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Fri, 2021-06-18 23:16
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Day one of the German Grand Prix is in the bag, and is Marc Márquez still the outright favorite for the win on Sunday? If you went by FP1 on Friday, you would say yes: the Repsol Honda rider took three flying laps to set the fastest time of the session, before turning his attention to working on race pace. He used one set of medium tires front and rear for the entire session, ending with a 1'22.334 on a tire with 24 laps on it. That lap would have been good enough for thirteenth place in FP1, just a hundredth of a second slower than Miguel Oliveira's best lap.

Oliveira made it clear that he considered Márquez to be the favorite at the end of the day as well. "For me since the beginning Marc is the clear favorite for the win on Sunday," the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider told us. "We have been trying to understand what he is doing different to the others on this track because he is so successful."

By the end of the afternoon, Marc Márquez didn't look quite so invincible. The Repsol Honda rider finished the day twelfth fastest, six tenths off the fastest rider Miguel Oliveira. The KTM man had achieved his first objective. "I believe together with him will come another couple of riders that are able to challenge for the win. I am working to be one of them," Oliveira said on Friday afternoon.

Reading the tea leaves

It is worth noting, however, that of the eleven riders ahead of him on the FP2 timesheets, only Jack Miller in ninth didn't use a brand new soft rear tire to set a quick time. Both Miller and Márquez set their times on new medium tires, used in a slightly longer run. In terms of pace, Márquez still looks strong, running 1'21.7s on used tires with half race distance on them. As Oliveira said, there are another couple of riders capable of running the same pace, including the self-same Miguel Oliveira, Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro, and LCR Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami.

Fabio Quartararo probably belongs in the same company, the Frenchman putting full race distance on a set of mediums in FP2, his 30th lap a 1'22.532, his 31st lap – that is, race distance plus one – a 1'22.697. At a track which eats tires, that is impressive.

And yet there is reason for concern for Marc Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider hadn't used a soft tire to chase a lap time for Q2, but that was not because he was confident of being fast enough on Saturday morning. "It was in the plan to put a new tire. But I did two small long runs to understand the rear tire. Then I said to the team, I don’t feel ready to put a new tire. I don’t feel enough energy. Let’s wait until tomorrow," Márquez told us.

Setback

That was not in the plan. He had come to the Sachsenring expecting to ride without being hampered by his injured shoulder at all, he said, the track being all left handers. But it hadn't quite turned out that way. "I already said yesterday that here I feel less physical limitation," Márquez told us. "Honestly speaking I expected even less, I expected to have zero problems, but even like this I am not riding very well. I think you can see in the video my right elbow is very high all the time. I can’t ride like I want."

He comforted himself with the fact that his pace was so strong. "I am able to manage to be in good pace, but tomorrow I will try to improve that riding style." Was he still the favorite for Sunday? "Favorite?" he asked. "I’m not the favorite at the moment. I’m coming from a deep situation."

Friday at the Sachsenring was a reminder for Márquez that he still has some way to go before he is back to full fitness. "What they told me, all the doctors I visit, they said to me after three surgeries in the humerus, that is a single bone, it’s possible you have a small rotation because it’s so difficult to be precise. So the body needs time. When they say time, I asked, what does 'time' mean? One week? One month? One year? They said one year."

New arm

The complication is that the muscles in the arm need to reconfigure themselves to compensate for the misalignment of the bone in his upper arm. "The muscles will compensate," Márquez said. "Maybe some muscles that before worked less will now work more. But the muscles should compensate this lack of mobility or this different position of the arm."

That was his current problem, the Repsol Honda rider explained. "At the moment this is where I’m struggling. I have the mobility. I can go on the correct way but I don’t feel safe, I don’t have power. In Montmelo I was working a lot on that position. I was able to do it. But now here with more left corners, I’m not able to do it. But it’s not a high limitation in corner speed. In right corners it’s a limitation."

Marc Márquez faces a tougher Sunday than he expected. 30 laps are a lot around a tight and twisty Sachsenring, at a track where he has to work on his riding position once again. He has the outright speed, and he has the pace. But does he have the endurance?

At least the Honda is more competitive around the Sachsenring. Márquez' Repsol Honda teammate Pol Espargaro was working on a theory so that he could exploit the improved performance of the RC213V around the German circuit. "Here, like in T1 and T2, it’s long corners but not very fast corners," the Spaniard explained. "So normally we have problems in these long corners but when they are very fast and you need to carry corner speed and then accelerate and go again with lot of corner speed, in these places we are not very good."

There were fewer of that particular style of corner, Espargaro explained. "We have T1 where we are not too bad. Then we have other places where we catch the grip a much better than the other race tracks and this allows us to be a little bit faster. Even in the fast areas, where we should not be as fast, we are not so bad. I’m just trying to understand why we are better here than the other places."

The two Repsol Honda riders were both using a new aero package, with winglets that could perhaps charitably be called "Yamaha style", as the two photos below demonstrate. Above, the new Honda winglets, swooping and thin affairs, rather than the former blocky and angular mustache used. Below, the swooping and not quite so thin Yamaha version on Valentino Rossi's Petronas Yamaha.

Did the winglets make much difference? Not a great deal, but enough, according to Pol Espargaro. "We tried it in Barcelona," the Spaniard told us. "We homologated it. I used them in FP2. I wanted to go on track with the old spec and check how the bike was. Then I saw Marc went straight away with it, and he was performing well, so I wanted to try it and it was OK, it was fine."

It wasn't a huge difference, but at a track like the Sachsenring, where a fraction over nine tenths of a second cover the first eighteen riders, every little can help, Espargaro said. "Well, there is a little bit of difference. But nothing to say, wow. Already if you check the results lists you will see a lot of riders in less than 1 tenth. So even if it’s a little, it’s enough."

Takaaki Nakagami had used the old aero, and was fast enough to pose a serious threat to Marc Márquez, judging by his race pace. So the difference was certainly debatable. Nakagami had also tested the new fairing in Barcelona, but had not been convinced. "We tested it in Montmelo but honestly I didn’t feel a huge difference," the LCR Honda rider told us. "In some areas yes, some areas I preferred the old one. I think this weekend I will not use the new one and we keep the standard. I don’t feel any big advantage."

Being fast and having superior race pace was one thing, but that means nothing if you don't qualify on the front row at the Sachsenring. "Here is it very important, the starting position, and we need to focus on that to be able to then use the good pace," Miguel Oliveira opined. "If you start behind – even with good pace – it will become difficult to make progress. I believe here particularly we need to work on our grid position. This will be so important for the race on Sunday."

Maverick Viñales underlined the importance of a good qualifying position. "Yeah, we MUST qualify on the front row," the Monster Energy Yamaha rider insisted. "This is the real objective of the weekend. Because like in Montmelo, when I got free in the front, I was riding fast, we closed nearly 2 seconds to the top guys. So we need to try to work for one lap."

At least his single lap pace had improved since Barcelona, Viñales told us. "It seems much better than in Montmelo. In Montmelo, for me it was difficult to keep in front, to keep doing red helmets. Here in Sachsenring, it seems much better to do red helmets. So it's a sign that we are taking the right way."

Viñales, of course, is still in the middle of adapting to his new crew chief, Silvano Galbusera, and was adjusting his goals accordingly. "For us right now, the results aren't important, the feeling is important, and the feeling I can give back to the crew chief," the Spaniard told us. "That is starting to build up, but I'm confident, I'm confident and I think sooner or later, but I think sooner we are going to go fast, and this is the most important."

Much has been made of Miguel Oliveira's improvement since Mugello, but the Portuguese rider bridled at the suggestion this was all down to KTM signing a new fuel deal with ETS, who were supplying a more efficient synthetic race fuel, and the new chassis which the Austrian factory had brought to Mugello. Sure, those had helped, Oliveira acknowledged, but we weren't to overlook the fact that the KTM RC16 had already showed more than a few flashes of speed, he insisted.

"Yes, KTM did a good job bringing a good improvement on the frame," Oliveira said. "I don’t know how much it is giving us and I don't believe it is giving everything but small details count a lot in this category nowadays and the rider who arrives and understands better how to get the maximum of each detail is the one who can be faster at the end. I managed to do it at the moment a bit better than the rest but I don’t think it is giving us a lot of advantages."

Oliveira insisted that by focusing on the new frame, journalists were missing the bigger picture. They were looking for easy answers to complex questions. "I said yesterday that it is misleading this conclusion. Of course you maybe don’t analyze each session that we do, but we do it!"

Variables in the equation

There had been previous signs that the KTM was good, but they hadn't manage to put all of the individual pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, Oliveira said. "We often have very good pace and the potential to be fast on many tracks, and every GP we managed to be strong in one practice or another but we never managed to finish the race. It gives the illusion that we only came up in Mugello but it’s not quite like that. We have been working, we have been ‘there’ in the shadow, not in the spotlight. Maybe that gives the feeling that whatever we brought to Mugello was a game-changer and it was not. It was a help but it was not everything."

The new chassis had shifted their attention to other weaknesses of the bike, Oliveira explained. "I think we have arrived to the point where we could improve the bike in how we use the front tire and this is a key point for us for how we turn it in the corners. It’s being able to use the softer compound for the front and make it to the race distance safely. The rest is small things, fine-tuning and set-up what is enhancing what we already had good in the past with the 2020 bike."

While the Portuguese rider looks to be capable of winning at the Sachsenring, teammate Brad Binder is struggling with getting his head around riding a MotoGP bike at the German circuit. The speed and horsepower of a MotoGP bike turned an already tight track into a very difficult and challenging proposition, he explained.

