Francesco Bagnaia

2018 Jerez November MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Fast Times, Obvious Tech Updates, Yamaha vs Yamaha, And The End At Last

And the winner is... Takaaki Nakagami! Or at least the LCR Honda rider's name sit atop the timesheets at the end of the final day of the final MotoGP test of 2018. Which both counts for a lot, and counts for very little at the same time. The fact that Nakagami was able to do the time is proof that the 2018 Honda RC213V is a much better bike than the 2017 version which the Japanese rider spent last season on – see also the immediate speed of Franco Morbidelli, now he is on the Petronas Yamaha rather than the Marc VDS Honda. It was also proof that Nakagami – riding Cal Crutchlow's bike at Jerez – is a much better rider than his results on the 2017 bike suggest. And puts into perspective that this was the bike which Marc Márquez won the 2017 MotoGP title on.

But it also doesn't really mean very much. Testing is just testing, and the riders don't necessarily have either the inclination or the tire allocation to go chasing a quick lap time the way they do on a race weekend. Nobody wants to risk it all just to prove a point and get injured just before they go into the winter break. And with the top 15 within a second of one another, and the top 7 within a quarter of a second, the differences are pretty meaningless anyway.

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2018 Valencia MotoGP Test Wednesday Round Up: New Engines, New Chassis, KTM's Front End Problems, And A Vintage Rookie Class

It's been a difficult test at Valencia. The weather simply hasn't played ball. Tuesday started wet, took a few hours to dry out, then rain started falling around 3pm, meaning the riders effectively had around two and a half usable hours on track. Rain on Tuesday evening meant the track was wet on Wednesday morning, and in the chill of a November morning, it took a couple of hours before the track dried out enough for the riders to hit the track.

At least it stayed dry and sunny throughout the day, and the last couple of hours saw the best conditions of the test, times dropping until falling temperatures put paid to any thought of improvement. The teams may have lost time, but at least they had a solid four and a half hours of track time to work.

For half the factories, what they were focusing on was engines. Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki all brought new engines to test, and in the case of Yamaha and Honda, two different specs. Ducati was mainly working with a new chassis, aimed at making the bike turn better. Aprilia had a new engine and a new frame to try. And as usual, KTM had a mountain of parts and ideas to test.

Choices, choices

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Provisional 2019 MotoGP Grid - 21 Riders Confirmed, Grid Almost Finalized

With the announcement that Takaaki Nakagami has signed for an extra year with the Idemitsu LCR Honda squad, the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost finalized. Nakagami's signing brings the total of confirmed riders up to 21 of the total of 22 entries.

The only rider left to be confirmed officially is Tito Rabat. The Spaniard's serious leg injury, sustained at Silverstone, has caused a delay, with his contract extension expected to have already come earlier. There is no doubt that Rabat will get the final seat, though it will probably have to wait until he is fit enough to return again.

Below is the official line up for 2019:

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Mid-Season MotoGP Silly Season Update: 22 Bikes - Marc VDS Out, Petronas SIC In

The summer break – if an extra weekend off can be counted as an actual break – marks the end of the first half of the 2018 MotoGP season, but it also marks a significant point in the MotoGP Silly Season. With Marc van der Straten telling the riders and crew of the Marc VDS MotoGP team that the team will not be competing in MotoGP in 2019 and beyond, the final shape of the 2019 MotoGP grid is almost clear.

There was no official announcement to mark the withdrawal of the Marc VDS squad, it was indirectly confirmed when the team sent out a press release (shown below) announcing that they had extended their deal with Alex Márquez for the Spaniard, younger brother of Marc, to remain in Moto2 for another season. Emilio Alzamora, who manages both Márquez brothers, had been pushing for Van der Straten to keep at least one grid slot in MotoGP for Alex Márquez, a move which had the strong backing of his brother Marc. Alex Márquez remaining in Moto2 is tacit confirmation that there is no seat in MotoGP for the Spaniard.

The withdrawal of the Marc VDS team, and the transfer of the Angel Nieto Team's grid slots to the Petronas SIC Yamaha team (whose existence was confirmed officially in a press release between the Dutch and German rounds of MotoGP) means that the MotoGP grid will be smaller in 2019. There will be 22 riders lining up at Qatar, rather than the 24 who started at Losail this season. The loss of two riders from the grid will not overly trouble Dorna: with uncertainty over who will broadcast MotoGP in Spain next year, saving around €6 million in team subsidies will create some negotiating room for the series organizer.

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2018 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: Crashes Shape The Championship, Yamaha's Woes, Ducati's Decision, And Moto3 Madness

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.

