If you think that silly season has been a bit quiet this year, you'd be right. Normally by now, we would have passed through the stage of outrageous fabrication, left the wildly inaccurate rumors behind us, and be well into probable rider signing scenarios. This year, the annual merry-go-round has barely registered, with very little sign of who may end up where for the 2016 season.
Of course, for the most part, this is because all of the factory seats bar the second slots at Aprilia and Ducati are already spoken for in 2016. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro, and Alvaro Bautista all have contracts for next year. Maverick Viñales' seat at Suzuki is safe through 2017. Of the currently active factory riders, only Andrea Iannone's contract could be ended after 2015, but Ducati will be keeping the Italian for 2016 as well. The only truly vacant seat is the one at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri, who never really wanted to be in MotoGP anyway.
With no factory seats available – or rather, with no truly desirable factory seats available – options to move up the MotoGP food chain are limited. Teams, too, are reluctant. 2016 sees the return of Michelin and the advent of spec software, making teams wary of changing too many variables at one time. Better to stick with the rider you know, whose data you already have and understand, and who has a solid relationship with the crew chief and team, rather than get a new rider in and spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out whether problems are down to the rider or adapting the bike to the new technical regulations.
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and sponsors after this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why The Hondas Are Fast, And Who Can Stop Marquez Or Kent
Is the run of Yamaha domination about to come to an end? After winning seven out of eight races, the Yamaha YZR-M1 certainly looks like the best bike on the grid, so on paper, it should continue to crush the opposition beneath its wheels at the Sachsenring. After all, the strength of the Yamaha is its ability to carry corner speed and get drive out of corners, and the Sachsenring has barely a straight line in its 3.7 kilometers. Yet after two days of practice, it has been the Hondas which have ruled the roost in Germany. The bike which is supposed to have problems looks untouchable, with Marc Márquez looking untouchable, Dani Pedrosa the best of the rest, and both Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow showing real promise.
Why is the Honda so fast at the Sachsenring? Two reasons. Firstly, the circuit only has a couple of the types of corners where the Honda has struggled. It is only in Turn 8 and Turn 12 where the riders are braking almost straight up and down, the rear stepping out and becoming difficult to control. "Where we have a problem here is only two corners," Marc Márquez said at the press conference. "The rest is just with the gas, and there we don't have the problem." Those other corners are where the Hondas are making up the time. And they are making up the time because the track lacks grip.
One of the enigmas which we in the media center have been struggling with is whether the Honda does better in cold weather or in hot weather. But after much discussion with a bunch of people who are much smarter than we are, we came to the conclusion that the temperature of the track is irrelevant. It is not whether it is hot or cold that matters to the Honda, but whether the track actually has any grip. On a good track with plenty of grip, the Yamahas can carry corner speed and use the excellent mechanical grip of the bike to their advantage, and make a break. If such a track then also has a lot of sharp corners, where the Honda riders are struggling to control the rear under braking, and get it to slide controllably, then the Yamaha simply walks away, as do the Ducatis, and perhaps even the underpowered Suzukis. All three of those bikes can exploit mechanical grip, to carry corner speed and get drive as the riders lift the bike up from the edge of the tire into the traction area, where it can dig in and push the bike forward.
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and sponsors after qualifying at the Sachsenring:
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marquez Gets His Magic Back, Redding Learns That Relaxing Helps You Go Faster
It is a dangerous thing to write a rider off. We learned that with Valentino Rossi, the old man currently leading the championship after two terrible years at Ducati, one tough year at Yamaha and then the first sign of resurgence from the middle of 2014. Rossi adapted, learned, progressed, and came back stronger. After the first seven races of 2015, the wolf pack in the media center had written off Marc Márquez and HRC. The Honda RC213V was too aggressive an engine to be tamed by electronics, the chassis too stiff to contain the stampede of horsepower contained in the 90° V4. The bike span, wheelied, and worst of all, slid the rear wheel unpredictably when it touched down ready for braking into the corner. Márquez was trying, but perhaps a little too hard, riding every lap as if it was his one shot at pole, overloading the front tire to compensate for the lack of braking at the rear. Márquez was pushing his luck, and it kept running out during the race, the Repsol Honda man either finishing down the order, or ending up in the gravel once the front cried enough.
