Mat Oxley's blog

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP’s next electronics ban

Dorna is so convinced that most teams are fiddling their ECU sensory systems that it will banish tailormade IMUs from 2019

MotoGP is better than it’s ever been for several reasons, including 2016’s move to control software.

Dorna’s control software narrowed the performance gap between the motorcycles and most importantly gave control back to the riders, so when you see Marc Márquez or Johann Zarco smoking the rear tyre, that’s their right wrists playing the game of risk versus reward, rather than a little black box playing rhythms with its algorithms. Up to a point, anyway.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Is Zarco complètement gaga?

Johann Zarco is one of MotoGP’s most talented riders, but he’s signed with a factory that hasn’t come close to the podium, let alone victory. Has the Frenchman lost his mind?

The normal trajectory for an up-and-coming MotoGP superstar goes something like this: prove your talent in Moto2 or show your skill aboard a so-so MotoGP bike, sign with a winning factory, then become MotoGP world champion.

Johann Zarco’s MotoGP stock couldn’t be higher than it is right now: the Frenchman is a front-row and podium regular on a second-hand motorcycle that was designed for the 2015 season, to work with Bridgestone tyres and tailormade factory electronics. And yet despite all this he might just become the first privateer premier-class world champion in the 70-year history of Grand Prix racing.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Rossi is a poet, Márquez is Hendrix

As MotoGP heads to Jerez for the first classic event of the year, the red and yellow fans will be out in force. Let’s hope for a good-natured weekend

MotoGP is in a great place right now. Every other weekend we get to watch arguably the two greatest riders of all time and now we go to Jerez, where the febrile crowd sends goose-bumps down your spine.

It’s a brilliant era. I look forward to going to races now as much as I did when we rocked up to watch the Schwantz versus Rainey show, which included some great battles at Jerez, both on and off the racetrack.

Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey didn’t get on, but at least their teams made sure they always had a good time after races. “We weren’t all friends but on Sunday nights everybody went out and had team dinners,” Schwantz recalls. “So the teams would end up bumping into each other and the boys would end up at the bar, having beers, telling war stories: ‘I’m gonna kick your ass next weekend!’ and ‘well, whatever, you kick my ass if you think you can!’

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The end of MotoGP aero?

MotoGP has only just started its second season with radical aerodynamics but most manufacturers are already against aero devices

Aerodynamics has been MotoGP’s biggest tech talking point of the past few seasons, if only because it’s easier to spot a redesigned winglet or aero surface than a rewritten traction-control map.

Perhaps not for much longer. It seems that most of the factories have had enough of MotoGP’s new-age aero – mainly because they think they are spending too much money for too little gain.

There are currently two reports being compiled: one by Dorna’s technical staff and the other by the MSMA (the Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association). Both may offer the same conclusion: to ban aerodynamics in its current form and return to the conventional bodywork of a few years ago, before Ducati got clever with its winglets. The main concern is cost – a lot of money can be spent on aero development, which is still very much a nebulous science in motorcycle racing.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Bike racers were never choirboys

Just in case you think motorcycle racers used to be different, here’s something I wrote back in 2003

“This is bike racing, not classical music,” opined former 250cc world champion Max Biaggi after Doriano Romboni accused him of dirty tricks on the last lap of the 1994 250cc German Grand Prix.

Pretty obvious, really, because there’s not a half-successful racer in the world who doesn’t get up to some kind of mischief in his quest for glory.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Like Maradona driving a hot-hatch

Sunday’s Argentine MotoGP Grand Prix was like a Gaucho rodeo ride: chaotic, painful and unmissable

First, I have a confession to make: I like a bit of chaos. Few things are more over-organised than modern sport, which mostly runs like a well-oiled machine, so sometimes it’s good to see a spanner thrown in the works.

It’s not unusual for this to happen in South America. Some years ago during the Brazilian GP in Rio de Janeiro, practice had to be stopped because the circuit had a power outage. The owners hadn’t paid their electricity bill, so the electricity company waited for the perfect moment, then pulled the plug. Practice continued once they’d got their money.

This sort of thing rarely happens nowadays. Like I said, everything is too well organised, there are too many rules and very often there is too much health and safety. So I hugely enjoyed Sunday’s action, with a few obvious exceptions. To me, one of the joys of motorcycle racing is that it is a kind of chaos, even when it’s not particularly chaotic. I don’t think any other sport better fits George Orwell’s famous words, written in December 1945, when his mind was already working towards writing 1984.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP's roulette wheel

Riders want a more consistent tyre from Michelin, but a faster tyre? That's the last thing MotoGP needs

MotoGP is more unpredictable than it’s ever been, because the grid is more closely matched than ever and because each rider’s tyre choice can make or break his race. This is great for fans.

However, there is one cause of the unpredictability that isn’t so great. In recent months many riders have complained about getting dud tyres from Michelin. Quality control is vital in racing, because, if a rider tries out tyre B and finds it works better for him than tyre A or C, he will fit a B for the race and know exactly what lap times he will be able to run, to within a tenth or two.

But if there is a glitch with the tyre carcass or rubber, his whole race will be thrown out of kilter, like he’s gambled his result on a roulette wheel. This problem isn’t exclusive to MotoGP, it also happens with Dunlop in the lower Grand Prix categories and with Pirelli in World Superbike. And tyres have been failing for as long as people have been racing, all the way back to Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT in the early days of the 20th century.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Ducati's cornering tool: press to turn

Ducati’s fastest three MotoGP riders all use a thumb-operated rear brake, 25 years after Mick Doohan introduced the system to Grand Prix racing

Look at this photo of Jorge Lorenzo riding through a right-hander during preseason testing. He’s at the apex, or thereabouts, with his knee on the asphalt and his elbow almost kissing the kerb. He is already looking out of the corner, working hard to turn the bike as quickly as possible, so he can segue into the acceleration phase. Now look at his left thumb: he’s at pretty much full lean, but the thumb is operating the rear brake via a custom-made thumb-brake lever.

