2018 Austria MotoGP Race Round Up: A Titanic Battle, A Title Getting Closer, And Criticizing Struggling Factories

Riders, teams, journalists, fans, almost everyone likes to complain about the layout of the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg. Three fast straights connected by hairpins, with a long left hand corner thrown in for the sake of variety. The facilities and setting may be magnificent, but the track layout is pretty dire. Coming from the spectacular, flowing layout of Brno, the contrast could hardly be greater.

And yet the Red Bull Ring consistently manages to produce fantastic racing. The combined gap between first and second place across all three classes on Sunday was 0.867 seconds, and nearly half a second of that was down to Moto3. The MotoGP race was decided on the last lap again, just as it had been in 2017, though the race was decided at Turn 3, rather than the final corner. Spielberg once again served up a breathtaking battle for MotoGP fans, with a deserved winner, and the rest of the podium riders losing with valor and honor.

If we were to be picky about it, it would be to complain that the protagonists of the MotoGP race were rather predictable. It is no surprise that the factory Ducatis would play a role at the front of the race: a Ducati had won in Austria in the previous two races, and the long straights from slow corners are almost made to measure for the Desmosedici's balance of power, mechanical grip, acceleration, and braking stability. Nor was it a surprise that Marc Márquez should be involved, the gains made by Honda in acceleration giving the RC213V the tools to tackle the Ducatis.

Best served cold

Márquez had also just been pipped to the line by Andrea Dovizioso in 2017. In 2018, he was out for revenge. With a comfortable lead in the championship, at a circuit owned by one of his biggest personal sponsors, and the only one on the calendar at which he has not yet won a race (barring Thailand, of course: no one has won there yet), Marc Márquez lined up gunning for victory, and not inclined to settle for anything else.

That goal is what dictated Márquez' tire choice. The Repsol Honda rider knew that his best chance of victory lay in trying to whittle down the opposition to as few rivals (or in this case, Ducatis) as possible. He had put something close to race distance on the mediums in FP1, then the softs in FP4, the only two sessions which were properly dry over the weekend. On Sunday morning, he did a long run with the hard rear, so he had data to base his decision on. It would come down to strategy.

"It was difficult to choose the tire today," Márquez said after the race. "I was between medium and hard but then I say, okay, I will choose the safe option for me because I know that the hard should arrive better in the end of the race." The hard tire would allow him to attack from the beginning. "I chose the hard because my strategy was to push from the beginning. Just push, just try to make a small group for the last laps. The goal was this. To just arrive with one Ducati in the end. I know that if I have the hard, the rhythm was good. They need to use the tire because they need to follow me."

From strategy to reality

He put his strategy into action almost from the start. Andrea Dovizioso got into the first corner in the lead, despite Márquez getting a better jump off the line. The Repsol Honda rider made his intentions brutally clear in Turn 3, after the run up the hill, trying to dive up the inside of Dovizioso and pushing the Italian and himself wide in the attempt.

Unfortunately, that left the door wide open for Jorge Lorenzo. Márquez had slowed both himself and Dovizioso down so much that Lorenzo could slide up the inside, and allowed Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow to use their much better drive out of Turn 3 and get past Dovizioso and almost take second place away from Márquez.

That early mistake would come back to haunt Márquez at the end of the race. But there were still a lot of laps left to go.

Down the straight to Turn 4, Dovizioso disposed of the interlopers who had come between Márquez and himself. The order at the front was set, and though Rins tried to get back past the Ducati of Dovizioso, the Italian would brook no challengers.

Having failed once, Marc Márquez tried again at Turn 3 on the following lap. This time, his block pass was more clinical, and consequently more successful. He dived up the inside of Lorenzo on the brakes, occupied the line which the Ducati had hoped to take, and made a gap.

Making a break

Márquez could try to execute his plan. He put the hammer down and tried to open a gap to the Ducatis behind him. He succeeded, albeit slowly, eking out an advantage a few hundredths at a time. Jorge Lorenzo held second spot, patiently lapping and keeping Márquez in his sights. Impatience sat on Lorenzo's tail, in the form of Andrea Dovizioso. Dovizioso is one of the latest brakers on the grid, but even he couldn't get past the last-second braking of Lorenzo at Spielberg.

Dovizioso was being punished by his choice of the medium rear tire for the race. "At the end maybe the tire choice wasn't the best," the Italian said, "but also I couldn't overtake Jorge. I used maybe too much the rear tire to try to overtake Jorge and I couldn’t overtake him. I was faster in that part of the race, but I couldn't really prepare in the best way the overtaking."

Dovizioso pushed and probed, but could not make his way past. It looked as if he was being held up by Lorenzo, and perhaps he was, but all the while Lorenzo was holding Dovizioso up, he was also dragging them both closer to Marc Márquez. The Ducati pair chipped away at the Repsol Honda rider's lead, cutting it down from nearly a second to less than the blink of an eye.

No escape

At the end of lap 17, Lorenzo had brought his teammate with him to latch onto the tail of Márquez. The Repsol Honda's strategy appeared to have failed: he had hoped to go to the line with just a single Ducati Desmosedici GP18, yet here he was with two of them snapping at his heels. Did he have a backup plan for disposing of one of the two?

That problem took care of itself. Having arrived on Márquez' tail, Jorge Lorenzo was determined to make his way past as quickly as possible. As they howled down the front straight towards the first corner, Lorenzo drew level with the Repsol Honda and went for the pass. Behind him, Dovizioso tucked into Márquez' slipstream ready to pounce should the opportunity present itself.

But Dovizioso was a little closer than he thought, and he missed his braking point by a fraction. The Italian found himself heading for the rear wheel of the Repsol Honda much quicker than he had expected, and was forced to sit up a fraction and run wide. Forced to slow in the runoff in Turn 1, Dovizioso had lost the tow. With not enough tire left to stay with the two Spaniards, Dovizioso was left stuck in third.

