Stefan Bradl's period of enforced unemployment will be mercifully brief. Today, the Forward Racing team announced they had released him from his contract at his request, as the problems facing the team continue. Free from his contract, Bradl looks set to sign for the Gresini Aprilia squad for the rest of the season, replacing Marco Melandri.
Bradl has been caught up in a whirlwind of events since breaking his scaphoid at Assen. Two weeks later, at the Sachsenring, the German was in talks with the Forward Racing team to extend his contract to race the Open class Yamaha for the 2016 season. The day after the race in Germany, team owner Giovanni Cuzari was arrested on his return home to Ticino, Switzerland, on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. Because of the charges, the Swiss authorities seized the team's computers and financial administration, and froze their bank accounts. The arrest also prompted a number of sponsors to end their contracts, further endangering the future of the team. The team announced that they would not be competing at Indianapolis, and that they could also end up missing Brno.
This is the second part of our silly season overview. Before starting on this part, make sure you have read the first part of the review, published yesterday.
If Jack Miller is parachuted into Aspar, the second seat in the team is up for grabs. Though Dorna are keen to have an American in MotoGP, it is widely believed that Nicky Hayden's days are numbered. Despite his denials, there are question marks over Hayden's wrist, and he has not been as competitive on the Open Honda as he had hoped. Hayden was at the last round of World Superbikes at Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago, where he was seen talking to a lot of teams. There is a lot of speculation Hayden could end up on an Aprilia in World Superbikes next season, the American already having visited the factory's Noale HQ in 2013, before he left Ducati to sign for Aspar.
Could Hayden take the second Aprilia seat in MotoGP? This seems extremely unlikely. The factory already has an experienced development rider in Alvaro Bautista, and is really looking for someone faster and younger to lead the challenge. One name being bandied about is Stefan Bradl, the German being a particularly attractive prospect for the Italian factory. With Melandri having abandoned the Gresini Aprilia team, the second seat in the team is being filled by Michael Laverty. A sensible choice under the circumstances: Laverty is already Aprilia's official test rider, and the RS-GP is still very much a test bed for collecting data, to be used to build the 2016 bike, which will be a full prototype built from scratch. The downside to having Laverty is that he is also racing in BSB for the Tyco BMW team. The two calendars clash only once, when MotoGP goes to Phillip Island, and BSB is at Brands Hatch, so Laverty is able to fill in on a race-by-race basis.
However, with Bradl having announced that he has rescinded his contract with Forward Racing, due to the fact that they cannot guarantee him a ride for the rest of the season, Bradl becomes a more appealing option for Aprilia. The German could start racing almost immediately – a start at Indianapolis is probably too early, with the Brno test a more likely date – and could fill in until the end of the season. Bradl is still relatively young – he will be 26 in November – a former Moto2 world champion, and highly motivated. Signing Bradl to what is effectively an 18-month contract could be a smart move for Aprilia, as they would get someone young, fast, and able to help develop their new 2016 bike. If Bradl is fast in 2016, Aprilia could keep him for the future, if he isn't, he can keep working on improving the bike for 2017, and his successor.
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.
Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals. The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi. There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season. Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race. The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt. The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider's chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
Gradually, the race fell out of favor, and more and more riders had clauses added to their contract specifically excluding them from being forced to race at Suzuka. Mick Doohan was one of the early absentees. Valentino Rossi did it twice, won it the second time around, and swore never to race at the event again. It was simply too demanding for a rider chancing a championship. In the early years of this century, the race languished in relative obscurity. The name of the event still echoed in the collective memory of race fans, but it passed without much comment. Except in Japan, where it remained the pinnacle of the JSB season, and the battleground for the Japanese manufacturers.
Forward Racing will not be at Indianapolis for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. As was widely expected, the team formally announced today that they lacked the funds to take part in the race. The team is now focused on making it to the following round, at Brno in the Czech Republic.
The team has been in severe financial difficulty ever since the arrest by the Swiss authorities of team owner Giovanni Cuzari on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. First, the team had all of its assets seized, as they were all in the name of Cuzari. Then, a number of its sponsors, including MotoGP title sponsor Athina, withdrew their support and stopped payment. With no access to existing funds and payment of new funds impossible, it was clear that making it to Indianapolis would be impossible.
Forward Racing boss Giovanni Cuzari remains under arrest in Lugano, Switzerland, and the team remain in doubt whether they will be able to participate in the next MotoGP round, scheduled for Indianapolis on 9th August. The biggest problem the team faces is that their bank accounts have been frozen, as part of the ongoing investigation into tax evasion, fraud and corruption which Cuzari and Libero Galli have been charged with by the Swiss authorities. The Open class Yamaha M1s and equipment belonging to the team is already in Indianapolis, having been flown there by IRTA after the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring. But without access to money to be able to pay for flights, hotels, car rental and all of the other sundry expenses which are necessary to allow a MotoGP team to actually go racing.
At Valencia last year, working for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder, I interviewed Valentino Rossi's crew chief Silvano Galbusera. The interview lived up to expectations, providing a fascinating insight into working with the nine-time world champion, and the pressures of replacing legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess as Rossi's right-hand man. Yesterday, we published the first part of the interview, in which Galbusera spoke of his switch to MotoGP, and replacing Jerry Burgess. In the second part of the interview, Galbusera talks specifically about working with Valentino Rossi, and what makes him such a special rider.
Q: When Valentino announced he would be changing crew chiefs, he said he needed a bigger challenge. It seems to me that the biggest change was in his mind, rather than in the garage. Is that the right impression, did you make the difference or did Valentino make the difference?
SG: Really I don't know 100%. But from what I understood, Valentino never do something without having a clear plan of this. I think of course, he remembered back in 2010 working with me, when we worked for a very short time on the test, but I think he collect some information from [team manager] Maio Meregalli, from others. It was a bit, of course, but it was not completely that. It wasn't a complete gamble.
It could have been a complete disaster, but he already think, he already make a plan, to help also me to do a good job.
Q: What has impressed you most about working with Valentino? What makes him special?
At Valencia last year, working for the Belgian magazine Motorrijder, I interviewed Valentino Rossi's crew chief Silvano Galbusera. The interview lived up to expectations, providing a fascinating insight into working with the nine-time world champion, and the pressures of replacing legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess as Rossi's right-hand man. Today, we publish the first part of the interview. The second part will be published on Thursday.
Q: It's been a big change for you coming here, perhaps the biggest challenge of your career. You have to replace Jeremy Burgess, and you have to work with Valentino Rossi. How has it been for you?
Silvano Galbusera: In the beginning, I worried about the situation, because Jeremy Burgess everybody knows is at the top. And also Valentino, Italian rider, great champion, so. The media, everyone, they want to know everything from Vale. So it's a bit critical, because I'm not experienced in MotoGP, coming from Superbike. First test it was so so, but after when we go to winter test, Malaysia, day by day we find a good opportunity to do well, with the team and everything. Because everyone is a lot experienced, is very high level, and they don't need to follow in every single moment, they know everything what they need to do, just to give them some paper and they follow everything. Then with Vale, we speak Italian, it's a little bit more easy to understand. And it was day by day more easy, more relaxed, to get the result at the category.
Q: So by the time you reached Qatar you were a good strong unit?
SG: Yes, but the problem is every weekend we learn a little bit. And now we have a good level, we are very close to Honda, we need to restart the season now, to understand the situation from Marquez and him. But unfortunately we take a time to understand, to make everything working well, and then we modify bike setting, geometry, position, so... It was a good job, but we would like to start again next season.
The Forward Racing team faces an uncertain future. On his return from the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring, Forward Racing boss Giovanni Cuzari was arrested by the Swiss authorities on charges of suspected corruption of a public official, and money laundering through sponsorship activities. Cuzari remains under arrest, and is expected to face a hearing on Friday or Saturday. That hearing will determine whether Cuzari will be released, or will have to remain under arrest while the investigation continues.
At the heart of the case are allegations that the head of the Ticino tax inspectorate, Libero Galli, accepted bribes in return for special treatment by the Swiss tax authorities. Libero is charged with abuse of authority, passive corruption and improper application of fiscal regulations. Galli is alleged to have received payments from Giovanni Cuzari in return for special treatment of sponsorship income of Media Action, the company owned and operated by Cuzari which manages the sponsorship money of Forward Racing. Both men have been arrested, and assets and bank accounts have been frozen, as the investigation continues.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
How tyres could decide the 2015 MotoGP title
Let’s do some maths: nine races gone and nine to go, so it’s halfway time when we get to examine the past with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and pretend we’ve got even the slightest clue about what’s going to happen next.
If we take Sunday’s German GP and extrapolate that result all the way to Valencia, Marc Márquez will record a famous comeback world-title victory. However, if Márquez, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo each win three of the remaining nine races, while recording podium finishes in the other six, then Rossi will most likely make history with a 10th world title, 18 years after his first. The possibilities are endless, of course, though it might be fun if someone fed the data into a supercomputer. Please be my guest…
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and sponsors after this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
Nine races down, nine to go. The Sachsenring marks the mid-point of the season, and in all three Grand Prix classes the outlines of the championship are becoming clear. In Moto2 and Moto3, there is one rider who can dominate, winning often, taking a hefty points haul when he can't, and having luck work in their favor and against their opponents. In MotoGP, the title looks to be settled between the Movistar Yamaha teammates, with the Repsol Hondas playing a decisive role.
The three races in Germany all played out following the broader patterns of their respective championships. In the Moto3 race, Danny Kent steamrollered his way to victory, his teammate Efren Vazquez helping him to extend his lead in the championship to 66 points by taking second ahead of Enea Bastianini. In Moto2, Johann Zarco narrowly missed out on victory, the win going to Xavier Simeon. The Belgian plays no role in the championship, while Zarco's nearest rival Tito Rabat was taken out by Franco Morbidelli in the final corner. Rabat's crash means Zarco now leads Moto2 by 65 points. Both Kent and Zarco can start to pencil their names in for the respective championships, their leads starting to edge towards the unassailable.
In MotoGP, the title chase is still wide open, with both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo easily capable of winning. The championship started strongly in Rossi's favor, then the momentum swung towards Lorenzo, before creeping back towards Rossi in the last two races. At Assen, Rossi put a big chunk of points between himself and his teammate. In Germany, the Repsol Honda men played more of a role in the championship than the two Yamaha riders, limiting Rossi's points gain to just three. He now sits thirteen points ahead of Lorenzo, with everything still to play for, and neither man capable of dealing a decisive blow.
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.