With one or two contracts signed over the past couple of weeks, it's time to update what we know of the 2018 MotoGP rider line up. A single question mark behind the name of a rider indicates a very strong rumor. Three question marks indicates a complete unknown.
The KTM MotoGP team completed a two-day test at the Motorland Aragon circuit last week, and issued the following press release afterward:
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team concludes positive MotoGP test before summer break
MotoGP Private Test 2017 – MotorLand Aragon (ESP)
Following on from the Dutch TT and the German MotoGP, Red Bull KTM MotoGP Factory Racing Team have just completed a two day test in Aragon, Spain, with no less than four riders riding the KTM RC16.
Every race weekend, there are dozens of things I either miss, or don't have time to write about. Here's what I missed from the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
About those chassis
Since the Barcelona test, the paddock has been awash with gossip about Yamaha chassis. Valentino Rossi was particularly enamored of one of the chassis tested at Barcelona, though his teammate Maverick Viñales appeared to be a lot less enthralled by it. At Assen and the Sachsenring, both riders had one each of the "new" chassis and one of the "old" chassis. (The new chassis is said to be a development of the chassis used last year – some even say last year's chassis – which was itself a slight revision of the 2015 chassis. The "old" chassis was a new chassis based on the chassis used last year, meant to save the rear tire, but sacrificing corner entry as a result.)
Press releases from the teams and Michelin after the German Grand Prix:
Eighth Sachsenring win for Marquez, Pedrosa third for fourth Repsol Honda Team double-podium this season
Marc Marquez took his second win of 2017 and his eighth in a row at the Sachsenring after starting from pole position, with teammate Dani Pedrosa joining him on the podium to complete the fourth double-podium finish (Austin, Jerez, Catalunya, Sachsenring) for Repsol Honda in nine races.
Press releases from the teams and Michelin after a scintillating race at Assen:
Rossi Rallies to an Astonishing Win in Assen
For the first ten years I spent writing previews for the Dutch TT at Assen, I would start have to start off on a tangent, with a brief summary of the schisms and splits of the Dutch Reformed Church. Without the background to the religious topology of The Netherlands, it is hard to explain why the race was held on Saturday. Last year, when the MotoGP race was held on a Sunday for the first time, I had to recap that, to explain why it was a big deal for the race to be held on Sunday, and to be moved from Saturday.
This year, 2017, I can leave aside the history of Dutch Protestantism and its aversion to any activity on the Sabbath. This will be the second time the race will be held on Sunday, and so the novelty of the change has worn off. It has fallen in line with the rest of the calendar, and so it is just another race weekend, same as any other. Although of course, being Assen, it is still something a bit special.
If anything, the switch from having a Saturday race to a Sunday race has been a positive boon. Though some feared the traditionalists would stay away, offended by change, visitor numbers were up last year, especially on Friday and Saturday. More people came for the race as well, despite taking place in an absolute downpour. Over 105,000 fans packed a flooded Assen, because being Assen, it is still something a bit special.
Diminished, but still glorious
Though the track has been neutered, the former glory of the North Loop removed to raise funds to improve facilities, three and a half of the circuit's four and a half kilometer length is still a unique and challenging layout. The banking and camber may be reduced, but the weird snaking layout and subtle dips and bumps make it a tough track to get absolutely perfect. It is still fast too, with corners like the Ruskenhoek, Meeuwenmeer, Hoge Heide and Ramshoek demanding both courage and skill. And it has one of the best final chicanes in the world, the GT Chicane or Geert Timmer Bocht offering the perfect final shot at a pass to win the race.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's Catalan GP:
Last year, at Jerez or thereabouts, I had a chat with Livio Suppo about the insanely early start to MotoGP's Silly Season that year. Suppo bemoaned the fact that so many riders were switching factories so early, with contracts signed as early as Qatar (in the case of Bradley Smith and Valentino Rossi), and the ensuing hullabaloo surrounding Jorge Lorenzo, and whence he was bound. "Normally, we start talking after a few races, in Mugello or so," Suppo said. "You want a few races to see how strong a rider is."
While last year's Silly Season was nearing its close at Mugello last year, it seems that 2017 is taking a slightly more normal trajectory. This year, Mugello may have seen the early conversations which kick off the period where riders discuss their future options. And Barcelona was the first race where they started to discuss – or more accurately, hint at – those options publicly.
Why is this year's Silly Season so much later (or so much more normal) than last year's? Put simply, it's because last year, every single factory rider was out of contract, and every factory seat was up for grabs. This year, all the factory seats are still taken for 2018 (or at least, unless a factory boss decides that one of their riders is grossly underperforming), and there are only the satellite bikes at stake. Fewer seats are available, and those which are available have less money attached, and less chance of competing for podiums and victories. All that combined leads to a lower sense of urgency when it comes to negotiations.
Press releases from the teams and Michelin after a glorious race at Mugello. Includes the greatest press release ever from Pramac, celebrating Danilo Petrucci's podium:
Andrea Dovizioso scores a fantastic win in the Italian GP at Mugello. Eighth place for Jorge Lorenzo and ninth for Michele Pirro. Danilo Petrucci finishes on the podium with an excellent third place on the Team Pramac Desmosedici GP
There are a lot of reasons to love Mugello. First, there is the setting: a dramatic backdrop of Tuscan peaks and dales. A place so fecund you need only stretch out your arm to grasp the riches of the earth: nuts, fruit, wild mushrooms, stag and boar. To the south, Florence, one of the marvels of the Renaissance and city so beautiful it breaks your heart to look upon it alone. At every bend in the road on the way to the circuit, the view takes your breath away. And there are a lot of bends. Hypoxia is a real concern.
Then there's the track itself. It snakes across the landscape like a discarded shoelace, a thin filament of tarmac hugging the hillsides of the valley into which the track is wedged. It has everything a motorcycle track needs to make it truly majestic: long, fast corners like the Arrabbiatas; fast combinations like Casanova/Savelli or Scarperia/Palagio; a terrifyingly fast front straight where the braking point is blind; and a corner where front brakes and front tires are tortured, as riders dump their speed into San Donato.
No pass at Mugello is ever a done deal, there is always an opportunity to counterattack. No bike has outright superiority at the track, for the nature of motorcycle dynamics is compromise, and each manufacturer chooses to make their compromises in different areas. Mugello rewards only perfection, and perfection is almost impossible to sustain for 23 laps at such blistering speeds.