"I did a small mistake, but already I was in trouble with the right side on the rear tire," Dovizioso explained afterward. "Unfortunately, I lost too much when I went out of the track. I couldn’t ride in a good way for three laps because the drop of the rear tire was making it very difficult for me to exit the corner in three corners, and I was losing too much." Neither Márquez nor Lorenzo had much left either, Dovizioso observed. "At the end also they didn’t have really the tires to make a good lap time. I wasn’t too far at the beginning, but the problem is I lose the grip too early to stay close to them and try to stay with them and fight in the last two laps."

Serendipity

A small mistake by Dovizioso had given Márquez what he wanted, though was too busy trying to fend off Jorge Lorenzo to notice just yet. After being passed by Lorenzo into Turn 1, Márquez' plan was to strike back immediately at Turn 3. He dived up the inside of the Ducati at the top of the hill, in much the same way he had on Lap 2, braking late and putting himself exactly where Lorenzo wanted to be to get the best drive.

Márquez led once again, and this time, he only had a single Ducati to worry about. But he didn't realize just how worried he should have been: Lorenzo had spent Saturday studying video of himself riding, especially through the third sector of the track, the long left handers before the final double right heading back to the front straight. It was where Márquez had gained so much in 2017, but this year, Lorenzo easily had the measure of the Repsol Honda rider. He stuck right on Márquez' tail through Turns 6 and 7, opening up a beautifully clinical pass up the inside of the Honda into Turn 9, holding his line through the final corner and leading again.

"The big improvement I made in the sector three was also key," Lorenzo told the press conference after the race, "because yesterday I was losing almost two tenths there compared to Marc and Dovi. Then I made a big improvement in one afternoon. Trying to watch some videos, trying to understand which position of my body I need to change to be faster in that sector. It really, really worked. During the race I was improving and improving in that sector and I was catching Marc in that sector where we were losing a lot last year."

Not going down without a fight

He may have conceded the lead, but Marc Márquez was in no mood to concede the race. While Lorenzo tried to make a break at the front, Márquez kept him honest. It was taking some effort, however: Márquez' strongest point was braking up the hill into Turn 3, but he came close to losing the front on lap after lap there, the bike snaking as he tipped it in to the tight right hander.

With three laps to go, he finally made it through. But once again, his lead would be short lived, Lorenzo closing through gap through the third sector once again and coming back with a much more aggressive pass through Turn 9.

The aggression of that pass had been born of necessity, the ferocity of the battle increasing as the laps ticked off. But it left Márquez closer, and though he was not quite within striking range going into Turn 1, the Repsol Honda rider had another chance at Turn 3. The same block pass, with the same outcome: Márquez back in the lead, with Lorenzo sitting right on his tail. The Repsol Honda rider needed only to hold the Ducati off for just under two laps. But with Lorenzo in this mood, that would not be easy.

Entering Turn 9 Márquez braked later than before, wary of Lorenzo's favorite passing point. But that left Lorenzo lined up perfectly behind him entering the straight, allowing him to use the power of the Ducati and the draft of the Honda to launch an attack along the straight. If the battle had been fierce on the penultimate lap, it was all-out war on the final lap. Lorenzo and Márquez nearly touched along the straight, the Ducati outbraking the Honda going into Turn 1, though both bikes snaked under the strain of desperate braking.

Last chance saloon

Lorenzo led, but it was obvious that Márquez was coming. Turn 3 was the obvious spot, and the place where the Repsol Honda rider had been successful on previous occasions. Márquez was close enough, but the effort was too much. Lorenzo braked hard enough for his GP18 to buck from side to side going into Turn 3. That was the target Márquez had to outbrake: he managed it, but only at the cost of locking the rear on braking, then losing the front as he turned past the apex. The reigning world champion was lucky to lose the rear at the same time, the back sliding round to help him make the turn.

He may have made the corner, but in doing so, he had given up any gains he may have made. Lorenzo held his usual wide, sweeping line through Turn 3, exiting with more drive onto the back straight and the winding run down to Turn 4. He had the lead, and the smallest sliver of daylight between himself and Marc Márquez.

Through the last half of the last lap, Márquez did everything he could to try to get close enough to make another pass. But the improvements Lorenzo had made in the third sector were paying off in full. Both men squeezed everything they had out of their bikes and their tires in the last few corners, but Lorenzo's control of the race was never in doubt. Márquez came tantalizingly close, but never quite close enough to be able to make even a wildly optimistic attempt at a pass. Jorge Lorenzo had won this race emphatically, and Marc Márquez had been denied victory once again.

Managing tires

The key to the race had been tire choice, Lorenzo said afterwards. "It was a great decision to use the soft rear tire, but I needed to manage a lot in the first ten laps," the Spaniard explained. "I needed to manage a lot not to overheat the tire because it was very hot. It was very, very soft in some parts of the tire."

It had not been easy, however. "This management of the tire at the beginning was not so much, because Marc was pushing so hard with the hard rear tire," Lorenzo said. "So probably I was saving 3%, 5%. Not so much but enough to keep the life of the tire very well and wait for my moment. When Marc was start to lose a little bit of braking, stopping and especially acceleration I was starting to catch him little by little, so we went from 1.2 of disadvantage to zero. The problem as always is, when you overtake Marc, Marc is with you till the end. He pushes so much, so I knew I had to fight till the end with him. And it was like that, it was a fight of two ambitious riders to the last corner."

Márquez was disappointed, but happy to at least have had a chance. He had been at the front in Brno, but had never felt he had a chance to win that race. He had felt much better at the Red Bull Ring, he said. "In Brno I didn’t try because I didn’t feel well, and it was like a waste of time there, because there was more chance to lose than to win, but today I try."

The other Ducati

He had been surprised that it had been Jorge Lorenzo rather than Andrea Dovizioso he had faced for victory, Márquez said. "I expected after looking at the race rhythms that it will be Dovi, but this time it was Jorge," the Repsol Honda explained. "Even like this I was there, but I saw immediately. I tried because I’m Marc, and I need to try. Every short straight he was able to overtake me, to be in parallel. It was really difficult to defend. But even like this I tried."

The last lap had been his last chance, Márquez told the press conference. "I tried to lead the race in the last lap. He overtook me in the main straight, then I tried in turn three. I lost both the two tires. I went in too fast and I lost two tires. I nearly crashed, but then I stayed on the bike. I don’t know how, but I did."