Rookie error

"Today’s been a lot more challenging than expected. It was harder than I anticipated," Binder told us. "It’s quite different because you arrive with a lot more speed than in certain places. The way you need to use the throttle to keep the speed going with not too much spin is quite different in general. It’s been a bit of a learning process today."

The change was much bigger from Moto2 to MotoGP than it had been from Moto3 to Moto2, he explained. "I think the step for me has been more difficult. I remember being not bad here on the Moto2 straight away. The main thing for me today is you have to try and keep the level of spin under control. You don’t want to spin too much."

That ran counter to everything he had learned when he last rode here on a Moto2 bike two seasons ago. "That was one of ways I used to ride this track in Moto2 was to turn a lot with the rear tire. That on a MotoGP bike isn’t a good plan. Once it starts to spin you don’t stop and you spin the whole way up the straight."

Starting over

Despite having a year of experience on a MotoGP bike, Binder was having to relearn almost every aspect of the track, he admitted. "This morning my main issue was I was trying to roll in places where I should be closing more aggressive, pulling the front brake and letting go. Where I was just trying to make it smooth and round. I was really struggling with the front end this morning and I kept losing the front in these places and it took away a lot of confidence. I only figured it out when I looked at the data, what I was doing wrong, what was giving me such bad feeling. This track is small. It’s a tiny track. Getting close to 300hp around here is not easy. It’s definitely going to take a little bit of time to figure out."

There was so much to learn, Binder told us. "I think the biggest thing here is you spend so much time on edge. As soon as you pick the bike up, the temperature you reach on the tires on the left changes the way the bike feels a lot. When the tires start to cook it’s more challenging to get into the corners and get it transfer onto the rear tire and to exit well."

It was like being a rookie all over again, the South African told us. "It’s been a bit of a challenge today trying to figure out all these things. I remember this feeling quite well, when I had it many, many times last year when I went to a new track and I felt super lost. It was difficult. But you tend to go to sleep at night and work things out. I’m hoping that’s the case here again."

At least there is one challenge that Binder and the other Sachsenring rookies – in addition to the MotoGP rookies, last year's intake of MotoGP riders have never ridden the German track on a MotoGP bike either – do not have to face. Normally, Turn 11, the right hander at the top of the hill dubbed 'The Waterfall' catches a fair few riders out. The transition from left to right at speed, switching to the right side of the tire for the first time in half a lap, was easy to misjudge if you have allowed your tires to cool off too much.

The summer heat had eliminated that particular danger. "Did you see the degrees on the ground?" Maverick Viñales retorted when asked why no crashes at Turn 11. "That's the reason, man. That's the reason. The right side is warm enough during all the lap."

Conditions are set to stay that way. The heat is here to stay. And that is probably a good thing.


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Mon, 2021-06-14 11:03
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Whatever your impressions of Pol Espargaro, you can’t doubt his courage. It’s now over a year since the rider from Granollers, Catalonia chose to sign for Repsol Honda, leaving KTM’s factory team, which he helped build from the ground up. The seat has been something of a poisoned chalice in recent times. There, Dani Pedrosa’s racing career sizzled out in disappointment. Jorge Lorenzo’s sole year in orange turned into a personal ordeal. And Alex Márquez was informed he would be leaving the squad at the end of his first season before he had even raced. It turns out being team-mate to this generation’s greatest talent is no walk in the park.

Yet Espargaro jumped at the chance to measure himself against Marc Márquez He had long harboured that goal, telling me in 2019 without hesitation he’d choose racing his old Moto2 nemesis on the same bike over any other rider in history. While he was more than a match for his countryman in the junior categories – Pol narrowly lost out to Marc in fiery championship battles in 125s in 2010 and Moto2 in 2012 – their fortunes in the premier class diverged. As Márquez racked up records and titles at a dizzying race, Espargaro forged his reputation aiding KTM’s rise from class rookies to multiple race winners.

Some felt the move was foolish. Not least when KTM started the 2020 season all guns blazing, taking first and second MotoGP wins in races three and five. By then Espargaro had communicated his plans to leave for Honda’s factory team, a squad in the midst of its worst premier class campaign since HRC came into existence at the beginning of 1982. But the lure of joining the team that turned Alex Crivillé, Pedrosa and Márquez into national and international icons, not to mention won 16 of the past 27 premier class titles, was too much to turn down.

National pride

“The best Spanish riders in history have been in this team, have grown in this team, have taken victories and world championships in this team,” Espargaro explained over a Zoom call on the eve of the French Grand Prix. “For a Spaniard, to be in Repsol Honda is something super special. Also, historically to be a Repsol Honda rider means you are a top rider. Sure, in the past (years) Honda hasn’t been amazingly successful apart from Marc. But inside every rider, you think you can be as fast as the top guys. It’s what I’m trying to do. I want to be world champion and to be in this team, it means you raise your level, you raise your image. Hopefully I can reach my dreams here in Repsol Honda.”

It speaks of Espargaro’s grit that he turned a potentially difficult 2020 into his best season yet. There were many hurdles to overcome. A figure with a lesser focus would have fixated on the contrasting fortunes of the factory he was going to leave, and the one he was about join. He then watched on as Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira took KTM’s first wins in races he himself was capable of winning. And staying in a team that is aware of your desire to leave can often turn the atmosphere sour.

But after a shaky start, Espargaro’s results were steadily impressive. He ended the year with five podium finishes, and a run of seven top fours in ten races – an astonishing improvement for a man (and factory) that broke into the top six just one season before. Not only that; he left amid a flood of tributes from the factory’s top brass.

Regarding KTM’s stunning jump forward, surely there was a time during 2020 when a tinge of regret entered his mind. Espargaro is forthright. “At the end, I was enjoying so much the moment, I was not thinking about the future,” he said. “After four years of suffering blood and sweat in KTM to try and get the results, to finally get them almost every single weekend, I was really enjoying the situation.

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Thu, 2021-06-10 09:30
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The story of the weekend. Just why did Fabio Quartararo open his leathers at Turn 3 on lap 21?


Jack Miller is so proud of being Australian that he likes to point to his country of origin every time he enters the pits


Big Mig Rising - Miguel Oliveira has 45 points from 2 races. If he continues on at this pace, well...


The magic happens somewhere in there. Ducati's rivals are convinced something unsavory is going on, but it is hard to separate envy from actual wrongdoing


Impressive rookie season, struggling as a sophomore. Alex Marquez is not finding his second year in MotoGP easy


An electronics junction box - you can make an educated guess at which connectors are which. At the top, the bottom of the small tank used for warming the bikes up can be seen


Iker Lecuona was trying really hard in Barcelona. Perhaps a little too hard at times


After we published photos of Aprilia's holeshot device mechanism, they now have a nice green plastic protector in place to keep prying eyes away


Enea Bastianini leans into the green


The handlebars get ever busier: traction control and engine braking buttons, front holeshot activation lever, rear holeshot activation lever, brake adjustment wheel, and clutch lever. At least they don't use the clutch lever very often


This is why they do it, those few moments on the top step of the podium


No small part in KTM's success. Dani Pedrosa accepts Pit Beirer's embrace


Silvano Galbusera joins Maverick Viñales on the grid, and in the garage. It brought improvement, though the next question is will it last?


Compare and contrast - bare-chested and open leathers for Fabio Quartararo, leaving himself with extra actions to take on the grid


Zipped and ready for Jack Miller. Less to think about when the 3 minute mark sounds


Valentino Rossi was straight to Q2, for the first time in several races. But it was not without incident


Nothing to hide: The Suzuki still doesn't have a rear holeshot/ride-height lowering device. Visible is the standard adustable rear shock linkage, the 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust, and the coolant pump


The Ducati looks a good deal more elegant when seen from above


Intermediates? No, Michelin Power Cup tires, a track day tire used as a transport tire, for use moving the bike around, instead or ruining racing slicks


#CompulsoryArtShot


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Tue, 2021-06-08 03:06
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It would be nice to sit down at the end of a MotoGP weekend and just write about the race. But it seems increasingly, the first thing a journalist has to do after a MotoGP race is go back and read the FIM Grand Prix World Championship Regulations, also known as the yellow book, back when books were a thing, and rules didn't change every couple of weeks rendering paper books unusable. We have had a stream of rule infractions, both large and small, infringements of rules which few new existed, and the application of penalties which have inevitably needed clarification.

The need to go back and reread the rulebook has sometimes been due to inexperience in particular situations – for example, Fabio Quartararo parking his bike in the wrong spot during the flag-to-flag race at Le Mans – or cunning use of the rules – see Marc Márquez crossing the white lines on pit lane entry at the same race. Sometimes, it has because we needed clarification of very specific situations, such as Miguel Oliveira and Joan Mir exceeding track limits on the last lap in Mugello.

And sometimes, we have had to consult the rules because something so outrageous and unusual has happened that nobody is quite sure whether something is actually legal, and if not, what the punishment is. Engineers refers to these situations as edge cases: a new and unexpected situation that nobody realized was possible, because it hasn't happened before, and requires a very specific and unusual set of circumstances. Such as a rider finishing a race with their leathers unzipped for the last four laps, as happened to Fabio Quartararo on Sunday.

It is a shame that we have to spend so much time on the rulebook, because these instances overshadow some impressive performances and superb racing action. Barcelona threw up a veritable roller-coaster of emotions and spectacle, in both the positive and negative sense. We should be talking about Miguel Oliveira's impressive ride to victory, Johann Zarco's quiet championship assault, Yamaha's curious up and down weekend, whether Marc Márquez' crash means he is getting more competitive or losing ground, and just where Honda stand now:

In these subscriber notes:

  • Why Fabio Quartararo unzipped his leathers, and whether the punishment fit the crime
  • How the collapse of the MSMA is affecting MotoGP
  • Miguel Oliveira and KTM's revival
  • Is Johann Zarco the new Joan Mir?
  • Is Marc Márquez back? And will he be any time soon?
  • Honda in a hole

But first, one of the most bizarre incidents we have seen in world championship racing for a while: Fabio Quartararo's open leathers. The Frenchman raced for 20 laps with his leathers closed – all clearly visible on the video feed – and somewhere between Turn 1 at the start of lap 21 and Turn 4 on the same lap, Quartararo's leathers were open.

Examining the evidence

There is a lot to address here, but first, let's walk through the timeline, on the basis of screenshots from the MotoGP.com video feed. The MotoGP.com video pass has the advantage of watching the entire race from multiple onboard camera views, as well as the broadcast feed with and without commentary, and the overhead shot from the helicopter camera. With a bit of dedication and a lot of time, we can reconstruct exactly what happened to Fabio Quartararo.

First, here is what Quartararo himself said about the incident: "What happened? I don’t know. I just know that I had the leathers completely open in the first corner, I think 5 laps to go, and I just tried to put [the zip] in a normal position again. I couldn't do it. So yeah, it was difficult to ride but unfortunately it happens. It happened today, so Alpinestars are looking how it's possible because at the end of the race it was possible again to close it."

Is that really the case? 5 laps to go would be the start of lap 20. However, the screenshot below, taken at the end of lap 20, you can just about see that Quartararo's leathers are still closed, no chest is exposed.

Did Fabio Quartararo mistake which lap his leathers were open? Here's a shot of Miguel Oliveira and Quartararo entering Turn 1 at the start of lap 21. Once again, it appears that his leathers are closed.

20 seconds later, however, the cameras show Oliveira and Quartararo approaching Turn 4, and the Frenchman's leathers are open, his chest clearly visible. So what happened in the intervening period?

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This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion, and is available to everyone supporting the site by taking out a subscription.

If you would like to read more of our exclusive content you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here. If you prefer, you can also support us on our Patreon page and get access to the same exclusive material there.

Sun, 2021-06-06 00:32
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Saturday at Montmelo made several things crystal clear in MotoGP. We saw one rider emerge as the clear favorite for the win on Sunday. We saw just how critical tire choice and tire management is going to be at Barcelona. And we saw just how much pressure riders are under, whether it be seeking a tow to get through to Q2, celebrating a quick time in FP3 like a victory, or crashing out twice in an attempt to save a seat for next year.

Above all, we saw just how fast Fabio Quartararo is in Barcelona. The fact that the Frenchman was the only rider to get into the 1'39s in FP4 was not that much of a surprise; the Monster Energy Yamaha rider has been quick all weekend after all. What was a little more surprising is that nobody else managed it, Maverick Viñales getting closest, but still over four tenths behind his teammate.

What should be more worrying is the fact the vast majority of Quartararo's laps in FP4 were 1'39s: 8 of his 12 flying laps were 1'39s. His 9th fastest lap was quick enough to have secured fourth place, his 1'40.278 faster than Johann Zarco's best lap of 1'40.286. Quartararo's 10th fastest lap was a 1'40.290, just 0.004 slower than Zarco's best time.

In a different league

On the basis of FP4 – and there is no better basis, it being the only session where the order of the timesheets count for nothing, and riders are working solely on race setup – Fabio Quartararo is in a league of his own. And to add another dimension to this, the Frenchman did these times on the hard rear tire, and on the medium rear tire, with little to distinguish between the two.

Quartararo was merely second fastest in FP3, but even there, the work he was doing was impressive. He started the session on a rear medium tire which had already done 15 laps. On his final flying lap, the 24th on that tire, he did a 1'40.866. Race distance on Sunday is 24 laps, and if he can get anywhere near that kind of time on the final lap on Sunday, he should have a pretty impressive margin over his rivals.

The logical conclusion to draw from Saturday is that whatever the circumstances, Fabio Quartararo is fast. Much, much faster than the rest. His fifth pole position in a row merely backs that up, the first rider to score five poles in a row since Marc Márquez racked up seven in a row from Valencia 2013 to Mugello 2014. His margin for pole is nothing like his margin in FP4 – the Frenchman is just 0.037 faster than Jack Miller, rather than four tenths – but it doesn't matter. If he can hold his own on the long, long run down to Turn 1 – and the addition of a front holeshot device to the Yamaha M1 vastly improves his chances here – then it will be a race for second for everyone else.

Jack Miller had quite a day on his way to second on the grid. First, he had to make his way out of Q1, after coming up short in FP3, knocked out of Q2 by Valentino Rossi in resurgent form. "Starting out in the morning just wasn’t really able to do what I thought I could do when I put the tire on in FP3," the Australian said. "Being 11th and how tight everything was, I was like, Q1, you know what that’s like."

What Q1 is like is everyone waiting for a tow. And right now, "everyone" includes the eight-time world champion Marc Márquez, the Spaniard frank about his inability to do a fast lap on his own. It also included Márquez' Repsol Honda teammate, Pol Espargaro, though Espargaro was a good deal less stoical about the situation as Márquez was.

Espargaro has a point. The sight of two Repsol Hondas, the finest machines the mighty HRC can build, sitting passively in pit lane waiting for a faster rider to come past so they could get a tow was rather dispiriting. But it was also a sign of just where HRC is at the moment. The Honda RC213V is not competitive, and with Marc Márquez still recovering from injury, HRC don't have a rider who can ride around the bike's glaring weaknesses.

Do what you have to

It was not official Honda policy, Espargaro insisted, but just the inevitable result of not being fast enough. "These decisions are the decisions of the rider. Each rider decides what the rider needs or wants," Espargaro said. "It's clear we are not good, we are not fast. It's clear. And when you are not fast, you cannot do everything by yourself, you need a wheel to improve, by not so much."

"We need to be behind someone because we are not fast, because the bike is not ready to make a lap time alone. This is the truth," Espargaro confessed. "So we the riders are trying everything to try to be fast, so it's what we want. But I hate this. I don't like to be following someone. Because when you need these kind of things, you are forced to do always one thing, which is to follow someone. So you cannot be relaxed, you cannot follow your riding style or just improve yourself. You are just following someone doing what the guy in front of you is doing. So there is no improvement on this. There is just a lap time."

Ironically, the wheel Espargaro had chosen was that of his teammate, Marc Márquez. And Márquez in turn was following Jack Miller, having made his intentions plain, even joking about it with the Australian the previous day. "Yesterday we were joking in the Clinica Mobile with Miller, because I mean I was 15th place and he said to me, 'how much will you pay me?' And today was the time!" Márquez said. "In Qualifying 1 all of the riders – me, Pol – we were waiting for somebody and this somebody was the fastest guy that was Miller."

Nice little earner

The joke played out in pit lane, with Jack Miller rubbing his fingers together as Marc Márquez drew alongside him in the universally understood symbol for cash money. But unlike Maverick Viñales at Mugello, Miller didn't let it faze him. The Australian exited pit lane fully aware that he had a train of riders in tow, all looking to leech off his speed to get through to Q2. But he put his head down and rode as fast as he can, too fast for anyone to follow.

"At the end of the day the first tow is free," Miller joked. "It doesn’t disturb me. It’s a mindset. If you go out there thinking only about the guy that’s behind you, you already lost. The most important thing I think in this situation is something I’ve learned over the years, I need to focus on my job, what I’m doing, and that’s it. If there’s another guy behind me, so be it. If there’s another three behind me, so be it. I can’t control this. At the end of the day, it’s a free world and he can follow whoever he wants."

The choices here are fairly simple. You can get upset and distracted and mess up your lap. You can indulge in a game of chicken, go out and do a slow lap in the hope of discouraging or shaking off anyone looking for a tow. But that is never effective, as the rider looking for a tow always has a lot less to lose than the rider they are following. If you know you need a tow to stand a chance of setting a good lap time, then waiting for someone else will always provide a better result than striking out on your own.

If you know you're fast, then the best option is simply to push, and trust in your own ability. The fact that others are trying to follow you already tells you you are fast enough, all you have to do is to put theory into practice. If you're really fast enough, others won't be able to beat your time, even with a tow.

Jack Miller was sympathetic, having been in a similar pickle himself in the past. "We’ve all been in this situation. It’s not easy. I know I have. Fabio maybe not so much. We’ve all been in this situation where you need a little something extra," he said. But having confidence in your own ability was the best choice, Miller believed "I think it’s nice when you see a rider take this approach, I feel anyway from the outside, especially for myself to have this confidence or have this trust in my bike and my ability that I’m able to push out front by myself."

Miller's self-belief was handsomely rewarded, making it through to Q2 and then onto the front row, finishing second behind Fabio Quartararo. And Marc Márquez' temerity was punished, the Repsol Honda rider losing out to his teammate, Pol Espargaro following Márquez as he tailed Miller to take the second spot in Q2.

It didn't improve Espargaro's situation very much, however. The Repsol Honda rider crashed on his first attempt at a fast lap in Q2, and ended the session in last, putting him just one place on the grid ahead of the teammate he had beaten to take the slot in Q2. But the crash had been entirely expected, Espargaro said, a result of having to take too much risk to try to push for a quick lap, something the RC213V simply doesn't want to provide.

Reaching the limit

"We are so on the limit everywhere, so pushing over the limit," Espargaro said. "The problem is when you need to do that once, it's OK. But when you need to do it twice or three times, like I did today, sure, three times doesn't work, it's too much. Everything is too on the limit, this is the resolution."

Speaking to the Spanish media, Espargaro expressed his despair at the situation. Honda would benefit from having concessions like Aprilia, he said, as a lack of testing meant he had barely had time to adapt to the bike, and the bike was simply not competitive. "I would not be ashamed to have concessions and, to be honest, we need them right now, because we don't have test days," he said. "I have only done five days of testing this season, which is nothing, the bike is not at the level that all of us would like and next year we will have the same test days and we will continue to be in the same difficult situation where we are now."

Marc Márquez was less keen on getting concessions, given to manufacturers who are so uncompetitive that they can't score a single podium with any rider throughout an entire season. "I wish that we don’t have the concessions because that means we will have a podium and maybe a victory," Márquez said, though he acknowledged it would also have an upside. "Of course we are in a difficult moment and everything we can have for the future, some advantage, will be nice to us."

No podiums?

Márquez didn't believe Honda would get concessions, however. "I don’t think we will get the concessions, honestly speaking. I believe we will get a podium before we finish the year." With Sachsenring coming up next, a track where Márquez has dominated, taking pole and victory in every edition he has raced in since 2010, in 125s, in Moto2, and MotoGP. It is an anticlockwise circuit, a ribbon of left handers, his strongest suit, and a track that will not tax his recovering right shoulder too heavily. Ten poles and ten victories in ten consecutive editions suggests that Márquez should be in with a shout of a podium in Germany.

Even if he doesn't score a podium at the Sachsenring or at Assen, the season is only halfway done. With a five-week summer break coming up, Márquez will have time for his shoulder to recover further, and to build strength for the second half. A stronger, fitter Marc Márquez surely has a better chance of grabbing at least one podium from the nine or ten races which will follow the summer break.

Márquez' physical problems have exposed the glaring weakness of the Honda. It does one or perhaps two things particularly well, and almost everything else has been sacrificed to this end. The bike stops superbly and can turn in quickly, but it lacks rear grip almost entirely. And that places an even greater reliance on braking, creating a vicious circle for the Honda riders.

All on the front

"As the rear grip is not how we would like it, what you do is enhance the part with which you know that you are fast, which is with the front end," Pol Espargaro told Spanish media. "The more you lose accelerating or turning, the later you brake. So, it is normal that at the point with which you have the most advantage you try to get the time, because in the other way you cannot. So the more critical it becomes."

Honda, like KTM, have found themselves on the wrong side of the balance of the Michelin tires. This year, the rear is improved, giving better grip, while the front is slightly more critical. The pandemic put paid to Michelin's plans to bring a stronger front tire with more support, which would have favored the Hondas and KTMs and balanced out the better rear. With the regular calendar and testing canceled last year, and a limited test calendar for 2021, Michelin have had to push back the introduction of the new front.

KTM have adapted to this by bringing a new chassis which provides more rear grip, and switched to synthetic fuel which gives the KTM better combustion and a couple more ponies. Miguel Oliveira's podium at Mugello was the proof of the success of that strategy. Honda, meanwhile, are stuck with a lack of rear grip. Until they fix that, their season will continue to be long and difficult.

KTM look like playing a role on Sunday. The race will be a war of attrition, riders struggling to manage their tires over a surface which devours rubber like few others. Miguel Oliveira was fast in qualifying, but more importantly, his pace was impressive.

Pecco Bagnaia, struggling a little with grip and tire choice at Barcelona, flagged Oliveira as a rider to watch. "For me, I think that Fabio and Miguel are the two strongest," the factory Ducati rider said. "Miguel has an advantage in terms of grip, because they have a lot of grip like KTM, but the problem for them is the entry. So the battle will be balanced."

It will be a long race, with tire management being key, Bagnaia told us. "I think also, it's difficult to predict which one will be the best, because tomorrow will be very important to manage the tires from the start. You can't push as you want, because the rear tire is very difficult to manage. So for sure Fabio will start very strong and he will like to open a gap from the start, but it will be very important for the second part of the race to be more constant with the tires."

That left a lot of riders room for hope, Bagnaia among them. "I think that we are still there. In that moment, we can close this gap. But we don't have to lose so much time in the start." Tire choice will be key, finding the right balance between the grip of a softer tire which probably won't last, and a harder tire which won't provide the grip. For Bagnaia, he was caught between the medium and the hard on Saturday, but if the temperature drops as expected on Sunday, his issue merely migrates to leave him trapped between the medium and the soft.

Valentino Rossi, a past master of tire management, pointed out that though the second half of the race was important, that didn't mean that grid position and a good start didn't matter. Getting out of the gate well was crucial, even though the last few laps would matter.

"It’s true that the degradation here is a big issue for everybody and it will be very important to understand the right condition and the right choice, especially for the rear tire but also for the front," Rossi said. "But I think that anyway it will be a sprint race from the first lap, the first corner. The first two or three laps you already decide 85% of the MotoGP race. After, start another, longer phase where you have to decide the other 15%. I think that it will be like this also tomorrow. Everybody push a lot from the beginning."

Rossi was quietly upbeat, after a solid performance in FP3 which saw him go straight through to Q2, having found a real improvement. It had helped that he liked Barcelona, but the bike was better now too. "I like the circuit in Barcelona. I ride quite well. But we also improved the setting of the bike. I think that we did the mistake after Friday, we followed a wrong way," he said. That was no different to any other rider, but because of his past and his age, it received extra attention. "These are things that happen all the weekend to more or less all the riders. The problem is when happens to me, it’s 'Rossi’s too old. You have to stop,' after one bad practice. But it’s normal. You work, and we try it the wrong way. But I am very, very happy with the feeling that I have today because I was not so bad on the track and I enjoyed it."

Rossi's optimism is based on more than just hope. Examining the timesheets, the Italian was genuinely quicker, though he is still some way off a podium. His pace on used tires would put him in the battle for sixth or seventh, the group behind the riders battling over second place, while Fabio Quartararo disappears into the distance.

That group chasing second will likely include Miguel Oliveira, Franco Morbidelli, Pecco Jack Miller, Maverick Viñales, Pecco Bagnaia, and Aleix Espargaro. It will likely also include Joan Mir, potentially putting on a repeat of the 2020 race, with the champion using the Suzuki GSX-RR's uncanny ability to cosset its tires to maintain his pace to the end.

"I think we will make a race again from less to more," Joan Mir told us on Saturday. But that was not sufficient for the win, and not the way for the future. "I think we have to continue to improving. This is not the way to win races. Like this I will be able to finish on the podium, if I’m good in the race, if I’m able to manage well and make super good laps like always."

But the other bikes had moved on, and Suzuki had to start catching up, Mir insisted. "The truth is that we have to continue improving and pushing because the competitiveness this year is really high. A lot of manufacturers improved and we didn’t improve," the Suzuki rider said. "Our bike is really good. we have a good base. But I have the same bike as last year. It’s the same one. What means? I’ve been 2 tenths faster than last year in qualifying. I was eighth last year and with 2 tenths faster I’m tenth. So, this means we are not improving. We need always to push a bit more to have more material and test more things to improve."

A good result would go some way to getting Joan Mir's title defense back on track. But he needs more if he is to stop Fabio Quartararo. And stopping Quartararo looks like an impossible task at Barcelona.


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Sat, 2021-06-05 00:12
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Once upon a time, Barcelona was regarded as one of the great motorcycling tracks, all sweeping corners demanding the utmost concentration and skill. So much of a motorcycling track was it that a couple of sections had to be put into it to make it a better track for cars, and especially for F1. The grand sweep of La Caixa had a hairpin inserted, to give the cars somewhere to brake. And Turn 13 had a tight little chicane added on the inside, to slow the cars down before they got onto the straight. Four fat tires meant they were at risk of going through the final corner so fast that would be within spitting distance of the sound barrier by the end of the straight.

Then Luis Salom died when he crashed on the outside of Turn 13, hit by his bike as he slid into a wall along a section of hard standing which nobody thought needed gravel, something which turned out to be a misconception. Questions about safety were raised, and the F1 layout was adopted. A great motorcycle track ruined.

To their great and unending credit, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya did all they could to restore the track to its former glory. Turn 13 was reprofiled, more run off was created, a grandstand was moved back. That went half the way to fixing the track. Then earlier this year, the circuit altered Turn 10 to remove the F1 hairpin and restore something resembling the original layout of the sweeping corner at La Caixa. They cleverly found extra run off by the simple expedient of shortening the straight leading toward it, and moving Turn 10 closer to Turn 9.

Fast and faster

Friday was the first time the MotoGP riders got to ride the new layout on board a MotoGP machine. Plenty had done so on production bikes, but a stiff-as-a-board 300 hp Grand Prix prototype shod with MotoGP Michelins proved to be a slightly different affair, much to the embarrassment of Jack Miller.

The Australian had told Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna that the circuit had loads of grip. "Gigi, one of his big concerns was how the grip was of the track," Miller told us. "I feel like a t*** now because I was here the other week with the Panigale. It was fantastic. But riding a Panigale here and a GP bike are two different kettles of fish, the Panigale feels perfect here with heaps of grip. The GP bike definitely doesn’t."

The corner, however, is magnificent, was the universal consensus among the riders. "It feels natural. It feels like a proper motorcycle corner, or a proper racetrack corner with a run off area to go wide or to crash," said Pol Espargaro.

