Analysis

2017 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Glorious Weather, Big Crashes, And The Unfixable Flag-to-Flag System

Silverstone was its glorious best on Friday. The sun shone, fans wandered round in t-shirts and shorts, and bikes bellowed their way around a magnificent circuit. It was a good day for motorcycle racing. "First of all, riding the MotoGP at Silverstone with this incredible weather is great," Valentino Rossi summed up his day. "I enjoy it a lot, because this track is fantastic and this weather is a big surprise for everybody."

So good has the weather been that it has given the small contingent of British journalists in the MotoGP paddock a new hobby. A conversation overheard on Friday afternoon: "I've just been over to taunt some Italians about the sunny weather." "Ah yes, I was just doing the same to an Australian." Two weeks ago, we English speakers were getting stick about having to pack winter coats and rain gear for Silverstone. Revenge is all the sweeter when served up under blue skies and radiant sunshine.

The good weather complicated tire selection for the MotoGP teams. Many a rider was out trying the hard rear much earlier than expected, trying to judge how it would hold up over race distance. The warm weather has pushed the temperatures to the upper range of the Michelins' operating window. The tires are still working, but everyone is having to go a step harder than expected.

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2017 Silverstone MotoGP Preview: A Race Saved, Best Over The Bumps, And KTM Making Moves

The 2017 British Grand Prix at Silverstone is the race which nearly didn't happen. OK, that's an exaggeration: Dorna was always going to ensure that a British Grand Prix would happen. The British Isles are such an important market that it is unthinkable for the series not to race here. But the collapse of the Circuit of Wales project meant that a lot of negotiation had to go into ensuring that the British round of MotoGP would actually take place.

For many observers, the refusal of the Welsh Government to underwrite the construction of the circuit was inevitable. The numbers being claimed seemed at best wildly optimistic, and at worst woefully inaccurate. Was Dorna wrong to get into bed with the Heads of the Valley Development Company, the organization behind the Circuit of Wales? Possibly. Dorna have form with making deals with circuits that never get built, as anyone who can recall the saga of the Balatonring can surely tell you.

Then again, what have Dorna lost? They signed a deal with the Circuit of Wales for five years starting in 2015, with an option to extend for a further five years. The deal was reportedly lucrative, well above what Silverstone was offering to pay to host the race. Donington Park was no competition at the time, the circuit in financial difficulty and badly in need of upgrades. Since the deal was signed, Dorna have had two successful races at Silverstone, for which they have been well paid. When the Circuit of Wales project collapsed, Silverstone stepped in to take over. Dorna will still be paid by Silverstone, though it will be less than the Circuit of Wales would have paid.

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2017 Lausitzring World Superbike Round Up: Soft Tires For Kawasaki, MV's Momentum, Bradl's Motivation

The first round after the summer break is always one that fans and paddock personnel get excited about. But the German round of the WorldSBK calendar hasn't captured the imagination, because of its remote setting and, for the riders, the bumpy track surface.

With Jonathan Rea easing his way towards the history books as the first rider to win the championship three years in a row, there was a feeling from some quarters that it was merely a matter of marking time rather than making a mark. That being so, once the weekend got underway it did throw up plenty of excitement in what appears to the final race at the Lausitzring.

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Subscriber Only Feature: Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti On Identifying Talent, Managing Riders, And Replacing Valentino Rossi

One day, Valentino Rossi will retire from MotoGP. That day won't come next year, and if Rossi is as competitive next year as he has been this year, it probably won't come in 2019 either. But at some point, age will creep up on the Italian, and he will be forced to hang up his leathers.

When that time comes, Yamaha will be faced with a problem. Valentino Rossi leaves some huge boots to fill. Finding a rider with the same charisma and fame outside of the sport is impossible, but even finding a rider capable of matching his results will be tough. Should Yamaha poach a top-level rider from another factory? Should they give one of the Tech 3 riders a chance to move up? Or should they look to a young rookie to partner Maverick Viñales? And whoever they do choose, what role does Viñales play in all of this, and how much say does he have in the choice?

How do you replace the irreplaceable? I spoke to three factory team managers about how they see the dilemma facing Yamaha once Valentino Rossi retires. They all talked about the various options open to Yamaha, and the strategies for assembling a team. They gave a fascinating insight into dealing with rider selection for a factory team.

First up in this series is Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati Corse Sporting Director, the man who oversees the sporting side of Ducati's race department. Ciabatti talked about how he saw Valentino Rossi, and the role Rossi plays at Yamaha. He discusses the options for replacing Rossi, and the pitfalls of looking for a new rider. Ciabatti was also open about Ducati's strategy in rider choice, and why they chose Jorge Lorenzo to partner Andrea Dovizioso.