Lorenzo had taken back the lead there, but even if he hadn't, Márquez knew a win was out of the question. "He overtook me again on the acceleration outside because he carried more speed," the Repsol Honda rider said. "But if he doesn’t overtook me there, he will overtake me between 8 and 9. But I tried. I enjoyed it a lot, and I'm happy because we increase the advantage in the championship."

Jorge Lorenzo's victory was important for himself, and for Ducati. The way he had won, beating Márquez at a track where the Spaniard was determined to win, had made it special, Lorenzo said. "It’s one of my best victories, but I don’t know if it's the best one, because luckily I got very beautiful ones in the past, not only in MotoGP but also in other categories," he told the press conference. "For sure, when you beat Marc it’s special. When you win with Ducati it’s special. This victory is going to be one of the special ones, apart from the first in Mugello, especially because I had to fight to the end with a monster like Marc, fight like Marc till the last lap braking very hard and take profit of my strong points. So it’s always very difficult."

What was perhaps remarkable was the way that Lorenzo's aggressive riding confirmed what we saw in Brno. Lorenzo rode the Ducati hard, visibly so, and made some very firm passes on Marc Márquez, something he shied away from when he was on the Yamaha. His transformation into an aggressive Ducati rider bodes well for his transition to the Honda, when he moves there at the end of this season.

Desmo Dovi Is Watching You

Márquez extending his lead in the championship was what Andrea Dovizioso was most bitter about after the race. The Italian had been hoping to close the gap on the Spaniard at a track which suited the Ducati down to the ground, but had been thwarted by choosing the wrong tire. Third was all there was in it after losing touch with Lorenzo and Márquez with ten laps to go.

Dovizioso may have been defeated, but he made it subtly clear that he still considered himself in the title race. Asked in the press conference whether he thought he might be able to benefit from a crash if Lorenzo and Márquez had pushed things too far, Dovizioso went clinically through the final lap of the race, listing all the places where Márquez had come up short, or made a mistake.

"I expected some hard moves, because for sure I saw Marc's style," the Italian explained. "He wanted to really win this race, until at the end. But Jorge had some parts of the track where he was faster. So I expected a battle until the last corner. In turn four in the last lap, Marc lost too much. He was trying to stay with [Jorge] until the last two corners, but Jorge was faster in the middle of the track, especially in the exit from turn 8. Marc was trying to prepare the last corner, but he braked too late the corner before last, and he went a bit wide and he couldn’t try."

It was a surgical dissection of Márquez' last lap, and even Márquez himself was impressed. When Dovizioso was finished, he looked over at the Spaniard, as if to ask for confirmation. Márquez duly granted it, nodding his head and giving the thumbs up. The message seemed clear. Dovizioso was letting know Márquez know that he was being watched, examined, and his weaknesses noted.

Another step closer to the title

And yet Márquez emerged from the race as the clear victor. He extended his lead in the championship once again, as he has done at every race since Mugello. He was helped once again by the lack of consistency among his challengers: Márquez extended his championship lead from 49 to 59 points, mainly because Valentino Rossi could manage to finish only in sixth (a strong result, under the circumstances, but more of that later). Jorge Lorenzo may have boosted his chances by jumping from fifth to third in the title race, but he is still 71 points behind Márquez, and a single point ahead of his teammate Andrea Dovizioso.

Márquez is inching closer and closer to wrapping up his fifth MotoGP world championship, a remarkable achievement given this is his sixth season in the premier class. Finishing third in every race is nearly enough to see off both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, even if either of them win the rest of the eight races left on the calendar. Finishing second in half the remaining races, then third in the other half would be enough to thwart Valentino Rossi, should the Yamaha suddenly be transformed into a bike capable of winning the remaining eight races.

The real reason Márquez is as good as certain of wrapping up the title with three or four races to go is twofold: first and foremost, the Repsol Honda rider has been terrifyingly consistent. He has won five races, and finished second in three more. His worst result as a points scorer was third place at Brno last week, leaving him comfortably leading the table despite two no scores.

The second reason is just as significant as the first: Though Márquez has faced fierce competition, and been beaten more than he has won, the cast of characters finishing ahead of him has been different each time. Jorge Lorenzo has won three races now, but he has also had some pretty mediocre results, finishing fifteenth in Argentina, eleventh in Austin, seventh at Assen. Andrea Dovizioso has won two races, but also had three no scores, and a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh place finish. Valentino Rossi, still second in the championship, has not managed to win a race since last year, but retained his position in the title race by finishing top five nearly ever race, and racking up a handful of podiums. Rossi's strength is his consistency, but he can't match that consistency with race victories.

A tough season

Wins look a very long way away for Valentino Rossi, or any Yamaha rider at the moment. The factory team is in disarray, Maverick Viñales at odds with his crew chief Ramon Forcada, and the 2018 M1 lumbered with an engine which is too aggressive to be controlled with electronics, and electronics which can't mitigate the problems with tire wear.

Though both Rossi and Viñales have been hammering on about electronics for the best part of a year, in Austria, the Italian finally acknowledged there was also a problem with the engine. "For me, the chassis of our bike is good," he said. "But I agree it's not just the electronics, it's the engine. Because if you go on the track, Honda and Ducati change very, very much in the last year and a half and it's a combination between engine and electronics. Difficult to understand the percentage of each, but that is the way."

The fact that the chassis is in such good shape bodes well for the future. When Yamaha finally fix their problems, the bike should be extremely competitive. A test at Misano this coming weekend should see a modified engine ready for the 2019 season tested, then at Aragon after Silverstone, Yamaha should have an update which can help them for the rest of the year. But 2018 already looks lost: The Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring made it 21 races in a row without a win for Yamaha. There are tracks coming up which are a great deal more favorable for the M1 than Spielberg was, but the level of the competition is still so high that a Yamaha will struggle to take a win.

A rabbit from a hat

Valentino Rossi may only have finished sixth at the Red Bull Ring, but it was a truly remarkable performance, wringing more out of the bike than anyone suspected possible. Starting from a dismal fourteenth on the grid, he had fought his way forward to a very respectable result. "I enjoyed a lot in the race, because I did a lot of overtaking, and nobody overtook me," Rossi said. "If I can start a little bit more in front I also can fight with Petrucci for the top five. Unfortunately, already from Crutchlow they are faster than me. But I think depends very much from the track. In some tracks we can suffer more and this is one of the worst. In some other tracks maybe we can suffer less, like Silverstone and Misano. So we need a weekend where we are more close. Maybe it's not enough for the podium, but stay close to the top three. The top three are a lot of times faster than me this year."

It was mentally quite tough, Rossi admitted, because his aim this year was to fight for the podium at every race. "It's very difficult to recalibrate, modify your expectations because when I leave home I always want to try to fight for the podium," Rossi said. "But this weekend we suffer a lot, but you need to have the same concentration if you want to arrive sixth instead of eighth. This is the problem! So it's not easy."

There have been a lot of races this year where it has been Rossi making the difference on the Yamaha. His podium at Mugello comes to mind, a race where he had no business finishing in the top three, but wrangled the Yamaha onto the podium through sheer force of will. This race is arguably among his best of the season, snatching a reasonable result from what looked like being a disastrous and miserable weekend for Yamaha.

Character

Rossi's result stood in stark contrast to that of his teammate, who had started the race in eleventh, and finished down in twelfth. His resilience was perhaps down to his experience in the past, Rossi said, which gave him an advantage over Maverick Viñales when dealing with tough times like this. "For me it's a question of experience, because I passed through a lot of bad periods, more than Maverick, who is a lot younger than me," Rossi reflected. "But it's also character. But I'm sure if the bike made the step, Maverick can win the first win. So it's not that he has lost, or that he is not able anymore to ride. He just needs a better bike, and after he can be more competitive the next practice for sure."

Rossi did lay the blame for poor results firmly at the door of Yamaha, however. The racing getting closer had made the margins between triumph and disaster much slimmer, Rossi said, but that was still no excuse. "For me, we are the factory Yamaha, so we have to look at the factory Honda and factory Ducati. Not to the rest. So we have to compare with them, not with the other bikes and at this moment we are at a disadvantage."

That disadvantage is clear when you compare the changes in race times over the three years MotoGP has raced at the Red Bull Ring. In 2016, Andrea Iannone won the race in 39'46.255 on the Ducati. A year later, Andrea Dovizioso won the race in a time which was three seconds faster, and this year, Jorge Lorenzo was three seconds faster still, his race time now 39'40.688. Fastest Honda in 2016 was Marc Márquez, 12 seconds behind Iannone. Last year he was second, with a time of 39'43.499, and this year he was nearly three seconds quicker again, with a time of 39'40.818.

Contrast that with Yamaha. Valentino Rossi was the fastest Yamaha in 2016, finishing fourth in 39'50.070. A year later, Johann Zarco and Maverick Viñales finished fifth and sixth respectively on the Tech3 and Movistar Yamahas, with race times of 39'50.585, and 39'50.770. This year, Rossi was once again the fastest Yamaha, but this time, he was four seconds slower than his race time from 2016, completing 28 laps in 39'54.714. The Ducatis and Hondas have improved steadily each year. The Yamaha has stood still, or even gone backwards.

Noale Disaster

Yamaha aren't the only factory standing still, or going backwards. After a disastrous race for Aprilia, with Aleix Espargaro finishing seventeenth and Scott Redding ending in twentieth, both riders spoke out about a lack of progress from the factory. Espargaro was trying hard to be both optimistic and tactful, but his comments were fairly hard nonetheless.

Had it been a difficult day, Espargaro was asked? "Yeah, very difficult," he replied. "Difficult season. The problem stays. I can't go fast, sincerely. I tried my best in the first part of the race, but we lose a lot in the first part of acceleration, maximum lean, and difficult to stop the bike." He had managed to hold his own for the first half of the race, but once tire wear became too great, it was game over.

Losing out halfway was even more frustrating than just being slow from the start. "They couldn't overtake me, because I was super strong and very focused on the brakes," he said. "I was completely smashing the brakes in exactly the same place lap by lap by lap, locking the front all the time. The first fifteen laps I had a lot of front locking in corner 1 and corner 3, but I was close to the limit, very focused, but as soon as the rear tire dropped, it was impossible. They overtook me outside, in acceleration, every bike arrived, every bike overtook me on the gas. It's frustrating, because there's nothing you can do. You open the throttle and the bike stays there, so there's nothing I can do. It p***es me off, but we have to improve."

The problem was there was little sign of progress from Aprilia. "Obviously this weekend has been more difficult, but overall, the problems I have had are always the same all the time. Sincerely, I don't know how to go faster. I tried everything. I think I'm in a good moment of my career, I'm focused, I'm fit, I'm relaxed, but I can't go faster with this bike."

Meltdown

Scott Redding was far more vocal in his criticism, finally losing his patience and temper at the frustration of facing problem after problem. His strong showing in a wet FP2 had reminded him that he was still talented, and just increased his frustration.

"The [wet] conditions bring the machines closer," Redding said. "I can see my potential. I can be fast. And it just reminded me of how good I can actually be. I just accepted it this year, I've never had a wet session. But then this weekend was like, 'yeah, well you can mix with the best guys in the world when the level comes a bit lower with the machinery'. Then it dries again and you're out in the field again."

It had been a bitter and frustrating weekend, Redding said. "It's been hard. It's been a hard weekend and to be honest to have a race like that is heart-breaking because I try all the time and it doesn't get easier. Why can I go to Assen and battle with my team-mate, in Brno I can battle with my team-mate - yes I crashed - then I come here and I can't even ****ing be in the same situation."

Redding's frustration spilled out in an expletive-laden rant, the full extent of which you can read over on Crash.net. He was close to tears at times as he spoke, his complaints clearly heartfelt and genuine.

Rough record

Are they justified? The history of Aprilia in MotoGP has not been a hopeful one, despite the soaring ambitions of the Italian manufacturer. The litany of technical issues which have plagued Aleix Espargaro illustrate Aprilia's problem all too clearly. The Spaniard was forced to pull out of the Jerez race on the first lap when a screw came loose and messed up the pneumatic valve system, costing him an engine. An issue with the rear tire stopped him at Mugello, causing yet another DNF due to technical problems. Reliability is a huge problem for Aprilia.