Classic Catalunya

Valentino Rossi agreed. "Turn 10 is a difficult corner, it's very technical," the Petronas Yamaha rider told us. "It's difficult to find the right line and to find the apex in the entry. But I like it. I prefer it compared to the Turn 10 of last year. Also because this Turn 10 is very similar to the classic Turn 10 of Catalunya circuit before."

Jack Miller felt very much the same. "T10 itself is fantastic," the Australian said. "Much better than the bus stop before. It follows a more natural layout of the track and is how every other corner is. It suits it rather than sticks out like dogs b***s. That’s definitely the biggest thing."

The one curiosity was that different riders had a very different view of the grip between the new of Turn 10 and the old asphalt that led into the new corner. "The grip is maybe a little bit more in that corner, because the tarmac is new," was Luca Marini's assessment. "So that corner is one of the best corners in this track for the grip."

Maverick Viñales saw it rather differently. "The grip in Turn 10, it's not that bad, it's just different," the Monster Energy Yamaha rider told us. "When you brake, and then you enter the new asphalt, it's a difference. But for me it's OK. It feels better. A little bit less grip. But I think by the weekend, it will be better."

The problem is the transition from one tarmac to another. That happens right in the middle of the braking zone for the new corner, which can cause confusion. "You start braking on the old asphalt, then change, and in my opinion, there is much more grip in that phase," explained Luca Marini. "In exit, it's all new. The next corner is all new, so the grip level is quite constant, but you brake, there is not so much grip, then you feel that the stopping power of the brake increases, but after some laps you adapt on this."

Pol Espargaro voiced the feeling, shared by every rider we spoke to, that the circuit had responded to the concerns raised previously. "The grip is not so high because Barcelona has never been a place with huge grip because the activity here all the year is a lot. But the transition of the grip is good. The kerbs are well made. Nothing to complain about. We asked for something. It’s not because I’m a pro circuit of Catalunya. It’s something that they did well and we should but we should accept and say when things are well made after we ask for it." Riders are free with their criticism when they feel a circuit is lacking. But they can be just as free with praise when a track does something right.

The reason for the confusion over whether the grip in Turn 10 was better and worse stemmed mainly from the fact that the grip was fairly terrible overall. Barcelona is remarkable for combining a lack of grip from the asphalt with a surface that is notoriously harsh on tire wear. Michelin have added to the confusion by bringing three rear tires which are all close enough in grip that they are all probably raceable.

As a result, we saw all three compounds given long runs, and riders fast on all three tires. Franco Morbidelli tried the hard rear and found it to his liking, clocking low 1'40s on a well-worn H rear. Fabio Quartararo concentrated on the medium rear, and was also posting low 1'40s on a used rear. Pecco Bagnaia put in respectable times on a used soft rear, while factory Ducati teammate Jack Miller put longish runs on both the medium and soft rears.

What all this means is that there is no consensus over which tire to race. "The pace was great, but the grip not so great," Fabio Quartararo quipped. He had run medium tires, but was taking a sly glance at the hard rears. "We saw riders using the hard tire, I think it's a great option for us, we saw in Portimão that it's really good," the Frenchman said.

Anybody's guess

Franco Morbidelli was one of the riders who had tried the hard rear, and liked it. "I found some benefits with the hard," the Petronas Yamaha rider said. "We need to think. I felt a bit better with the medium for sure. But there are some things I like about the hard. We need to choose. We are in doubt. And the fact that we are in doubt is positive." Being in doubt means having the ability to make choices.

Jack Miller had been through two different compounds, and was set to try the third in FP4, he explained. "My FP1 was all the same tires, 20 something laps. Then in FP2, I was trying to go with the soft. Was moving quite a lot. The grip was not bad. But it was moving so I wanted to do a back to back to check how was the M in the afternoon when the track was a bit cleaner. I did some more laps on that. I wasn’t expecting to do a time attack at the end but the team wanted it. We went for it. But yeah, the plan was always in FP4 to try the hard rear and put some laps on that and see how it behaves over some distance."

The reigning champion had tested all three tires on Friday, precisely because of the lack of grip. "I think everybody complains today about the grip," Joan Mir told us. "The grip level low and the tires drop quite a lot. That’s why the people try so many different options to find more consistency. That will be important. The tire degradation here in this track is huge. It will be really important the tire management of the end of race. That will be the key for sure."

Tire wear has played a critical role in previous races at the circuit. Andrea Dovizioso rode a masterful race in 2017, conserving his tires to take a convincing victory. Last year's race was marked not just by the way Fabio Quartararo managed the race at the front, but also by how close he came to losing the race as the Suzukis charged through the field, while the tire performance of others dropped and the GSX-RR's cossetting of its tires paid dividends at the end of the race. Another lap, and it would have been a Suzuki 1-2.

"It’s always like that here in Barcelona, ever since I’ve been coming here with MotoGP," Jack Miller explained. "It’s one of those things. If you’ve got nothing at the end of the race you can lose a lot of time real quick."

That was a lesson learned from personal experience, the Australian explained. "Going back to my first top ten in MotoGP was here. I remember I was just picking guys off at the end of the race. I caught up to Barbera, I think it was. And he had literally no right hand side of his tire left whatsoever. He couldn’t tip in on a right hand corner. It’s definitely always been a key here."

There was a simple explanation, according to Miller. "It’s because there are so many long corners here, turn 3, turn 4, even going up turn 7 up the hill and then 9. And then the 3 last corners. You’re on that right hand side of the tire and they are all high spin areas. You definitely have to be gentle with your right hand because it can come to bite you in the *** quite severely at the end of the race. You drop off really quick."

Honda's lost playground

Low grip is usually a happy hunting ground for Marc Márquez and the Honda RC213V, but that was not necessarily the case any longer, the Spaniard insisted. "It's true that normally when the grip was very low, we were fast," Márquez told us. "But the problem is that the other manufacturers have improved."

Yamaha, for example, were able to find grip where others struggled, Márquez said. "Especially in Sector 2, for example, that there you need grip if you want to be fast. The fastest guys are Yamaha riders, but not a little bit, they are like three tenths, four tenths faster than everybody. So that means that sometimes here the torque and the power is not the most important, the most important is how to get the grip, and we are struggling."

That was why he had tried the soft rear tire, the Repsol Honda rider explained. "I tried the soft tire to try to understand if it's a real option for the race, and it's an option. But still I don't' know which tire I will use." He would most probably let the rest of the grid make his choice for him, he admitted. "Honestly speaking, maybe I will keep going with the soft and the medium, both tires – maybe I will try the hard like Morbidelli – but then on Sunday, I will check the list of the tires, and if there are more mediums on the track, I will choose the medium. If there are more softs, I will choose the soft. So for me, I'm not really with the sensitivity enough to decide which tire is better."

Friday was also the first day for Maverick Viñales working with new crew chief Silvano Galbusera. That was a positive experience, he said, but it also left them with more work to do than usual. "Well, actually we tried a different balance on the bike," Viñales told us. "Basically the objective was to find front feeling, and we accomplished this today, so I'm quite happy about that. But anyway, now we have other problems, this is clear. We solve one problem at a time."

Viñales had been surprised at Galbusera's way of working, he said. "Today we tried many different bikes during FP1 and FP2. It's something that I'm not used to doing, but it's not bad. I'm quite happy, honestly. I'm quite happy because we found very positive things, for sure a few negatives, but we can work on that a little bit more tomorrow, and see if we can make an improvement. It's important to look now ahead, and to the future. So we are trying to work hard."

He didn't want to get ahead of himself, however. "Basically we need to match step by step," Viñales told us. "We cannot try too much, if we go too fast, it's not good. We need to go slowly, building the confidence. I felt good."

It wasn't the first time working with Galbusera, Viñales said. "I worked a little bit with Silvano in the test in Qatar, and I think that he's a smart guy, he has a lot of experience, also with Vale which he has been on a high level for the last years. He can help me in a few things, and for sure, every rider is different, but he will understand me. Because today, honestly I've been quite calm during the day, I understand right now our job, and it feels very nice, honestly."

 


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Wed, 2021-06-02 08:45
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Not going to the world's most beautiful racetrack this year really hurt


The champ, in fine style


Fabio Quartararo taking a very keen interest in his motorcycle


Marc Marquez' weekend in a nutshell. Still not strong enough to manage the risk he used to be able to, he ran wide and crashed a lot


Takaaki Nakagami drives the front wheel of his Honda RC213V into the asphalt, to get the bike to turn fast


The longest minute


Jason Dupasquier was in everyone's thoughts on Sunday


Brad Binder had a very solid weekend, finishing fifth despite being slammed into by Marc Marquez in the early laps


Spot the holeshot device


Another miserable weekend for Maverick Viñales, ruined on Saturday morning when he couldn't get through to Q2, and ended up starting from 13th


If you pay a rider enough money, they will wear a silly helmet to promote your film


The Aprilia RS-GP is looking more and more like a complete motorcycle. But Aleix Espargaro's decision to have arm pump surgery just before Mugello probably came too late


The 1990s called. They want their wraparound shades back


The podium meant a lot to Miguel Oliveira. It has been a tough start for KTM, but a new frame and new fuel made a difference


Tog Life


Franco Morbidelli ran out of luck at the start of the race, getting pushed off track by the Marquez/Binder incident and never really recovering


Jack Miller gets it all a little bit sideways on the brakes


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Tue, 2021-06-01 02:26
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It is hard to sit down after a MotoGP weekend to write about the racing after a young rider has lost their lives. I have had to do it four times now, and it doesn't get any easier. It merely raises the uncomfortable questions we all know surround motorcycle racing: how do you enjoy a sport which is fundamentally dangerous? A sport in which a mistake risks not just injury, but death?

