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Thu, 2020-05-21 09:35
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Loris Baz at Philllip Island in 2020

A race team is forged on the principle of working together to find solutions. No-one can work i isolation and even though once the lights go out and a rider is out there alone the result will come on the basis of the days building up to that point. Motorcycle is a team sport. It’s the ultimate team sport. We delve into Ten Kate’s garage to see how they all work towards the ultimate goal.

How many times in all walks of life has it been said communication is key? In almost every task undertaken, having a clear plan of attack is the basis of getting the job done well. From childhood to adulthood the tasks change but the process stays the same. A checklist is key to ensuring any job is done correctly and for a race team the goal is to minimise mistakes and maximise efficiency.

When Ten Kate Racing made their decision to return to WorldSBK with Yamaha in 2019, the goal was to make the team as lean and efficient as possible. If something didn’t help the team to perform at their best on the track, it was deemed non-essential. The team returned to their family roots of a streamlined squad of engineers and mechanics, as well as a top line rider. Loris Baz was tasked with leading the squad on track, but the team around him was now smaller and more focused. Communication and working together would be the key to returning Ten Kate to the top.

The journey started twelve months ago with tests at Assen and Misano. In an old school approach that mimicked their phoenix from the flames story, the team used track days at Assen to shake-down their new bike and get the project started. Soon they were involved in a group test for WorldSBK at Misano, and in June they returned to the track at the Jerez round of the championship.

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of those early days testing but for Baz the goal was clear; learn how to work with the team and his new crew chief Mick Shanley. For the engineer the task was also clear; learn what Baz needs from a bike.

“In the beginning of working with a new crew chief, it’s very important that he understands what I want from a bike,” said Baz. “Those first tests with Mick, and the Jerez and Misano race weekends last year, were so important and he asked a lot of questions about what I like from a bike. I need a lot of support from the front of the bike because I brake very hard and deep into the corner. Once he found the setting that allowed me to do that, it was easier. Now, even if we are having a problem, he’ll know how to fix it because of the information from those tests.”

For Shanley the goal is to understand as much as possible as quickly as possible. Those early tests and meeting with his rider are crucial in setting the framework for what’s needed.

“Sometimes I’ll point questions about the bike so that I can understand the problem for a rider,” explains Shanley. “Once I have that in my mind I’ll make the changes that should get the best compromise for the next exit, to see if it’s working in the right direction. I want a rider to talk about the problems they’re having and then let the team find a solution. I think that it’s very important that everyone knows their jobs to do. All I want from a rider is for them to give me problems.

“The more problems he has the more things that can be sorted out. It’s important to keep the problems clear. A rider needs to focus on their side of the job and allow us to focus on our side. It’s very easy to get caught out and head in the wrong direction with the bike. That’s why I always tell rider’s the key is to focus on being able to give the team the problems and we’ll find solutions. The rider has enough to focus on with his riding in my opinion.”

Loris Baz Tests the Ten Kate Yamaha WorldSBK machine in 2020

Setting the tone

As with so much of life, success doesn’t come by accident, it comes from being prepared. For a race team that means spending as much time as possible turning over every stone possible. The lockdown has forced to teams to spend more time than ever preparing. Like everyone else, a race team has a series of jobs that have been put on the long finger, jobs they’ve been avoiding because there were bigger gains to be made elsewhere.

Now, with five months between Round 1 and the next scheduled race, teams have plenty of time to find as many marginal gains as possible. With those jobs now being worked on, teams are now as prepared as possible for when racing resumes. In normal circumstances the gap between race meetings, traditionally a week, gives a crew the chance to fully prepare for the next race.

That takes the form of a post round debrief, but also beginning preparation for the next.

“Even before we leave for the race we’ll be working on what to expect,” comments Shanley. “We’ll do a lot of work before we get to the track. I’ll speak with Loris about some of the races from previous years at that track, and we’ll also talk about his memories of racing there. It’s good to know a rider’s feelings about a track. We’ll talk about the development of the package and what it all means for the base plan for the weekend. It means we’ve got a clear picture before the start of the weekend.

“At the track it’s different with Loris compared to some riders that I’ve worked with. He has so much experience that certain parts of the weekend aren’t as important for him. He doesn’t need to walk the track as a team because going for a run around the track gives him the information that he needs. He has to get all of his kit organised and ready for the weekend, so he’ll do that and then we’ll sit down for a debrief about what our plan is for the weekend.”

While the track walk is a solitary task for Baz – in comparison to many riders who will walk the track with their engineers – the Frenchman knows the importance of preparing for the weekend by working on Thursday with his team. The key people for him to talk to are Shanley and Ronnie Schagen, who is the team’s data and electronics engineer, and worked in the past as a suspension technican. This grounding has allowed him to work with a host of top riders over the last 15 years with Ten Kate: Leon Camier, Stefan Bradl, Michael van der Mark, Sylvain Guintoli and Jonathan Rea to name some. For most of that time he’s been trusted by those riders with one of the most important elements of the bike; the electronics.

With bikes becoming more and more reliant on electronics, the importance of making the responsiveness feel predictable is key. It’s the electronic engineer’s job to ensure that the rider knows what to expect, and that the bike can operate in a predictable manner. Any changes to the bike will have a knock on effect to the electronics and that’s why Schagen plays a key role.

“The meeting on Thursday isn’t as important for a rider as it is for the team,” explains Baz. “Ronnie is our data guy and he’s very important in every meeting, but especially on Thursday because he will explain the base mapping that we will start the weekend with. He will tell me what we will start the weekend with in terms of our base engine power, Traction Control and Engine Braking settings. For me this is important to understand so that I’ll know the changes that I can make with the buttons on the controls during a session.”

The information from this session sets the tone for the weekend and gives the team a plan of attack. The reason why Baz would feel it’s more important for the team compared to the rider is that the crew chief sets the workflow for everything that will follow.

During the meeting, Shanley will decide the base fuel loads for the bike, the number of laps to be completed for each exit, if the team will test any new parts or make a change from their usual base settings and all details related to the session.

Explaining this, and having it written down, is important for making the session run as efficiently as possible. When it’s written down in black and white there’s no need for a tyre technician to ask if the rider will need a fresh front tyre for Exit 2 or Exit 3.

“I’ll make a session plan for the Friday morning session,” explains Shanley. “I’ll outline to the guys what we have tyre wise and also what we need to test. I’ll set the number of laps for each exit. The plan isn’t rigid, you have to be able to adapt to what happens on track, but the plan is structured. The goal is always to maximise your time as effectively as possible to be ready for Superpole and the races.

“The session plan is made to get the most for the team and rider. Everyone knows the objectives of the sessions and it means that Loris will go on track and know what he has to be focusing on. In the session, the crew chief’s job is to make sure that we stick to the plan and allow us to maximise our track time. In the plan we’ll have a list of things to try and achieve. The guys in the box will have that information but also how many laps Loris will do when he’s out on track. It means that they don’t have to ask me about what is going to happen next, and I can talk to Loris and find out what problems he’s having.”

Loris Baz on a wet track at Jerez

KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid

Most teams in the paddock operate in a similar basis to one another. Friday morning practice is about making sure everything feels fine for the first stint, and then you start building up to finding improvements or testing new parts. In the afternoon team’s start to focus on finding the balance needed for the races because the conditions are closest to what they’ll face. The goal is to ensure you leave a race weekend with as many points as possible, but how does a team get to that point?

Typically during FP1, a team won’t make any significant changes to the bike. The goal is to maximise time on track rather than finding a magic bullet that solves everything. In WorldSBK, the one bike rule ensures that the ratio of Track Time: Garage Time is kept as high as possible. During FP1 a team might change the rear shock or the front springs but they would be hesitant to change anything on the bike that would take longer than five minutes.

The importance of the session plan is that the chassis mechanics will know that for Exit 2, the plan is to test a new shock and they can have that prepared and ready to use. The same for the team changing tyres where Shanley could outline in the plan that for Exit 2 on Friday afternoon, the team will use a full fuel load and fresh tyres front and rear to allow for a race simulation. If everything is planned in advance it’s easier to implement it for the crew. The goal is to ensure that nothing unexpected occurs.

With a clear goal in mind for every time he gets on the bike, Baz’ job is to ensure that he gives accurate feedback to his team and during the session. “The job is very easy for me. I tell Mick what I feel and he works on it. I don’t want to lose a lot of time in the pits so we keep it simple.