The issues appear to be centered around the factory, rather than the team. It was the choice of the factory to supply Sam Lowes with cast off material in his rookie year in MotoGP, instead of giving him equal equipment and allowing him to help develop the RS-GP. It was Aprilia's choice to ditch Scott Redding early in the season, before he had had a chance to prove himself. There are credible rumors of constant friction between Aprilia Corse boss Romano Albesiano, and team manager Fausto Gresini. Gresini wants to run the team, and wants Albesiano to focus on bike development, rather than getting involved in the team. Albesiano appears to want to keep the entire process in his hands, and is perhaps stretching himself and his team too thin.

All this does not bode well for 2019, when Andrea Iannone arrives in the Gresini Aprilia team. Iannone is known for his talent and ability, but is not renowned for his patience and ability to stay calm in the face of adversity. The atmosphere in Aprilia next season could well be highly explosive.

There are already signs that Aprilia realize they have to get a handle on the situation. After his outburst in the media, followed up by a calmer and more rational explanation on Instagram, on Tuesday, Scott Redding posted another update to his Instagram feed apologizing for his outburst, and focusing on working as a team, and inside Aprilia as a team. With eight races left until the end of the season, it is going to be a very long year for Scott Redding.

Best of the rest

It was a much better race for Cal Crutchlow, if a somewhat lonely one. The LCR Honda rider was clearly the best of the rest, finishing fourth with space both ahead of and behind him. He had chosen the hard front tire, and had needed a couple of laps to get heat into it. But once that had been accomplished, he had ridden a strong race at a much faster pace than last year, and scoring a good result.

Crutchlow put his result down to riding better overall, and in large part to the excellent teamwork within LCR Honda. "I think in general, we're working better as a team," the Englishman said. "The morale in the team is very, very good. It always has been, they've backed me to the hilt, always. It's positive for the next year. I am riding well, or better."

Danilo Petrucci finished in fifth, some four seconds behind Cal Crutchlow and just ahead of Valentino Rossi. The Pramac Ducati rider had suffered with the right side of his tires, and with fuel consumption. "I just suffered a lot of small things, but most of all, the tire consumption on the right side. And the last ten laps, as I said, I have been lucky that Valentino started so far behind me, because he gained almost one second per lap in the last five laps, and with another lap, I don't know how we would have finished. But anyway, we fought and we are satisfied."

Bradley Smith may only have finished fourteenth, but the lone KTM rider had a very strong weekend at the home Grand Prix of his manufacturer and at the home circuit of the team's main sponsor. Smith rode aggressively throughout practice, just missing out on Q2, then pushed hard in the race, though he fell short of expectations. With a weekend where he could just focus on his own results, rather than spend time testing parts, he showed he still had the potential to be competitive. It will not be enough to save him a seat in MotoGP, but it might get him a job as a test rider, though possibly not with KTM. A little too much water has passed under that bridge, but there are plenty of horizons left for him to explore.


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Comments

Apologies that this took so long. Logistics, travel, complications, and sheer exhaustion prevented me from finishing this anywhere near on time.

Total votes: 80

A crankshaft that is too light, and can't be changed, I get it. There is however plenty of metal between the crankshaft and the rear tire contact patch that could be changed, as in made heavier, to increase inertia. Oh yes, I can see the arguments now, ... a well balanced finely tuned machine, or ... dead end development. Well you can discard the rest of the season, or you could try heavier clutch plates, heavier transmission gears (still cassette I assume), heavier chain, heavier sprockets, heavier rear wheel, etc.

Total votes: 24

But I wonder if it's something else in the engine tuning that can't be easily rectified.  The too-light crank seems silly to me, but one other thing that I recall reading about is that the "pulses" of power from the engine are important (hence the use of big-bang vs. screamer engines).  That sort of thing - the firing order and timing - may not be straightforward to deal with (unlike the weight of components etc.) and may or may not be directly addressable with electronics.

I personally still think that the electronics are the more significant portion of this issue, though.  Seeing a Yamaha out-dragged by a KTM or Aprilia off a slow corner was eye-opening.

Total votes: 16

if it was that straight-forward the factory would have done it already.    In dirtbikes a popular upgrade/adjustment for riding trails, as opposed to a track, is to switch to a heavier flywheel to smooth power delivery and prevent stalling at low speeds.   I've never heard of anyone successfully doing the same with heavier sprockets.

 

Total votes: 3

They want to add weight to increase engine inertia, so clutch would be a good option as it is strictly dependent on engine speed, albeit at 2:1.

On the other hand, wheels, gears, chain etc are determined by road speed not engine speed. Wheels/drivetrain components heavy enough to help them out of slow corners will create huge problems as speeds increase.

Total votes: 4

Nobody is multi-world-champion by accident, what a race \o/

Someone at VW board to give Domenicali a taste of his own medicine?

Total votes: 31

I was reminded of The Beatles song I Am The Walrus when MM said "I tried because I’m Marc, and I need to try."  He definitely does try (and try), and it's exciting racing to watch (and probably a little harrowing to be next to on the track at times.)  Still, do other riders refer to themselves this way?  Is his brand huge in Europe (for example?)

The cameras may have spent too much time on just 3 riders but overall it was exceptional viewing at home (and a perfect excuse to ignore paperwork, too!)

I still expect to see VR fighting at the front at least one more race this season and cross the line in first...he'll find a way.

Total votes: 27

It is a fact of physics that adding rotational inertia has its greatest effect where the speed is highest, i.e. at the crankshaft.  Clutch would be second, followed by all the slower-rotating components, ending with wheels.  To achieve similar results, much more mass would be required.

As an aside, part of David's lateness stems from his promptly answering worthless queries from his subscribers...another stellar analysis, my friend.  And my wife greatly enjoyed the article from across the breakfast table.

Total votes: 19

You almost have it - but inertia also depends upon the radius of motion.  The rotational inertia is the moment, I, times the angular velocity.  With some simplifying assumptions (point masses at a fixed radius - for uniform discs say you can find the "effective" radius so it's not a bad representation), I = r^2 x m.  So the radius is a huge component of this - our angular momentum is r^2 x m x angular velocity (or, rpm say).

