If you think that silly season has been a bit quiet this year, you'd be right. Normally by now, we would have passed through the stage of outrageous fabrication, left the wildly inaccurate rumors behind us, and be well into probable rider signing scenarios. This year, the annual merry-go-round has barely registered, with very little sign of who may end up where for the 2016 season.
Of course, for the most part, this is because all of the factory seats bar the second slots at Aprilia and Ducati are already spoken for in 2016. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro, and Alvaro Bautista all have contracts for next year. Maverick Viñales' seat at Suzuki is safe through 2017. Of the currently active factory riders, only Andrea Iannone's contract could be ended after 2015, but Ducati will be keeping the Italian for 2016 as well. The only truly vacant seat is the one at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri, who never really wanted to be in MotoGP anyway.
With no factory seats available – or rather, with no truly desirable factory seats available – options to move up the MotoGP food chain are limited. Teams, too, are reluctant. 2016 sees the return of Michelin and the advent of spec software, making teams wary of changing too many variables at one time. Better to stick with the rider you know, whose data you already have and understand, and who has a solid relationship with the crew chief and team, rather than get a new rider in and spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out whether problems are down to the rider or adapting the bike to the new technical regulations.
The Suzuki press office has released the following video from their private test at Misano. In the video, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Viñales and Davide Brivio reflect on the work done at the test, and what they have achieved so far this year in MotoGP.
The video appears below:
The second day of the Misano test took place under punishing heat, with temperatures rising to 37° and track temperatures of over 60°C. Despite the heat, times continued to drop as Suzuki, Honda and Ducati all worked further on improving their race set ups.
At Honda, both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez tried the 2016 Honda RC213V, giving the bike its first run out ahead of next year. The aim of the test was to check the direction which development of the bike was taking. That, Marc Marquez said, was the wrong direction, but that is in itself useful information. Marquez also worked on a setting at the front end of the bike, which improved his feeling. The problems with braking remain, but are much improved. Marquez also crashed towards the end of the day, but it was a relatively harmless crash, which happened because he was pushing just a little too hard on exceptionally hot tarmac. For Dani Pedrosa, the work concentrated once again on finding a base set up, and a direction to pursue for the rest of the season. That had been a success, Pedrosa judged.
While Yamaha and Aprilia's factory riders have already departed for a much needed vacation, the factory Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams began three days of testing at Misano on Wednesday. Each of the three factories has their own area to work on ahead of the summer break, in preparation for the second half of the season, which resumes three weeks from now in Indianapolis.
Honda have a new motorcycle to try, though neither Marc Marquez nor Dani Pedrosa tried the 2016 version of the RC213V on Wednesday. That will have to wait until tomorrow, when both riders will get their first taste of next year's bike. The 2016 bike did hit the track today, in the hands of HRC test Hiroshi Aoyama. Calling it the 2016 bike is perhaps a misnomer. According to HRC team principal Livio Suppo, the bike consists of a new chassis, housing the 2015 engine. Changing one variable at a time was part of the strategy, Suppo told GPOne.com's Matteo Aglio. Using just the chassis and the 2015 engine meant they could make sure the chassis is a step in the right direction, before using the 2016 engine to make sure.
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and sponsors after this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
Nine races down, nine to go. The Sachsenring marks the mid-point of the season, and in all three Grand Prix classes the outlines of the championship are becoming clear. In Moto2 and Moto3, there is one rider who can dominate, winning often, taking a hefty points haul when he can't, and having luck work in their favor and against their opponents. In MotoGP, the title looks to be settled between the Movistar Yamaha teammates, with the Repsol Hondas playing a decisive role.
The three races in Germany all played out following the broader patterns of their respective championships. In the Moto3 race, Danny Kent steamrollered his way to victory, his teammate Efren Vazquez helping him to extend his lead in the championship to 66 points by taking second ahead of Enea Bastianini. In Moto2, Johann Zarco narrowly missed out on victory, the win going to Xavier Simeon. The Belgian plays no role in the championship, while Zarco's nearest rival Tito Rabat was taken out by Franco Morbidelli in the final corner. Rabat's crash means Zarco now leads Moto2 by 65 points. Both Kent and Zarco can start to pencil their names in for the respective championships, their leads starting to edge towards the unassailable.
In MotoGP, the title chase is still wide open, with both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo easily capable of winning. The championship started strongly in Rossi's favor, then the momentum swung towards Lorenzo, before creeping back towards Rossi in the last two races. At Assen, Rossi put a big chunk of points between himself and his teammate. In Germany, the Repsol Honda men played more of a role in the championship than the two Yamaha riders, limiting Rossi's points gain to just three. He now sits thirteen points ahead of Lorenzo, with everything still to play for, and neither man capable of dealing a decisive blow.
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why The Hondas Are Fast, And Who Can Stop Marquez Or Kent
Is the run of Yamaha domination about to come to an end? After winning seven out of eight races, the Yamaha YZR-M1 certainly looks like the best bike on the grid, so on paper, it should continue to crush the opposition beneath its wheels at the Sachsenring. After all, the strength of the Yamaha is its ability to carry corner speed and get drive out of corners, and the Sachsenring has barely a straight line in its 3.7 kilometers. Yet after two days of practice, it has been the Hondas which have ruled the roost in Germany. The bike which is supposed to have problems looks untouchable, with Marc Márquez looking untouchable, Dani Pedrosa the best of the rest, and both Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow showing real promise.
Why is the Honda so fast at the Sachsenring? Two reasons. Firstly, the circuit only has a couple of the types of corners where the Honda has struggled. It is only in Turn 8 and Turn 12 where the riders are braking almost straight up and down, the rear stepping out and becoming difficult to control. "Where we have a problem here is only two corners," Marc Márquez said at the press conference. "The rest is just with the gas, and there we don't have the problem." Those other corners are where the Hondas are making up the time. And they are making up the time because the track lacks grip.
One of the enigmas which we in the media center have been struggling with is whether the Honda does better in cold weather or in hot weather. But after much discussion with a bunch of people who are much smarter than we are, we came to the conclusion that the temperature of the track is irrelevant. It is not whether it is hot or cold that matters to the Honda, but whether the track actually has any grip. On a good track with plenty of grip, the Yamahas can carry corner speed and use the excellent mechanical grip of the bike to their advantage, and make a break. If such a track then also has a lot of sharp corners, where the Honda riders are struggling to control the rear under braking, and get it to slide controllably, then the Yamaha simply walks away, as do the Ducatis, and perhaps even the underpowered Suzukis. All three of those bikes can exploit mechanical grip, to carry corner speed and get drive as the riders lift the bike up from the edge of the tire into the traction area, where it can dig in and push the bike forward.
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and sponsors after qualifying at the Sachsenring:
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Thursday Round Up: A Plethora Of Tires, A Bullish Marquez, And The Dangers Of Suzuka
The Sachsenring treated us to its usual surprises on Thursday, with rain and squally winds blowing through the paddock in the morning, and the sun coming out as the day went on. Fortunately, the only people out on track were the riders doing reconnaissance laps on the scooters, and safety officers cutting fast laps during their usual pre-weekend track inspection. As an observer, it is hard to tell the difference between a circuit safety inspection and hooning round the track in one of the many high-end BMW sports cars which the German car maker provides to Dorna, but I'm sure that as ex-racers, both Loris Capirossi and Franco Uncini know what they are doing.
Weird weather has already had its effect on the tire allocation. Originally, Bridgestone had brought three specifications of front tire, the soft to deal with the cold mornings, the medium to deal with the warmer afternoons, and the asymmetric tire with soft rubber on the right and a compound closer to the medium on the left, to handle the wind gusting to cool the right side of the tire. But when Bridgestone's engineers turned up at the track a week ago, Saxony was in the middle of a heatwave, with air temperatures of 38° C or more. Bridgestone rushed a small compliment of their hard front tires in to the Sachsenring, just in case temperatures reached the high 30s again. It does not look like they will, but it looks like being a complicated weekend for the riders.
