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Portimao MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes Part 1: Tires, Temperature, Crashes, Temperament, And Mr Invincible

The first race in Europe is in the books, and we are halfway back to normality. Unlike Qatar, at Portimão the riding was all done in daylight, meaning the wild variation of track temperatures was far more limited. The weekend was held in more consistent conditions, at a more agreeable time, in a more congenial location.

More importantly, the grid was complete once again. After an absence of eight months, Marc Márquez finally lined up on a MotoGP grid again. And finished a MotoGP race, for the first time since Valencia 2019. None of this was a given, after the long and difficult road to recovery he faced. Three operations, a bone infection, and endless hours of physical therapy paved the long, hard road back for Marc Márquez. It was a journey without a fixed duration or a sure destination. To line up on the grid, and to cross the finish line 25 laps later, was a victory all of its own.

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Portimao MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Yellow Flags, Track Limits, Fast Frenchmen, And Rider Intimidation

The idea behind setting the grid in Grand Prix racing is simple: after two 15 minute sessions, the rider who sets the fastest lap gets to start from pole position, the other riders ranked in order of their best lap times. Of course, the fact that qualifying is split into two sessions to prevent people using tows to artificially boost their starting positions (more on that later) is already a distortion, as the quickest riders left in Q1 have sometimes posted faster times than those who made it through to Q2.

Sometimes, though, the rules intervene to create an egregious breach of the idea that the rider on pole is the quickest rider on the grid. Riders have laps taken away from them for all sorts of reasons, and the grid is set by those who adhered most strictly to the rules. As Race Direction gets ever more technology at its disposal to help assess infractions of the rules, the breaches it finds look more and more petty and mean-spirited, no matter the intention of the regulations. And sometimes, the choices made by track designers, on where to put the marshal posts and flag stations, can make adhering to the rules nigh on impossible.

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Portimao MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marc Marquez Returns At Full Force, And Some Riders With Hidden Pace

It was hardly ideal circumstances to make a return to the toughest class in motorcycle racing after more than eight months without riding a bike. Overnight rain left the track covered in damp patches, making the surface treacherous and unpredictable. But that didn't deter Marc Márquez: though he wasn't the first out of the pits in FP1, he was on track soon enough. And he was fast soon enough too, ending the morning session as third quickest, just a quarter of a second slower than Maverick Viñales.

Drawing conclusions from times which are 2.5 seconds off the race lap record and 3.5 seconds off the best pole time is a little premature. But Márquez was fast again in FP2, in much drier and consistent conditions. In the second session, Pecco Bagnaia's best lap was just a hundredth off Miguel Oliveira's race record, and Marc Márquez was within half a second of Bagnaia, ending his first day back on a MotoGP in sixth position, and having booked a provisional spot in Q2. Mission very much accomplished for the Repsol Honda rider.

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Crunching The Numbers: How Likely Is Marc Marquez To Win The 2021 MotoGP Title?

Can Marc Márquez win the championship this year? Has he left his return too late to catch up? How fast will he be on his return to MotoGP at Portimão? The answer to all of these burning questions is "we don't know", but that doesn't stop us from asking them. And from trying to make our best guess at what might have happened by the end of the year.

The best place to start to answer these questions is the past. We don't know how Marc Márquez will perform in the future, but we do know what he has done in the past. And by examining his past results, we can extrapolate in the hope of getting a glimpse of the future.

You also need something to compare Márquez' performance against. So I have taken the points scored by Marc Márquez in every season he has competed in MotoGP – 2013-2019, as crashing out of one race in 2020 is not particularly instructive – and calculated the average points per race, and what that would work out to if he were to score that average over the 17 races which (provisionally, at least) remain of the 2021 season. Points have been averaged for each of his seven seasons in MotoGP, as well as over his entire career.

