Press releases from the MotoGP teams after a thrilling race in Phillip Island:
If there is one thing that you need to ride fast around Phillip Island – apart from an appetite for scaring yourself silly, that is – it is confidence. You have to have blind faith the front will stick as you pitch it in to Turn 1 at 190 km/h, or slide the rear at 250 km/h plus through Stoner Corner. You want to be sure you're going to make it through, because if you don't, you'll fall off at speed, and it will hurt. A lot.
Meanwhile, the elements are doing their best to sap your confidence. Gusts of 40 km/h or more are coming in off the Bass Straight at different angles, picking the bike up in some places, pushing it down in others, getting in under the fairing and trying to pull the front away from you. Clouds rush past, some sprinkling droplets onto your visor, others dumping enough rain onto the track to leave it soaked, most blowing over without leaving a mark. Cold winds suck the heat out of your tires.
When you're in the zone, you can blaze around the track lap after lap, banging in times that should be good enough for the podium. But one misstep and you take a tumble. And one tumble is enough to shake your blind faith in the front end, plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. At other tracks, that might cost you a tenth or two. Phillip Island will find your lack of faith disturbing, and punish you with a second or more on your lap time.
That, in a nutshell, was the tale of qualifying. Marc Márquez is so confident at Phillip Island that he was able to punch in lap after lap during FP4, then toy with his rivals to take pole by a third of a second. Andrea Dovizioso was shaken by a crash in FP4, and that hit his confidence, and left him lapping slower in qualifying than he had in FP2 on Friday. With Márquez on pole and Dovizioso in eleventh, Phillip Island may have helped steal the championship away from the Italian.
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?
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi:
If anyone needed an argument that MotoGP's current system of qualifying is arguably the best available, Saturday at Motegi was proof positive. There are plenty of arguments that can be made against it: there are fairer systems imaginable, and there are simpler systems imaginable, but in the end, the element of chance the current system injects opens up opportunities for riders to seize. And it can either reward or punish those willing to gamble.
The weather at Motegi provided ample evidence of the spoils on offer, and the risks involved. A wet morning practice, a damp FP4, and a track which was starting to lose water from the surface. As Q1 progressed, the faintest hint of a dry line started to appear. Still too wet for slicks, but perhaps the ten minutes between Q1 and Q2 would be just long enough for the dry line to consolidate itself. Would anyone be brave enough to go out on slicks?
Valentino Rossi would be, and so would Marc Márquez. They both went out to test the waters, or lack of it, on slicks, hoping a high-stakes gamble would pay off. Rossi tried it early, Márquez tried it late, but both met with the same result. Yet one of the two will start from the front row, while the other finished dead last in Q2, and will start from twelfth. Timing proved to be everything, and the time was never really quite right. Only once Moto2 got underway did the track start to dry out sufficiently for slicks to be a viable option.
The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes which don't, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.
The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. "Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble," Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso. "We don't understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange."
The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. "We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip," Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate. "We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after Sunday's race at Aragon:
I, along with almost every photographer and a good part of the journalists present at Aragon, made my way down to the pit lane on Friday morning, to watch Valentino Rossi's first exit on the Yamaha M1 since breaking his leg in an enduro accident. It was overcast but dry, and there was a real sense of anticipation as Rossi limped to his bike, swung his leg awkwardly over it, then exited the garage smoothly and headed off down pit lane.
Before he and the rest of the MotoGP field had reached the exit of pit lane, the rain had started to fall. Not hard enough to leave the track properly wet, but enough rain to make using slicks impossible. FP1 was a wash. Fastest man Marc Márquez was 13 seconds off lap record pace.
The track dried out again during the lunch break, but once again, just as the MotoGP riders were about to head out, the rain started to fall. They found the track in FP2 much as they had left it in FP1: too wet for slicks, not really wet enough for a proper wet test. And with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be dry and sunny, any data collected was of very little use indeed.
With the announcement that Xavier Simeon will be signing for the Avintia Ducati team, the 2018 MotoGP rider line up is complete.
The full rider line up, complete with contract duration, appears below:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's rain-sodden race at Misano:
Powerful win for Marquez at wet Misano to take back the Championship lead
Marc Marquez perfectly mastered today’s very tricky wet conditions at Misano, taking his fourth win of the season and the 59th in his career, putting him back at the top of the Championship standings, equal on points with Andrea Dovizioso (with Marquez ahead by virtue of more second-place finishes).