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2018 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: A Great Track, Processional Racing, And A Hero In Texas

There is a lot to love about the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As an event, it is fantastic: the facilities at the track are great, the city of Austin is a wonderful place to visit, with a lively party atmosphere downtown, and a million other things to do. The landscape the track sits on is great for spectators, and the surrounding countryside is charming.

It is a race the riders love, and they have grown to love the track. "I like this track very much, it's very good," Valentino Rossi says of the Circuit of the Americas. "It's good to ride because it's very difficult, you have emotional corners, so it's good." The bumps around the track have made it much tougher to ride, but the layout is still a favorite among many of the MotoGP paddock. It is highly technical and has a bit of everything: hard braking, hard acceleration, fast corners, slow corners, flowing combinations of corners which reward precision.

As great at the track is, it still produces rather lackluster races. The average margin of victory over all six editions has been 3.458 seconds, and that is discounting the time lost to the inevitable easing off to celebrate in the certain knowledge that victory is in the bag. The gap has never been under 1.5 seconds, and there has never been a closely fought battle for victory, or even the podium spots, in the history of racing at the track. The result of the MotoGP race in Austin is usually set in stone before the halfway mark.

Even the normally mental Moto3 races are decided by seconds rather than hundredths. Only two of the six Moto3 races run so far were won by a margin of less than a second. In Moto2, the winning margin has only once been under two seconds. That was in 2015, when Sam Lowes beat Johann Zarco by 1.999 seconds. The result in Moto2 has never been close.

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Lin Jarvis On Keeping Rossi, Losing Tech3, And How Yamaha Caused The Rider Market Explode

It has been an eventful couple of weeks for Yamaha. Apart from the expected hectic period of preseason testing, Yamaha agreed a new two-year deal with Valentino Rossi. There was also the surprise announcement by Jonas Folger that he wouldn't be racing in 2018, and working with Hervé Poncharal to find a replacement for the Tech3 team. More significantly, they also had to deal with the surprise announcement that Tech3 will be leaving Yamaha at the end of this season, and swapping to become a satellite for KTM from 2019 onwards.

So journalists had plenty of questions for Lin Jarvis, the head of Yamaha Motor Racing, and Qatar was the first opportunity to ask him. In a session with the media on Thursday night, Jarvis answered questions on all these subjects and more, offering an insight into the way Yamaha are thinking. The departure of Tech3 could see Yamaha rethink the way they have been working in the past.

Obviously, the re-signing of Valentino Rossi was a big topic of conversation. What was the main reason for keeping Rossi, Jarvis was asked. "There are so many reasons, it’s difficult to give one," the Yamaha boss replied. "Because of everything he brings to Yamaha, and the sport, and the team, because of who he is. That’s the motivation. But I would also like to add that he is still highly competitive and absolutely a top rider capable of winning."

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Subscriber Feature: The Revolution Which Will Shake The 2019 MotoGP Grid Up Beyond Recognition

At the start of this year, I made three predictions for the 2018 MotoGP season: that Marc Márquez would win more races this year on his way to the title than he did last year; that Valentino Rossi would sign a new contract with Yamaha; and that this year's Silly Season would be a disappointingly tame affair, with most riders staying where they are.

Three months into the year, and it looks like one of those predictions will be right, as Rossi is already close to signing a new contract already. It's too early to judge the Márquez prediction, with racing still to start, though the Repsol Honda rider has looked very strong in preseason testing.

But I am starting to believe that my final prediction, that Silly Season would turn out to be something of a dud, will be proved completely wrong. After three MotoGP tests and a whole lot of talking, the rumor mill is running at full tilt. And what it is saying is that this could be the season where the grid is turned upside down. Though at this stage, much is still just gossip and rumor, it looks like the only factory team to remain unchanged will be the Movistar Yamaha team.

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Q&A: Pecco Bagnaia On The Jerez Moto2 Test, The 2018 Kalex, And Pressure For The Coming Season

Pecco Bagnaia goes into the 2018 season as one of the major favorites for the Moto2 championship. The Italian is rated very highly among team managers and factory bosses. So highly rated, in fact, that Ducati have already signed Bagnaia to a two-year deal to race in the Pramac Ducati squad for 2019 and 2020.

He proved his pace at the final Moto2 test ahead of the 2018 season at Jerez. Bagnaia was fastest on the first day, and tied for third quickest on the second and best day of the test. When asking around among his Moto2 rivals, the Sky VR46 Racing Team rider's name is the first to be mentioned as a candidate for the title.

On Wednesday evening, Bagnaia spoke to a small group of journalists about how testing had gone so far, about the changes to the 2018 Kalex chassis, and about the pressure he feels ahead of the 2018 Moto2 season. But first, Bagnaia wanted to address some of the rumors floating around about his leg, injured in a crash at the Valencia Moto2 test.

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