The 2015 MotoGP championship is one of the closest in years. Close championships are always fascinating, but this one has an extra edge to it: the two men fighting over the 2015 title are both teammates, and racing on the same bike. The differences between the Yamaha M1s of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are virtually non-existent, their results dependent entirely on the riders themselves, and how well their teams prepare the bikes and riders for the race.
With nothing to choose between the bikes, focus has turned to the tires. Jorge Lorenzo's constant references to his preference for the tire with the special edge treatment have made this focus much keener. Under the glaring spotlight of public scrutiny, the allocation of tires which Bridgestone brings to each race has taken on the appearance of being the decisive factor in every race. Before every race weekend in MotoGP, the one question I get asked most via Social Media (other than "who do you think will win?" of course), is whether Bridgestone will be bringing the tires with the edge treatment or not.
This focus on tires is becoming so intense that a number of misconceptions about Bridgestone's rear tires are starting to arise. Some fans are starting to believe that Bridgestone are manipulating the results by bringing the special tires to some races, but not to others. They are starting to believe that tire choice is the sole deciding factor in races. They are even starting to believe that Jorge Lorenzo is the only rider who likes the tires with the edge treatment, and that those tires are an actual disadvantage for most, if not all of the other riders on the grid.
That tires have been a factor is something I have been keeping an eye on for a while. I have had numerous discussions with Bridgestone staff throughout the year, questioning them on the circumstances and process behind the tires and tire choice. At Silverstone, I also questioned a number of riders on how they feel about the tires, and whether they prefer the tires with the edge treatment, or are hindered by them in some way. Given the stakes, I did not ask Jorge Lorenzo or Valentino Rossi about it, but instead got a range of riders with different manufacturers to give their opinions.
2015 Silverstone MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Controlling The Uncontrollable, And Championships Drawing Closer
The key to success in motorcycle racing is to control the variables which you can control, and adapt to the ones which you can't. The British round of MotoGP at Silverstone turned out to be all about those variables, the controllable and the uncontrollable, about right and wrong choices, and about adapting to the conditions.
The one variable over which those involved in motorcycle racing don't have any control is the weather. Especially at Silverstone, especially at the end of summer. That it should rain is utterly unsurprising. That it should rain during a MotoGP race even more so. The outcome of the MotoGP race – and in fact, the outcome of all three races at Silverstone – was entirely predictable: the rider who was both best prepared and best able to adapt to the conditions won. Behind the winners – Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco and Danny Kent – came a mixture of those who adapted and those who didn't, those who had controlled the variables, and those who had overlooked some of the variables they could control.
Rain may have been predictable on Sunday, but the timing of the rain created an entirely unpredictable situation. The Moto2 race had started in the wet, the track drying after the rain eased off, wet tires getting chewed up as the laps reeled off. The MotoGP riders went to the grid on a track with a clear dry line, slick tires the right choice for the conditions, though there were a couple of corners where the riders had their doubts. Reports coming in to Race Direction from the marshal posts around the track said the track was dry, the fine drizzle falling not making an impact on the track. The driver of the safety car reported spotting on the windscreen during his lap of the circuit before the start of the warm up lap. Race Director Mike Webb declared a dry race with five minutes to go to the start, and with the keen sense of irony which the weather gods always seem to possess, that proved to be the signal for the rain to start getting heavier, especially around the southern end of the circuit.
Predicting how a MotoGP race will play out is hard. Scratch that, predicting how a MotoGP race will play out is downright impossible. We scour the sector and lap times, talk to as many riders as possible, try to make sense of what they tell us, and take our best guess based on all we have learned. And inevitably, we get it wrong. Because there was something we missed, or because some random factor intervened, or because we didn't pay enough attention to what the riders were telling us, or perhaps paid too much attention to it. Which is why you should probably take the following with a pinch of salt.
After qualifying and practice at Brno, we confidently predicted one of the best races of the year, with Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Márquez setting almost identical pace during free practice. The chase lasted for five laps, before Lorenzo picked up his heels and disappeared, riding a perfect race to an unstoppable win, and killing any burgeoning excitement stone dead.
Silverstone looks like being very similar. There are two riders who are clearly a step ahead of the rest, and on the basis of practice times on Saturday, their pace is very similar indeed. Though you wouldn't say that just based on the headline numbers: in FP3, Jorge Lorenzo destroyed the rest of the field, beating Márquez by nearly half a second. In the afternoon, during FP4, Márquez returned the favor, laying down a withering pace to put over eight tenths on everyone else, and posting a string of ten laps, the slowest of which was faster than fastest lap set by any other rider on the field. The difference between Lorenzo's FP3 lap and Márquez' FP4 lap? Just 0.062 seconds, in Lorenzo's favor.
