Analysis

2017 Motegi Friday Round Up: Slow Yamahas, Fast Ducatis, And Blame For Crashes

The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes which don't, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.

The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. "Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble," Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso. "We don't understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange."

The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. "We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip," Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate. "We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive."

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2017 Motegi MotoGP Preview: The Weather As Wildcard

The three Pacific flyaways are all tough, but each is tough in its own particular way. At Sepang, the brutal combination of heat and humidity punishes the body and the mind. At Phillip Island, the fickle weather, which can change in the blink of an eye, always manages to catch out the unwary. And Motegi is tough because of the physical demands of the circuit, featuring the hardest braking sections on the calendar, combined with often cold and wet weather.

Motegi can really take its toll, on machinery, but especially on the riders. Braking is so tough at the circuit that the MotoGP rules specifically state that 340mm carbon discs must be used there. There are plenty of riders who paid the price of trying to run the smaller 320mm discs, their brakes overheating on the run into Turn 1 and then never really getting a chance to cool off properly as they approach the next hard braking section after crossing the finish line.

Those braking sections are illustrative of the stop-and-go nature of the Japanese track. Like Le Mans, the circuit has a bunch of straights which loop back toward each other, with tight corners in between. Once the riders exit Turn 5 and head under the bridge, they enter a more flowing and natural section. 130R is a fast right hander, which is followed by one of the better overtaking points on the circuit, the left of Turn 7, then the right-handed S Curve of Turn 8.

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Crunching The Numbers: Who Has Momentum Going Into MotoGP's Asian Triple Header?

In many ways, the MotoGP season is structured like a Hollywood action blockbuster. There is preseason testing, the opening sequence in which we are introduced to the main cast of characters. After the opening credits, we start off by flying across continents to a range of exotic and colorful locations, where the first threads of plot are laid out, some of which will turn out to be red herrings later in the season. There then follows a regular sequence of dramatic action sequences, the narrative of the season taking dramatic twists and turns along the way.

If MotoGP is a Hollywood blockbuster, then the Pacific triple header of flyaway races is the frantic last 10 minutes, where the protagonists face off again and again leaving the audience barely a moment to catch their breath. It is where the battle for MotoGP reaches its crescendo, the drama of the season raised to another level and compressed into the briefest of windows. The flyaways are intense.

If the fans feel the triple header takes its toll on them, just imagine what it's like for the riders. Back-to-back races within Europe are usually manageable, as the riders are only a few hours away from their homes, and spend the weekends in their motorhomes, which are a home away from home. For the flyaways, the riders spend four weeks on the road, moving from hotel to hotel. They kick off the trip with a 15-hour flight to Japan, follow it up with an 11-hour flight from Japan to Melbourne, then another 9-hour flight to Malaysia.

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2017 Aragon MotoGP Race Round Up: One Step Closer To The Championship

When they come to write the history of the 2017 MotoGP season, one of the largest chapters is going to bear the title "Weather". The weather continues to play an inordinately large role in the 2017 championship. Not always on race day, perhaps, but the amount of time wasted during practice because conditions were so utterly different to Sunday has made a significant difference to the course of the championship.

Aragon was a case in point. Wet conditions on Friday meant one less day of practice for the teams. For some, that meant never finding a solution to problems which would come to plague them on race day. For others, their first guesses at setup were pretty much spot on, the benefit of years of experience allowing for an educated guess. For the race winner, failing to find a decent setup leading to a lack of feeling was no obstacle to success. Sometimes, the will to win can overcome remarkable odds.

This lack of setup time may be the bane of the teams' lives, but it is a boon for fans. It adds an element of unpredictability, helping to shake up the field and make the races and the championship more interesting. The championship ain't over till it's over: there has been too much weirdness this year to take anything on trust.

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2017 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Losing Practice Time, Deceptive Times, And Rossi's Miraculous Recovery

When you lose the first day of a MotoGP weekend to rain, the remainder of practice becomes incredibly hectic. FP3, especially, becomes insane. Teams and riders are trying to force 90 minutes of practice into half an hour, and then throw soft tires at the last 15 minutes in an attempt to avoid Q1.

