Here is the official press release from KTM announcing that Johann Zarco and KTM are to part ways at the end of the season.
The Austrian round of MotoGP has been a weekend of bombshells. After the news that Ducati and Jorge Lorenzo had been in talks to replace Jack Miller in the Pramac squad before the weekend, on Sunday night it emerged that Johann Zarco has asked to be released from his contract with KTM for 2020.
The Frenchman has long been unhappy with the Austrian factory, sometimes very publicly so. Since the moment he jumped on the KTM RC16, he has struggled to adapt to the bike. Zarco's style is to be very smooth and precise, while the KTM only really responds to a very physical riding style, to being bullied around the track. The harder you push the bike, the faster you go, and that has always run completely counter to Zarco's natural riding style.
The relationship was star-crossed from the very beginning. Johann Zarco's former manager Laurent Fellon signed Zarco to a deal with KTM at the end of 2017, the Frenchman's first season in MotoGP. In the year that followed, Fellon continued to negotiate with both Repsol Honda and Yamaha, despite Zarco already having a deal signed with KTM. It was just one unusual aspect of the Frenchman's relationship with his manager.
From bad to worse
Another track, another day of Marc Márquez dominance. He was only second in the Friday morning session, 0.185 seconds behind Andrea Dovizioso, but he had a formidable pace from the start. 22 laps all on the same tires, ending with a lap of 1'24.566, which was faster than Alex Rins in seventh, who had set a quick lap on a new soft rear tire.
In the afternoon, Márquez stepped up the pace, this time keeping a soft rear for the full session instead of the medium he had used in the morning. This time, at the end of his 23 laps on the same soft rear, he posted a lap of 1'24.708. 23 laps is just five shy of race distance. If Marc Márquez is going that fast that late in the race, he will be a hard man to beat.
The Repsol Honda garage was busy, too. In the afternoon, Márquez finally debuted the updated aero package he had tested at Brno, consisting of larger upper wings, and slightly broader lower wings. Fitting the fairing meant hiding the bikes behind screens to protect their naked form from prying eyes, or rather, prying cameras. But the fairings, they cannot hide. Nor the carbon frames neither.
That last lap by Márquez was set on the combination of carbon frame and new aero, though his fastest lap was set on his first run in FP2, on the old frame with the old wings. Though he was coy once again about talking too much about the new frame and the new aero, he did offer hints at what the new frame did.
Racing in Austria has always been about speed. When Grand Prix motorcycles first raced in Austria, they went to the Salzburgring, a hairy, narrow track that snakes along one section of the mountain east of Salzburg, then down a bit, and then all the way back again. It was fast, and it was terrifying, and by the time Grand Prix left the track, the average speed of a lap was over 194 km/h. But it was also incredibly dangerous, with no runoff in sections, and steel barriers along large parts of the track.
After abandoning the Salzburgring, Grand Prix moved to the A1 Ring, the predecessor of the modern Red Bull Ring. The A1 Ring was a shortened and neutered version of the original Österreichring, a terrifyingly quick circuit which rolled over the hill which overlooks the little town of Spielberg, where the F1 cars reached average speeds of over 255 km/h. The original circuit is still there, at least in outline, visible from the satellite view of Google Maps.
Shortened and neutered it may have been, but speeds were still high. In 1997, Mick Doohan took pole for the race at an average speed of 175 km/h, faster than the 171 km/h average speed for pole at Phillip Island, a notoriously quick track. When MotoGP returned to Austria after an absence of 20 years, speeds were still high: Andrea Iannone's pole lap was set with an average speed of nearly 187 km/h, making it the fastest track on the calendar.
When a dry line formed during Q1, we knew that there would be riders who would gamble on slicks in Q2. We could even fill in the names: Jack Miller would obviously take a shot on slicks. Marc Márquez might have a go, but then again, why would he risk it? He leads the championship by 58 points, and a starting position on the first two rows would be more than sufficient. But Marc Márquez is Marc Márquez, so of course he is going to take a shot on slicks.
Who else? Anyone who fancied taking a gamble. Maverick Viñales rolled the dice on slicks after setting a time on wets. After a little contretemps with Márquez – more on that later – Alex Rins decided to try slicks. Seeing so many other riders out on slicks already, Danilo Petrucci and his team decided to take a chance on slick tires as well. Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Cal Crutchlow, all stuck slicks on for their last run. If you could get the slicks to work, they would give you a clear advantage.
Getting them to work is not easy, however. "We know the slicks can work in damp conditions," Michelin's Piero Taramasso said on Saturday evening. "If there is standing water, they won't work, but if it is damp, and the rubber is up to temperature, you can use the slicks. But it's not easy."
Tricks of the trade
MotoGP returns to action from the summer break at Brno, probably for the last time. Not, as we thought, because the Brno MotoGP round faced being removed from the calendar – with constant arguments between the circuit, the city of Brno, the South Moravian Region, and the Czech ministry of sport over funding, there were regular delays in payment of the sanctioning fee – but because in 2020, the MotoGP season will almost certainly resume at the Kymiring in Finland at the end of July.
The good news is that it looks like MotoGP will be staying at Brno, at least for next year. That was the implication when Dorna announced the Northern Talent Cup at the Sachsenring, which included a race at the Brno MotoGP round in the calendar for the series.
The truth is that Brno belongs on the MotoGP calendar. In the pantheon of MotoGP racing circuits, Brno sits very close to the top, and like Assen and Silverstone, half a rung below Mugello and Phillip Island. It is a fast and wide track which tests every aspect of bike and rider, despite top speeds being relatively limited. Like Assen, top speeds don't get much above 310 km/h. But like Assen, the track flows, challenging riders to brake later, enter corners faster, and take their bikes closer to the limit to find an advantage.
The frame on one of Valentino Rossi's Yamaha M1s
Peter Bom/David Emmett: At both Assen and the Sachsenring, Valentino Rossi had two different frames on each of his Yamaha M1 bikes. One with a weld on the frame, one without (below). According to Maio Meregalli, the two frames are identical except for the weld (which is present, but has been ground down). This changes the flex a fraction, and gives a very slightly different feedback. At Assen, Rossi only used the frame with the visible weld.
Note also the rubber band being used as a brake lever return spring. Rossi is now the only rider using a rubber band instead of a steel spring, something which used to be common but is now rare. The spring/rubber band is there to give the riders enough resistance, a 'good' rear brake feels quite heavy. The spring is available in a variety of spring rates or stiffnesses (see the color at Honda), and the preload can be adjusted as well. No such nonsense with this old-school rubber band on a multi-million dollar racing motorcycle.
Though empty seats are limited for the 2020 MotoGP season, in recent weeks there has been some movement to fill those vacancies. The moves have mostly been unsurprising, but then with so few seats available, the chances of something unexpected happening are very slim.
Just before the Sachsenring, we saw Danilo Petrucci keeping his seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team for the 2020 season, a fully expected move since the Italian's victory at Mugello back in early June. That leaves Jack Miller in the Pramac Ducati team for another year, though that deal is not yet signed.
A deal is close, however. "We’re fighting over pennies now," Miller said on Sunday night in Germany. Miller will have a Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at his disposal, the same as his teammate Pecco Bagnaia, but there were still a few financial details to be ironed out. "It more or less should be done, I got some information today. So hopefully we can get it done before we get back at Brno and put all that stuff behind us and just focus on riding."
Binder to KTM