that I was able to ride in 1'45 high in a good way," Márquez explained. "Sometimes this is good news, but this time it was not so good because then with the fuel, we know that was a little bit on the limit. I just tried to control during all the race. I tried to be smooth, tried to be on this 1'46 low. When I took two seconds I said, now I will try to manage the distance. Lucky for me, because when one and a half laps remain, the fuel alarm was on the dashboard. When I have the fuel alarm means that remains three laps of fuel. Then I just try to manage."

"Honestly speaking, I started to play a lot with the switches, because like you see, with the fuel and everything, I was on the limit. It's one of the worst circuits here." Márquez really was on the limit, and he wasn't the only one. The Repsol Honda rider had to be pushed back to parc fermé after the race, having run out of fuel on the cool down lap. Quartararo had tested the limit of Márquez' strategy.

But not exceeded it. Márquez held on to win the race by just over a second, having eased off a fraction in the last couple of laps, crossing the line ahead of Fabio Quartararo. The strategy he had planned with his team had come off.

Two for the price of one

"In my mind, it was like two races," Márquez told the press conference. "There were the first twelve laps, and then the last twelve laps. The first twelve laps I tried to lead, I tried to open a gap. If it was possible, this was the plan, then keep the distance. But if it was not possible, then the plan was just to follow somebody, save fuel because we knew that was on the limit, and attack in the end. But then the option A, the first option, the first plan, worked well. But if not, there was still option B. That we didn’t use, but maybe you never know in the future."

How had Márquez pulled off this strategy? "Marc was super fast today," Quartararo said simply. "I was really on the limit in the first laps to try to follow him, but second place, that tastes really good. I will not say that I made the perfect race, but I think is the best result that we can get because Marc was much faster than us. So, I think it’s not like Thailand that we were fighting until the last corner, fighting for the victory. Now Marc was already two or three seconds away, and the second place was the best that we can get here in Motegi."

Márquez' victory may have been a masterpiece of strategy, but it did not make for a great race. The gaps that opened up turned the race into something of a procession, Márquez leading as Quartararo followed. It was clear that Márquez had this one in the bag, the only question was over his margin of victory.

Choices have consequences

The race livened up toward the end, the logical consequence of Márquez' strategy. As Márquez and Quartararo managed their pace with a view to finishing, Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Viñales drew closer. In Dovizioso's case, the issue was not so much tire conservation, as not being able to push on new tires. "We struggled the first half part of the race when the grip was good for everybody," the factory Ducati rider said. "I wasn’t fast enough. I was losing too much in the middle of the corners, I couldn’t be faster than Morbidelli."

But as the tires went off, Dovizioso found it easier to maintain the same pace, and even go faster. "Lap by lap the tire dropped, and in that case my bike worked better and better and better," he explained. "I was able to brake better and my lap times improved. So really happy about the last part of the race because my feeling was really good. The lap time was good."

"But we are not fast when the grip is good," Dovizioso continued. "This is something we have to analyze and study because like in the practice we struggle to be on top, like at the beginning of the race."

The Desmosedici's Achilles heel

The statistics back this up. Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci, and Jack Miller, the three riders on Ducati GP19s, have a grand total of eight front-row starts between them, and not a single pole. By contrast, Yamaha riders have six pole positions and have qualified on the front row 22 times in total (though Maverick Viñales was demoted three places after qualifying in third at Barcelona. Honda have 15 front row starts, though Marc Márquez owns 14 of those, Cal Crutchlow having started from third in Austin.

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Injury or not, the trend for Lorenzo of the last few years has been downward.  Even his last year on the Yamaha produced inconsistant results. I dont think we can point solely to injuries anymore.

He cant ride in mixed conditions, his bike setup has to be perfect, his ergonomics appear to be a never ending pursuit...... Are they really the traits you want in a factory rider?

During some of the wet practise on Saturday he was over 3 seconds off the pace for most of FP3.  Conditions that are hard on concentration for sure, but not physically hard on the body. Miller had suffered technical problems during FP3... missed most of the session yet when he got on track was up to 15th and only 1 second or so off the pace after 2 laps when everyone had slowley built up their pace over multple laps.  That really doesnt shine well on Lorenzo.