A wheel has about 20x the radius of a crankshaft, so its inertia for the same mass is 400x, and of course the wheel is heavy.  The crank might spin at say 16k RPM, but the wheel at the same mass would have to spin at only 400 rpm to have the same angular momentum.  Do wheels spin at 400rpm?  Darn tootin'.  at 100kph - very, very slow in MotoGP - we're at ~30 meters / second.  The wheel has a radius of about 0.5m, or a circumferance of 3m.  Thats 10 rps or 600 rpm.

Point being: the wheel has a lot more rotational inertia and angular momentum than the crank, even at crazy RPMs, because the radius is much larger.  I'm not going to bother with the gearing etc. but you get the point.  Even the rear sprocket would be meaningful in this context because we're talking about a "delta".  It's not like doubling the weight of the crankshaft is sensible - it's probably a tiny change, if that's the problem, and it's probably not anyway.

Total votes: 4

Best article of the year, which outlines the strengths, weaknesses, and problems of each respective factory.  Rossi may be riding his most brilliant year, in many years, taking an underperforming package and making the most of it, in spades.  This was his best ride of the year given the track, the problems, the qualifying position, etc.  

It's the Marc and factory Ducati show from here on out.  Jorge has come out to be the joker in the deck, and he is killing it every race now.  Marc has one hand on the championship trophy already but the Ducati hounds are coming.  If Gigi can solve the midcorner issue with the Ducati, even Marc is gonna have his hands full.  Gigi deserves so much credit.  Ducati was an ill-performing factory all the way around prior to his exit from Aprilia and taking charge.  We also have to keep in mind that Ducati still don't build their own chassis, and the twin spar, as Burgess/Rossi pushed them towards, is the problem with the bike all along going back to the Stoner days.  The desmo valve system must offer some kind of advantage over the pneumatic valves every else uses, especially the Japanese, because the Ducati is not only the fastest top speed, fastest in acceleration, it's also the easiest on the tires.  Some midcorner development correction and I struggle to see even Marc beat them over a season.  The Ducati, with that "fix", would match, to me, the best bike I've ever seen lap, the RC211V.  

Even if the season is largely over, from a championship perspective, it'll be the fun the rest of the year watching the factory Ducati duo, take it to Marc and bridge the points gap.  

Total votes: 23

So who builds it? I searched online but could not find any info - the best lead was one of David's Motomatters article from back in the Rossi days, saying it had been outsourced, when they started the process of moving away from the carbon frame.

Total votes: 7

Ducati shelved the monocoque carbon chassis and moved on with all the others, down the beaten path. It was too stiff, as it is too stiff on the original Panigale, and could not work very well leaned at 60+%. After riding the Panigale V4 at the Valencia launch, I believe they will be coming back toward that kind of solution that is some hybrid of the two designs with very clever engineering throw in regarding bump absorption AND rider feel.

The Desmo advantage is simply the mechanical superiority of the design, very precisely controlling the valves movement with no power sapping loss due to fighting a stiff spring(air pressure here) that is still not stiff enought to take the very steep cam profiles needed to produce mid and top end power. The captive valve in a desmo mechanism is forced to follow the cam and can't keep going once at maximum lift or bounce off the seat when closing, hence the possibility to go radical on timing and ramp angles

I'd say the 2020 Desmosedici should be an interesting machine to see when revealed, especially so if the Panigale V4R is as successful as I expect it to be next year.

Total votes: 6

To find out who builds their chassis, if they don't do it themselves ..?

Total votes: 4

I’m not a fan of the thing but I honestly can’t recall anybody saying that.

We’ve all seen Davies using the handling of the Pani in WSB to overcome the hp deficit a few years ago. In more recent times the latest Superleggera with carbon monococque is very hard to fault.  I recall a comparo test where Michael Rutter proclaimed it as turning faster than Shakey’s BSB championship winning Panigale when ridden back to back.

It’s a shame the shadow of the monococque D16 looms in the background of the Pani, many of those issues (understeering) were related to crank position and engine layout (which was cast in stone under the rules) as much as the “frameless” design. 

Total votes: 4

I don't really agree with the Aprilia assesment. In my opinion their problem was signing both Lowes and Redding in the first place. At least they've rectified that by signing Iannone.

Total votes: 21

After watching this race my wife turned to me and said “have you noticed that Lorenzo, a 5 times world champ, has not only adapted to a new bike but has developed a new riding style (I don’t think those two things are necessarily tied completely together), and is willing to take pretty radical (for him) advice from a crew who think he should use a different strategy? We questioned whether or not he’d be able to make the Ducati work for him.  I’m no longer questioning whether or not the Honda will work for him.” Interesting times ahead.

Total votes: 25

I think I will :)

Total votes: 2

Really! It has been a remarkable turn around for Jorge in red 2018. Team red's fortunes in MotoGP recent are a direct result of Corse's management in the hands of Domenicali and Gigi. This turnaround also has its roots in the 2014 through 2017 seasons. Ynherag, you have to ask yourself a question and put yourself in VW/Ducati Corse boardroom circa contract negotiations for riders early season 2018. What exactly would you have done? On the one hand you have an extreme tallent, grossly underpaid and a super tallent grossly overpaid for delivering nothing he was paid to achieve in the first year of his contract. In fact he had the temerity to scupper Corse's title efforts in 2017, not once, but twice (Sepang and Valencia 2018 and the infamous mapping 8 comms.). What Jorge has brought to the team is in my opinion an iron will to bend it in the right direction pertaining to its turning radius. Likewise, Dovi bent it to massive late braking stability and mechanical grip on acceleration.The pair complimented Corse's development brilliantly. The two antagonistic rider styles evolved the bike into a very good equilibrium for anyone throwing a leg over it. Its a pity Gigi and Claudio could not seal a deal with Jorge to stay. From a management point of view, they had no option other to release him. Jorge's financial and team status demands clearly outweighed his results 2017/early 2018. Dovi's results over the same period clearly outweighed his status and financial rewards. I guess he demanded parity with Jorge and parity is not something Jorge ever acceded to easily off track, let alone on track. Domenicali and D'Aligna did the right thing and with the full backing of VW I'm sure. From my perspective, Jorge has made two big mistakes in his career or his management has. The first was to allow Vale to ome back to Yamaha, the second is to not accept a parity deal alongside Dovi for 2019/20. You see, 10 or 20 titles are just that...an historical record. This is here and now. You can bet your bottom dollar both sides of the Ducati garage are sharing data, unlike at Yamaha #46 and #99 some years back. Afterall the job of management is to secure the profile and sustainability of the brand, not the immortality of any particular cog in the wheel or rider for that matter. Manufacturer's title is way more important and Gigi alluded to this. I don't think Ducati care who comes out top between their works riders right now as long as they stuff it to Honda and Yamaha come season end. With contract in hand, HRC may be telling Jorge to let Marc and Dovi duke it out till season's end. Its not beneath them. Afterall, they also want the constructor's title.

