Perhaps the sprint races are starting to calm down a bit. Sure, there were only 17 finishers – Raul Fernandez withdrew on Friday because of his arm pump surgery, and Jack Miller, Augusto Fernandez, Jonas Folger, and Fabio Quartararo all crashed out – but there were no injuries, no riders taking each other out, no excessively enthusiastic attempts at a pass ending in collisions. It was hard, close, clean competition.
Surprising, then, that once again all of the drama is around the standard of stewarding. After the meeting the Stewards had on Friday with the riders, explaining how each contact would be punished and laying out the guidelines they use to assess which penalty to apply in which situation, they went on to apparently throw their own guidelines out of the window and – correctly – not penalize any of the several riders who touched other riders while making hard passes. This left half the riders furious, the other half delighted, and everyone dismissing the role of the Stewards as pointless. It felt like they span the great Wheel O' Penalties again, and we all got lucky when it came back saying "Free Pass".
We'll get to that later. But first, there was a fascinating qualifying and plenty of excitement in the race to talk about.
Hard time at home
Perhaps we should start with what would turn out to be a very long day for Fabio Quartararo. Q1 started off looking good for the Monster Energy Yamaha rider, as he quickly set a time that looked out of reach for the rest of the field. But Luca Marini kept getting closer and closer, leaving Quartararo's once comfortable position suddenly looking rather precarious.
Quartararo's fate was sealed when Augusto Fernandez pulled a deeply impressive time out of the bag to go fastest. Quartararo was forced to use a second set of precious soft tires to try to guarantee a spot in the top two, but he couldn't improve while Luca Marini did. The Frenchman was left dangling in third, stuck at the head of the fifth row of the grid.
Things wouldn't go very much better for him in the race. He was swallowed up at the start, but was able to use his pace to close on the group battling for sixth. But on lap 10, he entered a little too hot and lost the front going into Chemin aux Boeufs. Fortunately (if that is the appropriate word) for the viewers, the TV director had just switched to Quartararo's shouldercam, the tiny camera in his left shoulder, so the TV audience got to ride along.
Quartararo's pace in the race compared to qualifying – his best race lap was a 1'31.771, his Q1 leap was 1'31.366 – perfectly illustrates the problem he has. "It's a problem because I'm able to ride really fast in the race, but not in the qualifying," the Frenchman said. "And I need to put everything together in qualifying. And this is the hardest part that right now, maybe in the past I was doing, I'm saying a number, 5 mistakes in one practice, but right now I'm doing 10. Because I think I’m always on the limit on the pace."
That was different in the past, Quartararo insisted. "I remember in the past I always asked my crew chief how intense I need to make the race pace. ‘Keep a little bit of margin for the tire’. Right now I never ask. I go in the track and just go for it and this is the thing that when I go for time attack, I'm already on the limit. You try to find a little bit more, but you don't have. So it's difficult to make that perfect lap." The margin Quartararo had for qualifying is no longer there. Every lap is like a qualifying lap.
Quartararo switched his complaints with the bike from the aggressiveness of the chassis back to the lack of horsepower. The issue is that the bike lacks the top-end horsepower to be able to push the big wings at the end of a straight. And you need the big wings to be able to keep the front end down while accelerating out of slow corners, such as are dotted around Le Mans.
"Today, like I've said, the only points for me to overtake is Turn 4. Everyone, in general, more or less it's Turn 3, Turn 8 and Turn 9," Quartararo said. He was losing a tenth or so just on pure acceleration, and he wasn't able to carry the corner speed to make up for that at Le Mans.
These are not trivial problems. Both engine and aerodynamics are limited by the homologation process, but in addition, Yamaha have lost their way with the chassis as well. The Yamaha used to be slower than the rest, but fast through corners and stable in every part of the corner. Because of that, Yamaha riders could carry more speed through the corner and start accelerating from a higher speed. Ride-height devices and aero have negated that advantage, but today, like I've said, the only points for me to overtake is turn 4. Everyone, in general, more or less it's Turn 3, Turn 8 and Turn 9.
But it's out of from acceleration and they took one tenth or one tenth and a half. Then you cannot make turn one much faster to arrive in turn 3 overtaking. So the problem is a matter of having more power to use more downforce because if we compare the wings we are using to the others is really small.Yamaha's loss of a stable basis is arguably a bigger problem right now.
That corner speed is something which Honda may have found at least a partial answer to. Marc Marquez was the only rider of a Japanese bike to make it through to Q2. He did that in part thanks to the new Kalex chassis Honda is using, which turns better and allows him to carry more corner speed. The price he pays is a loss of braking, but the net gain is a small but significant step forward.
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First of several meetings …
First of several meetings
I hope. I was not there, of course, but I seriously doubt that Freddie said or intended to say that ANY contact would be an automatic sanction. I did a Spanish language Youtube feature on Freddie with special attention to his 1983 Anderstorp clash with Kenny Roberts...the real thing not the handbag scrap between Rossi and Marquez at Malaysia in 2015. Freddie has always placed great importance in the fact that there was NO CONTACT in that hairy overtake that decided the title allowing Freddie to take second to Kenny at Imola and give Honda their first ever 500cc title. Roberts says there was no contact because he Kenny, skillfully avoided it by an ant´s pisser (I believe that is the correct Snetterton term for a near miss going round Clearways). Freddie believes contact is to be avoided but he would never really say that any contact is an automatic foul...I am pretty sure that what he said was that when there is contact the move will be carefully scrutinized. I remember playing baseball in Guatemala. We knew the umpires very well and we adjusted our hitter´s grasp of the strike zone with different umps. Freddie is a pitcher´s umpire...calls them on the corner. Surely no one believes that we can go back to the old days when it was up to the riders to settle their differences (and they did). I think Freddie understands that he has to loosen up a bit...call a few more balls on the outside corner, so to speak, because the fans want to see homeruns and not quite that many strikeouts. There need to be more meetings and they should be obligatory for both Freddie and the riders...and if any rider refuses to come or walks out with his feelings hurt, there should be fine$ as in (fill in the dreaded word and number). I think what we saw after the meeting on Friday was Freddie backing it off just a notch...but he´s still going to throw you out of the game if you throw an obvious high and inside beanball. Maybe the best way would be to alternate umpires...Roberts and Spencer. Pretty soon the riders would learn to adjust adjust their strike zones and the pitchers would know just how close to the chin they could trim. I´m not making light of the danger in MotoGP, but I am asking us all to consider just how hard it must be to make those calls. I think progress was made yesterday in Le Mans. Somewhere between Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaró lies the balance.
Dennis gets it.
As ever Dennis, nail on head. Really miss your regular contributions.
No barging penalty
It's funny that the Stewards bring back the barging overtake rule with no penalty when Marquez comes back.
Has it worked ? If they must…
Has it worked ? If they must punish intent instead of consequence then Brad thinking twice about 'it would have been one of those ‘roll the dice and see what happens’ moments. It might work out fine, but there's a very good chance you might have a bit of contact.', is a good thing ? As much as everybody likes to replay Rossi/Sete or Marc/Lorenzo they were both FU passes. Exciting yes...sporting...big hmm no. I still think people are searching for a formula, a structure. I personally think the stewards having the freedom to act as they see fit is better. How about a time penalty which fits the crime at a last corner and places a Rossi or Marquez exactly 0.1 second behind a Sete or Jorge ? The riders complained about too much contact. A few penalties later and the riders are thinking about avoiding contact. Progress ? It didn't stop either of the Jerez races or this sprint race from being good. It's not possible to fix a past injustice by making more but in this case the past injustice may have served a purpose.
Great analogy Dennis.
Great analogy Dennis.
Dennis being Dennis am sure…
Dennis being Dennis am sure that analogy hit the nail on the head. But I haven’t played rounders since I was at school, so I’ve no idea what he’s on about.
MM ever the hypocrite
Marc: “I deserved a penalty” Could have served it. Chose to weasel out. Hypocrite.
As much as the FIM stewards need to adopt a strategy of "let them race", not only for the good of the sport but also for their preservation of their own authority, is it even possible under the existing formula?
MotoGP seems to be caught in the same flatspin that badly damaged NASCAR. The GPC has not necessarily knelt before the altar of close racing, but they definitely use the metrics of close racing to justify and sell the current formula to businesses and fans alike. Unfortunately, when competitors are forced into a confined space, it seems there is considerably less space to race, and sanctions will be employed to improve safety.
In some ways, the FIM cannot really be blamed for the situation. Unlike NASCAR, they don't have centralized control of nearly all sporting and technical aspects, but hopefully the current situation is still underlining the perils of pursuing artificial close racing, and the mechanisms that are shrinking the size of the competitive box. It seems the adoption of common components mixed with tight technical regulations is not meshing well with the relatively robust systems that manage the bikes and rider inputs. I doubt the current thinking behind the control tire is helping the situation, either.
Hopefully, they can figure out the situation before someone gets hurt (again). It is somewhat incredible that the sport has progressed from the relatively safe battles royale of the 500cc era to the nearly-deadly deadly whingefest that is 1000cc MotoGP with control tires and ride height. Circuit safety has improved leaps and bounds. Why are the bikes getting heavier, more powerful, and faster, while also being squished into a smaller competitive space? All of these safety costs being dumped on the doorsteps of the venue-owners while the GPC casually ignores the danger they are creating.
I don't see where all of this is leading, except to significantly lower revenue, because DORNA can barely find 20 circuits capable of containing the current crop of MotoGP bikes, and the sport can scarcely find an insurance company willing to underwrite the sport.