He appears to be riding scared. As great a rider he used to be, i really do believe it is time to hang up the leathers. 

hang up his leathers  ?  

it would be a disgrace ...  

david sums it up perfect  2018  broken ankel ,   then his broken  wrist .. 2  broken  vertabre 's

no other human would endure it .   
motogp riders need to just be 100 % fit    not  like 50 %  like lorenzo 

Lorenzo's last year on the Yamaha was 2016.  He had 4 wins, 10 podiums, and was 3rd in the championship.  That's inconsistent?

he also had the following results:

DNF = 3 times

Following results outside of top 5 = 10th, 15th, 17th, 8th, 6th.


seems inconsistant to me.

"He cant ride in mixed conditions, his bike setup has to be perfect, his ergonomics appear to be a never ending pursuit...... Are they really the traits you want in a factory rider?"

How many titles has he won? I'd say, if all of the above sees him lift 3 MotoGP trophies, then yes, I'd have him in my team. To be more serious, who knows what's going wrong for Lorenzo right now, I.e. how much of it is the bike, how much the injury and how much is stuff going on in the brain box. While I've never been a particular fan I remain in awe of his grit and wish him well. If that's through getting back on a bike that suits and being up there at the pointy end again, good for him. If that's via hanging up his leathers and going on to do something new with the remaining  50 or 60 years of his life, the same. Either way, he made a mark.

It is still quite amazing that Yamaha managed to do well, while they are powerless when it comes to top speed, hp and torque. It is sad to watch as Honda and all the others can pass the Yams simply by twisting the right wrist, Yamaha must find power in their inline 4 or develop a V4. Imagine Q20, Vinales, Morbidelli with similar torque & hp as the Ducati or Honda, good setup they would be unbeatable...

I still remember the Rossi Stoner fight of Laguna-Seca, all that Stoner had was the main straight and the climb to the corkscrew, POWER !

lap after lap, Ducati power against the Still very talented underpowered Doctor....

for Japan 2019, how 1 more lap could have changed the results, smooth rider #04 with loads of power...

Quartararo is more than an super pilot by achieving 4 podium in a row, many polls, etc... give him power ! Top speed ! Championships....

It is still quite amazing that Yamaha managed to do well, while they are powerless when it comes to top speed, hp and torque. It is sad to watch as Honda and all the others can pass the Yams simply by twisting the right wrist, Yamaha must find power in their inline 4 or develop a V4. Imagine Q20, Vinales, Morbidelli with similar torque & hp as the Ducati or Honda, good setup they would be unbeatable...

I still remember the Rossi Stoner fight of Laguna-Seca, all that Stoner had was the main straight and the climb to the corkscrew, POWER !

lap after lap, Ducati power against the Still very talented underpowered Doctor....

for Japan 2019, how 1 more lap could have changed the results, smooth rider #04 with loads of power...

Quartararo is more than an super pilot by achieving 4 podium in a row, many polls, etc... give him power ! Top speed ! Championships....

Is it me, or am I seeing less and less of the sea of yellow in the stands. Fans can be fickle, and perhaps the armageddon predicted by the retirement of Rossi might just not happen.

His biggest problem is that while Rossi has been finishing somewhere around seventh place, the other Yamaha riders have been well ahead of him. Fabio Quartararo has been on the podium for four of the last six races, Maverick Viñales for three of the last six. Even when Rossi has had a good day – fourth in Austria, fourth in Silverstone – he has finished behind other Yamahas. And now, Quartararo has passed him in the championship, with little prospect of Rossi being able to get ahead of the French rookie again.

Can we draw any conclusions about Rossi's future? It already looks like the Italian's decision to change crew chiefs for next year is his last role of the dice. He is proud enough not to want to ride around settling for top tens, but the fact that he has two podiums this year and finished fourth twice in the last six races suggests that he is not that far off being competitive. If Yamaha can find more speed – something all four Yamaha riders complain of – then that may sway his decision. We will know a lot more after the tests in Sepang and Qatar next year.

wasn't Rossi fourth in Austria as well? So three fourth places in a row, if I'm not mistaken.
Furthermore, isn't it "roll of the dice"? 🤔

Vinales' inability to pass Dovi was contrasted by the multiple passes Morbidelli made on Miller (granted Jack is not Andrea, but still). Both of them paid later for their early exuberance but it was fun to watch. Franco also did a very good job holding off Dovi for as long as he did.

