Miguel Oliveira

Opinion: Doing The Right Thing - The Different Trajectories Of Johann Zarco And Jorge Lorenzo

What are you to do if you find yourself stuck on a bike you know you can't ride? On a bike which you are convinced is trying to hurt you, and which you keep falling of every time you try to push? The obvious answer is you try to leave as soon as possible. But that simple answer hides a host of factors which make leaving not as easy as it looks. The cases of Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco illustrate that very well.

First of all, why would a rider want to leave a factory ride? The pay is good, rarely less than seven figures. Riders have a chance to shape the bike and point development in a direction which suits them. They are treated, if not like royalty, then at least like nobility: transport is arranged and rearranged pretty much at their whim, picked up at their front doors before a race and deposited there again afterward. The pressure is high, but in a factory team, they do everything they can to take the strain and let their riders concentrate on riding.

That is little consolation when the going gets really tough. When you are struggling to get inside the top ten, despite giving your all to try to make the bike go faster. When you are crashing at twice, three times your normal rate. When factories are slow to bring updates to the bike. Or even worse, when they bring boxes and boxes of new parts, and none of those parts make much of a difference to your results.

Gravel rash on repeat

How tough can it get? In 2009, while Valentino Rossi was riding a Yamaha, he crashed 4 times during the season, the same number of times he had fallen the year before. In 2010, he crashed 5 times, though one of those crashes was enough to break his leg and take him out of competing for four races. In 2011, the year he switched to Ducati, he crashed 12 times. When you are not used to falling, that can put a real dent in your confidence. What's more, he scored just a single podium that year, compared to ten, including two wins, the year before.

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Austria MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Yamaha's Revival, The Rookies Come Good, And Tolerance For Talent

There was so much to talk about after the Austrian round of MotoGP. The stunning battle and spectacular last lap between Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez, in which Dovizioso emerged triumphant. The bizarre story surrounding Jack Miller's contract and Jorge Lorenzo, a rider who wasn't even present in Spielberg. And to top it all, Johann Zarco's shock announcement he would be leaving KTM at the end of 2019, with no clearly defined plan.

While all of this dominated the headlines, there was so much more going on at the Red Bull Ring that got lost in all the drama. Developments which promise much for the future, both for next year and for the rest of the season. This was a weekend where Yamaha made a comeback, and especially where this year's crop of rookies started to shine.

That Fabio Quartararo should have a good race is no longer really news. The Frenchman has slotted in perfectly to the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, and has shone from the very first weekend. He has had a couple of podiums before, but the podium at the Red Bull Ring should count as something very special indeed. Barcelona and Assen, the two previous races where he got on the podium, are known to be Yamaha tracks. The Red Bull Ring is anything but.

No business being so fast

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Austria MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: Lorenzo And Zarco Recapped, And The Marquez vs Dovizioso War

Sometimes events overshadow events. The MotoGP race at the Red Bull Ring turned into an instant classic, pretty much as the last three editions have done, with the race decided at the last corner, but despite the adrenaline-filled, heart-pumping, edge-of-the-seat final few laps, it is the drama which happened off track for which this race will be remembered. The insanity of a rider stepping away from a MotoGP contract with no guarantees of a ride for 2020, and the insanity of a rider flirting with another factory with a few to swapping teams and manufacturers in the middle of a contract rather took attention away what turned out to be a fantastic race.

So let's get the off-track stuff out of the way first. Though I have covered both the Jorge Lorenzo situation and the Johann Zarco situation in some detail elsewhere, here is a quick recap of where we stand.

Jorge Lorenzo first, as that situation is now resolved. Over the summer break, it appears that Lorenzo had been in touch with Ducati about a possible return to the Italian factory, after having severely hurt himself on the Repsol Honda, and found it a far more difficult beast to tame than he had expected. That all came to a head in Austria, as the seat Lorenzo and Ducati were discussing was currently held by Jack Miller at Pramac Ducati.

Not worth the paper they are written on?

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Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Real Gap Disguised By A Superlative Pole

Is four tenths of a second a realistic gap between first and second on the grid at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg? It doesn't represent the real strength of the riders on the first two or three rows. The gap separating the group capable of battling for the podium is a couple of tenths, give or take.

And it doesn't represent a realistic pace around the Red Bull Ring. Sure, you can flirt with laps of 1'22 for a lap or two, but to do so requires burning through your tires at an unsustainable rate. You can get down to the mid to low 1'23s on both the soft and medium rear Michelins, but to do so requires you to stress the edge of the tire to the extreme, overheating it and wearing it out in the space of 5 laps, not the 28 laps the race will last.

The soft will do race distance – Michelin expect most riders to be choosing between the medium and the soft rears – but it takes a little more careful management. If anything is going to be a limiting factor at the Red Bull Ring, it is going to be fuel. Spend 28 laps with the throttle wide open for most of the lap, and you burn through gasoline at a rate of knots.

Record breaker

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Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marquez vs Dovizioso, Yamaha's Surprise Revival, And Jack Miller In Purgatory

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.

More grip

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.

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Austria MotoGP Preview: Who Can Stop Marquez At A Track Where Speed Is King?

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.

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Brno MotoGP Preview: Great Tracks Make For A Level Playing Field

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.

Passing aplenty

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KTM Tech3's Miguel Oliveira Talks Sachsenring Race, Carbon Swingarms, And His First 9 Races In MotoGP

Miguel Oliveira's eighteenth place finish at the Sachsenring equaled his worst result of the season, his previous eighteenth place finish coming at Jerez. But while his position at Jerez was a fairly accurate reflection of his performance at the Spanish track, the Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider's finish at the Sachsenring belied his actual pace.

Oliveira crashed at Turn 3 on the second lap of the race, wiping the winglet from the right hand side of the KTM RC16, before remounting to chase down the field. The pace Oliveira set in that chase was impressive: take away the 31 seconds he lost in the lap 2 crash, and the Portuguese rider would have been close to Pol Espargaro on the factory KTM, and within sight of a top ten finish.

After the race, I spoke to the Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider to find out what happened, and how his race had gone, as well as taking a brief look at the first half of his season. But we started off with that second lap crash.

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