Cal Crutchlow

Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Alex Marquez, Johann Zarco, And The Madness Of Paddock Rumor

This was supposed to be a quiet weekend. Winding down at the last race of the season, with only the most symbolic of prizes still on the line: the team championship; third overall in MotoGP. But the final round of MotoGP at Valencia has exploded into a frenzy of rabid rumor, wild speculation, and bizarre conspiracy theories.

It all started off with Jorge Lorenzo announcing he would be retiring at the end of 2019. Though the rumor had been floating around the paddock since the summer, it still came as a surprise. The rumor mill had calmed down a little since LCR Honda had first announced that Johann Zarco would be stepping in to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the last three races of the season. There had been a lot of talk of whether that meant Honda would sack Lorenzo, or Lorenzo would leave Honda for another team, with no satisfactory outcome.

Lorenzo's retirement was the sort of surprise which you half expect. After an evening of digesting the idea of MotoGP without Jorge Lorenzo, the hive mind of the paddock turned to thoughts of who might replace the Spaniard. On Friday, it didn't seem like it would be settled any time soon, rumor suggesting that Honda would not make a decision before the Jerez test.

The replacements

Back to top

Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Cold Crashes, Impossible Schedules, And An Impressive Debut

Valencia is a fine place to celebrate the end of the MotoGP season. For the vast majority of the paddock it is close to home, at most a couple of hours by airplane, car, or train. It has a fine building in which to host the end of season awards ceremony, the Palacio de Congresos, designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. And it draws a massive crowd, over 100,000 fans turning up on Sunday to watch a race which usually doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, beyond rider pride (and there is little much grander than rider pride).

But it also has its downsides. The track is neatly folded inside a tight little bowl, but at the cost of having a lot of left-hand corners, and only a couple of rights. And with the season at its current length, the race is in mid November, and even when the sun is shining, temperatures can be Baltic, something the winter winds don't do much to help.

Caution is advised in these conditions. With the track temperature in the mid teens, even very soft rubber on the right hand side of the tire is not enough to save you at Turn 4 if you try pushing too hard, too early. As Valentino Rossi found to his cost. In FP1, the Italian entered the first right hander of the circuit a little too fast with a new tire, and found it wasn't quite up to temperature. "Sincerely, I made a mistake, a stupid mistake, because I had the soft front, but I pushed a little bit too much already in the first lap, and I crashed."

Back to top

Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Lorenzo's Retirement, Lorenzo's Replacement, And A Track Where Lorenzo Won So Often

It has been a long year in MotoGP. Valencia is full of tired faces, the cold and windy weather a good reflection of the mood of the paddock. The last race of the season should be a festive occasion, but after eighteen races, and the last four overseas, there is little energy or enthusiasm left for the season finale.

Valencia made a fitting backdrop for Jorge Lorenzo's announcement that he would be retiring. It came as a surprise to almost everyone – except for one canny journo who had put a bet back on the Spaniard hanging up his helmet back in August – but it was a move which was widely understood. Spinal and head injuries are the two greatest fears of motorcycle racers, and the fact that Lorenzo came very close to suffering a life-changing injury made it easy to find sympathy for him.

There was respect not just for Lorenzo's choice, but also for the Spaniard's achievements. Until Marc Márquez came along, Lorenzo looked set to go down in history as Spain's greatest ever premier class rider. Even then, he remains the only rider so far to have won a title in the Márquez era. He was a rider whose ability to carry corner speed astounded his rivals, left them befuddled at how he could go so fast through corners without crashing. He leaves MotoGP as the fifth most successful premier class rider, and the sixth most successful rider of all time in all classes.

Hard act to follow

Back to top

Crunching The Numbers: Silly Season 2021 - An Unprecedented Youth Wave Conquers MotoGP

The current field of MotoGP riders may only be less than a season into the first year of their contracts, but the opening salvos of the 2021 season are already being fired. That is a direct consequence of almost the entire grid being on two-year deals, which run through the 2020 season. Every seat on the grid will currently be up for grabs in 2021. And because of that, teams, factories and riders are already starting to explore their options for the next season but one.

This is not something teams are particularly happy about. Team managers will grumble both on and off the record that it is a big gamble choosing riders basically on the basis of their performance two seasons before they are due to ride for you. Fear of missing out on a top rider forces their hand, however, and so teams are already making preliminary approaches about 2021.