Márquez crashed out at Barcelona, but that crash did not tell the whole story. Márquez and his crew had made a step forward that allowed him to control the rear under braking a little better, taking the sharpest edge off the area where the Spaniard was suffering most. At Assen, they made another step forward, and for the first time this year, Márquez started to enjoy riding the bike again. He knew he could be competitive, making his disappointment at being beaten – and outsmarted – by Valentino Rossi all the greater. "The first target was to try to feel again that confidence with the bike," Márquez said after practice on Friday. "In Assen I did and I felt it well. Now the second target is win a race."
Two races ago, a bet against Márquez winning would have been a safe one to take. After two sessions of free practice at the Sachsenring, Márquez has once again assumed the mantle of favorite for victory. He was fastest in the morning with a consistent pace, but was downright intimidating in FP2. The gap may have been reduced from a third of a second to just a single tenth over the man in second place, but nobody has the pace of Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider hammered out nine laps of 1'21, more than all the other riders on the grid put together. His nearest rival in terms of consistency is his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, and Pedrosa could only string together three 1'21s.
"Honestly, I’m happy because it was a long time ago that I feel like this on the Friday," Márquez said. "In Assen I had that feeling with the bike but only in qualifying and on the race, but today from the beginning I feel good and this is important." The feeling was the same at Assen, the knowledge that he had better control over the bike. "I’m able to stop better the bike and I’m able to be more constant. The bike is less critical on the front. Then I’m able to be more constant in some laps. If I do some mistakes I can keep the line and this is important."
Press release previews from the MotoGP teams, Bridgestone and others:
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Preview: How Great Last Corners Create Epic Battles, And Silly Season Starting
What makes for great racing? Many things, but great last corners really help. A great last corner, or sequence of corners, allows riders to attack the bike ahead of them, and take one final shot at victory. Even better is when the option to attack offered by the final corner comes with some risk attached: getting ahead is one thing, but staying ahead to the line is quite another.
MotoGP moves from one track with a last corner which guarantees spectacle to another. The final GT chicane at Assen produced fireworks with the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, and the last two corners at the Sachsenring offer similar opportunities. At Assen, the hard-braking right corner is followed by a quick flick left, giving the defending rider the chance to counterattack if he is passed.
At the Sachsenring, the long drop down the steep, steep hill provides the ideal platform to launch an attack from, diving up the inside on the brakes on the way into the penultimate left hander. That line comes at a price, though, as it forces the attacker to run wide on the exit. That opens allowing the defending rider to strike back up the inside on the approach to the final turn, the last left uphill towards the line. Even entering that corner ahead is no guarantee of the win: like Turn 12, Turn 13 offers two lines, inside and outside, both of which can be used to pass.
The only other place to pass at the Sachsenring is the first corner, at the end of the front straight. The rest of the track is so tightly coiled that the bikes are spending too much time on their sides to try to line up a pass. If you're lucky, you can try to figure something out through the section between turns 7, 8, and 9, but from that point on, your mind is focused just on one thing. The crest of the hill just after Turn 10 and then the lightning fast flick right at Turn 11 heading down the Waterfall, and towards the last two turns again.
As the season reaches its mid-point, injuries are starting to take their toll. Riders are being forced to miss races, and replacements have to be found.
The latest victim is Stefan Bradl. The German fell heavily during the race at Assen, fracturing the scaphoid in his right hand. Though he immediately drove home to Augsburg for surgery on the broken bone, the time between Assen and the Sachsenring has proven too short for Bradl to be fit for his home GP. A broken scaphoid is always painful, and the right hand has a lot of stress to bear for a motorcycle racer. The pain has proven to be too substantial, and Bradl now has until 9th August to recover, when MotoGP heads to Indianapolis.
Bradl's place will be taken in the Forward team by Claudio Corti. The Italian has experience both with the Forward team and in MotoGP, having ridden for Forward in 2013, when he raced the FTR Kawasaki. Experience with Bridgestone tires and carbon brake disks is always an issue for substitute riders.
Press releases from the teams and Bridgestone after Saturday's exhilarating Dutch TT at Assen:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and others after qualifying at Assen: