With the contracts of the four riders in Honda's and Yamaha's factory teams expiring at the end of 2014, real fireworks were expected when contract negotiations began for the 2015 season and beyond. But as the season progressed, those fireworks have turned into something of a damp squib, with it looking increasingly likely that the factory line ups will see little or no change for 2015.
The first contract has already been signed. Today, HRC announced that they have reached agreement with Marc Marquez for another two years, meaning that the 2013 world champion will stay with the Repsol Honda team for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Given Marc Marquez' perfect start to 2014 - four wins from four pole positions in the first four races - this comes as no surprise at all. Clearly, retaining the services of the reigning world champion and the man leading the championship was Honda's highest priority.
The first MotoGP test of the season at Jerez is a tough one for the factories, coming as it does after three flyaway races on three continents, followed by a one-week hop back to Europe. Teams and engineers are all a little bedazzled and befuddled from all the travel, and have not had time to analyze fully all the data from the first four races of the season. It is too early in the season to be drawing firm conclusions, and crew chiefs and engineers have not yet fully exhausted all of their set up ideas for fully exploiting the potential of the package they started the season with.
As a result, they do not have a vast supply of new parts waiting to be tested. The bikes that rolled out of pit lane on Monday were pretty much identical to the bikes raced on Sunday. The only real differences were either hard or impossible to see. Suspension components, rising rate linkages and brake calipers were about as exotic as it got. The one area where slightly bigger changes were being applied was in electronics strategies, with Yamaha and Honda working on engine braking, and Honda trying out a new launch control strategy. That new launch control system did not meet with the approval of Marc Marquez, however, and so will probably not be seen again.
2014 Jerez Sunday MotoGP, Moto2 And Moto3 Round Up: Spanish Passion, Non-Spanish Winners, And The Alien's Alien
There is always something very special about Jerez. There are few circuits on earth where fans gather to worship at the altar of motorcycle racing which quite such deafening intensity and passion as at the Circuito de Jerez in southern Spain. Fans of motorcycle racing are a passionate bunch wherever you are in the world, but the fans in Jerez add a spice and temperament which lifts the atmosphere to a higher plane. Despite Andalusia's continuing and severe economic recession, crowd numbers for the event were up again from last year, from over 111,000 to 117,001 paying customers on Sunday. Motorcycle racing lives on in Spanish hearts, no matter the state of their wallets.
Unlike last year, however, the Spanish fans were not treated to what is known in the country as a 'Triplete', or a clean sweep of Spanish wins in all three classes. Both Moto3 and Moto2 saw non-Spanish winners, and even the MotoGP podium was not all Spanish for a change. The two junior classes saw their championship chases thrown open once again, unlike in MotoGP. There, Marc Marquez tightened his stranglehold on the championship, extending his reign of terror from three to four races. At every round of MotoGP so far this year, Marc Marquez – Marc the Merciless, as veteran GP journalist Michael Scott refers to him, while some of the less appreciative fans prefer the moniker Murder Marc, after the young Spaniard's occasionally reckless antics in Moto2 – has taken both pole and victory in the first four races of the season.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's race at Jerez:
2014 Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Innovation, Marquez And Miller Magic, And The Upside Of EU Law
Motorcycle racing is a continual war of innovation. It is a war fought out on many different battlegrounds at many different times, but at its heart, it is about finding new ways, better ways of doing things. Engineers, teams and riders are always looking for some small advantage, turning what they do upside down in the hope of finding something to exploit.
Usually, when motorcycle racing fans talk about innovation, they have a vision of hard metal in their minds, of parts belonging on a motorcycle. They will point to aluminium twin spar frames, to upside down forks, to seamless gearboxes. Some may allude to slightly less tangible improvements: Honda's Torductor, a sensor used to measure the forces going through the engine sprocket directly; perhaps Yamaha's electronics package, which combines 3D models of the racetrack with predictive models of tire wear and fuel load to provide adaptive vehicle dynamics strategies.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Jerez:
With everyone slowly recovering from the shock of the announcement that Bridgestone is pulling out of MotoGP at the end of the 2015 season, it is easy to forget that we are here for a motorcycle race. The roar of Grand Prix machinery hurtling around the beautiful Circuito de Jerez on a glorious Andalusian morning soon dispelled thoughts of 2016, and concentrated minds on what is to come on Sunday.