I have no ready answer to this question. It remains as uncomfortable now as it did the first time I had to address it, after Shoya Tomizawa's tragic accident at Misano in 2010. I feel just as ambiguous about it now as I did eleven years ago. It remains as clear as mud.

If anything, the manner of Jason Dupasquier's passing made the situation even more complicated. The Swiss rider fell right at the end of the Q2 session for Moto3, and was struck by following riders. The minimum combined weight for rider and bike for Moto3 is 152kg. The physics of speed differential and minimum weight meant Dupasquier sustained massive injuries in the incident.

The FIM medical team stabilized Dupasquier, before evacuating him to the Careggi University Hospital for further treatment. That proved fruitless; in a statement issued on Dupasquier's Instagram page, the family announced that the young Swiss rider was declared brain dead in the early hours of Sunday morning, and that the doctors waited to switch off life support until the family had gathered to say their farewells on Sunday evening.

News

The news that Dupasquier had died was broken to the world shortly after noon on Sunday, just as the Moto2 riders were making their way to the grid. Moto2 started with none of them aware of Dupasquier's death, the riders only being told when they returned to the pits after the race. A minute's silence was held 15 minutes before the start of the MotoGP race, and then the MotoGP race went ahead as scheduled.

Should MotoGP have raced on Sunday at Mugello? For that matter, should Moto2 have raced? There are no easy answers to these questions. On the one hand, it would be good for the riders to have some time to digest the shock of what happened to Dupasquier; on the other, nothing they do will change the fact that Dupasquier has died, the situation remains the same whether they race or not. Would Dupasquier have wanted the show to go on? Would his family? Should his family have been asked?

These are all difficult questions, and the range of opinions was just as wide among the riders as they were among the fans. They went from "we shouldn't be racing", to "it makes no difference", all the way to "it's what Jason would have wanted".

No go

Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci were the most fervent opponents of racing. Competing in the race had left Petrucci with a very bad taste in his mouth. "First of all today was a really, really difficult race," the Tech3 KTM rider said. "But not for the sporting side. On the human side I don’t feel really, really clean. I just think that we are racing on the same track that almost 24 hours ago someone like us died. For me it’s not a great thing. We are not in the position to say we can stop for a day, at least. I was always feeling a little bit dirty thinking about a person like you, a rider like me is not any more with us."

Petrucci couldn't help but feel that things might have been different if it had been a MotoGP rider who had died, rather than a Moto3 rider. "We understood the situation was very, very heavy since yesterday. It was clear nobody wants to tell the truth. But we understood the situation. In this case I always think if it happens with a MotoGP rider, if we’d continue doing like this? I mean, it’s a different life because it’s a Moto3 rider or let’s say, he’s more or less important? I don’t think so."

Sunday had been hard, but Saturday had been harder. "Yesterday we had the suit on when we saw these images. The helicopter left track and in three minutes we put the suit and we went out like nobody crash, like nobody knows, nothing happened."

"You see a body on the track, you got the same suit and after 3 minutes the pitlane opens and you pass the point where a rider is dead," Petrucci confessed. "I mean, we talk a lot about safety, about everything, but we passed there after 3 minutes. There was even the flag with red and yellow stripes because maybe there were things they need to use to recover the body. We pass through them like always. It’s difficult to understand when you have the suit on and put the bike and go at 350 km/h thinking that next time (will it be me?) Today was his time. Why cannot it be mine one day? Having just a moment for thinking was better."

No appetite for racing

If Danilo Petrucci had managed to race despite not wanting to, Pecco Bagnaia had not handled the situation nearly as well. He lined up, despite not wanting to race. "After the news I said to my team, to Davide [Tardozzi] that I was preferring to not race today," the factory Ducati rider told us. But he knew he had no option. "This is our work. We have to do it. In conditions like this it’s really difficult I think."

The whole affair had cast Bagnaia back to Barcelona in 2016, when Luis Salom had been killed during practice after crashing and hitting a barrier during Friday practice. Those memories had hit hard, he said. "Already in 2016 when we lose Luis I was in the same situation. Before the race we did 1 minute of silence and I was in the same situation. Today it was very difficult during the minute of silence to not let the tears come down so it was very difficult today."

Standing for the minute's silence, 15 minutes before lining up for the race, had been too much for Bagnaia. He had tried to compartmentalize, to close his mind to the tragedy and just concentrate on racing, but had found it impossible.

"If yesterday was already difficult, today was impossible," Bagnaia said. "I’ve seen the news of Jason during the final part of the Moto3 race, before the start of Moto2. From then I started thinking just about the race. But it was impossible. I was close to being concentrated but then during the 1 minute of silence… Nothing. It was impossible to be concentrated."

He paid the price, crashing out of the lead on the second lap, his concentration lapsing at the Arrabbiatas, a section of the track that was especially tricky thanks to the wind blowing there. But the crash hadn't mattered for Bagnaia. "In any case to finish first or last today, it wouldn’t change anything," Bagnaia said. "It’s been one of the worst days of my life. I didn’t enjoy anything today."

He reiterated that he felt it was wrong to race. "For me, I have asked to not race today. It was not correct for me. If it happened to a MotoGP rider we wouldn’t race. I’m not happy about today, about the decision of someone to let us race after news like this. It doesn’t matter if I crashed. I’m just thinking of him, his family. We have lost a 19-year old rider. This is a very difficult to accept and difficult to accept the decision to let us race today."

The show must (probably) go on

Would the race have been canceled if it had been a MotoGP rider who had died? It's hard to say. There haven't been any comparable situations for a very long time. When Marco Simoncelli died in Sepang in 2011, he was killed at the start of the race, in a crash which brought out a red flag. When Daijiro Kato crashed in Suzuka 2003, the race continued, as Kato hit a barrier and was moved from the track.

Similarly, the two incidents with Moto2 riders were very different. When Luis Salom was killed in Barcelona, all activity was stopped on the same day, and the riders discussed in the medical center how to make the track safe before continuing. Practice resumed the next day, but with a revised layout.

And when Shoya Tomizawa crashed during the Moto2 race at Misano in 2010, and was struck by a following rider – an incident very similar to Dupasquier's crash – the Moto2 race continued as Tomizawa was removed from the gravel and taken to the medical center, then the hospital. And the MotoGP race started as normal, Tomizawa only being pronounced dead at 14:20, halfway through the race, the riders only told as they came into Parc Fermé by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta.

Let us race

By contrast to Petrucci and Bagnaia, Jack Miller was adamant that the racing definitely should go ahead. "For me I felt like racing," the factory Ducati rider told us. "Jason was a racer at heart. I’m sure he’d have wanted the race to go on. It’s the one thing we love to do and it’s the one thing we’re good at. We have tragedies. We all know motorcycle racing is dangerous. You try not to believe it, or think about what can happen."

What made it more poignant for Miller was that he saw a lot of himself in Dupasquier. "I see a lot of similarities in myself and Jason. Finding your feet and just starting to get going. I think he had a really bright future ahead of him. It’s a ****ing tragedy."

Not that there was anything that could be done to change the situation. "But we can’t do so much for that. I speak for myself: When I get on the bike I try not to think too much, I just think about what my bike is doing, what I am doing and where I need to go. For sure, after, it hits home."

Miller was also happy there had been a minute of silence. "Also in the lead up, you don’t feel good. I want to celebrate with Remy or whatever but it’s impossible when you read this news five minutes before the start of Moto2. My instant thing was to go directly to [IRTA boss] Mike Trimby first of all when when they were on the grid for Moto2. He said there’ll be a minute of silence. I said perfect. Carlos [Ezpeleta] came to me and asked when we’d like to do the minute of silence. I said as soon as possible. It meant a lot. For the fans, for the team. It was emotional. I had some tears in my eyes sitting there, looking at the bike."

For Miller, the greater sin was the repeated showing of the crash on TV. "I don’t agree with what was happening last night. We had a dinner, we had SKY TV on in the hospitality. And I made everybody unplug all the TVs. At the end of the day I think I saw 10 ****ing replays of the crash. I think this is unacceptable. More than anything. You don’t know the situation, you don’t know what is happening. We were hoping and praying all of last night. And for them to just keep playing this **** shouldn’t happen. That they have access to, that footage shouldn’t be there. But that’s the world we live in at the moment. It’s all about media and getting views. It is what it is."

But for the vast majority of riders, they raced because the past could not be undone. Whether they raced or not, Jason Dupasquier lay dead, after sustaining massive injuries in a crash. Canceling the race would not change that, nor would going ahead as normal.

It makes no difference

"Today was very difficult because after what happened to Jason yesterday the question is why we race," Valentino Rossi reflected. "Everything loses sense. I think anyway it doesn’t have sense to not race because unfortunately, what we do today doesn’t change what happened to Jason yesterday. It was very bad. It was very tough."

Rossi has the most experience of the grid, including experience of death. He was racing when Daijiro Kato died at Suzuka in 2003, when Shoya Tomizawa died at Misano in 2010, when Marco Simoncelli was killed at Sepang in 2011, when Luis Salom died at Barcelona in 2016, when Peter Lenz died in a support race in Indianapolis in 2010. Only Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaro, and Johann Zarco were racing at the events where riders were killed in the previous decade. The rest of the grid have had less exposure to death.