Will the asymmetric front tire prevent a lot of crashes on Friday? It should help, but it won't prevent them altogether. "We all know that Turn 11 is dangerous," Bradley Smith said of the blind and blisteringly fast right hander at the top of the hill, which has caught so many riders out in the past. "But we all see people forget in FP1, they have their wake up call, and then they don't crash again." One crash there is enough to remind everyone to treat the turn with the respect it deserves. "We know it's dangerous, but they crash in FP1 and then they don't for the rest of the weekend. That's not because the conditions suddenly get better, it's because they were more wary and showed it more respect. Maybe if they had a sign at the end of pit lane saying be wary at T11..."
Press release previews from the MotoGP teams, Bridgestone and others:
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Preview: How Great Last Corners Create Epic Battles, And Silly Season Starting
What makes for great racing? Many things, but great last corners really help. A great last corner, or sequence of corners, allows riders to attack the bike ahead of them, and take one final shot at victory. Even better is when the option to attack offered by the final corner comes with some risk attached: getting ahead is one thing, but staying ahead to the line is quite another.
MotoGP moves from one track with a last corner which guarantees spectacle to another. The final GT chicane at Assen produced fireworks with the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, and the last two corners at the Sachsenring offer similar opportunities. At Assen, the hard-braking right corner is followed by a quick flick left, giving the defending rider the chance to counterattack if he is passed.
At the Sachsenring, the long drop down the steep, steep hill provides the ideal platform to launch an attack from, diving up the inside on the brakes on the way into the penultimate left hander. That line comes at a price, though, as it forces the attacker to run wide on the exit. That opens allowing the defending rider to strike back up the inside on the approach to the final turn, the last left uphill towards the line. Even entering that corner ahead is no guarantee of the win: like Turn 12, Turn 13 offers two lines, inside and outside, both of which can be used to pass.
The only other place to pass at the Sachsenring is the first corner, at the end of the front straight. The rest of the track is so tightly coiled that the bikes are spending too much time on their sides to try to line up a pass. If you're lucky, you can try to figure something out through the section between turns 7, 8, and 9, but from that point on, your mind is focused just on one thing. The crest of the hill just after Turn 10 and then the lightning fast flick right at Turn 11 heading down the Waterfall, and towards the last two turns again.
It is hard to overstate just how important the relationship between a motorcycle racer and his crew chief is. A rider must have complete confidence that his crew chief both understands what he needs from a motorcycle to go fast, and is capable of giving it to him. A crew chief must be able to interpret the sometimes confusing and mixed signals from his rider, filter out the non-essential information, identify priorities from that which will offer the greatest gains, and assign the work to the rest of the crew in the garage. There has to be complete trust between the two, or neither rider nor bike will achieve their full potential.
This was made all too apparent when I interviewed Ecstar Suzuki rider Aleix Espargaro and his crew chief Tom O'Kane for a story I wrote recently for the Dutch publication MOTOR Magazine, due out later this month. One part of the interview which did not make it into the magazine was the relationship between Espargaro and O'Kane, and how they first started working together. However, it is a story which offers a fascinating insight into how a rider and their crew chief work together.
Aleix Espargaro explained how they first met. Suzuki had already arranged for Espargaro and O'Kane to meet at Aragon last year. Espargaro had been uncertain, as he had been asking Suzuki to allow him to bring his own crew chief with him. "Actually before when I started to talk with Suzuki in the middle of last year at the beginning I pushed to bring my crew chief with me, Matthew [Casey]. Because I had good feeling, three years working with him, so it was good for me."
That turned out not to be possible, but the change had worked out well. Espargaro was very happy with the change, he said. "Matthew is a very, very good crew chief but with Tom I discovered that I can work really, really good. Sometimes it’s not bad to change. With Tom, the feeling I have is fantastic. He’s very good. I met him in Aragon last year and we start to talk there. He was really quiet so I thought that it would be difficult to work because I’m completely different, but he’s the opposite. He’s helping me a lot."