The heat of the afternoon, though, made thinking tough, and riding even tougher. Track temperatures rose to over 50°, robbing the circuit of even more grip, and making it greasier than ever. Rider consensus was that the track was in pretty good shape, but when it's this hot, the already low-grip surface of Jerez becomes very difficult to ride. That meant that the number of riders who managed to improve their times in FP2 in all three classes were limited.
2014 Jerez MotoGP Thursday Round Up: On Bridgestone's Withdrawal, Slower Lap Times, And Stopping Marquez
There's a race on Sunday, but all the talk is of 2016. Why the seemingly absurd preoccupation with a date that is so ridiculously distant in the future? Because from 2016, MotoGP will have a new tire supplier, after Bridgestone announced they will be pulling out of MotoGP at the end of 2015. Why does this matter? Because tires are the single most important component of a motorcycle, and determine the performance of a machine to a massive extent. No matter how much power your engine produces, if you can't get it to the ground, it becomes irrelevant. No matter how powerful your brakes, if the front tire collapses when you squeeze the front lever, you won't be doing much slowing down. Even if you can brake and accelerate as much as you like, if the bike wanders around like drunken poodle on a skateboard when you tip it into the corner, your laptimes won't be up to much.
It is hard to overstate just exactly how important tires are to motorcycle performance. Why is Aleix Espargaro so consistently fast during qualifying, on a bike that is two years old and with an engine under strict control by Yamaha? Because the Open class entries have a softer rear tire available, and that tire itself is worth half a second or more. That is not to belittle the elder Espargaro's performance, as clearly, he is riding exceptionally well, but the softer rear tire makes a big, big difference.
Another example: during the press conference today, Marc Marquez was asked by Thomas Baujard of the excellent French magazine Moto Journal about how he manages to enter the corners on the front wheel, and tip his Repsol Honda into the turn while the rear wheel is still in the air. It looks spectacular, and seems to defy the laws of physics. Yet Marquez manages it, and manages it consistently.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez:
Press releases from Bridgestone and the MotoGP teams after the Argentinian GP at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit:
Two races and three qualifying sessions in, and all three classes in MotoGP are providing an object lesson in the importance of consistency. Marc Marquez has taken pole for all three MotoGP races, Tito Rabat has done the same in Moto2, and Jack Miller has been on pole for two out of three Moto3 races. There's a similar pattern in the races as well, with Jack Miller having cleaned up in Moto3, and Marc Marquez winning both MotoGP races so far. The only interlopers are Alex Rins, who nabbed a Moto3 pole at Qatar, and Maverick Viñales, who gatecrashed the Moto2 party at Austin. Then again, if you were hoping to have your party gatecrashed, you'd definitely want it done by a man called Maverick.
The routes Marquez, Rabat and Miller have taken to domination of their classes are markedly different, though. Rabat is the most lackadaisical of the three, always leaving it to the last minute before laying down a scorching lap with which he secures pole. His advantage is usually slim, but enough to get the job done. Rabat's leadership of the Moto2 class is sheer consistency, getting the results he needs when he needs them, and always being on the ball.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams, Bridgestone and the circuit after qualifying for Sunday's race at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit:
Why on earth would you organize a MotoGP race in what is effectively the middle of nowhere? The answer is as simple as it is obvious: money. Dorna are being well paid by the circuit to bring the three Grand Prix classes to the little town of Termas de Rio Hondo in the heart of the Argentinian pampas. (And in case you should start to rail against Dorna's greed, it is fair to point out that a significant part of that money will also go to the teams, to pay transport costs and to cover at least part of their annual budget. Some of that money, but not all.)
A more relevant question might be why would a circuit in the middle of nowhere pay Dorna a massive amount of money to come race there? If it's in the middle of nowhere, then surely they are unlikely to make back at the gate what they paid to Dorna to organize the race? They won't, but that is not necessarily the point. The circuit, after all, is not paying most of the fee. The vast majority of the cash (indeed, probably all of it) is being paid by the regional authorities, with help from the central government. The regional tourism promotion council is counting on the increased profile of the Santiago del Estero province attracting more visitors to the region, and to Argentina in general.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's Argentinian MotoGP round at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit: