If there is one rider in the entire MotoGP paddock who recalls the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it is Marc Marquez. Around the paddock, speaking to the press, at public appearances, the Spaniard is soft-spoken, polite, friendly. When he speaks, he speaks only in commonplaces, his media training having expunged any trace of opinion or controversy from his speech (in either English or Spanish). Put him on a bike, however, and the beast is unleashed. He is merciless, in his speed, in his ownership of the track, and in his disregard of anyone else on the track.
So it was unsurprising that the Spaniard should find himself in trouble once again. During the afternoon practice, Marquez slotted his bike underneath an unsuspecting Simone Corsi going into turn 10, sending the Italian tumbling through the gravel in the process. The move was reminiscent of the incident at Motegi, where Marquez barged past Mika Kallio with similar disregard for the consequences, but unlike Motegi, this time Marquez received a penalty from Race Direction, for contravening section 1.21.2, a section Marquez by now must know almost by heart. That part of the Sporting Regulations which governs 'riding in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors'. For his sins, Marquez is to start from the back of the grid on Sunday, regardless of where he qualifies.
The punishment has been coming for a while. Race Direction has been working this year on taking previous behavior into account, and that, above all, was the reason for Marquez to have his wrist slapped. The list of incidents involving Marquez is long: starting with the collision with Thomas Luthi in the very first race at Qatar; the clash with Pol Espargaro at Barcelona, causing Espargaro to crash out; the collision with Kallio at Motegi; and now this incident with Corsi at Valencia. There were numerous other minor incidents in which Marquez featured, the Barcelona incident, for example, coming at the end of a race which had seen a fair smattering of other questionable moves.
The actual incident Marquez was punished for was not even particularly reckless. Marquez was clearly the faster of the two riders, but Corsi had not seen the Spaniard coming through. The sensible thing would have been to wait a couple of corners to come past, but Marquez' impatience got the better of him. Had the incident happened in the race, Marquez would have likely escaped punishment, the Spaniard's move being regarded as battling for position, but to put the same forceful move on Corsi on Friday afternoon, when there is nothing at stake other than a little bit of pride and some time spent on set up, is going a little beyond the pale. Aggression in a rider is a positive trait - Red Bull KTM Moto3 rider Danny Kent, for example, uses boxing training to make him think and react more aggressively on track - but that aggression needs to be contained and channeled in a positive manner. Right now, Marquez seems to get the red mist a little too quickly, going from mild-mannered Bruce Banner to 'HULK SMASH!' before you can even blink.
That aggression is a quality Valentino Rossi admires in the young Spaniard. "I like a lot Marquez, his style, his skills, and also he is aggressive. A talented guy who is 19 years old has to be like this," Rossi said. But he had to calm it down, Rossi added, especially when it was not necessary to take so many risks. "It is not the time on Friday afternoon for entry with another rider that is slower than you in difficult conditions," Rossi said. "For sure, Marquez did not want Corsi to crash, but for me risk too much."
Andrea Dovizioso agreed, though he added that he did not feel that there was any malice in Marquez' actions. "He does not want to do that, but his level to feel the limit is different to other riders," Dovizioso said. The Italian made a comparison to another rider with a reputation for pushing risks over the limit sometimes: "I think we are in the same situation as [Marco] Simoncelli," he said. "He don't want to do that, to be so aggressive, but it doesn't matter, if you are different than other riders, and you are dangerous, you have to change."
The incident with Marquez provided some much-needed diversion on yet another afternoon that was lost almost entirely to the rain, at least in the MotoGP class. The track was half-wet, half-dry, the kind of conditions in which an intermediate tire may offer some opportunities to put in some laps, but as has been remarked so many times this season, even with intermediates, some riders would likely choose to stay in their garages. The conditions in which intermediate tires work are very specific, and you would be very unlikely ever to race with an intermediate: those conditions are usually when a track is drying, and the compromise of intermediate tires leaves them the worst of both worlds during a 45-minute race. If it is dry enough for intermediates to offer a benefit at the start, then the track is likely to dry out quickly enough for slicks to be a much better proposition after a few laps, leaving the intermediate-shod riders floundering at the back of the field. If it is very wet, but the rain has stopped falling, then going out with wet tires will offer much more advantage in the early stages, and riders will then attempt to nurse a wet tire home. Here, an intermediate would be downright dangerous in the early stages, before possibly coming into its own towards the end.
Of course, the engine allocation limits also provide little incentive to put in laps in tricky conditions, as even at the end of the season, the factories are unwilling to risk crashing and damaging an engine beyond repair. The factories asked for a limit to be placed on the number of engines available, and the factories were given those limits, but it is the paying customers who suffer, with riders in their garages when it rains, and no more wheelies or burnouts at the end of a race.
In the morning, when it was properly wet, everyone got some track time, taking advantage of the opportunity to test the circuit's new surface. The new surface was a clear improvement, but whether it was good enough or not depended on your perspective. In the 'glass half empty' camp was Casey Stoner, who pointed out that there were still several bumps around, and that there were a couple of places where the seams of the new asphalt were in critical braking zones. In the 'glass half full' camp was just about everyone else, who praised the number of bumps that had been removed, and felt the resurfacing was a massive improvement.
But even those who liked the new surface had their criticisms. The new surface in the wet is treacherous, much as you would expect with a resurfaced track. The strange thing was that the place where the track was most dangerous was along the front straight, with everyone complaining that the rear was spinning up and not providing any traction along the front straight. Cal Crutchlow joked of his frustration at not being able to pass a CRT bike along the straight, normally something achieved with no effort at all. In the corners, on the other hand, the grip was pretty good, Andrea Dovizioso said, telling reporters that you could carry a surprisingly large amount of lean angle through the corner, despite having no grip on the straights.
The lack of grip in acceleration for once played into the hands of the CRT machines. Their weakness is in acceleration and in electronic control, but the slick track negated the advantage of the factory prototypes. On Friday morning, for the first time, the two Aspar Aprilias were competitive with the prototypes, with Aleix Espargaro grabbing sixth and Randy De Puniet taking ninth, finishing among the prototypes rather than behind them.
Whether the days of the CRT bikes are numbered or not remains to be seen, but it is clear that the factories and Dorna have come to some kind of accommodation. Though the details of that agreement have yet to be revealed - those will come out either after the meeting of the Grand Prix Commission here at Valencia, or else in December - Yamaha's bosses let slip some of what that solution may entail at Yamaha's annual technical presentation, in which they talk about how they modified the bike over the past year. When asked about the upcoming changes, MotoGP group leader Kouichi Tsuji told the assembled media that the manufacturers had agreed to "fill the performance gap" between the prototypes and the CRTs. That confirms recent reports that Honda and Yamaha will be offering cheaper options to private teams to help fill the grid.
Honda's solution will be to produce and sell the RC213V production racer which we have been reporting on since Silverstone, while Yamaha will be providing engines to teams to build their own chassis around. The sticking point could well be Yamaha's refusal to sell those engines, the Japanese factory willing solely to lease engines. Yamaha appears to fear losing control over their technology, and if they were to build an engine to sell, it would be different to the unit currently propelling the M1, with less performance and less technology. Instead, Yamaha would prefer to lease engines, supplying an engine and a data engineer, and performing the maintenance on the engines themselves. This, however, may not be acceptable to Dorna, as Carmelo Ezpeleta has been fighting tooth and nail against the lease system, which sees the subsidies the teams receive from Dorna disappearing straight into the bank accounts of the factories. As Aspar boss Jorge Martinez said when asked about the satellite Ducatis he leased, the only thing he still had was photographs. On Saturday, we will know more.
Yamaha's technical presentation once again offered a fascinating insight into the way the bike had changed, though this year, there was less detail on display, Tsuji joking that they had given away too much to their competitors in previous years. The change in capacity had meant that the bike was longer and had more forward weight bias, to control the more powerful 1000cc bike's tendency to wheelie, while producing the same amount of grip at the rear wheel. The new Bridgestone tires actually provided more grip, but by utilizing the same amount of grip as the 800, they could still achieve better acceleration. The biggest improvement had come from an uprated anti-wheelie system, which kept the front wheel on the ground better. That alone provided a tenth of a second improvement in lap time.
Tsuji also showed a comparison between Jorge Lorenzo's lap times on the 800cc and the 1000cc at Motegi, to demonstrate the differences between the new and the old bike (the slides from the presentation can be viewed on GPOne.com). Lorenzo was losing 0.2 seconds braking for Turn 3, but gaining 0.3 seconds just along the back straight. Corner speed had been sacrificed as a result of the longer bike, but that was more than made up for by the gains in acceleration. The higher speeds and heavier weight had meant that braking was happening earlier, and this was one of the issues which had meant that the carbon brakes were at the limit at the end of Motegi's long straight. But improved brakes would have little effect, Tsuji said, as braking was limited at the moment by the amount of grip in the front tire.
Tsuji's explanation of the braking problems also shed some light on Ben Spies' brake failure at Motegi. Spies is notoriously late on the brakes, he told reporters, meaning that the brakes were having to handle greater loads than they were capable of. With discs limited in size and mass by rules, that left Spies with no choice but to adapt his riding style to cope. He had not, and had suffered the consequences.
Yamaha also shed some light on two of Spies' other technical problems. The suspension collapse he had suffered at Laguna Seca had been down to a linkage bolt stripping its thread, Tsuji explained, while the blown engine had been the result of an overheating valve. Yamaha had solved that problem by cooling valve temperature, by the simple expedient of flowing fractionally more fuel across the valve. It has been a simple software fix, Tsuji said.
Despite Spies' blow up, and the loss of an engine for Lorenzo at Assen, they had never been in any real danger of exceeding the engine allocation, Tsuji said. That situation was sufficiently under control that the sixth engine was now almost a spare.
With the engine allocation due to be reduced to five in 2013, once again at the request of the manufacturers, this bodes well for them managing with fewer engines. But Yamaha, Honda and Ducati have had a little help in managing their engine allocations this year from the climate. With so many sessions lost to the weather, riders have spent much more time in the pits. The run of unusually wet weather cannot last forever, however. The statistical phenomenon of regression to the mean (the major factor in accident reduction after the placing of speed cameras) suggests that at some point, a season or two of completely dry races will ensue. Only then will the engine allocation measures be tested fully, with much more mileage put on the bikes. You would not bet against the factories getting it right, but they may find it a little more difficult than they had been expecting. That, however, is a question for a drier, warmer season.