Comparisons

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Keeping Illustrious Company, Confusion In Qatar, And Whether The End Of An Era Is In Sight

"I'm so glad to hear that a lot of the riders are confused! Because I am too, I really am." Franco Morbidelli, like just about everyone in the MotoGP paddock in Qatar, has spent so long trying to get his head around the Losail International Circuit and the tricks it can play, with grip, with wind, with track temperatures, and so much more, that he is utterly lost. "I don't know what's going on. Something is going on, and I hope that whatever is going on, it will go away as soon as possible, because it is tricky to work like this."

"Consistency has been difficult this weekend because the track is different every time we exit the pits," Jack Miller agreed. "There's only one more day left here in Qatar and I'll try and make it a good one and get out of here in one piece." After nearly a month in the Gulf state, on and off, and ten days riding around the same track, everyone is very, very over being in Qatar.

First there's the weird schedule, which means the riders hit the track in the late afternoon and finish in the middle of the evening. By the time they are done, it is well past midnight before they can hit the sack. Then there's the track. The grip is too inconsistent, the conditions are too changeable, the window for race conditions is too narrow. If engineering is about changing one variable at a time, Qatar is like twisting every knob at random and hoping for the best. An idle hope in almost every case.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Friday Round Up: Changing Conditions, Reusing Tires, And Why Morbidelli's Engine Issue May Be Fine

Plus ça change... if you put the top four from FP2 of Qatar 1 from a week ago next to the top four of FP2 from today, what difference would you see? The same four names, with only the names of Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo swapped around, the Yamaha rider now fourth instead of third, as he was last week, the lone M1 amid an army of Ducatis.

Even the times are virtually identical: the time difference between Pecco Bagnaia's second place last week and this is just 0.036. The time difference between the third-place times is 0.038. And the difference between the fourth-place times was 0.003, a mere three thousandths of a second.

Only Jack Miller really improved his time. In fact, Miller set a blistering lap, improving his time from last week by nearly a quarter of a second. That was faster than he had been in qualifying last week, though he still would have started from fifth on the grid.

The factory Ducati rider was satisfied with his days work. As well he might be: he set his fast lap after having a huge moment in Turn 15 on his previous run, when he was thrown out of the seat and forced to come straight back in again. He was not phased, banging out his quickest lap on his first flying lap out of the pits.

Different conditions

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Qatar MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: On Different Types Of Speed, The Transformation Of A Winner, And A Rich Crop Of Rookies

The first race of the 2021 MotoGP season produced much food for thought. Too much to fit into one foreshortened evening, so here are a few initial thoughts for MotoMatters.com subscribers after a fascinating season opener at Qatar:

  • Does winning in Qatar mean anything?
  • The two ways of going fast
  • Top speeds in practice don't mean as much as you might hope
  • The transformation of Maverick Viñales
  • Winners and losers
  • Franco Morbidelli: When holeshot devices go bad
  • A tale of two rookies – Bastianini vs Martin
  • Cameron Beaubier passes his first test in Moto2

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Qatar MotoGP Saturday round Up: When Is Fast Too Fast, And Why The Race Is Wide Open

Saturday was a day for smashing records in Qatar. First up was the top speed record, Johann Zarco hitting 362.4 km/h at the end of the front straight during FP4. Not just the top speed record for Qatar, but the highest speed ever record at a MotoGP track, the previous record 356.7 set by Andrea Dovizioso at Mugello. To put that in to context, it is 100.666 meters per second. Or put another way, it took Johann Zarco less than one second to cover the distance which takes Usain Bolt 9.6 seconds. It is a mind-bending, brain-warping speed.

It is not necessarily the highest speed ever reached on a MotoGP machine. Years ago, there were rumors of Dani Pedrosa hitting 365 km/h on data at Mugello. Nobody would comment about it on the record at the time, though engineers would tell you privately that it might be an overestimation. At the end of the straight at Mugello, the bikes are still accelerating and over the crest the rear can get light and start to spin. That cost Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi their engines in 2016.

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