The extreme and unusual situation of every single seat being up for grabs means that Moto2 riders are also delaying their plans. Most have only signed 1-year deals for 2020, knowing that so many options are opening up in 2021. Remy Gardner even turned down a chance to move up to MotoGP with KTM for 2020, preferring to wait for 2021 and hope for many more options then.

Youth tsunami

Back to top

Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Pace Counts, Consistency Counts, Why Dovizioso Was the Problem, And Crashes And Clashes

Editor's note: Three back-to-back weekends of Asia-Pacific flyaways have proved to be punishing in terms of disrupted sleep patterns. As a result, I am reverting to writing a brief set of Subscriber notes for Sepang, with a full race report to follow by the end of the day tomorrow.

In these subscriber notes:

  • How Maverick Viñales won
  • What Marc Márquez coming second means for MotoGP
  • Fabio Quartararo's weaknesses, to add to his strengths
  • Why it was Dovizioso, not Ducati, that was a problem for Valentino Rossi
  • Why Rossi is a problem for Yamaha
  • The clashes between Alex Rins and Jack Miller, and Joan Mir and Johann Zarco, whether the punishment fit the crime, and the role the track played
  • The future of Johann Zarco

Stability matters

Fabio Quartararo may have got all the headlines at Sepang on Friday and Saturday, but it was obvious to anyone who studied the timesheets that Maverick Viñales had the best pace in practice, and by a significant margin. Viñales' pace in practice was two to three tenths better than anyone else.

Back to top

Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: When Mind Games Go Wrong, And Why Yamahas Rule In Sepang

Winning championships starts with winning races. But there is more to winning races than just turning up on Sunday, whacking the throttle wide open and holding it there for as long as possible when the lights go out. Winning a race is a long, drawn-out process, involving planning, strategy, assessing your strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes, after looking at the pace of your rivals, checking it against your own data, balancing expected tire life against performance, and watching where the rest of the grid is stronger and where they are open to attack, you have no choice but to admit someone else is faster. It then becomes a question of trying to see what is possible, and trying to find a different way to succeed. Winning may be hard, but it is never out of the question.

So riders explore other ways to try to beat their rivals. The race doesn't just happen on Sunday, it starts in practice. You can try to win by going faster than everyone else, but sometimes, you can win by making your rivals go slower. You try to get into their head, intimidate them. Sometimes you do that by posting an explosive lap that nobody believed you were capable of, and which they fear to copy. Sometimes you do that by following them around on track, watching them, copying them, making them aware of your presence all the time. After all, every ounce of energy spent worrying about you is one which can't be spent on trying to go faster.

King of the hill

Back to top

Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Smashing Records, Saving Crashes, Testing Brakes, And Yamaha Blazing A Trail

The point of motorcycle racing is to go faster than everyone else. And because motorcycle racing is a sport composed of many different parts, there are a lot of different parties wanting to be fastest. Riders want to be fastest to win races and championships. Factories want to be fastest to win championships, but also to have the bike with the highest top speed, and to collect lap records. Even tire suppliers want to collect lap records. That, after all, is how they measure progress.

Since coming into the class, Michelin have shattered a lot of records set by Bridgestone, the previous Official Tire Supplier to MotoGP. But not all of them, and if you speak to people from Michelin, this is something they are far from happy about. But they keep chipping away, circuit by circuit, looking for ways to improve the tires to allow the bikes to go faster. This is the way Michelin creates competition for itself, and sets goals for its R&D department to pursue.

So far, they have done pretty well, taking the race lap record at nine of the tracks which MotoGP raced at prior to 2016, when they took over from Bridgestone. Their record on outright lap records is even better. Up until Friday morning, Michelin still had five circuits where they hadn't beaten the fastest ever lap set during practice or qualifying by Bridgestone.

Moving the bar

Back to top

Phillip Island MotoGP Sunday Notes: A Track Where You Have To Feel It

That Phillip Island is a special racetrack is self evident. It is unique in so very many different ways. It flows like Mugello, and has the same high speed nature, with fast corners sweeping through a loop dictated by geography rather than a CAD program. It has a fast front straight, yet it is also a track where slower bikes can find a way to stay with, and even beat, faster bikes. Speed is a factor, but the rider counts for a lot more.

What makes Phillip Island even more unique is its location, exposed to the wild weather which blows in across the Bass Strait. The track has grip, but conditions can change quickly. The sun can warm the asphalt, and the cold ocean wind can whip the heat right out of asphalt and tires just as fast. The track feels more like a force of nature than a technical challenge to be mastered.

Back to top

Pages

Subscribe to Cal Crutchlow