Total votes: 34

And if any one of the below happened during a trackday i would have crapped myself. Having all three happen at the same time? I would have blacked out and ended up in the emergency rooms with fractures to everything including my ears!

‘That was the target Márquez had to outbrake: he managed it, but only at the cost of locking the rear on braking, then losing the front as he turned past the apex. The reigning world champion was lucky to lose the rear at the same time, the back sliding round to help him make the turn.’

egads - i get palpatations reading that again. 

Total votes: 10

Just another day at the office for MM93, skating front and rear. What seemed out of the ordinary was the wide berth he gave JL99 relative to the last half dozen or so rugby "right through you" versions AD04 received.

I think MM very much values a harmonious relationship with those in his organization. Team mate included. JL? Nope.

In the presser did you note the question in which, after a pause, MM started to answer and JL wiped his nose and cut him off, running right through the first phrase of MM? Just like on track. When JL thinks it is his line because he is in front, he takes it and will lecture you about it. Even if it is a 50-50. Next year will be interesting.

Agent55 down yonder, great comment.

Total votes: 21

... to conclusions a bit folks? While Yamaha's dire state was on full, embarrassing display in Austria, all is not lost this year. Championship potential? Well no, but let's not forget Rossi was the only one keep Marc even remotely honest in Germany. A track I least expected he, or the M1 to be competitive (Folger performance notwithstanding). A track that's the polar-opposite of the Austrian dragstrip, i.e. nothing but corners. 

The M1 still works, just in a much narrower range than its main rivals this year. I for one enjoy watching Rossi play the underdog, it suits his character.

 

Total votes: 23

Whilst I can see your point of view, this is not just about watching VR trying to overcome the underperforming M1, which he has outperformed consistently this season(!). It really is about Yamaha Factory Racing providing a bike that is at least capable of winning a championship, otherwise what are they there for?

Not winning occasionally is racing, especially when the field is so strong. Challenging for a win but not winning is also racing with a very strong field.

However, when top-factory riders are being equipped with bikes which podium but are clearly lacking those last few percentage points needed to take the win, then something is wrong. When this has been happening for over 12 months, something is very wrong. Factory teams exist to compete at the bleeding edge of performance, with the best riders in the world, in order to bring home championships. Satellite teams exist to support factory with technical data gathering and developing new talented riders for the factory. If those satellite teams are regularly outperforming the factory on the previous years' bikes as often happened in 2017, that's a warning sign that something isn't right.

The factory M1s were dramatically out-competing the whole field at the start of the season in 2017 and their last win was at Assen last year. There were some weather-affected races with results decided on strategy. Silverstone was very close, but the rest of the season the M1s were no more than podium contenders, and often being outperformed by their satellite team! We all know how Repsol Honda would respond if the Gresini Honda were regularly outperforming the factory team and its 4-times MotoGP champ - they'd throw everything including the kitchen sink at the problem whilst their rider was busy throwing his bike at the scenery when it didn't work.

Lorenzo has been a brilliant example of what happens when you lack those last few percentage points: Last year he was derided in the same way Rossi was when he was on the Ducati "it's him not the bike" or "he can't adapt like Casey Stoner". Ducati finally pull their finger out and give him what he asks for and he's regularly challenging for and taking wins!!

That's where Rossi and Vinales should be.

Total votes: 13

....dictated by my biased views and the fact that I love strange scenarios... 

But first thank you David for your great report. Worth the wait as usual. 

The last laps were absolutely stunning! Not even in my wildest dreams would have I thought that Lorenzo can be so aggressive. I still wonder what if  Dovi had managed to pass him earlier but it does not matter. That fight was magnificent. And again I was sure that MM would have won. 

Please allow me a moment of schadefreunde: once again during an epic fight to the last corner MM did not have the upper hand. And I personally enjoy the not-so-convincing explanations on the perfect strategy of having one Ducati instead of two.... bottom line: another epic battle that MM did not win. Schadefreunde. 

I think that it's a tremendous shame that JL is going to Honda : can you just imagine what 2019 would be with three strong official teams ? (I count Yamaha in and a newfound MV dying to win. Not sure about the Italian veteran : how much downsides can you take before you just give up?)

Shame on Domenicali and his poor handling of the whole situation. 

I'm not gonna spend any time on Yamaha. I'm gutted. 

One question David: will you tell us more about the moto 2 race? What was wrong with Pecco's bike? It's 2 races in a row that he has a clear disadvantage.... he did a superb race and once again he had to overcome some bad luck (on a side note: I'm not convinced about quartararo moving to the satellite yam). Another question: how does race direction implement the give back one position rule? Marini was an interesting case and I wonder if it was.... legal....

And now crazy scenario:  we all know that JL has a... tough personality and we all remember how he profoundly disliked his previous teammate at Yamaha. But it was all then and there. They were rivals they disliked each other very much and no quarter given.

With MM it's a totally different story. Bear with me: the little I know of Lorenzo leads me to think that he will never ever forgive MM for having messed up and tainted his 2015 championship. (No matter how you look at it and no matter which side you are on the sepang and Valencia races raise too many questions to be considered just simple normal races). My guess is that JL is walking into that garage to win of course (and be one of the few to win on 3 different marque) but also to beat MM with a vengeance. 

