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Whatever number of permanent WorldSBK entries Dorna had in mind for the 2019 season, you can bet it was not 18. Yet, to listen to some comments regarding this final number you might imagine that some global tragedy had occurred, rather than WorldSBK simply facing up to reality.
A reality created both by itself and the actions of others.
So why are there missing links in WorldSBK’s ideal drive chain length this year? Many reasons, but here are the biggies.
Ducati has always been known for taking the path less traveled when it comes to their MotoGP bikes. Their willingness to experiment and innovate – and sometimes, pick up old solutions which were dropped in the past – has been put into overdrive since Gigi Dall’Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse, the Bologna factory's racing department.
The appearance of a torque arm on the Ducati GP19s at the Jerez test in November last year is another example of exactly this kind of thinking from Dall'Igna. An idea which was once common practice in racing motorcycles in the 1970s and early 1980s, but disappeared shortly afterward. Why had Ducati reinstated the idea again? What were they trying to achieve?
Honda RC213V steering damper
David Emmett: Honda have switched the location of their steering damper to above the tank. It's a conventional damper (the rules say electronic control of the steering damper is not allowed), but it has been relocated because of the change to the air intake, which now goes straight through the steering head.
Joan Mir’s Suzuki GSX-RR
David Emmett: This is the 2018 version of the chassis. The later version doesn't have the carbon sections glued to the upper part of the frame. Suzuki staff said that working with the carbon sections had allowed them to work on varying stiffness, and they weren't needed any longer.
2018 proved to be the end of an era for the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team. Early in the year, team boss Hervé Poncharal signed contracts which would see them leave Yamaha for KTM, and Monster for Red Bull, becoming the Red Bull KTM Tech3 squad. 20 years of history with Yamaha, and 10 years with Monster Energy ended, a new future began.
At KTM's home round of MotoGP at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, the Austrian factory announced their program for the coming two years. As part of that, Tech3 announced they would also be switching to KTM for their Moto2 entry as well, with riders Marco Bezzecchi and Philipp Öttl moving up to the intermediate class, joining Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin in MotoGP.
On the Sunday after the race in Austria, I spoke to Hervé Poncharal about his plans for the next two years, and how he saw the years he had spent together with Yamaha. He talked about his pleasure at signing both Bezzecchi and Öttl, what he expects from his relationship with KTM, and ponders the predicament in which Yamaha find themselves.
Q: You announced your program this year. It’s also in Moto2, with Philipp Öttl and Marco Bezzecchi. You must be very excited about Bezzecchi.
HP: I am. This was a big mission because when we decided to move from Yamaha to KTM, I clearly took the decision to move everything - MotoGP, Moto2. But it was not easy to find the right riders. A lot of them were already signed. I’m very happy because Marco is… I don’t like to jump on the rider when he’s somebody, but I spoke to Uccio about Bezzecchi in Argentina, and even last year. So for a long time I’ve been working on him.
In the ever-whacky race series that is WorldSBK, watching it all from up close for over two decades allows a very different perspective from those who comment on it from afar.
Whether that remote viewpoint comes from all along MotoGP's ivory watchtower, or the ramparts of lower altitude national series', the view of WorldSBK through foreign field glasses shows a perennially distorted and often negative image.
But closer inspection always allows a greater level of clarity.
Simply put, what those outside 'the scene' believe are the few assets and multiple liabilities of WorldSBK are frequently different from the realities that make up the other World Championship.
Now that social media posts often determine what is 'true', simply by having more people agreeing with this belief rather than that opinion, you don't need to examine things too closely in our post-truth age, do you?
Behind the fairing of the Kalex (Marc VDS)
Peter Bom: A typical winter test photo. The wiring hasn't been tidied up and isn't very neat. Below the clutch lever, you can see a sensor which measures the movement of the steering damper. This isn't part of the ECU strategy (yet), but it does tell the data engineer a lot about the position of the bike, for example, if the bike is getting sideways when braking.
Under the tank of the Yamaha YZR-M1 (Petronas)
Peter Bom: A dummy fuel tank on the Yamaha R1 as used by the mechanics to start and warm up the bike in pit lane. The real fuel tank is constantly measured for weight (= amount of fuel) to calculate fuel consumption. It was with a fuel tank like this that things went horribly wrong at the Suzuki pit box in Sepang. Fuel leaked out from a leaking hose and the bike caught fire.