Very interested in your take on Honda top mgmt re: Lorenzo. I would have thought that his poor showing in their home race, after showing some improvement in practice and qualifying, would have solidified their resolve to get out of the contract and replace him for 2020. Though with whom, I can't imagine - top options seem to be Zarco (bad idea) and Bradl (less bad idea), so betting on a healthy Jorge being an improved Jorge may be their best option, all things considered.

Good on the TV crews for focusing on the epic battle for final podium between Maverick and Dovi in the second half. That was epic. Ducati horsepower had no answer to the Yamaha turnability. Except of course for the analytical and focused mindset of the best rider that has graced its seat since Casey Stoner. Rider of the day goes to Dovi. The Honda has become a career killer like the Ducati of yore. Ducati has evolved or devolved into military medium kit. Suitable for all like Yamaha and Suzuki offerings. Next year I expect KTM will be in the military medium category. In the interim, HRC have Marquez as special ops representative. Eggs in one basket. Quattararo did another fine job. I can't help but think that given a Ducati GP 19, KTM or Honda current, he'd be hard pressed to stay mid pack. Rides like Lorenzo once did on the same bike. Rossi would be smart to hand over his mantle to his half brother come 2021. Fine performance from Luca Marini in M2. Was that Dovi's 100th podium in GP? Was that his 300 and something never missed a start in succesion? Was that all accomplished on Honda, Yamaha, Ducati in senior class? When Dovi tells Gigi the bike is wrong, he better bloody listen. Runner up to magic Marc 3 x in succession on the cards. No other Ducati rider in sight. However, the only way he will win the senior title next year will be the same way Hayden won it in 2006. Stars will have to align.

The Honda=career killer line of thought. Crutchlow didn’t set the world on fire in WSB, despite a plum ride. He is consistently around 8 or 9 in MotoGP by years’ end.

Nakagami had only a couple of wins in Moto2, and a handful of podiums here and there over a couple of seasons. A good weekend for him in MotoGP is sneaking inside the top 10.

I’m completely disregarding Jorge, due to injury and, well, let’s just say he has history when it comes to be a “slow adopter” pun intended.

So to me, the RCV is achieving exactly the results I’d expect from the pilot’s in the saddle. It might not be flattering their skills, but it is in no way an albatross around their neck.

To say 

...I'm not really sure what to make of Rossi at this point. He's getting smoked by Fabio, on a sat bike. IF he had been mixing it up, with the rest of the Yam's, I'd say OK, this isn't a Rossi issue, but..... David, you have an opinion?

I'm not a Jorge fan, but respect his talent. With that said, I'm gonna give him a pass as there is no way he's fully fit yet. I'm sure he's got plenty of negative 'issues' w/his bike, but until he's fully healed and 100% physically, I'll hold my opinion.  Last year he was FAST on that Duc when he got things worked out. Boy, did Ducati's CEO screw the pooch with that contract. 

The problem for Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki, that they don't have Marc. IF ANY other manufacturer had Marc, they'd win the WC. So, the problem is 'how do you beat Marc'....

3 time MotoGP champion. Everyone called for his head after first year with Duc and then boom he was awesome... after he figured it out and before he got hurt. We need a healthy Jorge on a bike that suits his style. Crutchlow has been nowhere all year, and he has also ridden Yamaha, Duc and Honda. He spoke about this from the beginning of the season and he would know when a bike is missing something. Poor Taka for next year!! ;P

For Jorge, nothing to look forward to except a crash free end of the season and then post season tests on a hopefully  improved bike. Until then, we know where he will be...way behind Zarco!!!  ;P

I agree with everyone on Lorenzo, but his off-season Instagram feed better be nothing but pictures of him training like a madman. None of this "Relaxing at a resort" stuff. I'm not the biggest Marquez fan in the world, but his work-ethic and dedication to healing after his shoulder surgery set him up for this amazing 2019 season. If Lorenzo wants to prove he can be the best in the world, 2020 is the perfect opportunity to do so, because he's the only guy in the paddock sharing a garage with the current worldchamp. Lorenzo is already a MotoGP immortal, but 2020 will likely determine his legacy. 

given they appear to have finally woken up and realised the bike in its current state can only be ridden by one rider.  Not a good place to be in if your one and only rider gets injured.