And my feeling is that MM knows it deep down. In his eyes,  JL is not just a strong scary rival. He is the guy who needs to reset a personal score. 

This is why MM is trying so hard to beat Lorenzo. Of course he wants  to win and beat everybody. But he needs to bend Lorenzo before he gets to Honda.

I know I know... I'm biased. And this is totally crazy. But is it?

Total votes: 24

Well, let’s get a couple of things straight MGM, 1) I don’t consider JL’s 2015 title tainted, and I’d bet he doesn’t either and 2) I see nothing abnormal with Valencia and Sepang or any other race from that year. You Rossi fanboys remind me of Trump supporters with your conspiracy theories. Oh, have I mentioned how tired I am of Trump supporters. 

Total votes: 36

I have the impression you are confusing blind partisanship and the  mild comments i expressed.... ive been called many things but being compared to a trump supporter is a first. Funny indeed. 

I could say "respect my opinion" but i will not.  I respect yours. And i could definetly debate with you explaining why i said what i said without the need to bring up conspiracy theories and Rosewall and the big lie about the fact that the earth is not round but really flat :)

Please next time you disagree with me just say so. No need to add the antifanatic snarl that sounds just as extreme.

Total votes: 28

I think you're blaming the exact wrong person for 'tainting' the 2015 championship.

Total votes: 5

"No matter how you look at it and no matter which side you are on the sepang and Valencia races raise too many questions to be considered just simple normal races"

Sepang was a simple normal race... until Rossi jammed his foot in his own arse...

 

Total votes: 16

While a few things were said and done by Ducati management that are a bit regrettable and unnecessary, it isn't what the big deal is.

Lorenzo has gotten the Ducati at the front, adapting his riding style with fantastic focus and determination. This is the big deal. Revisionistic hindsight to look backwards from this now and look at Duc letting him go. We all followed it in real time, damn near NO ONE thought it was a good idea to throw all those hams at him for that performance. Few were inclined to keep him on at half the hams. And don't forget that good old Dovi was doing the business. Most of our talk was about Jorge getting on to a bike that suited him, perhaps the Suzuki. Go look - NO one indicated Jorge needed more time and was coming good. He signed with Honda but it wasn't announced, with steel eyes coyly stated that in the future he hoped people would trust him more, squeezed a longer tank and started riding the Ducati like a demon.

Timing. It was JUST off. Makes things interesting eh? I had bet that he could do the business on the Duc given his very first test on it. He was fast and had it wheels in line like a Yamaha, first set up. Very fast. But it just didn't happen. Until too late. It was uncanny.

Hats off to Jorge. The wiley demon has his sights squarely on Marquez, he is overt about it. Watching him adapt to the Honda will be a treat. He is motivated by proving naysayers wrong, a lean bitter fuel.

Jorge will be the only single rider in the modern era to excel aboard all three top bikes. His commentary on the Ducati after he isn't under contract will be intriguing.

Don't worry that Ducati won't have a front running rider. With four factory bikes that everyone wants to get on, it is an alien vacuum. And Dovi is still gathering steam.

Side notes, Yamaha knows what to do and how. Not like a pre-Gigi Duc or current Aprilia overwhelm. Not nearly the huge task Honda had revisioning their 2015 - 2016 design. I expect them to have their salad properly tossed on the 2019 engine and electronics. And a third factory bike in aqua will help development, as well as odds that as have a strong showing rider.

Suzuki is a bit of a question mark still, isn't it? Amazing work there and hope it continues. Rins has shown some greatness reminiscent of Iannone at Pramac before he started punting Dovi, bits of promising brilliance. The new kid is quick too.

Jorge at Honda? Not betting against greatness here. Just rate of adaptation, and guessing it will be quite tidy relative to the Duc. You can ride the Honda more smoothly than buckaroo Marquez. But you do have to be forceful. Think Jorge can't? You sure?

Total votes: 10

... don't you think that  Lorenzos move to honda might have been a tiny bit too rush? The improvement of both Lorenzo and the bike are so impressive that next year he would have probably won the championship. On a Ducati!  Can you imagine what it would have meant? I have no doubt he will adapt to the Honda  but maybe not fast enough to be a title contender the first year. 

Again Domenicali expressed the feeling of many: the guy was recruited to win and not spend a whole year in hell whilst his teammate was winning 6 races... the disappointment was absolutely justified. What is not acceptable is domenicali's style. I've rarely seen someone so rude towards his recruit in public. 

Now the damage is done. And it's a shame. We might end up with a 2019 championship where the ducati is the best bike of the lot but Dovi is not strong enough to win the championship. 

 

Total votes: 13

You/we needed to be at the contract negotiations with Lorenzo. I can just imagine Lorenzo sitting there and asking “What is a World Championship worth to you? You can’t afford NOT to pay me 12M euro”.......only to see him nowhere in 2017 and battling with Sayhrin for 14th well into 2018.

Lorenzo has done well in recent times but if his ego has written cheques his talent couldn’t deliver then fair dues to Domenicali. Lorenzo is not backwards in coming forwards so should expect nothing less in return: treat people as you want to be treated.

Total votes: 5

God knows i have no liking nor passion for Lorenzo. And i absolutely agree with you that his ego is prpbably bigget than the entire solar system. 

Nevertheless all the justified grievances should have been done behind closed door. Not in public like domenicali did. 

In my professional field ive met and had to deal with many managers  like Domenicali : i hate their style. Classless and so... provincial! They exhibit their new expensive toy as the eight wonder then they treat it like s..t as soon as they stop having fun with it. Even with Dovi: how long did they fidget on his contract? 

What never stops to amaze me is that the guy has been there for many years and proudly reinforces his rudeness in every similar situation. And nobody suggested he resigns.... amazing!

Total votes: 4

I suspect ony history will confirm that.  Imagine if Ducati (as is often their want) send themselves down a blind alley chasing braking/turning/accelleration and get none of them completely right instead of two out of three.  In the meantime, Honda just let MM and JL have at it and JL comes out on top.  We will then have to say "Timing. It was JUST perfect".

Having said that, I suspect you are right. :-)

Total votes: 8