Yamaha

The Whys And Wherefores Of Van der Mark's Decision To Leave Yamaha

Michael van der Mark at the 2019 WorldSBK round at Assen - Photo by Tony Goldsmith

The WorldSBK rumour mill spun into action by the news that Michael van der Mark would leave Yamaha at the end of this season. The Dutchman has enjoyed a very successful three seasons with the Crescent Racing-run operation, and there’s little to suggest that he won’t be winning races this year.

The news was first broken by Speedweek, with Ivo Schutzbach reporting that Van der Mark would switch to BMW. The website has always had their finger on the pulse of what’s happening at BMW, so it would be little surprise if this rumour turns into fact very soon. The news, though, is still a surprise.

How did it all come to this?

Van der Mark and Yamaha had seemed like a perfect match for much of their time together. The 2014 Supersport World Champion arrived and formed one of the strongest line-ups in WorldSBK when he was paired with Alex Lowes. There was little friction between the two, and their relationship grew into one of great respect and, as much as is possible in racing, friendship.

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Michael van der Mark To Leave Yamaha WorldSBK Team At The End Of 2020

Yamaha have announced that Michael van der Mark will be leaving their WorldSBK team at the end of the 2020 WorldSBK season. After what will be four seasons with the Pata Yamaha squad, the 27-year-old Dutchman has decided to leave for pastures new.

There is as yet no confirmation of where Van der Mark is heading, but reports on Speedweek suggest his destination is likely to be BMW. With Kawasaki already having signed Alex Lowes and Jonathan Rea, and little interest from either Ducati or Honda, BMW is the obvious choice.

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Money, Power, Expectations: Why Andrea Dovizioso And Valentino Rossi Have Yet To Agree A Deal

With three weeks to go to the official start of the 2020 season for the MotoGP class (Moto2 and Moto3 have already raced at Qatar back in March, lest we forget), the 2021 grid is starting to fill up. Of the 22 seats available next year, 12 have already been filled: Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo in the factory Yamaha team, Alex Rins and Joan Mir at Suzuki, Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, and Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona in the factory and Tech3 KTM teams respectively, Marc Márquez at Repsol Honda, Jack Miller in the factory Ducati team, Aleix Espargaro with Aprilia, and Tito Rabat, who already had a contract before the start of the season.

There are a few more seats we can pencil in as near certainties: Pol Espargaro at Repsol Honda, Franco Morbidelli at Petronas, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin in Pramac Ducati, Alex Márquez at LCR Honda. Cal Crutchlow is almost certain to be back, whether that be with LCR Honda or Aprilia – the Englishman appears to be giving serious consideration to what might be an attractive payday before he retires. Johann Zarco is likely to be on a Ducati again in 2021, the odds being that he is forced to accept another season at Avintia.

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The Brains Behind The Bikes, Part 3: Andrea Zugna On The Rider vs The Bike, The Need For Narrative, And Boats vs Bikes

Marc Marquez at Silverstone in 2017, photo by Tony Goldsmith

In the first two parts of our interview with Andrea Zugna, the Italian engineer who contributed to the success of both Yamaha's and Honda's factory teams talked about how he got into MotoGP, his history in the sport, how data has changed motorcycle racing, as well as talking about some of the great riders he worked with, such as Valentino Rossi, Marc Márquez, Casey Stoner, and Dani Pedrosa.

In the final part of the interview. Zugna talks about how he sees MotoGP developing, and the generational change from which MotoGP is not immune. And he goes into some of the reasons for switching disciplines completely, leaving MotoGP to work at the highest levels of sailing, helping to developing the control systems for Italy's America's Cup challenger, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team.

First, though, we talked about Marc Márquez' 2019 season, and how it stacked up historically. Was this the best performance Zugna had seen from Márquez during his time at Honda? "I don’t know, honestly," Zugna replied. "It’s different. I prefer to judge how much effort the rider had to put in order to overcome the limitations of the bike. If you look at the numbers he had in 2019, probably, or 2014, maybe now he is more mature, so fewer errors."

Rider, not bike

Perhaps Márquez' success when competing when the Honda RC213V was clearly slower than other bikes should be rated higher, Zugna suggested. "On the other hand, the biggest achievements for Marc were when he was with less power, for example. Then he could beat Dovi in Ducati with more power."

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The Brains Behind The Bikes, Part 1: Andrea Zugna On Furusawa, His Path Into Engineering, And Good Rules

Developing a racing motorcycle is a complex process. Information flows continuously from rider to engineers to factory and back again, along with a steady stream of parts, some of which improve the bike, some of which don't.

There are a few key people in this design process. The head engineer in the racing department, who oversees the entire process. The crew chief, who interprets what the rider says, and combines it with data to turn it into information the engineers can use. The rider, who not only has to ride the bike to the limit of its performance, but also explain where that limit is and why it is stopping them from going faster to crew chiefs and engineers.

