Analysis

2016 Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A More Level Playing Field Than Expected

So much for Ducati domination. Sure, the two factory Ducatis are on the front row, Andrea Iannone on pole, Andrea Dovizioso in third, but they did not destroy the competition in qualifying the way they did so in practice on Friday. Austria is still Ducati's best chance of a win since Casey Stoner left for Honda at the end of the 2010 season, but it is no longer the sure thing it seemed on Friday.

What happened? A lot of things, but most of all, the weather improved dramatically. That certainly helped Jorge Lorenzo find some confidence, and put him back into contention after a couple of tough races. Valentino Rossi found some acceleration, and improved his pace. Marc Márquez worked on making up on the brakes what he is losing in acceleration. That puts the Ducatis, the Yamahas and Márquez all within a tenth or two of each other in race pace. We really are going to have to wait for the fat lady to start singing on this one.

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.

2016 Austria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: New Tracks, New Challenges

In the last few years, the MotoGP season has shown remarkable stability. New tracks have been added from time to time, but the calendar has been very similar from one year to the next. Even though you get to go to some of the most amazing tracks in the world, the travel becomes routine, humdrum almost. You get to know the road from the hotel to the track, the circuit itself, the idiosyncrasies of each paddock, each media center, like the back of your hand. It becomes almost like a daily commute to an office. Almost, but not quite.

So new circuits have something a little special. They bring fresh faces, new ideas. There are new routes to learn to the circuit, a new paddock layout, figuring the most efficient path through the paddock. As a journalist, each media center has its own secrets. The best place to sit to get a view of the TV screens, whether the setting sun in the evening will end up shining on your laptop making it impossible to work, where to sit to avoid being whacked on the head by cameras as photographers try to squeeze past. You make note of which media center has good coffee, and which has none (Italy, surprisingly). You scout the paddock for food, if you do not wish to wear out your welcome at the hospitality units of various teams.

The Red Bull Ring in Austria has something special too. The track is different, in both good and bad ways, both simpler and at the same time more complicated. The media center, too, is different. It is quite simply the most luxurious media center I have ever been in. Fast WiFi (and more importantly, free, instead of the €30 to €50 which most tracks charge), plenty of big HD screens, a very airy and roomy space. Most amazing of all, the media center also has its own buffet, serving a wide selection of food throughout lunch time. At some tracks, such as Austin, we get a free lunch; at others, we get free bread rolls with meat and cheese. But I have never seen a media center with such an expansive spread of food. All those young people buying overpriced caffeinated sugar water are helping to ensure a bunch of old men are very well fed.

2016 Austria MotoGP Preview - Into the Unknown, Powered by Sugar Water

There is a lot of money to be made by using clever marketing to sell caffeinated sugar water to the gullible. So much money, in fact, that you can afford your own air force and your own space program. That money can be further multiplied by staging your own sporting events in sports that suit your brand, such as freestyle mountain biking, or motocross, though it is best not to ask about competitor insurance. This should probably not come as a surprise, though, from a company owned by someone who threatened to shut down a TV station when the people who worked there wanted to convene a works council.

The peddling of sugar water generates enough revenue to fund not one, but two Formula One teams, a soccer team or four, as well as backing large numbers of racers and teams in all forms of two-wheeled competition. It may seem churlish to complain about energy drink companies, given the amount of money they pump into motorsports, but that money also creates a major risk.

2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 13: What Remains, from Bradley Smith to Yonny Hernandez

In the final part of our mid-season review of MotoGP, we come to the ragtag bunch bringing up the rear. From Bradley Smith to Yonny Hernandez, nearly all have a valid excuse for their poor results. But excuses count for nothing in motorcycle racing.

16th: Bradley Smith, Yamaha , 35 points

A remarkable reversal of fortunes for Bradley Smith and his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Pol Espargaro in 2016. Last year, Smith's consistency was in stark contrast to Espargaro's continuous attempts to try to make the Yamaha do something it didn't want to. In 2016, it is Smith who is banging his head against a wall trying to make the rear Michelin do something it won't, while Espargaro is the picture of consistency.

2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 12: 11 through 15, from Espargaro to Bradl

After a stroll through the top ten, our mid-season review of MotoGP continues, and gains in both brevity and the number of riders under discussion. Here, we go through the numbers eleven to fifteen, from Aleix Espargaro to Stefan Bradl:

11th: Aleix Espargaro, Suzuki, 51 points

Where his teammate is being heralded as The Next Big Thing, Aleix Espargaro has struggled. At some circuits, his results have been impressive: two fifths at Austin and Jerez, followed by a sixth at Le Mans are right where Espargaro believes he belongs, running close to the front and looking for improvement. But the rest of the season has been mediocre. Two DNFs and three finishes outside the top ten are just not good enough for a factory Suzuki rider.

2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 11: Andrea Dovizioso & Eugene Laverty

The latest eleventh part of our mid-season review sees us come to the end of the top ten in the championship standings, and another brace of Ducatis. We take a look at Andrea Dovizioso's rough year, and the consistency of Eugene Laverty:

9th: Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati, 59 points

If it wasn't for bad luck, Andrea Dovizioso wouldn't have any luck at all. Of the nine races so far this year, Dovizioso has finished just five, and one of them, only by pushing his bike across the line.

2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 10: Hector Barbera & Andrea Iannone

In the tenth part of our mid-season review, we come to the Ducatis. Hector Barbera is the surprise leader of the Bologna pack, just ahead of Andrea Iannone. We compare Barbera's consistency with Iannone's impetuosity.

7th: Hector Barbera, Ducati, 65 points

First Ducati at the halfway point. That must be particularly sweet for Hector Barbera, given his reputation inside and outside the MotoGP paddock. With so many Spanish riders packing the grid, Barbera is one of the riders Dorna are believed to be keen to ditch. Yet the Avintia Ducati rider keeps finding sponsorship to ride, and keeps proving that he is still fast enough to compete. Both and without a tow.

2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 9: Maverick Viñales & Pol Espargaro

The next part of our MotoGP mid-season review focuses on the first of the non Aliens in the standings: Maverick Viñales and Pol Espargaro:

5th: Maverick Viñales, Suzuki, 83 points

Is Maverick Viñales the next Alien? There are many who claim that he will be. Yamaha clearly believe he has the potential to become one, as they signed him as Jorge Lorenzo's replacement for 2017 and beyond. In 2016, Viñales has show real potential with some impressive performances. Yet at other times, he has been positively middling. The jury is still out at the moment.

2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 8: Dani Pedrosa

Our MotoGP mid-season review continues with the man everyone tipped for the title on Michelin tires, Dani Pedrosa.

4th: Dani Pedrosa, Honda, 96 points

Before the start of the 2016 season, many insiders, including several MotoGP riders, were telling anyone who would listen to look out for Dani Pedrosa. The new Michelin tires played perfectly into his hands. The extra grip of the powerful Michelin rear gave him the grip he had been missing with the Bridgestones, and his smoothness with the throttle was helping to overcome the limitations of the spec electronics. Pedrosa was the unanimous outside tip for the championship.

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