Fabio Quartararo

Valencia MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Premature Conclusions, New Engines And Frames, And Strange Crashes

What conclusions can we draw from the first day of testing for the 2020 season? Not much, other than a lot of factories have brought a lot of new parts. And it really does feel like a lot of new parts, with new chassis for KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, new engines all round, and a host of other bits and pieces in preparation for the new season. New riders, too, with Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona, and Alex Márquez all moving up to MotoGP for 2020.

It is particularly tempting to jump to early conclusions about the rookies. There is a clear pecking order, an easy way of deciding who is adapting quickly, and who is taking their time. By that measure, Iker Lecuona is the man to beat, the Red Bull Tech3 KTM rider finishing just under 1.5 seconds off the leading gaggle of Yamahas at the test. Brad Binder, in the factory Red Bull KTM team, is just under 2.4 seconds behind quickest rider Fabio Quartararo, while the latest addition to the class, Alex Márquez, was last, 2.7 seconds slower than the Petronas Yamaha rider, and nearly 2.2 seconds slower than his brother Marc.

King of the rookies

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Valencia MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: The Dangers Of Racing, And The Season In Miniature

In these subscriber notes:

  • The dangers of motorcycle racing
  • Marc Márquez' remarkable season
  • Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
  • Jack Miller rides again
  • Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
  • What riders think of Johann Zarco
  • Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
  • Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha

The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.

Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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Sepang MotoGP Preview - On The Usefulness Of Test Data, Yamaha's Problems, Beating Marquez, And Lorenzo's Thwarted Plan

How quickly things can change. At Phillip Island a week ago, Valentino Rossi was being feted for his 400th Grand Prix start against a background of concern over the nine-time champion's pace. Sitting seventh in the championship with 153 points, behind both Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales and Petronas Yamaha SRT rider Fabio Quartararo, questions were being asked whether it was time for Rossi to retire.

And yet a year ago, at Sepang, Rossi came within four laps of winning the race, or at least taking the race down to the wire with Marc Márquez. The Italian crashed out at Turn 1, washing the front out and handing victory to his arch rival. But the race was as clear a sign as you could get that Rossi was still competitive, still capable of winning races.

Jorge Lorenzo finds himself in a similar situation. At Phillip Island, he had one of the worst races of his career, finishing 66 seconds behind his teammate, the winner Marc Márquez. Lorenzo is on his way out, the media and fans said, he can't ride the Honda. Yet in November last year, at the Jerez test, Lorenzo was fifth fastest overall, a tenth of a second behind his teammate, and 0.160 slower than fastest rider Takaaki Nakagami.

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