2015 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Notes: Bumps & Wind, Marquez' Changed Style, And Rossi's Recurring Issue
Silverstone was Silverstone on Friday. It pulled its many underhand tricks out of its sleeve, and threw everything it had at the riders, with the exception of rain. Cool in the morning, warm and sunny in the afternoon, with occasional cloud cover to drop the track temperature. High winds, gusting in a few corners where it was trying to lift the bikes and throw them off line. And bumps galore, short ones, long ones, moved around the circuit since the last time the MotoGP riders were here, forcing them to recalibrate their memories, and pick new lines through the corners they thought they knew.
The ever eloquent Bradley Smith explained: "I’m not too worried about bumps coming from my motocross background it is not something I worry about, it might be something some of the other guys are more scared about, but it doesn’t really effect me. It does seem to be quite bad going into the first corner Copse it is quite bad still and there is a nasty one into Stowe at the end of Hanger Straight. Still the braking point at Vale chicane is still like rollers into there. And for Abbey that one is really, really bad there is one in the middle of the corner which always makes the front tuck."
2015 Silverstone MotoGP Preview: The Ryanair Round, Silverstone's Peculiar Challenges, And The Silly Season Latest
The Irish budget airline Ryanair gained something of a reputation for being, shall we say, creative with the names of the airports it flies to. Fancy a trip to Sweden? They will fly you to Stockholm Skavsta, a mere 100 km from the city of Stockholm. The same trick is played out time and time again: Paris Beauvais? Beauvais is a charming French city, and well worth a visit, but it is very long way from the French capital. Munich West (Memmingen)? 112 km west of the Bavarian capital.
So perhaps we should call this British GP the Ryanair MotoGP round. Officially, it is being run by the Circuit of Wales, located in Ebbw Vale, South Wales. Yet the race is to be run around the Silverstone circuit, nearly 200 km further East. Close, it is not. How did it end up at Silverstone? Thereby hangs a long and convoluted tail.
The Circuit of Wales won the contract to organize the British round of MotoGP back in 2014, after outbidding Silverstone, who had been pushing to have the sanctioning fee for MotoGP reduced, as crowds at the circuit were not living up to expectations. Awarding the contract to the Circuit of Wales was a gamble by Dorna. The track existed only as a CAD file on a designer's computer, and the Head of the Valleys Development Company, the company behind the circuit, did not even have permission to actually build on the land they planned to put the circuit on.
Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi head into Silverstone tied on points, with Lorenzo only leading because he has more wins to his name this season than his teammate. With the race that close, who does the season favor? Who will emerge victorious at the end? It is far too early to make any firm predictions, but perhaps we can guess from looking at last year.
There are seven races left in 2015, and the seven left this season are the exact same races in the exact same order as the last seven of 2014. That parallel invites comparisons, and the drawing of conclusions, though such conclusions are tenuous at best. However, there are tracks which favor Rossi, and tracks which favor Lorenzo, and their performance there may yet be indicative of the final outcome.
First, the numbers. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo currently have 211 points after the first 11 races. With seven races left, there are a grand total of 175 points still up for grabs. Though neither rider is likely to run the board – they are too evenly matched for that – a look back at their performances last year can be instructive.
In the last seven races of 2014, Rossi won two, at Misano and Phillip Island, and Lorenzo won two, at Aragon and Motegi. Lorenzo took three second places, while Rossi ended in second just twice. Rossi ended in third two times, Lorenzo just a single time, and both riders scored a blank due to poor weather. Rossi crashed at Aragon on a damp track, while Lorenzo retired after a tire change at Valencia in half-wet, half-dry conditions.
Michelin Speaks: Piero Taramasso On 2016 Tire Allocations, Front Tires, Intermediates, And Performance
The change of official tire suppliers for MotoGP, with Bridgestone departing and Michelin arriving, is arguably the most significant change to the class since the series went to a single tire in 2009. Changing tire manufacturers has a massive impact on everything, from bike design to rider preference, and Michelin face a huge challenge to get everything ready in time. Bridgestone helped by staying on for an extra year to allow Michelin to properly prepare, and the tires which the French manufacturer have been developing are looking very promising.
Their preparations have not been helped by conditions. Test days have been hit by rain, with testing severely hampered. This was also the case at Brno, when the majority of the MotoGP field was due to get their first outing on the Michelins since Sepang, though the factory riders had a chance to test after Mugello. The rain did give a group of journalists a chance to grill Piero Taramasso, Michelin's manager of two wheel motorsports activities.
Had the weather affected their plans for the test at Brno, we asked? "The plan was to test in dry condition so it looks like it will be not the case," Taramasso replied. "We brought some new solutions for the front. For example we had the same profile with two different casings and three different compounds. For rear tires same profile, two different casings, and two different compounds. So this was the plan."