Lorenzo both adapted his style and eventually got what he needed with the Ducati and it is possible that Honda are thinking that he might just do the same to the Honda.

And it's just a theory...could it be that Rossi's and Viñales' contrasting inputs have confused the Yamaha engineers to the detriment of the bike? Rewind back to 2017 when Viñales was dominating testing and the first races and Rossi was a little no where so he pressed for changes which Viñales didn't like - coupled with the change in tires - and Viñales' magic was gone. 

And then came Zarco who was starting to beat the factory riders on a satellite bike; a trend which continued with Quartararo. Perhaps without the confusing requirements from two riders pulling the bike in different directions - or perhaps it went too much towards Rossi who still held considerable power within Yamaha - the satellite team is/was able to simply focus on honing their setup (and the Yamaha was a very good bike up until sometime last year I think) instead of chasing something that isn't there. 

It's also a coincidence that ever since Jarvis said Rossi is no longer the factory team's future and focus, the bike has returned to competitiveness, the same time as Rossi becoming less and less competitive...

I don't mean to imply that Rossi is bad for the team or anything of that sort. I apologize in advance if it comes across that way. I have a lot of respect for him and he's one of MotoGP's greatest of all time. Just my two cents.

If we rewind all the way back to VR's heyday, until Jorge came along none of the Yamaha wingmen could hold a candle to Rossi. In the initial Jorge period, when Yamaha seemed to be running two slightly different bikes in parallel, it was nip and tuck. Then when Rossi returned and the focus shifted back to him (based on results, by the way), a slight gap reappeared. So perhaps the Yamaha story has been not entirely dissimilar to that of Honda over the last three or four years, that of tailoring the bike to suit one brilliant rider at the expense of others, because that one rider can by and large eke the most out of the machine and ride around it's limitations. The trouble for Yamaha is that as Vale has been naturally losing that ability bit by bit as he gets older it hasn't made sense to continue investing in him to the same extent but, having lost Jorge, until very recently they haven't had a successor. So my guess is the confusion stems from not having a single basket into which they can put all the eggs. Consequently, Vale is riding 'nobodies' bike, a generic mule that most riders could get on with but missing that extra ingredient tailored to the chosen one. The 'all the power you can give me' type of thing, because the special rider is particularly able to deal with the particular downsides that come with that. Whereas Vale, and Mav, don't seem able to fully compensate for the shortcomings of the current model. Both can do relatively well on a good day when the stars align for the bike but that doesn't happen often enough and right now it looks like Vale is finding it harder than Mav.

From where I'm sat, the future for Yamaha looks like FQ, because he's doing exactly what I've described above. The acid test for me will be whether he continues that into next season or sinks like a stone as often happens. But if he floats, Yamaha have their replacement.

To stay on the subject of VR but on another topic, I feel we're already in the post Vale era, that MotoGP has gone through that gate almost painlessly. Much of the 'sea of yellow' was manufactured by Dorna and they have carefully nurtured other 'brands', such that branding has become an established part of the model. It didn't really exist before Rossi whereas it now looks like it's a permanent fixture. It's even spread as far as BSB. Scott as a poster boy? Nice lad but not with that funny haircut. This is no different to, for instance, the music industry, who manufacture and market short-lifespan idols as a continuous process, broadly maintaining sales by changing the product as and when needed. True, no-one has yet come close to the superstardom of Vale and maybe never will - think Beatles, who churned out some absolute tosh along with the pure gold - but the series is already way bigger and more sophisticated than one rider.

<p>Any evidence that Rossi is being the test mule for the final few rounds? apart from, he seems to be the only one swopping parts around! He seems cheerful enough given the current results? resigned to next years performance perhaps?</p>

Rossi might be using the rest of the season to evolve his riding style.

He's got a contract for 2020, he's free to focus on himself if he wants to.