“The first exit of FP1 is just to tell Mick my initial impression and he’ll check the data to make sure the balance is OK. Is the balance too far on the front or rear, or is the suspension too soft on the front or rear, that kind of stuff. The biggest change we’ll usually make in FP1 will be to change a spring. I might make some changes to the electronics too if I had felt that there were some corners where I needed more or less power. We keep most of the comments for between the session because we don’t want to lose time on the track on Friday morning.”

The US Navy developed the KISS principle to ensure that in the heat of battle that simple solutions would be the most efficient solution. If you’re under attack you need to operate seamlessly. The same is true for a race team, and during a 60 minute session time is of the essence. It’s amazing to see this operation where mechanics, engineers and tyre technicians all work silently in lockstep.

“Loris will get off the bike and talk about the things that he can’t do or the frustrations he has with the bike,” says Shanley. “I don’t need a rider to give me the answers because even the most technical rider won’t know everything about the bike. All the configurations for parts and settings have a knock on effect and it’s the crew chief’s job to know how these interact.

“I need a rider to give me problems to be solved. If I can isolate those problems and the rider says ‘I can’t enter here any faster’ or ‘I can’t get the bike turned here’ I can ask questions to help find the solutions to find the best compromise. Once we have that we’ll make a change. On the next exit the rider will be reminded of the changes that were made, and also what was originally on the plan for that exit. He’ll know what to focus on for that run. The goal is to keep things clear and simple because it lets you focus on the big problems. Once the bigger issues are solved a lot of the smaller ones disappear too. Rider feedback is important but it’s even more important that it’s clear so that we can keep moving forward.”

Loris Baz on the Ten Kate Yamaha R1 at Jerez

Debriefs – It’s good to talk

Keeping communications open is the easiest way to make sure that you keep moving forward. Building trust between the rider and the team is imperative in doing that, and even during lockdown this is consistent. For Baz one of the biggest draws to Ten Kate is the family atmosphere. While Kervin Bos has assumed the role of Team Manager since their return to WorldSBK, the Ten Kate family is still very much to the fore. Being able to call Ronald and Gerrit Ten Kate makes the rider feel valued.

“We’ve been staying in contact with a WhatsApp group and various converations during the lockdown, and obviously I talk more to Mick because you build up so much trust with him. Everyone in the team is important and I really love working with the guys there. Ten Kate is like a big family and it’s nice that I can call Ronald or Gerrit, or anyone else and just talk. I didn’t always have this with some teams I worked with in the past.”

That atmosphere of trust and togetherness extends to debriefs at the weekend. The whole team is involved because everyone will spend the session collecting data. During the debrief you collate this information. From the crew chief’s setting sheet outlining the feedback from a rider, to the tyre technician’s information on track conditions and a chassis mechanic’s data on fuel usage, it all gets fed into the race day plan.

During the debrief the emphasis will be centred around Shanley and Schagen, but it’s a team effort to get ready for racing. Shanley’s job is to take what Baz tells him after each stint on track and compare the feedback to the data for chassis dynamics. Interpreting that correlation from the rider’s feelings to the dynamics means that they know the direction to take for making changes.

The post session and end of day debriefs take this to a larger scale. With the team sitting down to assess the day’s activities, they can assess whether certain changes made a difference and plan for the next day’s running. After Friday’s sessions, the team will select their tyres for the three races and also the fuel loads needed.

For a feature length race, typically 35 minutes, and the ten lap Superpole race there are very different requirements. In terms of tyres the team must decide whether the SCX tyre, designed for the Superpole race, is the optimum choice or whether a soft compound tyre is better. Knowing the exact fuel load needed optimises their weight for the race. With a taller rider such as Baz any weight saving can be crucial.

To understand how to make these decisions the team will analyse data from the sessions. For every exit the tyre technician will note, on their printed session plan, the track temperature and the ambient temperature. They’ll also note the tyre pressures. The initial tyre temperature when leaving the pits will be constant, because the tyre will have been warmed to a set temperature and kept in blankets until the last moment. The instant a rider returns to the pits the tyre temperature will be tested, and the result will be noted on the tyre technician’s session plan. The team can assess the wear rate and performance by using the time sheets to show the degradation after a certain number of laps.

In addition to the tyres, the team will monitor the fuel loads during the session. The team will weigh the bike without any fuel and weigh it again after adding fuel. Taking note of the difference they can see how many kilograms were used for each exit and calculate the consumption. After two practice sessions, and likely over 70 laps of data, the team will have plenty of data available to calculate the exact volume needed for a race.

Pooling all of the information available is Shanley’s job. Most crew chiefs will come from a specialist area but when they become the chief their goal is to lead. They need to take the information from their team and make an informed decision. The more data they have available to them the better.

“I’ve got multiple page spreadsheets which are linked to various programmes,” explains Shanley. “I’ll have our session plan for the day that I give to each of the guys, and afterwards they’ll give it back to me so I’ve got the changes made to the bike. We’ll have all the information about the bike and the conditions that it was running in.

“I’ll take that information and add it to my setting sheet and that will give us chassis settings that were used and step by step, so we can keep track of the changes and the comments from the rider. By looking at the changes and the comments made by Loris, we can track what was positive and what was negative.”

While Baz will typically take a back seat to Shanley on technical matters, it’s during these debriefs that he might make suggestions at times. With such an experienced rider he might have memories of how the track has reacted with more rubber as a weekend progresses, or he might prompt his crew chief about a similar problem they had in the past. If this is the case Shanley can easily access the session sheets from that meeting and see if the changes could help. For Baz it’s clear that “Mick knows the bike perfectly so I know that I don’t need to tell him what to do, but sometimes your memory of certain problems can be useful.”

It’s about working as a team to find the solutions.

Loris Baz at the Phillip Island WorldSBK test in 2020

Post race – Report and repeat

Perfect preparation doesn’t always lead to perfect performance. The goal of racing is always imperfect, because there’s always some area that can be improved. The bike is never absolutely ideal for a rider and a rider never has a perfect race. The goal is to be as close to perfect as possible. That’s why the time between races is crucial.

While Shanley will talk to Baz about his thoughts on an upcoming round beforehand, he’ll also talk to his rider about what had happened at the previous race. The post round report is crucial for Ten Kate and also for Yamaha.

“The report structure of a race weekend is really important,” commented Shanley. “With Loris we’ll do a short and sharp debrief at the track after a session and a race, because the ten to fifteen minutes after a rider gets off the bike are incredibly important. The information and feelings are fresh, but after the adrenaline leaves you the feelings can become a bit diluted. After a few days, once the rider is home, it’s easier to separate the emotion of a race weekend.”

Talking about what happened and finding out how to improve the bike is the goal for the team after a race weekend. It’s also the target for Yamaha. With three teams using the Yamaha R1 the manufacturer will have lots of information from the race weekend from Ten Kate, Pata Yamaha and also the GRT squad. With the data all available to Yamaha, and reports filed with the manufacturer, the development path for the bike can become clearer. If all riders are giving the same feedback on an area to improve, it’s easy for Yamaha to decide on a key area to focus development.

“There’s a big emphasis on reporting and analysis during a race weekend, but it’s also focused on afterwards,” added Shanley. “After a race it’s very important to gather as much information as possible so that we can learn from it and move forward. At the track we’ll do our daily reports during a weekend and they will be available to everyone inside the team. After the meeting we’ll have send a larger report back to Yamaha that will be pooled with the feedback from the other Yamaha teams to help them shape the development of the bike.”

The cycle continues constantly. Once those reports are sent back and the feedback has been received the focus shifts to the next round.

Suddenly the previous round is in the books and it’s time for Shanley to get on the phone to Baz and talk about past races and memories of the next track on the calendar…


This is part of a series of articles published in partnership with RacingLowdown.com, run by MotoMatters.com contributor Steve English. You can find the original article on RacingLowdown.com.

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Mon, 2020-05-18 08:20
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Alex Rins and Joan Mir at the Thailand round of MotoGP at Buriram in 2019

Last week, Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP boss Davide Brivio held a teleconference with a number of journalists to face questions on a broad range of topics. Brivio talked about the possibility of MotoGP resuming again at Jerez, as Dorna has announced, and what that would entail for Suzuki and for the paddock. He discussed how the manufacturers are working together to cut costs, putting an end to the long-running dispute which has divided the MSMA members, which I examined in detail in this story.

Brivio also fielded questions on the 2020 MotoGP season, and how Suzuki saw the advantages and disadvantages of a curtailed season with a limited number of races taking place on an even smaller number of circuits. And he went into some detail on the contract extensions signed with riders Alex Rins and Joan Mir.

Below is the second half of the interview Davide Brivio gave to journalists:

Q: With a shorter season planned, at fewer circuits, who do you think who will be the surprise of the year, and what are the chances of Suzuki riders causing an upset?

Davide Brivio: I don’t know, but I don’t think having a short championship or a long championship will change a lot. The fast riders will always be the same. Of course there are a few variables this year, because we have to see if this long stop affects somebody more than others. In terms of results or competition or whatever I think it will be pretty much the same.

I tried to make an exercise by myself: taking the races we are supposed to do, and there is a rough idea of which ones like twice in Jerez, we might go two times to Austria – something we can think of now and talk about ten races – more or less if you take the results of last year and put it into exactly this year and double the result of Jerez and Austria and so on then the situation in the championship would be very similar. I don’t think this is going to change much.

Of course you cannot afford to make a mistake, because there are so few races to recover. In the normal situation, if you have a bad early season and have some crashes or something then in the second half of the season you can recover. For instance, last year, Viñales had a difficult start to the season and was strong by the end and got back. For the top two or three positions then I think it – won’t be the same – but quite similar to what it would be to the full championship.

I hope Suzuki can be the surprise, but I also hope that Suzuki won’t be the surprise any more! Last year, what we missed, was that we were not so strong at the end of the championship as we were in the first half but we could finish better than where we did. We just have to maintain more consistent results this year and maybe have a shortened championship could be good training from this point of view.

But, again, we have to see the situation when we restart in July after almost six months in which nobody rode a MotoGP bike. We are discussing with Dorna about having one day of testing, and it looks like this will be possible and then we go straight to the race weekend. It is also about the shape of the rider and the spirit of adaptation, and the rider who is more quick to adapt will have an advantage.

You can see in the history of the last years, many times the first few races are not very significant for the rest of the championship for many riders – for a few riders – in this case, you will have to be concentrated and in the best shape for three-four months and play everything.

From this point of view it is something new and I would say interesting. It is what it is. This will be a special year for everything and we will see. It is a good test. I think we will see the top five or six riders fighting for the victory. It doesn’t matter how many races we have in the calendar.

Q: Is repeating races at the same circuit a positive or negative for Suzuki? Because some tracks favor some manufacturers, for example, Ducati winning in Austria?

DB: From this point of view, of course we don't want to race twice in Austria! But that will probably happen. And for instance, we don't have a race in Assen where we feel very strong, and we're not going to race in Silverstone where we won twice in the last four or five years. But OK, that's the way it is. This year, you have to accept what it is. You cannot think about "Oh, we don't like Austria". But then somebody might be very strong in Austria, but will be less strong in Jerez, maybe.

Alex Rins on the podium, celebrating his win of the 2019 MotoGP race at Silverstone

So at the end of the day, to do two races at the same circuit is one of the solutions to be able to carry on the championship and to finish the championship. So we have to accept it. And we have to be prepared for that. So then, OK, if we are going to do 10 races or 12 races in the championship, and Austria will be two races, let's try to recover in the other circuits!

But also, "recover" is not the right word, because we go to Austria, with the full intention to fight for the victory. Of course it's a circuit where Ducati have won many times, and basically Dovizioso and Márquez are always strong, but Yamaha have scored podiums in Austria, so why can't we do that?

So you have to accept it. Of course, maybe for some manufacturers it's not good to race twice in Jerez, or for somebody it's not good to race twice in Austria. Somebody might suffer more in Aragon and maybe we will have two races there, I don't know what the calendar will look like. But that's 2020. 2020 is special.

Q: We saw that there was a lot of outside interest in your riders. Were you surprised that other factories didn't steal your riders? It must be nice that the riders and the team and the bike are attractive?

DB: The negotiations [with Rins and Mir] were quite easy, I would say. Because to be very honest, Alex was already showing interest to remain with us 12 months ago.

First of all, I have to tell you something: last year, around this time, April, I went to Japan to have a meeting, I am used to going to Japan a few times a year to have meetings. And already by then, we were discussing about what we are going to do for the renewal of the agreements. Of course we still had a year ahead of us, but I wanted to try to understand if we had an opinion on that.

At the end of that discussion, everybody involved were happy to continue with Rins and Mir for 2021 and 2022, this was already a year ago. That was our target, our idea.

And almost around the same time, Alex came to us and said, I would like to stay, I would like to continue with Suzuki, even for 2021 and 2022. If you're happy, we can sign the agreement now. Of course we were happy to do that.

It's a bit difficult to explain, but how our company works, it was a little bit weird and strange to go to our president in May or June or July 2019 and to say, "We have to sign an agreement for 2021". He's probably right, because looking at what can happen, it's better to go step by step. Anyway we had to wait for the right time according to our company procedure. In 2019, you are still thinking about the 2020 season, then when the 2020 season is about to start, you can start to talk about 2021, things like that. But let's say in our mind, we had already agreed with Alex. As a racing department, we were happy to keep Alex.

Then about Joan, we also talked to him back in the middle of last year, and we said, look, we're very happy, we would like to continue, we would like to make a long-term project. So we were happy with Alex and Joan, we didn't see any reason to change, and we also thought stability would pay off in the future. And Joan always showed his interest to stay.

Joan Mir in the pits at the Australian MotoGP round at Phillip Island in 2019

To be honest, with Joan it was a little bit easier, because we had an option. So we could exercise an option with Joan, so with Joan we were a little bit more relaxed, to be honest, because we had that option to exercise. With Alex, we got his verbal commitment that he wanted to stay.

Then it took a long time inside the company to find the right way and to get a signature of top management on the paper. But that's all. It's only bureaucratic. We had been in agreement for a long time.

But I'm the first person to say, until I see the signature on the paper, I'm not sure. That's why I always say to you for many months, "We would like to keep them, I think they want to stay, and I hope this will happen, I hope we can do it". Because I wanted to see the signature on the paper, that's all.

So that's what it took. And we're very happy, because we achieved our target, and I really think that Alex already showed he can win a race, that he's among the top riders in MotoGP. Joan, I think, has the potential to reach that level. We will see, but our target in the future is to have two riders who can stay in the top five, top six positions in the championship and play within those positions – it can first, it can be third, it can be fourth, it can be second, it can be sixth. Of course, with the other riders that everybody knows are strong. But our idea, our target is to put TWO of our riders into that group, and have them fighting there, and see what happens.

Q: We saw that Marc Márquez signed a four-year deal to stay with Repsol Honda, from 2021 through 2024. Was there any interest in looking at a similar four-year deal for Rins and Mir? And did you have a plan B for other riders in case they left, and if so, who were you looking at?

DB: Honestly, we never thought about such a long contract. But honestly, Márquez signing a four-year contract is a kind of an unusual thing, kind of a surprise, no? We are used to two-year agreements, and that's what we think about. Of course, our intention is to keep going as long as possible with Alex and Joan, Alex also said many times he would like to have a long career with Suzuki. Of course, we will have to continue to provide a competitive bike, or he will look somewhere else.

So let's say, in this moment there are no obstacles or no problem to sign a longer contract. I'm afraid that probably for our company, to sign a four-year agreement would be something a little bit special. So maybe it would have been more difficult to discuss and explain. But let's go step by step, and I hope to sign another two-year agreement for 2023 and 2024 again with Alex and Joan. So I would be very happy to do that.

And honestly, we never really thought about replacing them or having a plan B. Of course, in the past month, I had chats with managers of other riders, because this is quite normal. You have to understand: our paddock is a small community, and I know all the MotoGP rider managers, and I meet them many times during the weekend, or many times during the year, and I have a chat with all of them: [Márquez' brothers manager Emilio] Alzamora, [manager of Andrea Dovizioso and Lorenzo Baldassarri, Simone] Battistella, [Fabio Quartararo's manager, Eric] Mahé, [manager of Maverick Viñales] Paco Sanchez, who is also Joan Mir's manager. So it comes quite easy and natural.

Maybe they ask, "how is your situation with your rider?" I got this question many times, and I said "Our target is to confirm Alex and Joan," and they would say "OK, let me know, keep me informed," things like that. So I talk with all of them. But because we are also friends with a few of them, we chat and we discuss, also sometimes we share comments and opinions, points of view with all of them.

