Le Mans, France
Dorna today unveiled the provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019, confirming much of what we already knew. The schedule will consist of 19 races, as the circuit in Mexico City will not be ready to host a MotoGP race next year, and the Kymiring in Finland is also still under construction. Both races are provisionally expected to be on the 2020 calendar.
The calendar is broadly similar to this year's schedule, with a few tweaks. The season kicks off at Qatar on 10th March, earlier than usual and a week before F1, which normally starts before MotoGP. Three weekends later, the series is racing in Argentina at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, and two weeks after that, the whole circus heads north for the US round in Austin.
We are a week away from being able to book (provisionally, with free cancellation) to see a race in 2019. The provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019 is due to be published at the Misano round in just under 10 days' time.
As the official MotoGP.com website revealed over the weekend, there will only be 19 rounds in 2019. The numerical symmetry of that may be pleasing, but there were plans to have 20 races next season. The debut of the Kymiring in Finland has been delayed by a year to 2020, as the circuit will not be ready in time for a 2019 date. And the planned round in Mexico at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico City has been dropped, unless the circuit is prepared to make changes.
One of the ways in which MotoGP has attempted to control both cost and performance has been through the use of spec electronics. The first step was to make the ECU, the computer hardware, standard, allowing factories to continue to run their own software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU adopted in 2014. This move prevented factories from developing their own specialized hardware and leveled ECU performance.
In 2016, MotoGP switched to spec software on top of the spec hardware. With everyone forced to use the same, standardized software, factories could no longer throw large numbers of software engineers at the problem to try to figure out more elegant and efficient ways of control the behavior of the bike, through traction control, engine braking, and anti-wheelie strategies. Dorna had hoped to create a level playing field with this move.
Of course, there is nothing engineers love more than challenge of finding ways to tilt a level playing field in their favor. Since the adoption of spec software, the different factories have find different ways of trying to extract an advantage from the current rules.
Fans watching the Moto3 race at Le Mans faced mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were thrilled at yet another scintillating Moto3 race featuring close quarter battles. On the other hand, they were bewildered by the time penalties issued to Jakub Kornfeil and Niccolo Antonelli during the course of the race. Kornfeil was handed a 1.3 second penalty, while Antonelli was given a 1.8 second penalty. Fans found it difficult to make head or tail of the penalties issued.
Their confusion turned to outright anger once the Moto3 race had ended. Fabio Di Giannantonio crossed the line in first, after Marco Bezzecchi lost the rear in the final corner and took Jorge Martin down with him. But Di Giannantonio would not get to enjoy his victory: the Italian was handed a 2 second penalty after the race had finished, demoting him from first to fourth.
The anger of the fans was fueled mainly by a feeling that the penalties appeared to be arbitrary, with no logic to their structure. The FIM Stewards Panel appeared to be handing out penalties almost at a whim, and with no way for those outside of the panel to understand what was going on.
Another race, another victory, so what exactly is Marc Márquez’s big secret?
I’m stood in the Le Mans pitlane, chatting with a venerable MotoGP engineer, trying to eke from him the relative merits of every bike on the grid.
“The holy grail of motorcycle racing has always been to come up with a device that can save front-end slides, and now Honda has one…” he says, pausing for effect. “He’s called Marc Márquez.”
And that there is the story of MotoGP right now. Love him or loathe him, Márquez is on another level to everyone else. He has an ability that none of the others possess. That doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable, because he’s not always the fastest man out there, but it’s this unique talent that helps him to make the difference.
Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking. In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways. In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa's brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.
In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden's championship challenge was over. Valentino Rossi's heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time. Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.
Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia. The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship. And Sunday's drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn't finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.
MotoGP standings after Le Mans:
Results and summary of the MotoGP race in Le Mans:
Moto2 standings after Le Mans: