Features

Why There Are No Quick Fixes To MotoGP's Dearth Of Overtaking

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you will have heard the criticism of MotoGP. Though the field is close, it has become harder and harder to overtake the riders in front. The Le Mans race was a case in point: the 27-lap race featured only a handful of overtakes, most of which were made possible only by a mistake by the rider ahead.

The problem was brought into stark relief by last weekend's WorldSBK races at Estoril. Alvaro Bautista, Jonathan Rea, and Toprak Razgatlioglu put on a dazzling display of passing in all three races on Saturday and Sunday, finding ways to jam their bikes ahead of each other into the first corner, the fourth corner, the Parabolica Interior, and the tight, awkward uphill chicane. They produced three glorious races.

The spectacle of Rea, Razgatlioglu, and Bautista knocking spots off one another reinforced that the problem is indeed down to the technological point at which MotoGP finds itself. With limited aerodynamics and no ride-height devices, the WorldSBK trio found no problem diving out of the slipstream and outbraking each other.

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Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Wrong Ducati Winning, Contract Revolt Brewing, And Why Can't Riders Overtake?

The rain held off, despite a brief shower which caused mayhem during the Moto3 race and meant the first race of the day had to be severely shortened and restarted (TV is king, and only absolute disaster can be allowed to move the start of the MotoGP race from its sacred 2pm CET slot), and so we got the dry MotoGP race we deserved. No descent into chaos and confusion, no randomized results based on gambles, smart or otherwise, or appetite for risk.

In fact, chaos is fast becoming a thing of the past in MotoGP. The first few races seemed like an absolute lottery, for one reason or another. In the first three races of 2022, there were 9 different riders on the podium, with nobody seemingly capable of getting on the podium a second time. At round 4, in Austin, we saw the first podium repeats, with Enea Bastianini and Alex Rins on the box once again, and Jack Miller making it 10 different riders on the podium in 4 races.

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Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Qualifying Surprises, Evaluating Aleix, And Retiring Numbers

The MotoGP riders are hoping that Le Mans doesn't turn into another Portimão. In Portugal, they spent two days perfecting their wet setup, only to find themselves racing in the dry with next to no time on a dry track, outside of morning warm up. At Le Mans, it could well be the opposite. Two days of practice in near-perfect conditions, only for the race to be held in the rain. Or not, the forecast changes every time you look at it.

The weather isn't the only thing capable of surprising. All through FP3 and FP4, a very clear pattern emerged. The reigning world champion had come to his home grand prix with a plan, and vengeance in his heart. Still smarting from finishing second in Jerez, Fabio Quartararo is intent on stamping his authority on the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

The Frenchman's rhythm in free practice was fearsome. 1'31.7s with used tires in FP3, 1'31.6s with used tires in FP4. Not single laps either, but effortlessly stringing together runs of lap after lap. The only riders who came close to that kind of pace were Alex Rins and Aleix Espargaro, but they didn't have the consistency which Quartararo was displaying.

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Why So Many Crashes? And Why Is Overtaking So Hard?

It's only Friday, as riders will repeat endlessly to you on, well, on a Friday after the first day of practice. Friday is a day for assessing tires, testing new parts, and at the end of the day, posting a quick lap in an attempt to avoid the limbo of Q1.

That proved not to be easy at Le Mans. A weird combination of circumstances (more of which later) meant that there were five crashes in the last ten minutes of FP2. It was almost impossible to put in a quick lap without it being canceled due to yellow flags in some sector or other. "In the time attack, it was a bit of a disaster on track, I just saw 4 laps of yellow flags," Pecco Bagnaia complained. "And like this it's more difficult, so I didn't have the possibility to do a free lap."

That didn't matter for Bagnaia – he set his fastest time at the end of his first run while working on race pace, and still ended as fifth fastest, a sign of just how quick he is at the moment - but there were others for whom it did not work out quite so well. "It was unfortunate not to be inside the top 10," Jack Miller said after missing out on Q2. "We were trying, but a lot of yellow flags at the end, a lot of guys crashing, so it wasn't easy to make a lap."

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Le Mans MotoGP Thursday Round Up: An Open Track, Suzuki's Withdrawal, And Tire Pressures

There is a MotoGP race at Le Mans this weekend, but to be honest, it is hard to concentrate on the race. A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks, which has shaken up MotoGP to a degree we hadn't expected even as late as two weeks ago. Suzuki's withdrawal blows the MotoGP silly season right open, with not just rider seats up in the air, but grid slots and bikes too. Then there's the controversy over tire pressures being routinely under the minimum allowed, and whether that is even an issue or not, given the MSMA have agreed not to do anything about it.

But first, to the track, perhaps. The Le Mans circuit lies just south of the charming eponymous town in the Sarthe region of France. For much of the year, when there isn't a race on, the town is quiet and rather lovely, the central square surrounded by 18th and 19th Century buildings a very pleasant place to be. The circuit, too, is rather charming, situated between the industrial outskirts of the town and the woods which frame the 24 hour car racing circuit.