So I have a relationship with all of them. So let's say, if something would have gone wrong, maybe it was easy to pick up the telephone and call somebody. But we never really arrived to any negotiations or any plan with any of them, let's say.

So of course I was more or less aware of what everybody is doing – you know that the paddock is small, you know that Márquez is going to stay, you knew that Quartararo was going to renew with Yamaha, you knew that Viñales wanted to stay, but also Ducati were interested. These things you know. But as our target was to keep Alex and Joan, I could not really start a proper negotiation, a proper discussion when they want to stay. I think I was quite well informed, I had the information I needed about everybody, maybe ready to react in case of any problems.


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Wed, 2020-05-13 18:15
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The Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP machine during the presentation at the Sepang test in February

For a few weeks, it looked like racing in 2020 might be impossible. But as the peak of the COVID-19 crisis appears to have passed in many parts of Europe, there are a few rays of hope that racing might resume before the end of the year. At the moment, Dorna have put plans in place to hold two races at Jerez, on July 19th and 26th, with more races to follow.

These plans see factories and teams start to slowly ramp up their preparations for racing in Jerez. At the same time, the factories are having to come to terms with the still-emerging post-coronavirus economic reality. Measures have already been put in place to cut costs, including a freeze on engine development and aerodynamics until 2021, while the factories and teams are considering further proposals to cut costs and secure the future of the sport.

On Monday, the Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP team organized a press teleconference with team manager Davide Brivio, in which he discussed this, and many other subjects. Brivio talked about starting the championship in Jerez, the impact of the coronavirus on Suzuki and on the MotoGP championship, and about Suzuki's plans for a satellite squad. He also talked about what life in the paddock could look like when racing resumes.

All in the same boat

"Everybody is in the same situation," Brivio started off by saying. "We are trying to be in contact with MotoGP, Dorna, IRTA and also with the other teams. We’ve had a few meetings altogether. We are also looking at other sports to see what is going on: what’s happening in football, everybody is taking different directions and positions. In Germany they are going to restart the football next week and Spain and Italy are still to decide."

This decision could help point the way for MotoGP and other sports, Brivio explained. "This is important in my opinion because it can trace a road, trace a way for other sports to follow. As has been said the target of Dorna is to start in July in Spain and of course we have to hope that the situation can improve by day. It is something that is not in our hands. It is in the hands of the local government where we are going to race."

The road toward restarting in Jerez was still filled with obstacles, though Brivio was confident Dorna could work with the authorities to make it work. "In order to start the championship in Spain I imagine the Spanish authority has to allow us to travel there and stay in Jerez and despite the number of people being as limited as possible in each team we are talking about over a thousand people in the paddock. The Jerez city, authority, government: everybody has to accept that. We have a couple of months and I am quite confident that we can solve and improve the situation."

It is still too early to be confident of any predictions, though. "For instance in Italy a couple of weeks ago we started phase two and if things are good in one week or ten days maybe we can look with more confidence to the future. We are all trying to study and understand the situation. Of course, as far as the MotoGP championship in this moment we are looking mainly at what is happening in Spain, Italy and also Austria where we will probably race. The championship will probably be limited to a few countries. In order to have everything going well we need to have the COVID situation, let’s say, OK," Brivio said.

Economic impacts

There was no doubt that the current crisis would have a huge impact on the sport, both in cultural and in economic terms, the Suzuki boss told us. "Of course we talk about the 2020 championship from the sport and riders point of view. It will be strange because when we restart there will be no public and the paddock will be quite empty – but this is just something for us, we are working there – no public in the grandstands means a strange atmosphere. This is what it is. We know the situation and we have to be open to accept everything. It will be strange in many points of view but we hope we can have a championship and we can restart with races."

The economic question was the big unknown, Brivio said. "For the future this is a big question mark because I think everybody will have probably less resources. The championship is very much related to the manufacturers and in reality the manufacturers are the biggest ‘sponsors’ of every team."

With manufacturers paying, investment in racing depends heavily on how sales are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. "At Suzuki we don’t have so many commercial sponsors but everybody else has the factory behind that brings the main financial support and, of course, nobody is selling bikes and products," Brivio said. "Even at Suzuki we are a car manufacturer as well as motorcycle and marine engines but we are not selling those. All the companies will have to reduce the cost."

"It is difficult now to say what is the impact because within the company we try to make some estimation, some forecast every day or every week but then the next day or week you have to change. Or the next week you are not super-sure what you have calculated. We need to stabilise the situation and in some countries the businesses are restarting, the dealers are opening the shops. We will see the effect in a few weeks and if something is going to restart. I imagine that everybody will have less budget next year. We will probably have to reduce some cost and that is why freezing development is a good way to go."

Signs of confidence

Brivio did see glimmers of hope, however. The signing of Suzuki's two riders, Alex Rins and Joan Mir, to new two-year contracts was a sign that the factory was committed to the series for the long term. "That’s why I took it as fantastic news from our company the fact that we could renew the agreement of Alex and Joan in this period," Brivio explained. "This happened in the last two-three weeks/month – not more than a month when we signed the contract – and this went through the approval of our top management and to see them doing that in this delicate situation – to approve the contract for 2021-2022, I took as a very good sign. It makes us look to the future with confidence. It means that the company is committed to keep going and the MotoGP with the normal activity. To continue thinking in the normal way. This gives us a lot of hope but of course we have to see in the next month how the situation will be."

But any racing which does happen this year and next will look rather different to the years of plenty MotoGP has enjoyed in the past few seasons. "2021, I think, won’t be like the 18, 19 or 17 situation," Brivio opined. "We will probably have to go like we did ten years ago. I mean, this crisis seems to be much bigger but when we had the crisis in 2008-2009 we slowed down and then slowly, slowly got back. Probably here we slow down more than that and slowly try to get back. It is difficult to forecast but everybody now is thinking how to save money and budget for the next year. But I also see everybody is very much committed to keep going."

It was too early to say how the current crisis has impacted Suzuki's, however. "It's difficult to say now. I didn't hear from the company about a strategy, looking to the future. We are all working more or less day by day. I'm happy for the renewal of the agreements [with Rins and Mir], because it shows the commitment, they are willing to look at the future and to continue to do the business."

A view of the future?

"How Suzuki sees MotoGP at this moment is difficult for me to say," Brivio said. "But as I said, I received signs that there is the willingness to keep everything going. And we've been asked to save budget for this year, to try to reduce costs. From a certain point of view it's still – I won't say easy, but we can manage, because not travelling, not racing, we are automatically saving some budget. Whether this will be enough or not, we are in constant contact with our management and making calculations, reviewing budgets, reviewing costs, trying to make an estimation what the budget will look like and things like that."

"For sure, this year we will spend less, but of course the business is also much less for the company. So this is not a real benefit. But as I said, to renew the contracts with the riders gives me the hope that MotoGP is still considered important."

What does this mean in terms of the satellite team which Suzuki had been looking at for 2022 onwards? "Talking about a satellite team, this I don't know," Brivio said. "This is something that we had an idea to do for 2022, and this is still on the table. For the moment, we were concentrated on discussing the riders' agreements, now I think maybe we can try to calm a little bit down, to let the top management work a little bit on more important issues for the company, and maybe in a few weeks or a couple of months, we can maybe try to put the discussion back on the table and see how the situation, what their intentions are."

Brivio saw this as the satellite team being put on hold, but not shelved, he told the media. "For us it's still open, it's still a project we are working on, and our racing department still wants to do it, but of course we have to go through the approval of the top management. It's difficult to say now, we have to wait and see. But we are continuing to work on that, that's for sure."

Logistical complexity

Going racing in Jerez was no easy project, for Suzuki or anyone else. Davide Brivio outlined some of the challenges faced by Suzuki in getting everyone to the Jerez circuit for the race. The mechanics and engineers were spread over a number of countries, he said. "I don't remember the numbers exactly, but the majority are probably in Italy. We have Italy, Spain, we have a guy in England, one guy in France, and of course the Japanese staff, about six or seven people in Japan including SMC employees and a contract guy. So we are spread in five or six countries."

Getting those people to Jerez was complicated. "The situation is not clear at the moment, because also looking at the various regulations of the countries – for example if you want to enter Italy, you have to stay in quarantine for two weeks," Brivio said. "And also if you're not Italian or certain categories, if you are just a simple passenger you can only stay 72 hours in Italy. That's what I have understood from going through the various websites and regulations and everything. But then we have a long time to make sure."

That meant making sure that everyone got to Europe early, before heading to Jerez to prepare for the race. "In this moment, it looks like you have to come to Europe a little bit early, have a quarantine before going to Jerez, if you come from outside of Europe. If you are within Europe – so for Italians, French, Spanish, probably English, German, whatever, it doesn't matter. For working reasons, you can work in Spain, you should be allowed to reach Spain without quarantine, because you are a European resident."

"So probably the Japanese staff will have to come earlier to Europe, do the quarantine, and then go to Jerez. Or probably go to Jerez, stay in a hotel, do the quarantine, and then get out of the hotel and go to the circuit." But everyone was waiting for Dorna, and to hear what kind of protocols were to be put in place. "We are waiting for Dorna, they are defining a protocol, they are preparing a medical protocol with all these instructions for all this stuff. So this is the situation."

Team lockdown

Once at the track, the situation won't be much different for most team members, Brivio explained. They will have exchanged lockdown with their families for lockdown with the team. "We have to try to stay together as much as possible. What I feel is like the team has to become a kind of a family. It's like now, we are all locked down with our family in our house, and you have contact with your family," Brivio said.

The confines of a garage made the social and physical distancing needed by the virus almost impossible. "Inside the team, it's difficult to keep social distancing," Brivio said. "It's difficult to keep mechanics 2 meters away from each other, or to keep the rider 2 meters away from his engineer, or whatever. Three mechanics have to work on the bike... I can stay 2 meters away from the mechanics probably, I can shout if I have to talk to them! But if they have to work on the bike, the bike is small. So there are some things..."

"That's why we are very interested to hear the medical protocol, and then we will discuss it, and we will have to adapt all our jobs. But I think that once the team arrives at the track, it's like a family. It looks like we have to do the tests before we arrive at the circuit, if everything is negative, we will go into the circuit. Once we're there, the team has to stay closed in the garage, or at least the garage and track, in that area, like they are in lockdown, like it's one family in lockdown, more or less."

Risk is inevitable

"Let's make clear, it's impossible to have zero risk, in my opinion," Brivio said. "It's impossible to not have a risk. The medical protocol will try to avoid risk. Because otherwise, if we want zero risks, I think we have to stay in lockdown until probably the vaccine arrives in 18 months. So probably by maybe the end of 2021 we can finally leave our house and start a normal life only after we get the vaccine."

Risk reduction is the name of the game, then. "Otherwise we have to try to reduce the risk. So that's what we will try to do. To get together, stay close to each other, to avoid as much as possible contact with the other people in the paddock. It won't be like you go around the paddock and have a chat and discuss, communicate, and in the evening relax and meet friends. That's probably not the life for this year. Work in the garage, take the lunch box, have lunch, have dinner, go to the hotel, go to sleep, and the next morning, come back to the circuit. That's the life for these days, I think."

Jerez in July is very much going to be a trial run for one possible future for MotoGP in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brivio said. "So let's say, now it looks like that we are going to Jerez in the middle of July, we have these couple of months to study these protocols, to adjust our behaviors, our way of acting, and to be ready for when it's time to get there."


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Tue, 2020-05-12 20:31
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Once upon a time, the manufacturers reigned supreme in MotoGP. The MSMA – the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association – determined the shape of the premier class. In the early years after Dorna secured the rights to promote Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the MSMA negotiated a monopoly over the technical regulations in MotoGP.

The rules in MotoGP are made in committee, the Grand Prix Commission, containing representatives of the four parties with an interest in the sport: Dorna as promoter, the FIM as sanctioning body, IRTA representing the teams, and the MSMA on behalf of the manufacturers. While the sporting and other rules are voted on by majority, the MSMA controlled the technical rules.

In the early years of the MotoGP era Rule changes proposed unanimously by the MSMA were adopted automatically, and the MSMA retained a veto over rules put forward by the other members of the GPC. It was the MSMA who asked for the switch from two strokes to four strokes, and the MSMA who insisted on reducing the capacity from 990cc to 800cc in 2007, when concerns were raised over the speeds of the bigger bikes.

Then the global financial crisis hit in 2008. Through 2009, it became clear that the technical rules were unsustainable in the economic climate of the time. First, Kawasaki dropped out, then Suzuki went at the end of 2011. When new contracts with the factories were negotiated, Dorna ensured that the MSMA lost a little of its influence.

Reshuffle fallout

The loss of Kawasaki and Suzuki had a bigger impact on the MSMA. Up until that point in time, Honda had dominated the manufacturers' association, as the senior Japanese manufacturer, with the others deferring to HRC. Ducati was seen as a mere inconvenience, a Johnny-come-lately, having only joined the premier class in 2003. But from 2012, Ducati comprised one-third of the MSMA, with Honda and Yamaha. And Ducati were considerably less inclined to play along.

There were early signs of trouble back in 2011. Dorna had proposed raising the minimum weight for MotoGP machines from 153kg to 160kg for the 2012 season onward, to keep costs in check for the CRT teams which were due to join the class in 2012. That proposal was rejected by the MSMA at a meeting in Valencia in 2011, which meant it was dropped by the Grand Prix Commission.

But in the weeks that followed, it became evident that the MSMA members had not been unanimous. Ducati had voted in favor of the weight increase, and so it should never have been rejected. The Grand Prix Commission adopted a compromise, raising the minimum weight to 157kg, and unleashing a raft of issues of chatter for Honda and, to a lesser degree, Yamaha in early 2012.

This episode made clear that unanimity would be hard to maintain within the MSMA. That made it easier for Dorna and IRTA to push through the rule changes they wanted to reduce costs and make the racing closer. That helped MotoGP arrive at the point we currently are, with spec electronics and maximum prices for the lease of satellite machines.

Out of balance

These changes have disturbed the balance inside the MSMA even further, however. Where once there were four Japanese factories (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha) and Ducati, the new factories arriving have been a mixture. Suzuki have returned to increase the number of Japanese factories to three, while KTM and Aprilia have entered MotoGP to swell the European ranks to three. There is a very different power balance and a different vibe inside the MSMA nowadays.

There has also been a marked increase in tension. With less consensus and a clash of corporate cultures, relations have been strained. And the changing rules in MotoGP has served to radically ramp up those tensions.

First, Gigi Dall’Igna threw a spanner into the works of the MSMA when he announced that Ducati would be racing in MotoGP as an Open Class team in 2014, to allow them to circumvent the freeze on engine development, and use more engines during the season. That was solved by the introduction of concessions for manufacturers who hadn't won races, a system which has also proved invaluable for Suzuki, KTM, and Aprilia in helping them develop and, in Suzuki's case, return to winning.

Ducati's first attempt at wings was quite modest, smaller wings low on the fairing, here on Andrea Iannone's GP15 at Qatar

Ducati muddied the waters even further with their pursuit of aerodynamics as an alternative to electronics to control the bikes. Winglets appeared on the Desmosedici GP15 in 2015 as an anti-wheelie device, and quickly spread all over the front of the bike.

By 2016, the Ducati had sprouted wings everywhere. Here, the front view of Andrea Dovizioso's bike at Texas in 2016 shows the upper and huge lower wings

A war of words erupted between Honda and Ducati, though mostly behind closed doors. Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC at the time, expressed his anger at Ducati publicly in an interview with international journalist Manuel Pecino. "Ducati said no to everything," Nakamoto told Pecino, about proposals put forward to restrict the wings. "It just was no, and no, and no. All the Japanese factories agreed and Aprilia in some respects did too, but Ducati did not want to discuss the matter. It was their way or nothing."

This followed earlier dark warnings that Ducati did not want to get into a war of aerodynamics with Honda. HRC, after all, had the backing of the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, tied to one of the largest car manufacturers, with a vast amount of experience with aerodynamics through their F1 programs, as well as wind tunnels at their disposal.

Compromise followed, with winglets being replaced with ducts and loops. The aerodynamic function remained, though it had been somewhat curtailed.

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Fri, 2020-05-01 22:48
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Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, pictured here at Brno 2019

On the day that practice was supposed to get underway for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, we are still a very long way from any racing happening. Instead of riders warming up for the fifth race of the season, they are preparing for the third eSports race of 2020, to be played on the brand new MotoGP 20 computer game. It is also the first Virtual Grand Prix, featuring riders from all three classes, instead of just MotoGP.

It's something, for many fans, but it's not the same. Seeing bikes battle it out for an hour so in a computer game, and enjoying the banter between the riders, is entertaining, but it misses the visceral pleasure of real racing. Three days of practice, the roar of engines, the squeal of rubber, the scraping of kneepads over asphalt, the smell of hot oil. The carpet of yellow flowers which line the grass around the Jerez circuit. The party in downtown Jerez, with bikes riding up and down, and fans crowding the bars and restaurants, their deafening chatter about the events of the day making conversation all but impossible.

When will those days return? Nine or so weeks into the global lockdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19, it is clear that a return to what we traditionally think of as a motorcycle race is still some way off. That's the bad news. But the good news is that it is looking increasingly likely that there will be some form of world championship motorcycle racing this year, as countries start to look at lifting restrictions on travel and events. There appears to be reason for cautious optimism, though the SARS-CoV2 virus is still very much in the driving seat. Plans are starting to be made, but they are at the mercy of the virus. If the disease flares up again, those plans get torn up and Dorna moves onto the next lot.

Media blitz

In a sign of just how seriously Dorna are working on finding a way to go racing again, CEO of the MotoGP and WorldSBK rights holder Carmelo Ezpeleta has done more media interviews in the past couple of weeks than he usually does in a year. In part because he is the person with the big picture, an overview of the many ways a 2020 racing season might play out. Once there is a way to actually go racing, Ezpeleta will be the first to know. And in part, because part of Carmelo Ezpeleta's job is to persuade us all that there will be racing as soon as possible.

In interviews with various outlets, including for Italian website GPOne.com and Israeli TV Sport 5, with Tammy Gorali, Ezpeleta has outlined the scenarios which Dorna are looking at. They range from optimistic to pessimistic, and starting sooner rather than later.

In the most optimistic scenario, racing starts in late July. But not in Austria, as some reports have it. There are rumors that MotoGP may head to Jerez in July, though neither Ezpeleta nor anyone else has mentioned this on the record. The Red Bull Ring, Ezpeleta told GPone.com, would take place on the original date, August 16th.

Ten races, no fans

The hope is then to be able to do at least ten races, in Europe at first, and once travel outside Europe becomes possible, then to move overseas. If necessary, to increase the number of races on the calendar, multiple races could be held at the same circuit on back-to-back weekends.

In this most optimistic scenario, however, there will be no fans present. This is the plan which Dorna are presenting to governments, to try to persuade them to allow races to be held. The plan is to have the smallest possible number of people in the paddock, but even with teams held to skeleton crews – 40 people for a factory MotoGP team, 25 for a satellite squad, 20 for Moto2 and 15 for Moto3 – that still amounts to a total of around 1500 people, including Dorna and FIM staff to be able to run and, most importantly, televise a race.

Marshal plan

That is only a small part of it, however. Dorna's plans focus only on the needs of the paddock, which covers only the riders, team staff, Clinica Mobile, FIM officials, and essential Dorna staff. But to run a race successfully, each circuit recruits a small army of people, including circuit staff and volunteers. There are organizational staff to help the event run smoothly. Security staff, though in much smaller numbers if no fans are allowed.

The biggest problem will be the people who run the sporting side of the race, and the unsung heroes of all forms of motorsport: the marshals. The numbers involved are impressive. For example, the TT Circuit Assen, home of the Dutch round of MotoGP, needs to recruit 800 volunteers to fill all the various functions involved in running the sporting side of the race: marshals, medical staff, technical scrutineering, pit lane, starting grid, and various other positions. Even if you cut down on the relatively few positions not directly involved in on-track activity, you still end up with a group of between 400-600 people needed to run a race.

Impressive numbers, but in the post-coronavirus era, also extremely challenging. Finding that many volunteers is tough enough at the best of times; persuading those people to turn up after the lockdown may be much harder. Many will be under pressure from their employers not to take time off. A portion run their own businesses, and will need to focus on that before being able to spare the time to volunteer as a marshal.

Then there is the age factor. Any photo of marshals shows a surprisingly large number of gray heads, though more so in some countries than in others. This is hardly surprising: the people with the free time and disposable income to travel to races around the world have usually need a few decades to accumulate those luxuries. But with COVID-19 being much more dangerous for those over 60, that may dissuade some from volunteering.

Medic

The medical marshals are likely to pose an even more complicated problem, however. Numbers vary from track to track, but somewhere between 100 to 150 trained medical staff are going to be needed for each round. Even once the COVID-19 outbreak is under control, medical staff may not have the free time to attend races, and if they do, they may want to spend it at home with family, after having to put in long shifts during the pandemic.

These medical staff have in many cases also been exposed to the virus through their work in healthcare. They may fear being asymptomatic, and passing it on to others. They may fear catching it from one of their fellow marshals, who is asymptomatic.

Dorna has ordered 10,000 tests for the coronavirus, to test paddock personnel and trace them very closely. Everyone will be tested before they are allowed to travel to a circuit, and then tested every time they enter. But it is clear from Dorna's estimate of paddock numbers that they consider the marshals and circuit support staff the responsibility of the circuit, not Dorna. They overlook just how much interaction there is between marshals and riders/teams. There are at least 30 marshals in pit lane in various capacities, including scrutineering. They are passing through the pitboxes to examine the bikes, check that everything is being done according to the rules.

At track side, marshals are picking riders up out of the gravel if they crash, and then bike taxis are ferrying the riders back to the pits. It is hard to keep 2 meters apart as a motorcycle pillion. Crashed bikes are loaded onto trailers, and driven back to the pits, usually with a couple of marshals on board holding the bike upright.

Hidden numbers

All things considered, there is still a long way to go before this most optimistic scenario can become reality. Dorna may be able to persuade governments that they can run a race with 1500 people in the paddock. But the circuits will have to do the same for the 600-800 people (if they can find them) needed to run an event. Unlike the paddock regulars, those people will mostly not be flying in from another country, but they will be traveling from all over the country hosting the race.

It is self-evident that even races behind closed doors pose a significant risk to public health. And that poses an enormous challenge to anyone trying to organize them. Dorna have put a huge amount of effort into putting together plans to make racing possible. But the complexities are so vast, the dependencies so great, that it is easy to overlook factors which can thwart all your hard work.

If July is too early to start racing again, Dorna has other plans. The aim is to have ten or more races to have some semblance of a season, but if travel outside of Europe is impossible, then it is still possible to hold ten races before December starting at the end of September.

Fluid situation

Given how quickly the situation has changed since the MotoGP race in Qatar was called off – we have gone from going ahead with the season as planned, to full lockdown, to the beginning of lifting restrictions, all in the space of nine or so weeks – that the situation is nothing if not unpredictable. Work continues on a vaccine, and though that is still probably at least a year away, there are also plenty of other trials going on. Preliminary results from a randomized test with antiviral drug Remdesivir look positive, the drug aiding in recovery. If an effective treatment can be found for the COVID-19 disease, then that may allow further loosening of restrictions.

So where are we now with racing and MotoGP? Dorna has been working to put plans in place for when we do go back to racing. If the current improvement in containing the SARS-CoV2 virus continues, then the prospects for racing this year are positive. Denmark, for example, has lifted some restrictions and still managed to keep the coronavirus reproduction rate (or R0) below 1. That is a promising indication for countries where the disease is under control, and where restrictions are lifted gradually and cautiously.

There may well be racing in 2020. Indeed, there seems a very good chance that there will be, at some point. But the situation is uncertain, due in no small part to the enormously unpredictable and uncertain nature of the disease. For the moment, the virus is still very much in control. But its iron grip on humanity has loosened, even if only a fraction. There is reason for hope.


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Fri, 2020-04-03 18:02
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Since the announcement on Wednesday that Andrea Iannone's suspension for violating the FIM doping code had been reduced to 18 months, there have been questions surrounding the verdict. In interviews and press releases, Iannone himself, his lawyer, and Aprilia had all contended that he had been found innocent of intentionally ingesting drostanolone, a banned exogenous anabolic androgenic steroid. The International Disciplinary court of the FIM, the CDI, had accepted Iannone's claim that he had accidentally ingested the substance by eating contaminated meat, Iannone and his entourage told the media.

Whether this was an accurate reflection of the verdict or just spin by Iannone's legal and PR team was impossible to know. The FIM had only issued a press release stating the verdict of the court: that drostanolone had been found in a urine sample taken after the race in Sepang, that a hearing had been held, and submissions made to the court, and that the verdict of the court was that Iannone was suspended for 18 months, from 17th December 2019 to 16th June 2021.

After the verdict was published, there were calls for the reasoning behind the verdict to be published, but the FIM has refrained from comment. There is a good reason for that: Iannone has 21 days from the verdict to lodge an appeal with the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and until that time, the issue is still technically sub judice, and the FIM cannot say anything for fear of prejudicing any appeal that might happen.

But the FIM will provide much more openness on the Iannone case once the legal process has run its course, FIM president Jorge Viegas told Israeli journalist and TV commentator Tammy Gorali. In the course of a long interview, conducted remotely while Viegas was at his home in Portugal and to be published on MotoMatters.com later this month, Viegas promised transparency.

"At this moment, the FIM will not comment at all on the punishment of Mr. Andrea Iannone," Viegas told Gorali. "We have a commission of judges which is totally independent from the executive power of the FIM. The FIM is one of the parts in this, and in the whole anti-doping process."

"We have our lawyer that was involved in the process, and they have their lawyer. They went before the three judges from the commission. The judges asked for additional documents and evidence, and then they decided based on that. And now, in this moment, what happened is that we are in the time period during which the FIM, Mr. Iannone, or WADA can file an appeal with the CAS in Lausanne. So until this period ends, which is roughly a month, a bit less, nobody in the FIM is allowed to comment on the matter."

Despite not wanting to comment on the case, Viegas was at pains to point out that the FIM took doping very seriously, and that the CDI did not reach its verdict lightly. And the FIM president promised more transparency once the process was complete.

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Mon, 2020-03-30 15:51
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It has been 22 days since a mad mass of Moto3 riders all barreled into Turn 1 at Qatar at the same time


Sun sets, speed goes up - Dennis Foggia chasing a time as darkness falls


A new hero emerges? Joe Roberts came into his own at Qatar, converting previously shown promise into results


Darryn Binder practices his 1000-yard stare before the Moto3 race


The Moto2 race turned into almost as much of a thriller as the MotoGP race


Stefan Manzi on the MV Agusta. Who also make middleweight triples


Deniz Öncü - can he do better than his brother Can, who is now off in WorldSSP?


Tony Arbolino brings the bling on the Snipers Honda Moto3 machine


KTM waited until the Qatar race weekend to introduce their new engine. It made a big, big difference, bagging win #100 for them, and #4 for Albert Arenas


A Japanese rider winning in the desert - emotional times for Tetsuta Nagashima, after winning the Moto2 race and dedicating victory To Shoya Tomizawa


His teammate may have won, but Jorge Martin got his tire choice wrong and went backwards, like several other favorites


The perennial Moto3 problem: how to read your pit board


This is a big year for John McPhee, but a second place in the first race is a good start.


All hail the red, white, and blue


Fast moving - when we first started going to Qatar, not even a long lens would pick up Doha in the distance


Jorge Martin, shadow play


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Fri, 2020-03-20 16:14
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Jack Miller, Ducati, Misano 2019 MotoGP round

If you eavesdrop on a rider and his team debriefing in a garage during a session you’ll invariably hear a comment about chatter. It’s the oldest enemy for a rider because it robs confidence. With the bike moving underneath them they can’t open the throttle and the problem exaggerates the longer it continues.

But what exactly is chatter? It’s a harmonic imbalance created by vibrations and frequencies on a motorcycle. Man and machine need to be in perfect harmony to go racing but sometimes it’s the imperfect harmony of frequencies can upset everything for them.

"The word chatter gets used a lot, but a lot of the time, it's not strictly accurate," says former Moto2 crew chief and technical expert Peter Bom. "It's applied to everything which shakes and vibrates, but in the original sense, chatter was caused by the front or rear tyre (or both). Improved tyre construction has eliminated a lot of what used to be called chatter."

"There seem to be a wider variety of types of chatter now. The newer forms of chatter are at a lower frequency, and can sometimes be an old-fashioned bouncing movement. The video of Pol Espargaro from Thailand is a good example, where he had horrible chatter and had to hold the bike up on his elbow."

Bad vibes

With a rider hanging on for dear life they are doing all they can to ensure that while they are on track, they’re extracting every last ounce of performance from their bike. The only problem is that their bike is a box of vibrations that houses a 15,000rpm engine running on a bumpy circuit with a 70kg rider bouncing from one side to another.

The rider is pushing as hard as they can, trying to go fast. But that takes them deep into oscillation territory. "The harder you push a tyre, the more it slides instead of just rolling through the corner," Peter Bom explains. "Even a smooth slide is actually a continuous sequence of slipping and gripping again, slipping and gripping."

"This slip-grip sequence creates a vibration at a frequency which travels from the tyre into the motorcycle, and usually gets damped there by the frequencies of the other components of the bike, especially the suspension damping and springs. If you're unlucky, this frequency coincides with the inherent frequency of the motorcycle (the sum of many individual frequencies for each component of the bike) and these two will start to resonate in sympathy and amplify one another."

These vibrations and movements all have an effect on performance and if they’re not dealt with correctly they can wreck a weekend or indeed a season. Racing is all about compromises. Bikes need to be stiff but supple. They need to be forgiving yet also razor sharp.

Resonant frequency

Chatter is the enemy of this condition but something that needs to be constantly thought about. Every object in the world has a frequency when struck but musical instruments give us the best example of how these can affect a racing motorcycle. If you pluck a guitar string it releases a musical note. The guitar can release frequencies over a huge range, approx 1300 hertz, and this makes as powerful a weapon as a MotoGP bike is on track.

If you were to play a guitar and randomly select notes across the fretboard you can hear the differences between one and the next. You can feel it too because the vibrations cause the pitch of the note. Beethoven was deaf but could still “feel” the music from these vibrations.

A motorcycle is the same as an instrument the vibrations caused by the engine or the environment all creating their own notes. The key for a manufacturer is avoiding the frequencies that cause a dangerous resonance. This is the natural effect of harmonics with their frequency amplified.

"It's a bit like when you wet your finger and glide it around the edge of a wine glass," explains Peter Bom. "The glass will start to vibrate, and that creates an audible high tone. In our motorcycle, the rider can feel a high-frequency vibration in his backside or in his hands, while the bike takes a wider radius through the corner, in other words, it runs wide."

Every object has natural resonance frequencies that can cause them to amplify the frequency. Bridges and buildings have collapsed due to this phenomena - it’s why armies will walk out of step across a bridge for instance - and the destructive power of this has the same effect on a motorcycle. It causes it to vibrate and move underneath the rider.

"It starts in the tyre as a vibration, and this has to resonate with the other frequencies in the bike to create chatter," Peter Bom says. "The reason that not everybody suffers from chatter with the same tyres is because they are all riding different bikes."

Keeping everything taut

"This chatter happens when there is relatively little 'tension' in the bike. It often starts just after the rider releases the last bit of brake pressure, and disappears as soon as they open the throttle again. So especially during the rolling phase. It costs lap time, but it doesn't make you crash."

The easiest cure for this on a bike? Change the frequency by winding on the throttle or adding a touch of brake. "Riders can influence it themselves," Peter Bom explains. "Keeping tension in the bike for longer or using a different line can make a big difference. Remember the photos of Rossi, where you can see him still holding the front brake on while he is already starting to open the throttle? A rider like Lorenzo would have more issues than someone like Stoner."

Like playing a guitar and moving up through the fretboard you are increasing the tension on the string and changing the frequency. The goal on a race bike is to tighten the string by accelerating and forcing the centre of gravity to the rear of the bike. Easier said than done though for a rider with the bike bucking underneath them due to the forces of chatter, and pushing them off line.

Opening the throttle could make things even worse, though, and lead to a crash. The cure can be worse than the disease... Sometimes, just riding out the chatter and sucking up the loss of time is the better option.

Ten thousand piece puzzle

In the current era of aerodynamics in MotoGP and WorldSBK the key can come from the fairings of bikes. The ultra light carbon fibre shrouds are crucial to performance but depending on how the wind hits the fairing it can have a big effect on what happens with the bike. Is that air moving cleanly over the bike or is it causing a downstream effect to another part?

How can you reduce the effects of chatter? There’s lots of ways around it ranging from riding style and body positioning on the bike to teams adding weights to different parts of the bikes to ensure that the frequencies from certain parts can be eliminated. This equates to adjusting your style on the guitar. Instead of a harsh strum, you can reduce the force and suddenly the notes are the same but they come out cleaner.

There are no guarantees, however. "In terms of solutions, I have seen every suggestion under the sun," Peter Bom says. "You wouldn't believe it. The trouble is that one solution might work today but not tomorrow. You want to reduce the chance of resonance starting, but there are hundreds of components involved."

"Lead-filled axles, kilos of wheel-balancing lead stuck on all over the bike, extreme damping settings, you name it. If you had the choice, you would struggle on and then use a different tyre and try to get the best out of that. Sometimes you didn't have that luxury, though. A tyre that was sensitive to chatter would always start chattering more as it wore, a new one was OK for a little while."

A crew chief is in a constant battle to try and make the notes sing from their instrument. Sometimes it means harsh words with the rider but in most cases it’s about finding a compromise.


This is part of a series of articles published in partnership with RacingLowdown.com, run by MotoMatters.com contributor Steve English.

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Tue, 2020-03-17 09:40
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Fabio Quartararo at the 2020 Sepang MotoGP test

The announcement that the Petronas Yamaha SRT team had signed Fabio Quartararo for the 2019 MotoGP season was met with some skepticism. Why, the critics said, would you sign a rider with just a single victory to his name after four seasons in Grand Prix, and with two other podiums, both of which had come in his first year in Moto3?

Quartararo soon proved the critics wrong. The Frenchman impressed by qualifying in fifth place for his first race, and then again by setting the fastest lap of that first race after starting from pit lane due to stalling on the grid. Four races later, he put his signing beyond doubt, qualifying on pole and battling for the podium until a broken quickshifter took him out of contention.

Since then, Quartararo has gone from strength to strength. The Petronas Yamaha rider ended the 2019 season in fifth place, with six poles and seven podiums, two of which came as thrilling battles to the line with world champion Marc Márquez. He starts 2020 as one of Marc Márquez' main challengers.

Behind every great motorcycle racer is a smart crew chief, and Quartararo is no exception. The Frenchman has Diego Gubellini at his side, an engineer with over 20 years of experience in the Grand Prix paddock, including seven seasons as crew chief with the Gresini, Aprilia, and Marc VDS teams. In 2019, he joined the Petronas Yamaha SRT team to work with Fabio Quartararo.

I spoke to Gubellini at the Jerez MotoGP test in November of last year about working with Quartararo. He spoke candidly about how the collaboration came about, how he started the year with the Frenchman, and his approach to working with a rookie rider. We covered subjects from what impressed Gubellini most about Quartararo, finding the limit of the bike, and why Quartararo ended up topping so many sessions in search of a qualifying setup.

Q: What did you know of Fabio before you worked with him?

Diego Gubellini: Basically like everybody more or less. I started to hear about him when he arrived in the paddock because everybody was saying that he will be the next Márquez. Then of course I followed him a little bit. To be honest, not much, but a bit the first races he did in Moto3. Then in the second season, I didn’t follow him at all, to be honest. Then I really started to check what he was doing in Moto2, but his second season basically.

When he won the race in Catalunya, he actually surprised me. Then I started to check every race, not because I knew that he was my rider, but just because I was curious, to be honest. Basically, after the second season in Moto3 was not so good, then the first season in Moto2 was also not great, but then he won. Then he started to be more or less in the top ten. Basically for that reason. Then of course, when I knew that he would join us the Petronas team, of course. But not really very much. I never worked with him before.

Q: How did you prepare to work with him? Because the relationship between crew chief and rider is the most important relationship maybe in the entire paddock. Can you prepare before the season, before you meet him? Or do you have to go in with a completely open mind and just see what you get?

DG: Basically, from my point of view, I try to have a global picture of his career. What I noticed is that because everybody was talking about him like the new Márquez, I think he felt a lot of pressure and he made bad results for that reason. Then after that I said, okay, we make it simple, we try to not put pressure on him. Try to be positive and simple, because he’s a really young guy. This was the base of the 2019 season. This is how we prepared this season.

Then working with him, he doesn’t need so many special things, because he’s a quite easy guy, easy to work with. Nothing really complicated for me. I don’t know if it is because we match really good from the beginning, or because in general it’s quite easy to work with him.

Q: When you say keeping things simple, that would be not giving him too many choices, giving him the bike and saying, we think this will work for you? Does it mean limiting him?

DG: We didn’t put any limitations on him, but in general my style is to keep it simple, as simple as possible. For example, I don’t like to play a lot with the setup of the bike. I like to test the tires, let the rider make laps, adapt himself to the bike instead of changing the bike too much.

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Mon, 2020-03-02 12:31
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Marc Marquez' 2020 Honda RC213V at the Sepang test, with the aero package he rejected at the Qatar test

The cancellation of the Qatar MotoGP race and the Thai round of MotoGP in Buriram throws MotoGP's regular schedule into a bit of disarray. The deadlines under which the MotoGP manufacturers were working have suddenly been opened up again. Factories without concessions – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati – were due to homologate their engines this week, ahead of the first race, and all six manufacturers were due to submit their aerodynamics packages for homologation, although aerodynamics packages can vary per rider.

Similarly, teams were due to submit their gearbox ratios ahead of the first race, with a maximum of 24 different gearbox ratios and 4 different final drive ratios allowed during the season.

So now that Qatar and Thailand have been canceled or postponed, what happens next?

The FIM rule book is clear in that regard. Both engines and aerodynamics packages have to be homologated before the first event. This happens at Technical Control, or scrutineering, which happens on the Thursday before every event.

The rules for engines are covered in section 2.4.3.1.4.a of the FIM MotoGP rule book:

An approved MotoGP engine is one which has all parts included within the seals (Art. 2.4.3.3.2) identical in every respect to the parts included within the seals of a sample engine delivered to the MotoGP Technical Director no later than close of Technical Control of the first event (...)

The rules for aerodynamics are set out in section 2.4.4.7.10.ii.a:

The Aero Body is approved and samples or detailed drawings (to the satisfaction of the Technical Director) must be delivered to the Technical Director prior to the close of technical control at the first event of the season.

And the rules on gearbox ratios can be found in section 2.4.3.9.1.b:

Teams will be required to declare all the gearbox ratios chosen for each gearbox speed before the first race of the season, and only these declared ratios may be used during the entire season. Any ratios not declared before the first race of the season may not be used during that season.

First event

The key wording here is "the first event of the season". Despite Moto2 and Moto3 taking place in Qatar, the first event for the MotoGP class will, at the moment, be Austin. MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge confirmed this to us in an email. "All technical control requirements for MotoGP including, engine design, aero body approval, gearbox, etc, will now need to be declared in Austin," Aldridge wrote. That will continue to be the case unless Austin is also canceled or postponed.

The cancellation of Qatar also causes some confusion for Michelin. The French tire manufacturer has already submitted the list of all tire compounds and constructions to be used at each round of the 2020 season, a rule which had been demanded by the factories and the teams. Whether that list will change is unclear at the moment, although the only real reason to change the list would be to cope with rescheduled rounds.

More time for development?

With the first race of the season now postponed until April 5th at the earliest, the factories now have more time to work on their engines and aerodynamics. In theory, they could change engines or aero packages ahead of the first race.

The problem, of course, is that there are no more tests allowed for contracted riders (that is, riders with a permanent start in MotoGP for 2020) before the start of the season. The next test is due to be held after the Jerez round of MotoGP. Before that, the factories can only rely on their test riders.

The risk of relying on test riders to decide something as fundamentally important as an engine means that engine updates for anything other than reliability improvements are extremely unlikely to happen. Aerodynamics, on the other hand, is something which the factories could put in the hands of their test riders.

HRC's aerodynamics hole

This could turn out to be something of a blessing for Honda. With four more weeks, HRC could try to find an improvement to their failed aero package which was rejected by Marc Márquez at Qatar. It would give them more time to try to find a modified version of the 2019 package which had none of the downsides of the rejected 2020 package.

That, too, would be a risk, of course. If HRC test rider Stefan Bradl approves an aero package which turns out not to be an improvement, then Honda would be stuck with it, or have to revert to last year's aero, and forfeit their right to one updated aero package during the season.

At the very least, Honda, and the other factories, have more time to confirm their findings from the Sepang and Qatar test ahead of the start of the 2020 MotoGP season. For the moment, that is at Austin. But with the COVID-19 outbreak developing so quickly, everything is very much up in the air.


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