As journalists, we are in the privileged position of being able to talk to most of these people, and try to learn about the process from what they are willing to tell us. Given what is at stake, that is far from the complete picture, the factories jealously guarding information to prevent other manufacturers from figuring out what they are working on, and losing any advantage they might have.

There are some people we don't get to talk to, however. Many of the key engineers involved in leading the development of the bike are kept away from the media. These are the people doing the hands on – and brains on – work of finding ways to make the bike better, to improve its strengths and negate its weaknesses.

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The MotoGP Silly Season Logjam: Dovizioso At Ducati, Rossi At Petronas, And The Youth Wave

While the motorcycle racing world awaits the return of real racing, contract time is heaving into view. Though the methods are different – Skype calls and WhatsApp messages, rather than private conversations at the backs of garages or between trucks – the objective is the same: to find the best match of bike and rider, giving the most hope of success.

Having to work remotely is the least of both managers' and teams' problems. The bigger issue is that there is next to no data to go on. Teams and factories are having to make a guess at who they think will be strong in 2021 based on who was fast in 2019, and who showed promise in the winter tests. Riders have no idea which bikes have made progress over the winter, and which have stagnated. Is it worth taking a gamble on KTM? Has the Honda gotten any easier to ride?

For the Moto2 riders in with a chance at moving up to MotoGP, they have had just a single race in 2020 to show their worth. What's more, it was very far from an ordinary race: the last-minuted decision to make it a night race instead of a day race complicated tire choice, which some got right and some got wrong. Jorge Martin was widely regarded as the hot ticket for promotion to MotoGP in 2021, yet he had a miserable race at Qatar, finishing 20th. Tetsuta Nagashima won the race, while Joe Roberts dominated practice and qualifying. Nobody was mentioning their names as possible promotion candidates in late 2019.

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MotoGP Silly Season Stirs Into Life: Pramac Expect Jack Miller To Take Factory Ducati Seat

With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully behind us, the gears of the motorcycle world are starting to grind again. Riders are training once again, and their thoughts are turning to the future.

It is also clear that riders, teams, and factories are starting to think about 2021. This summer had promised to unleash a Silly Season of unrivaled scale, with all riders bar Tito Rabat out of contract at the end of 2020. January and February threw a wet blanket over the wilder speculation, as Maverick Viñales extend his contract with the factory Yamaha squad, Fabio Quartararo was promoted to the factory Yamaha team, and Valentino Rossi was promised a factory-supported Yamaha should he decide to continue for 2021.

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Tech Briefs: Team work is the key to success in WorldSBK

Loris Baz at Philllip Island in 2020

A race team is forged on the principle of working together to find solutions. No-one can work i isolation and even though once the lights go out and a rider is out there alone the result will come on the basis of the days building up to that point. Motorcycle is a team sport. It’s the ultimate team sport. We delve into Ten Kate’s garage to see how they all work towards the ultimate goal.

How many times in all walks of life has it been said communication is key? In almost every task undertaken, having a clear plan of attack is the basis of getting the job done well. From childhood to adulthood the tasks change but the process stays the same. A checklist is key to ensuring any job is done correctly and for a race team the goal is to minimise mistakes and maximise efficiency.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why inline-four MotoGP bikes handle better than V4 MotoGP bikes

V4 MotoGP bikes make more power, inline-fours handle better. That’s why Johann Zarco, Jorge Lorenzo and others struggle when they switch from inline-fours to V4s

Speak to most MotoGP engineers and they will tell you that the two most important words in race-bike engineering are balance and compromise.

Pretty much whatever you do to improve one area of performance impairs another: you make the bike turn quicker and it becomes less stable, you increase peak power and you lose midrange and so on.

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From Conflict To Collaboration: How The COVID-19 Crisis Reconciled The MSMA

Once upon a time, the manufacturers reigned supreme in MotoGP. The MSMA – the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association – determined the shape of the premier class. In the early years after Dorna secured the rights to promote Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the MSMA negotiated a monopoly over the technical regulations in MotoGP.

The rules in MotoGP are made in committee, the Grand Prix Commission, containing representatives of the four parties with an interest in the sport: Dorna as promoter, the FIM as sanctioning body, IRTA representing the teams, and the MSMA on behalf of the manufacturers. While the sporting and other rules are voted on by majority, the MSMA controlled the technical rules.

In the early years of the MotoGP era Rule changes proposed unanimously by the MSMA were adopted automatically, and the MSMA retained a veto over rules put forward by the other members of the GPC. It was the MSMA who asked for the switch from two strokes to four strokes, and the MSMA who insisted on reducing the capacity from 990cc to 800cc in 2007, when concerns were raised over the speeds of the bigger bikes.

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