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Jerez Test: Close Up Photos Of Yamaha's Swingarm And Fender, Honda's Exhausts, And Ducati's Ride-Height Devices

The Monday after Jerez was the first chance that the teams and factories got to work on their bikes since the entire design was homologated ahead of the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. Given the oft-discussed weird start to the 2022 season, where the teams never seemed to have more than 5 minutes of normal or consistent conditions, having a whole day with a dry track allowed everyone some badly-needed time to work on some very basic stuff.

Of course, not everything was perfect. The weather was significantly cooler than it had been on Sunday, and the wind picked up considerably. There was also a nice thick layer of Michelin rubber, laid down in Sunday's race, the with the MotoE class, also Michelin-shod, adding yet more to the track surface. If anyone had hoped to work on low grip conditions, they would have to create them themselves by running very, very old tires.

Starting first with satellite riders – real satellite riders, that is, not the factory-backed riders in junior teams like Pramac – and rookies. When you have no new parts to test, then what you work on is setup, and especially the kind of setup changes that you don't have time to try during a race weekend.

Setup first

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Piero Taramasso On Tire Pressure Transgressions And Planned Changes For 2023

The role of tire pressures, and especially for the front tire, has grown in importance in recent years, as aerodynamics and ride-height devices have made the front ever more sensitive to pressure and temperature changes. It is common to hear riders complain of temperatures and pressures skyrocketing after getting stuck behind other bikes, and kept out of the cooling air.

It is therefore not surprising that factories and teams try to manage tire pressures as carefully as possible. By lowering the pressure, they can keep tire temperatures lower and allow the riders to better manage the front tires over the duration of the race.

They have to be careful not to go too low with tire pressures, however: like all motorsports series with a spec tire, MotoGP has a minimum pressure for both front and rear tires: 1.9 bar front, 1.7 bar rear. Tire pressures are monitored by sensors and recorded by the spec datalogger, and pressures have to be over the minimum for at least half of the race.

Bending the rules

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History Deep Dive: Why Suzuki's Withdrawal From MotoGP Won't Be Like Kawasaki In 2009

Two years after starting the blog which would eventual morph into MotoMatters.com, I felt it was time to quit my job and do this full time. It seemed like the perfect moment to pursue my dream of writing about MotoGP for a living, so I handed in my notice to my erstwhile employer and prepared to strike out on my own. That was late August, 2008.

Two weeks later, on September 15th, Lehman Brothers collapsed, kicking off the Global Financial Crisis which would plunge the world into recession. My timing turned out to be absolutely terrible.

Why am I looking back to 2008? Because the financial crisis sparked by the collapse of the US housing market and the worldwide banking system would have a profound effect on motorcycle racing, and would go on to shape MotoGP as it is today. It would create the conditions where there were six manufacturers racing in MotoGP. It would also reshape the politics of MotoGP to put Dorna in a much stronger position to cope with Suzuki's decision to withdraw from the series.

What will Dorna do and how will they handle Suzuki's withdrawal? To understand their current position, you need to go back to 2008, and the aftermath of that terrible September.

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Jerez MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Two Champions Emerge, The Trouble With Front Tyres, And Marc Marquez Is Back Again.

We have spent a lot of time saying that the 2022 MotoGP season starts at Jerez, and it really felt like it on Sunday. Driving into the track on Sunday morning I was surrounded by motorcycles – if you get a chance to go to a MotoGP race on a bike, you should, it is a wonderful experience – all of whom I did my very best not to run into, whatever their antics. The grandstands were full and attendance was nearly back to pre-pandemic levels – over 58,000 on Sunday, about 10,000 shy of a normal Jerez Sunday, or at least, the 'unskewed' numbers which suddenly appeared at the 2016 race, down from double that the previous years.

More importantly, normal order has been restored. There were two riders head and shoulders above the rest, finishing 10 seconds ahead of the battle for third. Marc Marquez showed a lot of his old form, the Repsol Honda rider looking like Marc Marquez on a bike again, not an impostor who sneaked into his truck and stole his leathers for a glorified track day. And all six MotoGP manufacturers are racing under the same rules again, after the last factory lost its concessions. This was a good weekend of racing.

In these notes:

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Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Lead Duo Gets Stronger, And The Marc Marquez' Conundrum

Saturday at Jerez was a sign that things are getting back to normal in MotoGP. Though the drive into the track in the morning was still pretty smooth – old paddock hands are still traumatized by memories of coming to the track in the '90s, when a single-lane road led to the circuit and you needed to start out almost as soon as you had finished dinner on Saturday night to make it into the track for warm up on Sunday morning – with minimal traffic on the way to the circuit. But the stadium section got fuller as the day went on, and for the first time in three years, the roar of the crowd drowned out the sound of the 130dB MotoGP bikes going at full pelt.

There was a sense of normality on track as well. A second day of near-normal running (only the occasional damp patch, especially around Turn 8, ruining the fun) meant riders arrived in qualifying well prepared to fight for pole. The names at the front of the grid have a more familiar ring to them. The chaos and unpredictability of the start of the season is beginning to dissipate. It is getting easier to pick potential podium candidates, as the main cast of characters is looking similar to those at Portimão. The season is starting to take shape.

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