With the inaugural Indian GP less than a week away, I should be ramping up the content on the website. However, a variety of events have conspired against this, most of which are my own doing.
I took a few days off after Misano, though that is a relative term. MotoGP journalists never really take time off - there is always something rumbling on in the background - and a bevy of postponed-by-procrastination tasks have piled up over the past few weeks. So I found myself in an AirBnB on Lake Garda poring over spreadsheets to prepare my taxes for our accountant in the evenings. Normally, of course, I would be writing articles in the evenings on our vacations. My wife is a remarkably patient woman.
All this to say things will be a little slow for the start of the week, but start ramping up as the Indian GP gets underway. Monday we will be recording a podcast with special guest Dennis Noyes, who knows a thing or two about organizing races in new places.
As with all new races, there are obstacles. For the Buddh International Circuit, the main problem appears to be visas. There is a general sense of panic among paddock people as a large number of them still haven't received the visas they need to travel to India. Visas are starting to trickle in, and this may end up being one of those stressful laugh-about-it-afterward stories, but for the moment, there are a large number of MotoGP staff suffering palpitations. For the gory details, read (or translate) this Speedweek article.
Then there's the safety aspect. The circuit is to be officially homologated on Thursday - standard practice for new MotoGP tracks, and the track has been inspected a couple of times previously - but there are still a few question marks over a couple of spots on the track, including Turn 2 and Turn 3. At Misano, most riders were relatively relaxed about the track, with one or two exceptions. But concerns remain.
The bigger concern for the MotoGP paddock is the fact that India is the first of eight races in ten weeks. We have India - Motegi, then a weekend off, then Indonesia - Phillip Island - Thailand, then a weekend off, then Sepang - Qatar - Valencia.
The middle triple header is expected to be particularly brutal, with multiple flights and 10+ hour travel times to get from Mandalika to Melbourne via Jakarata, then from Melbourne to Buriram via Bangkok. Add in a time difference of four hours back and fourth, and you have a recipe for exhaustion. And exhaustion leads to mistakes.
The final triple header - Sepang-Qatar-Valencia - at least moves in the right direction, the paddock gaining a couple of hours in timezones each time they head west.
This is one factor highlighted by Mat Oxley in a recent article for Motor Sport Magazine about how recent changes to MotoGP have added an unnecessary element of danger. Overall it is an excellent read, though there are some methodological question marks to be placed. Oxley is correct to point to the increased crash rate - a mixture of the new format including sprint races, and the way ride-height devices and aerodynamics have changed racing to put more pressure on the start.
But absentee statistics are by necessity difficult. First, because of the small sample size - with small absolute numbers, percentage increases quickly look terrible (e.g. if last year 1 person crashed and this year 2 people crashed, that is 100% increase. But is it, as economist Tim Harford likes to ask, a large number?). There are other causes too - the 2023 Honda RC213V has managed the remarkable trick of being completely uncompetitive and incredibly dangerous to ride. The bike is apparently designed to highside its riders to oblivion, injuring them and making them unwilling to take risks.
Having Honda riders missing from the grid skews the absentee statistics. Both Marc Marquez and Joan Mir have effectively refused to ride on occasion, with injuries that in other circumstances they might have gritted their teeth and seen what was possible. Add in three extended absences - Enea Bastianini with a broken shoulder, Miguel Oliveira with multiple injuries, Raul Fernandez with arm pump - and you have a very muddy injury picture indeed.
It is beyond question that changes to MotoGP have made it more dangerous. Ride-height devices in particular place a lot of emphasis on the start and early laps, something which aerodynamics merely makes worse. The addition of sprint races has ramped up the stress on a MotoGP weekend much more than many expected, as the decision to make only Friday afternoon practice count for passage to Q1 and Q2 will attest. But capturing that added risk in numbers is difficult.
The second piece worth your while as we await the Indian GP is Oriol Puigdemont's appraisal of the work HRC is doing to keep Marc Marquez at Honda. The Marquez situation seems extraordinarily fluid, and changes almost from moment to moment. Before the Misano GP, on the basis of everything I heard and the people I spoke to, I was convinced Marquez would be joining his brother at Gresini Ducati. During the Misano GP, I talked to other people and became convinced he would stay at Repsol Honda for 2024, and seek his fortunes elsewhere for 2025.
Ask me now, and I have literally no idea. At the Misano test, he told English-speaking journalists he had two options. A couple of minutes later, to Spanish-speaking journalists, he said he had three options. How many he has as of Sunday night, September 18th, your guess is as good as mine.
The situation is interesting for its uniqueness. I can't recall a time when the media had no idea what a star rider would be doing next year. Valentino Rossi's switch from Honda to Yamaha at the end of 2003 came out of the blue. His move to Ducati in 2011 had been widely trailed through 2010, as had Casey Stoner's move from Ducati to Honda in the same year. Stoner's retirement announcement in 2012 came out of the blue.
The best parallel I can think of right now is Rossi's return to Yamaha. There had been rumors in 2012 the Italian would go back to Yamaha the following year, but it was not widely believed. Only when it happened did we truly take it seriously.
The most logical course of action is for Marc Marquez to sing out his Honda contract through 2024, and start negotiations for 2025 as soon as possible (ideally, now). But Marc Marquez only races to win, or at least be in contention for the win. And it is questionable that he has the patience to sit through an entire season of what is likely to be between 20 and 22 races fighting for a spot in the top ten. It goes against every fibre of his being, every strand in his DNA.
But what do I know? As much as you, dear reader. Which, unless you are Marc Marquez, is absolutely nothing.
This has turned into a long-winded and roundabout way to say that content will be slow on the site. But with eight races in ten weeks, that situation will quickly be remedied.