Unfortunately, the constraints of temporal physics make it impossible to put the best part of race distance on the different compounds of tires, try different bike balance and electronics settings to measure their effectiveness, try to follow a rival or two to figure out where you are stronger and weaker than they are, and finally throw a couple of soft tires at a quick lap, all in just a single session of free practice. Sure, there's another 30 minutes of FP4 to try to figure things out, but usually, that is where you are trying to nail down the fine details, not evaluate radically different bike setups.

So on Saturday evening, when riders are asked what their strategy is and which tire they will be racing, there is a lot of shrugging of shoulders. Andrea Dovizioso was a case in point at Aragon. "Still we don’t know," he said. "Still there is a lot of work to do about setup and also the decision of the tires, because we didn’t really have time to work on them. The temperature was so cold in FP3, and in the afternoon the temperature change a lot. In the morning you can’t work on the tires. We have only 30 minutes in the afternoon to try and understand something. I think for everybody, the decision is not clear. Still we have to study a lot of data and take a decision about the tires and the set-up. Maybe all three are an option but I don’t know."

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2017 Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, A Reversal Of Fortunes, And Rethinking Testing

I, along with almost every photographer and a good part of the journalists present at Aragon, made my way down to the pit lane on Friday morning, to watch Valentino Rossi's first exit on the Yamaha M1 since breaking his leg in an enduro accident. It was overcast but dry, and there was a real sense of anticipation as Rossi limped to his bike, swung his leg awkwardly over it, then exited the garage smoothly and headed off down pit lane.

Before he and the rest of the MotoGP field had reached the exit of pit lane, the rain had started to fall. Not hard enough to leave the track properly wet, but enough rain to make using slicks impossible. FP1 was a wash. Fastest man Marc Márquez was 13 seconds off lap record pace.

The track dried out again during the lunch break, but once again, just as the MotoGP riders were about to head out, the rain started to fall. They found the track in FP2 much as they had left it in FP1: too wet for slicks, not really wet enough for a proper wet test. And with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be dry and sunny, any data collected was of very little use indeed.

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2017 Aragon Thursday Round Up: Rossi's Rapid Recovery, And A Perspective On Heroism

What is Valentino Rossi doing back on a race bike just 22 days after breaking both the tibia and fibula in his right leg? The answer is simple enough: racing. How on earth can he be thinking about racing so soon? Quite simply, because his leg is in much, much better shape than he expected it to be.

The last time Rossi broke his leg back in 2010, he was in worse shape after the accident. "I remember in 2010 after the surgery I had five or six days where I was very, very bad," Rossi told the press conference. "This time already the next day I was able to come back at home."

That was also the moment when he started to think he might be able to return to racing quicker than in 2010. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, he immediately focused on Motegi as the target for his return. But that changed quickly. "In the first days I understand that I feel a lot, lot less pain compared to last time. So I think that I can make in a shorter time. The first week was difficult, but after the first 10 days I start to improve a lot, also every day, and started to have good feeling from the leg and ankle. And started to think about Aragon."

Before anyone in the paddock saw Rossi, there were few who thought he would be in any shape to be riding. But when he drove up to the paddock and got out of his car, it was clear he was in much better condition than any of us thought. He hopped out with relative ease, and took off with just a single crutch for support. No cast on his leg, just a support bandage.

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Swapping Jonathan Rea & Andrea Iannone - An Idea Abandoned

Andrea Iannone has been something of an enigma since joining Suzuki. The Italian was blisteringly quick last year on the Ducati, which is one of the reasons Ducati took so long to choose between him and Andrea Dovizioso after they signed Jorge Lorenzo to the factory team. He was fast when he jumped on the Suzuki GSX-RR for the first time at the Valencia test, then carried that speed to Sepang, where he finished as second quickest overall.

Things have gone downhill since then. The Italian slipped down the order at the Phillip Island, then trailed further behind at the Qatar test. His season has gone from bad to worse since racing started: he has five DNFs from 13 races, and when he finishes, he usually ends up around tenth. His best result so far has been a seventh place in Texas, but that was the exception, not the rule.

He currently sits in sixteenth in the championship, with a paltry 33 points. Iannone, race winner in Austria last year, sits behind both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rookies, and behind a total of seven riders on satellite bikes. His rookie teammate, who has spent most of the season banged up with injury, is threatening to beat him more and more regularly. How to solve an issue like Andrea Iannone?

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