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2017 Valencia MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: When Team Orders Go Bad, And Other Miracles

In a season which has been rammed to the rafters with drama, it is entirely appropriate that the final round of the year should be just as dramatic. It was partly to be expected, of course, with a championship at stake. Sure, Marc Márquez entered the weekend with a nigh insurmountable 21-point lead. But he still had to finish at least eleventh or else hope that Andrea Dovizioso did not win the race.

Things were looking good after qualifying: Márquez would be starting from pole, while Dovizioso would have to line up on the third row of the grid. Between the two, a host of fast rivals capable of getting in the way of Dovizioso's charge to the front, and perhaps even depriving him of the race win by taking victory in their own right.

By the time the checkered flag fell at the end of the race, enough had happened to fill a Greek epic. Team orders and betrayal, crashes and near crashes, deceit and disguise, secret swapping of bikes, and a bunch or people finishing much higher than any had a right to expect. An intriguing winner, a rider deprived of victory, and at last, a champion crowned. If the 17 races before Valencia had generated plenty to talk about, the final race of the year topped it all.

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2017 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves

It is a quote I have used so often that it has become a cliché. When I asked the now sorely-missed Nicky Hayden what motivated him after a difficult day, he replied "That's why we line up on Sunday; you never know what's gonna happen." That is as true now as it was then, but you cannot escape the law of probabilities. Of course you never know what's going to happen on any given Sunday. But if you want to hang on to your money, it is wise not to bet against the most likely course of events.

As of Saturday night, Andrea Dovizioso can still become 2017 MotoGP champion. But he trails Marc Márquez by 21 points in the championship. He has to win the race to even have a chance. Márquez has to finish no better than twelfth. Dovizioso starts the race from ninth on the grid. Márquez starts from pole. And Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Johann Zarco all have (slightly) better race pace than Dovizioso.

The chances that Dovizioso becomes champion in this timeline are rather slim. Bookies have the odds of the Factory Ducati rider winning the 2017 title at 14/1. They have Márquez at 1/50: even when interest rates are at a record low, you would make more money by putting your cash into a savings account rather than having a flutter on the Spaniard wrapping up his fourth MotoGP title on Sunday.

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2017 Valencia Friday MotoGP Round Up: Ducati vs Honda, And Zarco vs The World

A lot has to happen if Andrea Dovizioso wants to win the 2017 MotoGP championship at Valencia. What he doesn't want to happen is for Marc Márquez to run away with the race. And so far on Friday, that's exactly what looks like happening. On the face of it, fifth in both FP1 and FP2 is not promising. But look at race pace, and it is clear that Márquez is in devastating form.

In FP1, Márquez used a single medium rear tire, and posted 11 laps of 1'31. No one else managed more than 3 laps at that pace. In FP2, he again used just a single tire, putting 20 laps on a soft rear tire. He set his fastest lap – good enough for fifth in the session – on his final lap, with a tire that has two-thirds race distance on it. While everyone else was throwing extra tires in to secure passage straight to Q2, Márquez was not concerned.

His pace left him feeling positive. "Of course this gives me good confidence," Márquez said. "But what is better is that we started the weekend in a good way. In FP1 I felt good with the bike. We are on Friday so we need to keep working and keep the same mentality and concentration."

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2017 Valencia MotoGP Preview: One Last Chance

For the fourth time in twelve years, Valencia will play host to a MotoGP title showdown. On Sunday, Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez will slug it out for who gets to call themselves the 2017 MotoGP champion. If you want a detailed breakdown of who has to finish where to wrap up the championship, you can read our separate story here. But it boils down to two simple premises: If Andrea Dovizioso doesn't win the race, the title belongs to Márquez, but Márquez can put it out of reach of Dovizioso by finishing eleventh or better.

If you are staging a championship showdown, the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste, near Valencia, is a fine venue to choose. Set in a natural bowl, the circuit owners have managed to snake 4km of asphalt into a confined space. The upside to that is that spectators can see just about every part of the track from whichever stand they sit in. The furthest point of the track is at most a kilometer away, no matter where you sit.

Cramming so much track into such a tight space has obvious consequences. There are a lot of tight corners in Valencia: of the fourteen turns the circuit has, three are first gear corners, six more are second gear corners, while half of them are tighter than 90°. The compact space into which the track is crammed, combined with the long front straight create a lot of complications for tire manufacturers.

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Crunching The Numbers: How Dovizioso And Marquez Can Win The Title At Valencia

On Sunday, Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso will line up on the grid for the final MotoGP race of the 2017 season. At stake is the title of 2017 MotoGP champion. For Marc Márquez, it would be his fourth MotoGP title, making him the most successful Spanish rider in the premier class. For Andrea Dovizioso, it would be his first title, the one which is always most highly prized.

Dovizioso's challenge cannot be underestimated. He trails Marc Márquez by 21 points. His path to the championship is difficult, and relies heavily on things going wrong for others. Marc Márquez, on the other hand, faces a much easier task. The Repsol Honda rider has his destiny entirely in his own hands.

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2017 Sepang MotoGP Race Round Up, Part 1: Team Orders Or Sheer Talent?

Sometimes, winning a championship requires a little bit of help from your team. Especially when championships are tight. A little help from your teammate, perhaps persuaded by a quiet word in their ear from the team boss. Who knows, maybe even a little financial sweetener to help swallow a bitter pill, a cut of a win bonus. It helps if you and your teammate don't actively despise each other, of course.

Team orders are something of a taboo subject in motorcycle racing. Journalists, riders, teams all pussyfoot around the issue, while fans speculate like mad about which results were down to riders doing what they were told by team bosses, rather than putting it all out on the track. With no ship-to-shore radio communication, the only methods of communication are via the pit board, and since last year, via a list of permitted messages on the dashboard.

In a way, not having radio communication has led to more speculation about team orders, rather than less. Because pit boards are visible to other teams, and space is necessarily limited, the messages tend to be both terse and obscure. Valentino Rossi is forever being asked to explain what the letters BRK on his pit board mean. Dani Pedrosa is in a league of his own in this regard: at one point during a race, the word DOGMA appeared on his pit board. At another, the letters ZZTT were shown at the start of the last lap.

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2017 Sepang Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Titles On The Line, The Crash That Wasn't, And Revenge?

Will we have a 2017 MotoGP champion by Sunday night? The odds are on the side of Marc Márquez. Second place would be good enough to wrap it up for the Repsol Honda rider wherever Andrea Dovizioso finishes. If Dovizioso doesn't win, then Márquez has to finish within eight points of the Italian. If Dovizioso is second, then fourth is good enough. If he's third, then eighth is good enough. So far this season, Marc Márquez has always finished sixth place or better. Except when he doesn't finish, of course...

Márquez has two obstacles to overcome. The first is the weather. The forecast for Sunday at Sepang is heavy rain, from around the time warm up for MotoGP tends until early evening. On Friday, it was Andrea Dovizioso who was strongest in the rain, while Márquez was a little slower, and had a fleet of Ducatis to contend with.

The second obstacle is the big group of very fast riders at Sepang. Going by the timesheets in FP3 and FP4, there are a bunch of people who are capable of a podium, and maybe even a win. "I think there are five, six, seven riders who have similar pace, there is not a clear favorite," was Jorge Lorenzo's assessment. "It's very, very open the fight for the victory, the fight for the podium," Valentino Rossi concurred, "because have a lot, a lot of different riders that for sure have the pace for the podium but also for the victory."

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2017 Sepang Friday MotoGP Round Up: A Phony War In Mixed Conditions

If there is one thing clear from Friday at Sepang, it is that neither Andrea Dovizioso nor Marc Márquez believe the 2017 championship is done. The two men left in the title fight came out punching, chasing fast times just that little bit harder than the rest. Dovizioso topped both morning and afternoon sessions, blatant about his intentions to make a final bid for the championship. Márquez was a little slower in the mixed-but-drying conditions of FP1, but only half a second behind Dovizioso in a wet FP2. Márquez will give as hard as he gets.

The headline times are deceptive, though, as were the conditions. The morning session started with a track that would not dry fast enough – a persistent problem since the track was resurfaced, and an issue with drainage in certain sections of the track – and riders choosing to sit out the first third or so of FP1. Even once the riders took to the track in earnest, times were variable. It was only towards the end where track was dry enough to start to post quick times.

In the dry, Márquez focused on pace, putting in a single long run, while Andrea Dovizioso got on with setup work, ending FP1 at the top of the timesheets, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista. "I’m really happy about the lap time I did this morning," Dovizioso said. "It was quite fast but the conditions were strange. There was not a lot of rubber on the ground so it wasn’t normal. Anyway, this was the condition for the other riders. We did a good lap time. I was first."

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2017 Sepang MotoGP Preview: In The Championship Pressure Cooker

So just like 2015, the MotoGP paddock packed up after a breathtaking race in Phillip Island and headed to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang. And once again, two riders fly to Malaysia with a clean shot at the title. Fortunately, though, this time there was no one to drip poison into the ears of the protagonists and sour the atmosphere at the penultimate race of the season. We can look back at an astounding race and savor it, without it leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.

The lack of added stress is welcome. The Sepang round of MotoGP is the toughest of the season, for a lot of reasons. "I think this race is the most demanding of all the season because it is very hot," Valentino Rossi told the press conference. It is not uncommon for riders to come close to passing out at the end of a 45 minute race in sweltering temperatures and steam room humidity levels. Conditions are oppressive.

Making things worse is the fact that Sepang is the last of the three Pacific flyaway races. Sepang is the third weekend in a row where riders have faced a 9-hour flight, followed by promotional activities in the MotoGP manufacturers' most important markets, followed by a full race weekend. They have gone from a chilly and soaking Japan to a chilly and mixed Phillip Island to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia, jumping in and out of air-conditioned vehicles, hotels, and aircraft to face the elements on a racing motorcycle. Coughs, cold sweats, and hot fevers are the order of the day.

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2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Round Up: A Race For The Ages As Championships Near A Close

Phillip Island always delivers. If you came to the track on the edge of the world hoping for a spectacle, you got more than your money's worth. Three stunning races at arguably the greatest racetrack in the world. Three races which really mattered: with just two rounds left after Phillip Island, the results had a significant impact on all three championships. And to cap the day off, one of the best MotoGP races of all time, the second here in the space of three seasons. The sun even shone. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Is it a coincidence that two of the greatest Grand Prix races, perhaps of all time, have happened at Phillip Island in the last three seasons? I don't think so. This place, and this time, have conspired to create the perfect conditions for motorcycle racing. Firstly, there has never been a greater concentration of riding talent on the grid at the same time in the premier class. Secondly, performance parity between the different factories, and between factories and privateers, has never been so great. And thirdly, the Phillip Island circuit is simply made for motorcycle racing. A flowing track in a stunning setting, where brave and skilled riders can make passes at nearly half of the corners on the track.

The 2015 MotoGP race at Phillip Island was a four-way dust up which saw Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, and Valentino Rossi pass each other a grand total of 52 times in 27 laps. The 2017 race saw seven riders slug it out over the same distance, passing and repassing each other a total of 73 times. Blink, and you missed a change of the lead. But you had to blink, just to catch your breath. It is a good job the assiduous Tammy Gorali was willing to go back and tally up the action.

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