Four weeks after press releases full of rolling Tuscan hills, the cliché machine is running out release after release containing the phrase "The Cathedral of Speed". There are of course good reasons to employ a cliché (and press releases usually benefit from trite language, as their objective is to promote the team and its sponsors, rather than the literary skills of press officers), but to call Assen the Cathedral of Speed is to raise the question of whether it still really deserves that moniker.
Much has changed since the first ever Dutch TT in 1925. The first thing that changed was the very next year, in 1926. The first circuit ran over public roads between the villages of Rolde, Borger, and Schoonloo, but the council in Borger refused to pave one of the sand roads on the original course. So in 1926, the race was moved to Assen, run between the villages of De Haar, Hooghalen, and Laaghalerveen to the south of the city of Assen.
The first person you have to beat is your teammate. It is a truth universally acknowledged in the paddock. After all, they are on the same bike as you, with the same support, so the only difference between your results and theirs is down to ability - in theory at least. Beat your teammate, and your team will prioritize you over them when it comes to contract renewal time, will pay you more money, will send more resources your way. If you're in a factory team, the engineers will listen more carefully to you, and more likely to follow the direction of development you set out.
Teams use this same philosophy to motivate their riders. They encourage internal competition, hoping the two riders will push one another on to greater heights, to risk more for better results. Trying to win a race is motivation enough, but adding the frisson of showing up your teammate adds that little bit extra, the icing on the cake. And reward enough should a rider fall short of winning. So far does this internal competition go that for most teams, the order in which rider quotes appear in the press release is determined by who is ahead in the championship, or who finished ahead during practice, qualifying, or the race.
Press releases from the teams and Michelin after a thrilling Italian Grand Prix at Mugello:
There are two types of races at Mugello: either a rider has their bike dialed in better than the rest, and they disappear off into the distance from the start; or a group of riders on different bikes find a way to exploit their strengths at different points around the track, and they end up battling from start to finish.
On Sunday, we got the second type of race. Five riders on three different bikes slugged it out for 23 laps, no one able to make a decisive break, despite several riders trying. Each bike had its own strengths and weaknesses, but those differences equaled out over a complete lap, leaving all five on more or less the same lap time. The race was decided on the final lap, by a brave and desperate move, which came off.
The race underlined once again what a fantastic track Mugello can be. It has a range of corners and a very fast straight, and the contrasts between the bikes were stark. The Ducatis could use their top speed along the straight, but also their ability in braking and in holding a line. Alex Rins used the agility and corner speed of the Suzuki to make good any ground lost on the straight to the Ducatis and the Honda. Marc Márquez used the power of the 2019 Honda engine to match the Ducatis on the straight, and the bike's strength on corner entry to hold off the Ducatis, and not lose too much to the Suzuki.
And so the rookies conquered Mugello. After a motley crew topped the timesheets in the morning – Marc Márquez taking top spot, ahead of the Ducatis of Danilo Petrucci and Michele Pirro (Ducati's test rider, who is rapidly closing on a light year or so of laps around Mugello, and is immediately up to speed), followed by Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro, and Jack Miller – the rookies shone in the afternoon. Pecco Bagnaia sat atop the timesheets after FP2, fractionally ahead (0.046 seconds, ironically) of Fabio Quartararo, with Danilo Petrucci taking third, the first of the veterans to cross the line.
For Quartararo to head the timesheets is not much of a surprise. The Petronas Yamaha SRT rider has consistently been fast, already having a pole and a fastest race lap to his name. But Bagnaia's name was something of a surprise. The Italian had been heavily tipped before the start of the season, but once racing got underway, he had slowly slipped back into obscurity. That is part of the learning process, figuring out what you need from the bike at each track, learning from your crew how to get the best out of your package, understanding how the bike behaves in a variety of conditions.
Once upon a time, every Mugello press release started with the same words: "Nestled in the Tuscan hills, Mugello is the jewel in the crown of MotoGP race tracks". After a few years, that cliche became too much even for the writers of press releases. And yet the basic statements in those press releases are as true today as they ever were. There is, after all, a reason cliches come about.
For Mugello is arguably the most beautiful race track on the MotoGP calendar. The circuit is wedged in a valley, the track snaking its way around one side up towards the head, then off along the other side, and down toward the dip between the Arrabbiatas, and the track entrance. It is set against a backdrop of steep Tuscan hills, covered in a mixture of woodland and pasture. It is a bucolic setting for one of the greatest race tracks in the world.
What makes it truly great, of course, is the fact that it is large enough for the MotoGP machines to stretch their legs. The official top speed recorded at the track is 356.5 km/h last year, but the speed trap is at a point where the bikes are starting to brake. Dorna don't like people to talk about just how fast the bikes really go at Mugello, and Brembo are said to be reluctant to state the real speeds reached. There is good reason to believe they are hitting around 360 km/h already, and it could easily be even faster.
With the three overseas* races out of the way and MotoGP back in Europe, the thoughts of the teams, riders, and series organizers are starting to turn to the future. At Le Mans, there was much discussion in team trucks and among the organizers. And as a consequence, there was a stream of paddock rumor, interviews, and news articles on what's coming up for the future. Here's a round up of recent news.
Calendar expanding to 22 races
In 2016, Dorna signed a five-year contract with the teams and factories concerning regulations, the number of races, and team support. In it, the maximum number of races on the calendar was fixed at 20, and the MotoGP grid set at a maximum of 24.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after the French Grand Prix at Le Mans: