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.
Why Lorenzo is winning
The vital importance of straight-line braking in MotoGP’s Michelin era explained and the big question: can Lorenzo win the title for Ducati?
Over the years there have been many weird and wonderful world championships, but this year’s may be the weirdest and most wonderful of all.
There’s a three-time MotoGP world champion struggling to find his way with a recalcitrant motorcycle. His lack of results cause him to fall out with the factory management, so he looks elsewhere for employment, but none of the other factories want him. There are rumours of retirement and talk of a ride with an independent team, which doesn’t even exist. But this seems his only option.
Then he stuns us all by signing for the strongest team in the paddock at the very moment a vital new part arrives to transform his recalcitrant motorcycle into a winning machine. Then he goes and wins the next two races, comfortably outpacing the bike he will ride next year and his future team-mate, who was supposed to be unbeatable. I’ve been here 31 years and I can’t remember a stranger premier-class summer.
That’s what has happened over the past few weeks, but why has Jorge Lorenzo gone from perennial struggler on Ducati’s Desmosedici to the fastest man in MotoGP? Of course, we know about the plastic fuel tank hump that allows him to perform better during straight-line braking, but why exactly has this simple new part made such a difference?
As always, it’s all about the tyres. The Michelin front isn’t as good as the Michelin rear (it was the other way around with the Bridgestones), so riders can’t carry as much speed into corners and they can’t use the front tyre to scrub off speed during the entry phase. Hence all the fuss about straight-line braking, which has long been one of the Ducati’s strongest points, first for Andrea Dovizioso and now for Lorenzo.
Let Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaró explain. “Michelin has done a great job because we beat the lap record wherever we go,” says the Spaniard.
“The front tyre has improved a lot, so it’s very close to the Bridgestone front, but it’s still not the same. I remember with the Bridgestone front, having 15 bars of [front brake] pressure with 60 degrees of lean, elbow on the ground, locking the front and not crashing. This is impossible with the Michelin.
“With the Michelin the time between when you start braking and when you release the front brake has to be the very minimum. Dovizioso was the best at this. Whenever I’m with Dovizioso he never brakes later than me. We start braking at the same place but when he releases the front brake he’s 5kmh [3mph] slower than me, so in the same few metres he has lost more speed than me, so when we start leaning into the corner I’m risking 75 per cent while he’s risking 65 per cent. It’s all about stopping the bike in a straight line as fast as possible.”
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.