The Massive Silly Season Update: Redding vs Kent At Pramac, Honda's Musical Chairs, Moto2 And Much More
Brno was a busy time for teams, managers and riders. Apart from dealing with jet lag and the sweltering heat, silly season kicked off in force at the Czech round of MotoGP. The summer break and the chaos which ensued from the situation around the Forward Racing team put everything on hold over the summer, with tentative talks starting at Indianapolis. Those talks, and events outside the paddock, helped clarify the situation, and at Brno talks began in earnest. The empty spaces on the MotoGP grid are starting to be filled.
The weekend kicked off with the fairly sensational news that Danny Kent was talking to Pramac Ducati about a ride in MotoGP, going straight from Moto3 and skipping Moto2. The deal on the table would be a three-year deal with support from the factory, racing a GP15 alongside Danilo Petrucci. It was an offer Kent was giving very serious consideration, and expected to think about in the run up to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Given that Octo is the title sponsor of the Silverstone round, and also the sponsor of the Pramac Ducati team, announcing a British rider at the British GP would be a sponsor's dream.
Signing Kent has not come out of the blue. The Moto3 championship leader has made it clear he will not be back in Moto3 next year, whatever happens. Kent has options in Moto2, most notably with his current Kiefer team, who run on the Leopard Racing banner. Kiefer are set to move up to Moto2 in 2016, and are keen to retain the services of Kent. But Kent sees 2016 would be an ideal moment to make the jump to MotoGP, given the technical changes which are coming next season. Michelin tires, as the biggest change, will mean a much more level playing field, as everyone in MotoGP, veteran and rookie, will have to work to figure out how to get the most out of them. The more rear-biased style, using the extra grip of the rear to carry more corner speed, may also help a rookie coming up from Moto3. Ducati certainly think the switch might work, Davide Tardozzi telling me at Brno "this is not something we thought up last night, we have been thinking about this for a while."
2015 Brno MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Foiled Expectations, A Sea Change In The Championship, And The Distractions Of Contracts
There were many things we expected to see on Sunday at Brno. Rain was one of them. Order restored in Moto3 was another. But most of all, we expected to see a scintillating MotoGP race going down to the wire. We saw none of those things, yet the Czech Grand Prix turned out to be one of the most intriguing races of the season. The momentum shifted in Moto3 and MotoGP, and swung even further in Moto2. And apart from a few drops shortly after Moto3 finished, the rain stayed away all day.
Free practice had promised a thrilling MotoGP race, with little to choose between the pace of the top three riders in the championship. Expectations were both raised and dispelled after qualifying, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi locking out the front row. Lorenzo on pole was no surprise, nor really was Márquez on the front row. Rossi, though, was an eye opener, and on paper, a mouth-watering prospect. Qualifying has been Rossi's weakness since the system switched to the new qualifying format of two separate Q sessions. Starting from the front row means he doesn't have to fight his way through to the front before he can attack. The last time Rossi had been on the front row was at Assen, and there, he had gone on to win an epic battle with Marc Márquez. Could he pull it off again?
The clues that he would not be able to were there for all to see in the long run data from free practice on Saturday. But the insurmountable obstacle to any hopes of a thrilling race was the man on pole. Jorge Lorenzo had laid down such a withering pace in qualifying to take pole that he looked pretty much untouchable. He destroyed Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013 by over half a second, becoming the first motorcycle racer to lap the Brno circuit in under 1'55. His race pace was the strongest of the trio, but the gap looked manageable.
The entertainment value in MotoGP waxes and wanes through the years. One year, the races are all serial snoozers, each race settling into a procession a lap or two after the start. The next, everything is turned on its head, every race a tense battle to the line for a close finish. We are lucky indeed that this year falls very much into the latter category. There have been some classic races already, and tomorrow's race looks like being an absolute corker. The two title favorites and the most highly-tipped outsider are on the front row of the grid, two fast Ducatis and the best satellite rider at the moment are behind them on the second row, and one of the most exciting young talents in MotoGP will start from seventh, and is clearly competitive. Battle tomorrow is not just for victory, but for the momentum in the championship. And if the racing needed spicing up any more than it has been already, it might just rain.
The big surprise on the front row is Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been mediocre at best during qualifying, ending up all too often on the third row of the grid, and having to pull off miracles to fight his way to the front. It was clear that something was afoot this morning, when Rossi posted an exceptional time in FP3 to take him into second spot, and very safely into Q2. Clearly, he and his team had been working on something to find some speed on a single fast lap, in a bid to boost his qualifying position. It made qualifying an even more intriguing spectacle than usual, with the question at hand not just who would grab pole, but whether Rossi would be able to raise his game and put himself in a position to be competitive from the very first laps.