Franco Morbidelli

Silly Season Kicks Off: Petrucci To Leave Pramac - But Where To, And What About The Rest?

There were signs that the MotoGP Silly Season could be wrapped up early last week in Bologna, at the launch Ducati's MotoGP team. Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti said he expected to sign the riders for the factory team 'quite early'. "Quite early probably means the second half of February or the first half of March," he clarified. So before the lights have gone out for the first race of the 2018 MotoGP season, Ducati hope to have two factory riders wrapped up, and they are unlikely to be the only factory to have done so.

It is apparent that the riders have taken note of this, and are adjusting their strategy accordingly. After Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport ran a story suggesting that Ducati were about to sign Pecco Bagnaia to the Pramac team, Danilo Petrucci has told the same paper that 2018 will be his last year with Pramac. "[Team boss] Paolo Campinoti and I both know this. He pulled me out of the gutter, but we know this is our last year together. The cycle is complete."

Poetry aside, Petrucci's announcement is significant. The Italian has a contract with Ducati which promises him a seat in the factory team if one becomes available, in much the same way that Andrea Iannone did previously. But the question is, will there be a seat there for Petrucci to take?

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A New Year: Three Predictions For The 2018 MotoGP Season

A new year brings new opportunities, and a chance to start again with a blank slate. The future is unknown, and so now is a time for predictions, some wild and baseless, some canny educated guesses. That we do not know which category our predictions will fall into is half the fun of making them, of course.

2018 looks like being another outstanding year for motorcycle racing. There is much reason for optimism: the racing in MotoGP has never been as close as it is now, the field is deep in talent and the bikes are close in performance; there are fresh young faces coming up through Moto2 and Moto3, ready to push aside the old guard; and new rules in WorldSBK may help to address the disparity between the championship front runners and those who pursue them.

Will the new season play out as we hope? Anything can happen in racing, but here are three predictions for 2018, and factors to watch in the coming year:

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Rookie Reactions, Part 1: Franco Morbidelli After The Jerez MotoGP Test

The Jerez MotoGP test provided three of the four MotoGP rookies with a chance to get familiar with their new bikes and their new teams. The second test is often more important than the first one, as the rookies have had a chance to think about and absorb the data from the first test directly after Valencia, and approach the test with less pressure.

Expectations are mixed for Franco Morbidelli joining the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The last Moto2 champion to move up to MotoGP with Marc VDS was Tito Rabat, and Rabat endured two long and difficult years with the squad. Morbidelli will be hoping that the Honda RC213V will be a little easier to adapt to than it was for Rabat, and that he will be able to pick up the pace more quickly.

So far, Morbidelli's progress has been promising. The reigning Moto2 champion ended the Jerez test as eleventh overall among MotoGP riders, 1.260 behind the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso. Best of all for Morbidelli, he was just a few hundredths behind MotoGP regulars Jack Miller and Scott Redding. There is still much room for improvement, but things are looking positive.

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Are MotoGP Managers Right About WorldSBK As A Talent Pool?

In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough. Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.

That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season. During that press conference, On Track Off Road's Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha's Lin Jarvis, Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM's Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.

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Valencia MotoGP Test Wednesday Press Releases

Press releases from the teams after the final day of the Valencia MotoGP test:


Repsol Honda duo top the time sheets on final day of Valencia test

The Repsol Honda Team’s long Valencia stint, comprising a very successful final race weekend of the 2017 Championship and two productive days of testing, has finally come to an end.

Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa took advantage of another sunny day to continue their work in preparation for 2018. As was the case yesterday, they started on the current machine before switching over to the new one also.

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2017 Valencia MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: When Team Orders Go Bad, And Other Miracles

In a season which has been rammed to the rafters with drama, it is entirely appropriate that the final round of the year should be just as dramatic. It was partly to be expected, of course, with a championship at stake. Sure, Marc Márquez entered the weekend with a nigh insurmountable 21-point lead. But he still had to finish at least eleventh or else hope that Andrea Dovizioso did not win the race.

Things were looking good after qualifying: Márquez would be starting from pole, while Dovizioso would have to line up on the third row of the grid. Between the two, a host of fast rivals capable of getting in the way of Dovizioso's charge to the front, and perhaps even depriving him of the race win by taking victory in their own right.

By the time the checkered flag fell at the end of the race, enough had happened to fill a Greek epic. Team orders and betrayal, crashes and near crashes, deceit and disguise, secret swapping of bikes, and a bunch or people finishing much higher than any had a right to expect. An intriguing winner, a rider deprived of victory, and at last, a champion crowned. If the 17 races before Valencia had generated plenty to talk about, the final race of the year topped it all.

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Tom Luthi Declared Unfit For Sepang, Franco Morbidelli 2017 Moto2 Champion

Tom Luthi has been ruled unfit to race after his massive highside during qualifying for the Sepang round of Moto2. The Swiss rider fell very heavily during qualifying, and fractured his ankle in the fall.

Luthi's participation had been in doubt after the crash on Saturday, but doctors ruled that he would have to pass an examination on Sunday morning before being allowed to race. Luthi failed that exam on Sunday morning, and has been ruled out of the Moto2 race on Sunday.

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2017 Sepang Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Titles On The Line, The Crash That Wasn't, And Revenge?

Will we have a 2017 MotoGP champion by Sunday night? The odds are on the side of Marc Márquez. Second place would be good enough to wrap it up for the Repsol Honda rider wherever Andrea Dovizioso finishes. If Dovizioso doesn't win, then Márquez has to finish within eight points of the Italian. If Dovizioso is second, then fourth is good enough. If he's third, then eighth is good enough. So far this season, Marc Márquez has always finished sixth place or better. Except when he doesn't finish, of course...

Márquez has two obstacles to overcome. The first is the weather. The forecast for Sunday at Sepang is heavy rain, from around the time warm up for MotoGP tends until early evening. On Friday, it was Andrea Dovizioso who was strongest in the rain, while Márquez was a little slower, and had a fleet of Ducatis to contend with.

The second obstacle is the big group of very fast riders at Sepang. Going by the timesheets in FP3 and FP4, there are a bunch of people who are capable of a podium, and maybe even a win. "I think there are five, six, seven riders who have similar pace, there is not a clear favorite," was Jorge Lorenzo's assessment. "It's very, very open the fight for the victory, the fight for the podium," Valentino Rossi concurred, "because have a lot, a lot of different riders that for sure have the pace for the podium but also for the victory."

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2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Round Up: A Race For The Ages As Championships Near A Close

Phillip Island always delivers. If you came to the track on the edge of the world hoping for a spectacle, you got more than your money's worth. Three stunning races at arguably the greatest racetrack in the world. Three races which really mattered: with just two rounds left after Phillip Island, the results had a significant impact on all three championships. And to cap the day off, one of the best MotoGP races of all time, the second here in the space of three seasons. The sun even shone. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Is it a coincidence that two of the greatest Grand Prix races, perhaps of all time, have happened at Phillip Island in the last three seasons? I don't think so. This place, and this time, have conspired to create the perfect conditions for motorcycle racing. Firstly, there has never been a greater concentration of riding talent on the grid at the same time in the premier class. Secondly, performance parity between the different factories, and between factories and privateers, has never been so great. And thirdly, the Phillip Island circuit is simply made for motorcycle racing. A flowing track in a stunning setting, where brave and skilled riders can make passes at nearly half of the corners on the track.

The 2015 MotoGP race at Phillip Island was a four-way dust up which saw Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, and Valentino Rossi pass each other a grand total of 52 times in 27 laps. The 2017 race saw seven riders slug it out over the same distance, passing and repassing each other a total of 73 times. Blink, and you missed a change of the lead. But you had to blink, just to catch your breath. It is a good job the assiduous Tammy Gorali was willing to go back and tally up the action.

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2017 Motegi Race Round Up: Battle Of The Titans

Motegi was tempestuous, in every sense of the word. It was as if the elements were conspiring to become a metaphor for the 2017 MotoGP season. The weather is always a factor in an outdoor sport such as motorcycle racing, and in Japan, the elements threw almost everything they had at MotoGP, the cold and the rain leaving standing water all around the track, throwing yet another spanner into the works.

The teams had seen almost every variation of wet conditions during practice, from soaking wet to a dry line forming, so they at least had an idea of what to expect. What they feared was that each rider, each team had their own Goldilocks zone, the precise amount of water on the track in which their bike worked best. For one rider, too little water meant they would eat up their tires, whereas for another, a track that was merely damp was just right. For one rider, too much water meant not being able to get enough heat into the tires to get them to work and provide grip. For another, a lot of water meant they could keep the temperature in their tires just right, and really harness the available traction.

One man seemed immune to this Goldilocks trap. Whatever the weather, however much water there was on the track, Marc Márquez was there or thereabouts. He was quick in the wet, he was quick in the merely damp. So confident was he at Motegi that he even gambled on slicks for his second run in qualifying, which meant he missed out on pole and had to start from third. But would it make any difference? Would anyone be able to stop Marc Márquez from taking another step towards the championship?

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