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Ducati's Brno Fairing - Danny Aldridge Explains Whence It Came And Why It's Legal

The Brno round of MotoGP turned out to be a veritable bonanza of aerodynamic developments. Honda turned up with their previously homologated fairing, and Yamaha debuted a new fairing with a modified upper half at the test on Monday. But it was Ducati who stole the show, with a radical new design featuring a large side pod which looked remarkably like a set of wings with a cover connecting them.

That fairing triggered howls of outrage from fans. How, they asked, was this legal? The fairing appeared to have two ducts which came out at the top at right angles, then return to the fairing at right angles. That turned out not to be the full shape of the fairing, when Danilo Petrucci sported one where the bottom half of the side duct extended lower. It seemed to be a blatant breach of the rules.

 

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The problem, MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge explained, lay in part with framing of the rules. When Dorna demanded a ban of the original winglets, they sat with the manufacturers to draw up a set of regulations which would limit aerodynamics and eliminate the risks, yet at the same time would allow some amount of development. That proved impossible to do with the manufacturers so split among themselves, and so Dorna had to try to come up with a set themselves.

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2017 Austria MotoGP Sunday Round Up: A Race For The Ages, For Some

All the old certainties about MotoGP are gone. A few short years ago, MotoGP had a consistent, simple internal logic that made it easy to explain. All that is now gone. The things we believed were universal truths about racing have turned out to be mere mirages, disguising an ever-shifting reality. And that has made racing mind-bogglingly good.

A case in point. The Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria has a pretty simple layout. Straight, corner, straight, corner, straight, corner, long loop which comes back on itself, straight, corner, short straight, corner, and we're back at the beginning. The track is all about horsepower and the ability to accelerate hard, then brake hard. The racing here should be rubbish. The rider with the fastest bike should be able to escape and cruise to victory by tens rather than tenths of seconds.

Yet on Sunday, we saw three gripping races, where the results were long in doubt. The winner of the Moto3 race may have been well clear, but the freight train behind it scrapping over second made for compulsive watching. Moto2 cooked up another cracker – the fourth in a row, a sign the class is changing – which only really settled in the last four laps. And the MotoGP race became an instant classic, one which make any collection of top ten races of any era. It truly had everything: a large group battling for the lead, then a smaller group slugging it out, three abreast heading towards a corner. There were hard passes, missed passes, and a wild last-corner lunge to attempt to snatch victory.

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2017 Austria Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Why The Riders Won't Race In The Rain

The weather is looking up at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and that is a good thing. First of all, it provided a fascinating day of practice and qualifying, with more than a few surprises and plenty of data to chew over. But secondly, and far more importantly, it meant that riders were out on track riding, and returning to the pits safely after doing so. If the weather had turned, and rain had fallen, that might not have been the case.

The reason for that is simple. The Red Bull Ring is not safe in the wet. That was the consensus of the riders at Friday night's Safety Commission. It is not particularly safe in the dry either, but in the wet, it is so bad that everyone said they would not ride if it rained. "Everybody yesterday in the Safety Commission said they would not ride in the wet," Aleix Espargaro said.

It was a point which Cal Crutchlow had made on Thursday, even before practice began. He reiterated it on Saturday. "If it rains I ain’t riding," he told the media. I have no interest, because there are barriers everywhere. As you saw, everyone was crashing in a complete straight line and they were going to the left at a right hand corner. It was just ridiculous. Until they move the barriers back, I have no interest to ride here in the wet."

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2017 Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: More To The Lowes Saga Than Meets The Eye

We were promised a storm on Friday, and we got one. But it was a media storm, rather than a thunderstorm, with riders finally free to speak about the situation at Aprilia. That's not to say the weather wasn't an issue: rain fell during Moto2, wreaking havoc on the field. That would have as many repercussions as the fallout from Aprilia's decision to dump Sam Lowes. It was an eventful day indeed.

First, to get the Aprilia story out of the way. Last night, it emerged that Aprilia had finally made a decision on Sam Lowes. The Italian factory had decided to drop the Englishman after just a single season, rather than keeping him for the full two years of his contract. It was a move which had been telegraphed at the Barcelona test, when Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano admitted that dropping Lowes was a possibility they were considering. So for it to be announced in Austria was hardly a surprise. In part because Lowes' contract stated that Aprilia had until 15th August to make up their minds.

There was little surprise at Aprilia's move. Sam Lowes and Alex Rins have been vastly outclassed in their rookie years by Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger. Rins has had an excuse, having spent so much of his first year in MotoGP being injured. But viewed from the outside, Lowes has no such excuses. He is on a factory team, and his teammate is showing him up badly. Aleix Espargaro is regularly in Q2, and has shown pace to challenge for the top 5 on occasion. Lowes has been in Q2 only once, and has just two points to his name.

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