Most of us would crash if we used the rear brake in the middle of a corner, but the brake is an essential cornering tool for most top racers, who use it in many ways that everyday motorcyclists don’t.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The wisdom of Dovi and a marauding Márquez

So much to talk about from Qatar, so let’s work our way through the weekend like Andrea Dovizioso would if he was a journalist

Dovizioso was remarkable from Friday afternoon to Sunday night – cooler, calmer and more confident than I’ve ever known a championship contender. He applies science to his racing, working his way through problems logically and methodically until he achieves the result his calculations have predicted. If he thinks fourth place is the best he can achieve, he will be happy with fourth. If he thinks a win is possible, he will be happy with a win. And he was.

All weekend the Italian’s comments must’ve been a worry for his competitors, even though everyone knew that Dovizioso and his Desmosedici love Losail, finishing second on their last three visits.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP 2018’s Holy Grail

Marquez… Zarco… Dovizioso… Rossi: this year there’s one performance factor they’re chasing more than any other: mid-corner turning

Motorcycle racing has always been about walking a tightrope. For the riders, at least. Now in MotoGP it’s the same for the engineers.

MotoGP’s new tech reality, ushered in by control software and Michelin control tyres, has narrowed the set-up window to little more than those arrow-slits you see in castle walls. Engineers must work harder than ever to unlock the secret to going fast, by getting the motorcycle within that narrow range, then asking the rider to find his way around any remaining imperfections.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - How ominous is Márquez's preseason pace?

Honda had a poor preseason in 2015, 2016 and 2017, but this time it looks like Marquez, Pedrosa and Crutchlow are in seriously good shape

During the last few seasons Honda has struggled through preseason testing and launched into the new season with distinctly unimpressive results at the season-opening race. And yet last year and the year before Marc Márquez turned things around to win the championship.

So far, this year is very different: Honda was the dominant force at the first two tests, showing super-fast race pace and taking two of the top three positions at Sepang and three of the top four positions at Chang in Thailand.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - What's going on at Yamaha?

The factory team seems in disarray, so could Johann Zarco be Yamaha’s greatest hope for this year’s MotoGP crown?

The Movistar Yamaha team seems to be digging itself an ever-deeper hole. Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi completed the second tests of the year in eighth and 12th positions. Their lap times weren’t a disaster, but more worryingly, both riders were confused by their inability to get closer to the front, which is always a bad sign.

On Sunday evening Viñales seemed so lost that it was hard not to feel a bit sorry for him.

“By a long way this is the worst test,” he said. “Even Sepang, that was the worst one since I’ve been at Yamaha, then today it’s even worse. I don't know… Honestly, I don’t know. We are struggling as a factory team, so I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. It’s difficult… We are missing a little bit in all areas. I’ve used different chassis, different engines, different electronics, but there is no solution, so I don't know. Honestly, I don't know... Maybe it’s better to ask Yamaha…”

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoE: Make some noise

Next year MotoGP gets its first new world-class championship in more than half a century, but the electric MotoE series must sound great

Within the next few months MotoGP fans will see a MotoE machine ride a few demo laps at a Continental Grand Prix: perhaps Jerez, Le Mans, or most likely Mugello, because both MotoE’s Energica motorcycle and the series sponsors Enel are Italian.

So far the MotoE World Cup hasn’t got fans agog with excitement, mainly because an electric motorcycle race doesn’t involve a quarter of million earth-shaking petroleum explosions. In other words, MotoE is too damn quiet, for the moment, at least.

But the championship is hugely significant in all kinds of ways. MotoE is Grand Prix motorcycling’s first completely new world-class category since the 50cc class born in 1962.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Will Lorenzo be 2018 MotoGP champion?

Of course he could be. Those who last year suggested Ducati had paid too much for the wrong man failed to see that 2017 was merely an overture

Last March, in the Arabian desert, I thought that Jorge Lorenzo was going to pull off the biggest surprise since Valentino Rossi won the 2004 Africa Grand Prix. Lorenzo and his new Ducati hadn’t had the best of times at the first two preseason tests, but when they tested at Losail, they were less than two-tenths off the fastest time.

The problems that had affected Lorenzo and the GP17 at Sepang and Phillip Island disappeared at Losail, which is a very particular kind of a racetrack. Lorenzo loves the layout and so does the Ducati (between them they’ve won six races there), so I believed they could win the race. But then that biblical storm hit, leaving Lorenzo way back on the grid.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - “That’s how crazy KTM people are!”

In our final technical analysis of all six MotoGP factories we look at KTM, the Austrian brand that made excellent progress in its rookie season

When the 2018 MotoGP grid rides out of the Sepang pit lane on Sunday morning there will be no need to speculate which factory has made the biggest forward strides since last year’s first preseason tests.

It’s rookie MotoGP brand KTM, of course, because it’s much easier to move forward when you’re just starting out than when you’re trying to find that last tenth of a second.

During the first four dry races of 2017, KTM’s deficit to the race winner averaged out at over 40 seconds. During the last four dry races, the gap had shrunk to just over 20 seconds. If KTM can repeat that performance this year it will reduce the gap to 10 seconds. Then, if the company signs a MotoGP winner for 2019, it could fight for race victories.

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