Aleix Espargaro saw things from a similar perspective. "Nothing changes," he said, when asked if he would have liked to have been asked whether he wanted to race or not. "If I say yes or no it would be the same." Like brother Pol, Aleix Espargaro wears his heart on his sleeve. "I was very sad sincerely. There are other riders that are maybe affected less by these things, which is not to say they are not good humans as I feel I am, I'm not saying this. But other ones can forget this better and for me, maybe because I'm a father and have a brother racing here, I don’t know but sincerely for me every time this happens it's very difficult for me."

But when the lights went out, they had no choice but to focus on racing. "Again, I don’t know from where we found the strength to forget and as soon as the red lights go to green your brain goes into race mode and you completely forget for the next 40 minutes," Espargaro said.

Perspective

Franco Morbidelli had some sympathy for those who didn't want to race, but he saw things the same way that Rossi and Espargaro did. "I can understand why some riders don’t want to race," he said. "It's a feeling that every rider has for sure on the grid and it's a feeling you have to fight against when you actually have to race. Because finally not racing doesn't change anything."

The only consolation of racing was to entertain, to show the positive side of the sport after such a brutal reminder of the negative side, Morbidelli said. "At least you can put on some show for the people at home and make them enjoy their Sunday or make their Sunday a little bit more sweet, with showing them the good and the bad parts of our wonderful sport."

The podium men were also in the same camp, but after patiently answering question after question about racing after Dupasquier's death, they eventually grew tired. "First of all, I don't want to answer anymore about Jason because I think everyone said what is our emotion," winner Fabio Quartararo eventually said. "It’s our job. We know the difficult moments that can happen. It happens a few times in a long time, so I think that unfortunately sad to say, but it’s our job. We go at 350 km/h, so it’s not normal. I think it’s like this. I will not answer any more questions about Jason because he will not come back, so that’s it for me."

Why talk?

It is hard not to think about Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, the highest ranked women's tennis player in the world. Osaka withdrew from the French Open after announcing she would not do any press conferences because of the strain they placed on her mental health, and then being fined for being true to her word. By withdrawing, and foregoing the chance to earn €1.4 million by winning the tournament, or €750,000 for making it to the final, Osaka was willing to put her money where her mouth is.

As Jonathan Liew, writing in The Guardian, points out, the role of press conferences is vastly overrated. "All over the world, the free press is already under unprecedented assault from authoritarian governments, tech giants and online disinformation. In many countries journalists are literally being killed for doing their job. Meanwhile in Paris, tennis journalists are facing the prospect of having to construct an article entirely from their own words."

This has made me reconsider my initial reaction when we learned that Honda riders would not be speaking to the media after the race. At the time, it seemed like a cop out, a way of avoiding the media after a dismal race. In reality, there is little any rider could say to change the fact that a young man died in a crash.

The riders climbed off their bikes in a state of emotional turmoil, for the most part, after having gone through intense sadness during the minute of silence, then jumping on their bikes to risk their lives racing, all heading into San Donato trying to occupy the same piece of asphalt. Exactly the kind of situation in which a fall is likely, and in which if a rider falls, they are most at risk of being hit by another rider, and suffering a similar fate to Jason Dupasquier. Their mental health certainly wasn't served by speaking to the press, and I'm not sure our mental health, that of those of us in the media, was served very well either.

Age and culture

A few more thoughts on this. Firstly, there are generational and cultural factors at play. It is undeniably true that society has grown less tolerant of risk and danger in the past few decades. In the 1960s, riders would die in practice and their place on the starting grid would be taken by a funeral wreath, while the riders around them prepared to race. Officials had a nonchalant view of safety, an afterthought for a sport which they saw as fundamentally dangerous.

That has changed over the years. We no longer race at street circuits, and the tracks where we do race are subject to ever higher safety standards, riders having a very direct input into changes that need to be made to at circuits. Grand Prix racing no longer loses a few riders a year, the pace having slowed to one death every few years. So as new generations of riders come into the sport, their attitudes to the dangers changes. Incidents are no longer swept under the rug; riders are vocal about their need to take time to deal with tragedy when it strikes.

As for TV broadcasters showing repeats of a crash, that differs enormously by national and regional culture. Spanish and Italian TV is a lot less squeamish about showing lurid images of death and destruction than Northern European and Anglo-Saxon broadcasters. It is understandable that Jack Miller should be upset that Italian TV is showing endless repeats of Dupasquier's crash. But for Italians who have grown up with this kind of coverage, it is entirely unremarkable.

Priorities

Perhaps the hardest thing of Dupasquier's death is that it is a rude reminder of the real-world consequences of motorcycle racing. As much as we like to pretend that sports really matter – Liverpool manager Bill Shankly's misinterpreted quote about football not being a matter of life and death, but far more important than that is often cited – but in the end, it is just entertainment. The world doesn't change if one rider wins rather than another. Dupasquier's death is reality intruding on the fiction that any of this matters very much.

Whether we like it or not, or agree or not, a race happened on Sunday. After spending over 3000 words on death – a consequence, perhaps, of how large death has loomed in my own life, with my father dying at the beginning of the year – a few thoughts on the MotoGP race at Mugello.

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Sat, 2021-05-29 00:29
Body:

The only thing missing was the crowds. It was good to be back at Mugello, the most glorious jewel in the MotoGP calendar. Like all jewels, Mugello comes with sharp edges that need handling with care, and it took rookies and regulars alike some time to get used to the sheer speed at which they blasted down the straight.

Brad Binder had been impressed. "This morning was my first time ever at Mugello on the GP bike so it took me a while to find my feet and figure out where to go because it’s a bit different to how I remember it in Moto2; the straight is quite a bit quicker!" the South African said, with a fine sense for understatement. "Turn 1 is a lot more on the limit to find a good marker."

Contrary to expectations, Johann Zarco's top speed record of 362.4 km/h set at Qatar was not broken, the Frenchman's temporary Pramac teammate Michele Pirro managing a paltry 357.6 km/h in FP2. It may not have been faster than the top speed at Qatar, but it certainly feels a lot faster.

"At the first corner, when we arrive at 350 km/h in Qatar, I would say it's not normal, but it's fast," Fabio Quartararo explained. "If you compare to Mugello, when you arrive at the first corner, it looks like you are 450 km/h. Everything is going so fast, you see the wall on the left is so fast."

That takes some getting used to, even for seasoned veterans. "I was just saying this to [Enea] Bastianini," Jack Miller told us, when asked about Quartararo's comments. "I know from my experience when I started in MotoGP is that you don’t really understand how fast 350 km/h is until you get to Mugello and you’ve actually got to do something at 350 km/h instead of going in a straight line. It's then that you really understand the speed. For sure I think it gives you a real sense of how fast you are actually going. You get a bit more of an appreciation for it."

So mind-bending is the experience of hammering over the crest and getting ready to brake at 350 km/h that it takes a couple of laps to both wrap your head around it, and pluck up the courage to approach it at full pelt, Miller explained. "I **** myself on the first lap today and rolled -off before the hill like a chicken!" the Australian joked. "I know from past experience where you can brake and how deep you can get and I was going up towards it and I thought ‘are you going to keep at it?!’ and then ‘nah! You’re not…!’ I just sat out of it on this first lap."

Veteran journalist Mat Oxley asked Johann Zarco to explain in detail what he had to do to hustle a bike through the busy section which is the approach to Turn 1, San Donato. The topology of that part of the track makes the rider work hard, with a kink in the straight as it passes the pits, and then the crest just before the braking marker for the first corner.

Downforce helps

That crest causes the bikes to go light as the cross it, but it is not the kind of leap you might expect, Zarco explained. "The thing is, on the jump at the top of the straight it's the rear wheel which is coming up, not the front," the Pramac Ducati rider told us. "Because with all the aerodynamics, the front is staying stable, but then the rear is spinning a little bit."

The way to calm the bike down was to lean it over, Zarco said. "Normally you try to lean the bike in that area, which is the way to keep it kind of stable, but I've been quite surprised today that it was really under control and in all the brake area, the bike is slowing down pretty well." The aerodynamics packages on modern MotoGP bikes actually made the end of the main straight safer. "So that's important that, as I said yesterday, we can go fast, but in the same way, we can also slow down the bike very well with all the aerodynamics stuff on the fairing."

Top speed record holder Zarco did not expect to beat his own record from Qatar, however. "I think to beat the top speed here is maybe a bit complicated because of this jump. Maybe we have this kind of limit now, and we have a bit less run off area at the end of Turn 1, and, maybe I'm wrong, but for this reason also we cannot do 370 km/h. It's too much."

Flat out

Done properly, the kink at the end of the straight and the approach to San Donato is taken flat out, without backing off, though as Jack Miller admitted, it usually takes a lap or two to pluck up the courage to go at it without backing off.

"The change of direction you can keep full throttle," Johann Zarco told us, though the additional speed of a slipstream needed to be handled with care. "It's just if you follow somebody it's better to play with the throttle to not have too much speed, but it's better to lean the bike, and keep full gas but leaning the bike."

Leaning the bike to slow it down may seem strange, until you consider the physics of it. At 350+ km/h, the wheels are rotating at incredible speed, the tires expanding to their maximum circumference. But as you lean, you come off the center of the tire and towards the edge of the tire, you reduce the circumference of the tire which is in contact with the road. That is equivalent to slightly reducing the gearing of the bike, scrubbing off speed while the engine continues at the same revs.

"It depends on the feeling of the rider, but I prefer not to use any brake, but just play with the lean of the bike," Zarco explained. "Because I think if I brake, it's difficult to feel, but you will lose a bit of time, so better to play with the lean angle."

It is a gloriously subtle way of controlling speed, and remarkably effective at the same time. But it is not without limitations, of course; the number of places on the planet where a rider will find themselves in the position to reduce their speed from 355 km/h to 349 km/h by adding a couple of degrees of lean is rather limited. It is a testament to how deeply MotoGP racers understand every aspect of riding a motorcycle that they have this in their arsenal.

A rash of novelties made their debut at Mugello on Friday. The one that made its way to the top of the timesheets was Suzuki's electronics package. Alex Rins may have finished second behind Pecco Bagnaia in FP2, but it was Rins' name which was on the lips of his rivals when asked who they thought was quick. The new package was a step forward, the Suzuki Ecstar rider said, helping top speed and reducing wheelie.

"We improve a bit the electronics side. It's working good," Rins told us. It was better everywhere, but the anti-wheelie improvements were most pronounced. "On the wheelie side, going into the last corner, I'm quite happy, because the last two years we were losing a lot there. And now it looks like I'm trying to do something to not make the wheelie."

Less wheelie going onto the straight meant more speed at the end of it, Rins explained. "It's true that with this electronics package which Suzuki has brought, we have a bit more speed on corner exit on the straight, a bit everywhere in general."

KTM had also found more speed, as witnessed by the fact that the two factory riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira had finished the day in fifth and sixth respectively. The speed had come from two areas: a new chassis which gave better drive out of corners, and a new fuel partnership which improved combustion.

"Surprisingly we are taking a bigger step forward than we thought," Oliveira told us. "We started to use a frame that we tested in Jerez and it looks like it works well here and also the fuel the team is using now gives us a bit more top speed."

Drive grip had been the focus, the Portuguese rider explained. "We focused a bit more on corner exit to try and get a bit more stability and more load into the ground. The whole team and back at the factory the engineers tried to give us a bit of help in that way and they brought us a good solution that we tested in Jerez hut we could to use in Le Mans because of the uncertain weather. Here was the first real ‘test’ where we could back-check both frames and this was the main focus."

The new frame had helped with feeling at the front end as well, Brad Binder said. "So far I think the new frame gives a bit better feeling from the front, which is always going to help you especially when things are getting difficult. With this frame I have the idea that it gives you enough feeling to know which direction you need to work. That’s one positive point. In general we just need to explore it because it’s new."

On Friday, the two factory KTM riders had used one new frame and one old frame to compare the performance of the two. But so happy were both Oliveira and Binder that they intended to switch to the new chassis from Saturday on. "The plan is to continue to work on the same frame because when we have two different specs it becomes difficult to work with two bikes," Oliveira said. "I think I could have been fast on both but in the long-term I think the new frame is helping us to get around the track a bit easy, more calm and be more effective."

Locking the front

One update which did not make an impact on the timesheet but was more than welcome nonetheless was the debut of Yamaha's front holeshot device. Up until now, the Yamaha riders had only been able to lock down the rear of the bike for the start, which helped with the launch, but was not as effective as Ducati, KTM, Honda, and Aprilia, all of whom lower the bike both front and rear for the start.

On Friday at Mugello, however, all four Yamaha riders got a chance to work with thew new holeshot device. "I'm so happy, really happy, because from Qatar 1, every time I made a great result or pole position or something, I pushed the Japanese engineers, this is the most important, this is the most important," enthused Fabio Quartararo. "Now we have no more excuses. Of course we need to develop it a little bit more, because it's our first test, but we are already seeing big improvements. So I'm super happy, and I think that we can make even better things."

Despite his happiness at it appearing on his Yamaha M1, Quartararo understood all too well that there was still work to do. "I saw it for the first time yesterday, and it feels different," the Frenchman said. "I need to get used to it, because we need to change a little bit the way of doing the start. But you feel lower, of course, because the bike is going lower. But it feels strange. Because it looks like you are on a small bike, but I feel like we can make an even bigger step tomorrow."

His Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales, who arguably needs the new holeshot device more, given his notoriously poor starts, was equally happy, though he was wary of getting too excited ahead of the race. "Basically, we will see on Sunday, but when you are alone, you can see that it is much better. It makes a big step."

The next step was to see how the new device performed on the grid, how it would stand up to the other bikes all equipped with front and rear holeshot devices. "We need to see it on Sunday with all the devices and all the stuff," Viñales said, "but straight away, it's faster. Especially the second part of acceleration, it makes such a big difference. So we'll see. Honestly I don't have much to say. We need to believe in that, and see if Sunday, I can arrive first. This is the plan. This is the basic plan."

If there were three Yamahas who were quick – Viñales, Quartararo, and Franco Morbidelli all finished in the top eight overall – there was one who was not. Valentino Rossi ended the day in 21st overall, a miserable result at a track where he has won nine times across all three classes, and took seven victories in a row from 2002 to 2008.

Rossi had the aspect of a man who wished he was elsewhere in his media debrief, as he explained his ongoing woes. "I don’t have a very good feeling with the bike because I am in trouble in braking, to stop the bike, and I’m slow in the change of direction, which here is very important. We need to work and we have to try to improve the speed of today," the Petronas Yamaha rider said.

"Especially here, the braking for Turn 1 is always very critical," Rossi continued. "But for me it is difficult to stop the bike, especially in the first part of the braking. I suffer so we need to work on the balance of the bike and also the engine brake."

Mugello is the first of a run of three of Rossi's favorite tracks in four races, with Barcelona and Assen to follow, and a less favored Sachsenring sandwiched in between. Mugello, Barcelona, and Assen will be crucial in Rossi's decision making when he considers whether to continue or retire over the summer break. He will need to make a big step with the bike if he is to swing the decision away from retirement.

A weight on his shoulder

Rossi's arch nemesis Marc Márquez may also need to take some time out from racing, though the Repsol Honda rider almost certainly has several more years ahead of him. Márquez' right shoulder is causing him considerably more grief than he expected, while the right humerus is continuing to heal well.

Márquez had ridden a Honda CBR600RR at a small track near his home, to try to work on his position on the bike, in an attempt to find a riding position that would give him control of a motorcycle again. That test proved fruitless, as did the first day of practice at Mugello. Márquez finished the day thirteenth overall, eight tenths behind Pecco Bagnaia, and with no pace to speak of.

"It’s true the shoulder is more stable this last month and it’s where I have the biggest limitation, but apart from that, for example, today, straight away I realized in this circuit I have a big limitation," Márquez said. "After FP1 I wanted to check compared to 2019 just to understand where I am losing more – it’s the three big changes of direction where I’m losing 0.2 compared to 2019. The rest of the corners I feel not bad."

He and his team had been turning the Repsol Honda upside down in pursuit of a riding position and setting that would allow him to ride with some comfort, at least. "I was working a lot in Portimão and Jerez, trying to adapt the bike a lot to my new riding style and new positions. Trying to have different set ups. Trying different positions on the bike."

It had all been to no avail, however. "But the point was when I tried a different position on the bike, I was not able to do it. So that means there is something there that especially in the right corners is where I’m struggling more. In the left corners I feel like always."

He and his team were no longer thinking about Márquez' arm, but only about how to adapt the bike to accommodate the pain in his shoulder. "Now we arrive in a point where we forget, we don’t speak about the arm. We just speak about the bike. Try this. Try the other thing. The position of bike is this. It takes time. If not we will lose the way, we will lose everything. Just do what I can in riding. Be patient and do what we can in riding."

Márquez felt that riding was important, to maintain his confidence and build his feeling. "We know the riding is good for me now. I’m not at my level, of course. I cannot ride on my level. But It’s good because I don’t lose the speed and I don’t lose the competition. But I know that I’m losing some performance. The way to ride in this way is because we believe this will be better in the future."

He told the Spanish media that the was treating this weekend like a test. He was painfully aware of his limitations, and that whether he scored 5 points or 10 points this weekend was unlikely to matter at the end of the year. "In HRC, if we finish third, fifth, sixth, or tenth in the championship, if we don't win, it's a bad year," Márquez said. "And this is a year of transition, where I have to know where I am coming from and where I am. For example, in Le Mans, the weather made me forget all of this and I crashed. That's something we have to avoid."

The weather forecast, at least, is looking better. Rain is something Márquez, nor any of the rest need fear for Sunday. But Márquez will have to learn to deal with poor results for the coming races. It will be a while before the old Marc Márquez returns.

 


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Tue, 2021-05-18 02:44
Body:

It was inevitable really. The weather over the first two days of the Le Mans Grand Prix had been chaotic, so why would Sunday be any different? The skies were predictably unpredictable, the weather managing to provide different conditions for all three Grand Prix classes, in itself quite an achievement. We kicked the day off with a wet Moto3 race, the rain stopping early on to allow the Moto2 race to be dry. And to round things off, MotoGP started dry, then the drops of rain that started falling on lap 3 turned into a downpour on lap 4, triggering the first flag-to-flag race in MotoGP since Brno in 2017.

Chaos was unleashed, and a new Prince of Chaos crowned, the former prince brutally dethroned, betrayed by the conditions, and by the lack of strength in his right arm. Such is chaos, and such is the way of a flag-to-flag race. It was fascinating and terrifying to watch, and like all flag-to-flag races, immediately raised a host of questions over rules and safety. And reminded us once again that leads are meaningless early in the race. It's about the full 27 laps.

So in these subscriber notes, where the race was won and lost, and what that means for the future, if anything. The real and lasting effects for the championship. How this might play into the upcoming contracts in MotoGP. And the role penalties did and didn't play in determining the result.

But first, the sequence of events which led to Jack Miller's second straight victory, and how and why he won.

By the numbers

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