Sun, 2021-03-07 03:31

This is not a normal era, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pandemic touches things in unexpected ways. Sure, we knew that MotoGP testing had been restructured because of Covid-19, the Sepang test being dropped and an extra test in Qatar being added in its place.

But like all things in life, it is not quite as simple as it looks at first glance. Because the two Qatar tests are scheduled so closely together, the teams are not treating them as two separate tests. As far as the teams, and especially the factories, are concerned, there is not a two-day test and a three-day test. Instead, there is one five-day test with a two-day break in the middle.

Viewing the next week as a single test means drawing up a totally different testing plan. Instead of cramming a race simulation run into the first two-day test, then another in the second three-day test, the teams are working methodically towards arriving at a race setup ready for next Thursday or Friday, when they can do a proper long run in readiness for the first race of the 2021 MotoGP season on March 28th.

The long test

All that means that the first day of testing was, not exactly relaxed, but a little more focused and methodical. There was no rushing to complete a program; instead the riders had time to get back up to speed after three months off a MotoGP bike, and the teams spent their time working out a base setup to use as a benchmark for measuring progress.

Throw in excessively strong winds for most of the first day, and a track that was still covered in dust, and there was little to be learned for outside observers on Saturday. We can only draw the most general of conclusions about the day's work. We certainly didn't get a glimpse of who might end up with the 2021 MotoGP crown when the season wraps up in November.

Nor did the riders themselves. At 5.38km Qatar is the third-longest circuit on the calendar, behind only Silverstone and Sepang. It is also one of the widest, with an average width of 12m. Even with nearly 29 riders using the track, it is rare to actually come across another bike as anything other than a dot in the distance.

Into the void

"I saw nobody," said a surprised Aleix Espargaro . "It's curious because today was very beautiful, to see the track and the TV. We were close to 30 riders in MotoGP. I think this never happened ever. Really it has been very nice but I was all the day alone. I did also two longer simulations and also I was alone. So hopefully in the next days I can take some draft and understand the other bikes."

The scale of the track had also put paid to Valentino Rossi's plans to help his brother Luca Marini, making his debut in MotoGP. "Unfortunately I haven't seen Luca on the track and he hasn't seen me," the Italian veteran said. "Here in MotoGP, it's always very difficult to organize a run together but for sure before the end of the test we will do some laps together."

For a lot of riders, their main objective was just to get the feeling back with a MotoGP bike. Though most had spent time on a production sportsbike at tracks somewhere, even the rocketships which are modern liter bikes are a different world to MotoGP. Getting used to the power, to arriving at the end of the straight at well over 330 km/h – or in the case of Jack Miller's Ducati GP21, 350.6 km/h – before hammering on the brakes for Turn 1.

Up to speed

"I struggled a lot to get used to the M1 again," Fabio Quartararo said, the Frenchman making his debut in the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team. "Honestly I think more than half a day, because to switch from the R1 to the M1 I was totally lost."

"To be honest we didn't test that much today in terms of items," Jack Miller, another recent factory promotee, this time at Ducati, explained. "It was more about getting back the feeling of riding a MotoGP bike. The first few laps, especially with this wind, felt very strange after being off the bike for quite some time. In general everything was pretty good but I don't know if it's because I had been riding the Panigale for the last few weeks but everything felt strange! The handlebar position, the seating position and everything felt strange for a few laps."

The wind had been a massive factor. "I think that the wind had a lot to do with that because you're wobbling around a little to try and not get in anyone's way," Miller said. It was only once the wind died down towards the end of the day that things became a little easier. And by then, everyone was pretty much up to speed anyway.

Experience helps

It was no surprise, then, that the two fastest riders were two who have already done some testing this year. Aleix Espargaro put the 2021 Aprilia RS-GP into top spot, with a time well under the race lap record. Honda test rider and Marc Márquez substitute Stefan Bradl finished second, less than two hundredths of a second outside the record. Both Espargaro and Bradl have spent time testing in Jerez earlier in the month, and so already have MotoGP miles under their belts.

Reigning world champion Joan Mir was pleased to have been fastest of the riders who hadn't already been on track this year. Riding a MotoGP bike is not something you can prepare for, he said. "You can train a lot but the MotoGP, it's something that we cannot practice at home, with the race bike. What is really important is to have in your mind, to put in your mind everything together to ride the MotoGP bike. It’s something that is not easy. That’s why I’m happy today because straight away I was able to be fast, looks like I was on the MotoGP bike yesterday. So it’s not bad. In front of us, we have people that were able to test this year, and today is our first day."

Mir's third fastest time is notable also because the one weakness of the Suzuki in 2020 was the bike's single-lap pace. Qualifying was the GSX-RR's Achilles' heel, and the one point which the factory acknowledged they most urgently needed to work on. So to be third quickest on the first day was a positive sign.

"It was not a bad lap time, honestly," Mir said. "I feel quite good. It’s only the first day, and to do 1'54 the first day here in Qatar with a tire that is not that soft, that normally we didn't have here in the past, a tire with a little bit less grip than the normal one, even with this tire we were able to do good lap times. But we are working on that. We are working on some specs on the bike to make the bike work better with new tires."

This time it's different?

Aleix Espargaro may already have some track time under his belt, but that wasn't the sole reason for the speed of the Aprilia RS-GP. The Noale factory genuinely appears to have made a step forward again with the Aprilia MotoGP machine. And having concessions meant they could also get through more testing work.

"The bike sincerely does not look like a revolution, but to ride it, it is quite different. Especially regarding the stability we make a big step forward," Aleix Espargaro said. "It is now more stable, also on the aerodynamic side they did a big big job and it is really different in acceleration. I feel like we made one improvement and the bike has a lot more downforce so I feel it more physically than last season's bike."

The stability meant he could get out of the corner faster, Espargaro said. "The bike is more stable so it has allowed me to accelerate much better which is more than welcome. We still have to understand the bike and see the strong points and the weak points."

Despite improved acceleration, the Aprilia is still a long way behind the Ducatis in terms of top speed. That was not a cause for panic, according to Espargaro. "Sometimes it is not just the engine, it is a bit more complicated than that," the Spaniard said. "With the new MotoGP era from four or five years ago and with all the aerodynamics it is more difficult."

"I have to say that I am accelerating better than ever, but clearly the top speed we have to improve," Espargaro continued. "Our top speed is lower than last year and we are losing 15 km/h compared to the Ducatis. So there is room to improve there. But as I mentioned, the aerodynamics allow you to turn better or not, to accelerate more or less, and to make more top speed. Now we have to find the balance and today I tried two different aerodynamic packages that we still need to understand."

Ducati's aero fever dreams

Aerodynamic packages caught the attention in the Ducati garage as well. Both Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia went out with the Bologna factory's latest innovation, a sort of scoop attached to bottom of the fairing, angling air toward the lower part of the fairing. As pictures can speak a thousand words, here are some photos from Cormac Ryan Meenan. ( subscribers can click on the photos to get hi-res versions which make it easier to zoom in.)

Note the scoops on the lower fairing

A better view of the front of the scoops, and the angle of the vanes inside. Note also the spot of light in front of the rear wheel from the height sensor

From the side, the shape and angle of the scoop, and the modified side vent is clear. The Kistler optical sensor measures height from the ground, angle, tire deflection, and speed

Here is the standard fairing from the bike launch for comparison

What might the purpose of these new aero scoops be on the Desmosedici fairing? It is hard to speculate without seeing the precise exit angle of the ducts. But it looks like the objective is to channel air to the bottom of the fairing, and angle it downward. It could be managing the flow of air onto the scoop below the swingarm, which Ducati use to force the rear wheel into the ground and create more grip. Or it could be used to improve the behavior of the bike while heeled hard over, at near full lean angle.

Whatever the purpose, both factory Ducati riders were coy about what the scoops did. "It's a little too early to say anything about the aero, because the conditions weren't the most ideal to test aero," Miller said, hedging his comments. "We had 30 km/h winds so it's hard to say much about the aero. There weren't any noticeable negatives though but we need to make sure it's what we're looking for."

Pecco Bagnaia was a little more forthcoming, though not by much. "I liked it," the factory Ducati rider told Italian media. "It has positives and negatives. There are more positives, and I think that it will be useful at tracks like these." Unfortunately for Bagnaia, he broke the fairing in a crash, bringing his testing of the new aero to an end.

The new parts are all entirely legal, though once again, Ducati, under the canny leadership of Gigi Dall'Igna, has found a way to observe the letter of the law while violating the spirit in every conceivable way. No doubt the Grand Prix Commission will try to ban the addition of such scoops in the future, but any move to do so will further poison the atmosphere inside the MSMA, and create an added layer of complexity in the rule book.

Neither of these things is particularly desirable, but the focus on aerodynamics development is now an inevitable and inherent part of MotoGP. The aerodynamics cat is not just out of the bag, it is out of the building and across the fields and off to destroy the bag industry, to prevent ever being put back in again.

New boy

While Ducati's aerodynamics may have been the most visually arresting, the debut of Pol Espargaro on the Repsol Honda had captured the imagination of the fans. Would Espargaro be able to tame the fearsome RC213V, or would he crumple like three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo, who was the last factory rider to switch to the Honda team?

Pol Espargaro's massive smile at his media debrief betrayed the Spaniard's optimism that this was a battle he would win. Though he finished in a lowly seventeenth position on the timesheets, his deficit to his Aprilia-borne brother Aleix was just 1.2 seconds. And he was within a few tenths of Fabio Quartararo and Valentino Rossi on factory-spec Yamaha M1s, factory Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia, and his former factory KTM teammate Brad Binder. This was not a bad start.

"Good," was how he characterized his first day on the Repsol Honda. "I mean a lot of work. As you can imagine especially feeling the limits of the bike. It's pretty difficult with this grid of young guys, super strong guys, you need to push straight away and you need to be fast otherwise you are very very far away. So as a first day it was okay."

He hadn't been pushing for a fast lap time, Espargaro said. "We were just checking the bike – the brakes, position on the bike. Not going through the electronics or big things like chassis or something like that, just trying to learn as much as possible." He had spent so much time on the bike – a total of 68 laps, second only to Fabio Quartararo – he had worked his way through his entire allocation of Michelin tires. "We ran out of tires because we started very early and so we couldn't put one at the end. But very happy overall and looking forward to tomorrow. I think tonight we will work a lot and it's going to be a better day tomorrow."

Back to the future

The other big change was at Yamaha, where Valentino Rossi and Fabio Quartararo swapped places, moving between the factory and satellite squads. More important, however, was the debut of the new chassis, closer to the design of the 2019 spec used by Franco Morbidelli last year to finish second in the MotoGP championship.

Again, riders were coy, not willing to give too much away. "Well, we tested the new chassis of our bike, but like I said, it was half a day to get back to ride properly with the bike," Quartararo said. The Frenchman put his lack of feedback down to being so rusty after being off the bike so long. "I can't really say if it's better or not. So we will have one more day to test really properly tomorrow, and I can feel a little bit more details."

Valentino Rossi was equally reticent. "I did some laps with the new chassis, and the first touch is not so bad," the Petronas Yamaha rider said. "But I did just 6 or 7 laps, because we concentrated on the standard bike today. So maybe we will have the idea more clear in the next days. The first touch was not so bad. But also we have some other stuff and some interesting things, so we hope to improve the feeling. We will have five days, so you try to divide the work, because it's a long way and it's a bit too early to say."

How did Rossi feel about being in a satellite team after such a long time in factory squads? "This morning I was very excited because it's the start of a new adventure," the Italian veteran said. "New colors, new team, and everything, and this gives me a lot of motivation, a lot of strength to work." But as a rider on a factory-spec bike with factory support, not that much had changed, said Rossi. "It was strange at the beginning, the first exit. But at the end, the bike is always my M1, also if she change the dress, the rest is the same."

Mother knows best

Valentino Rossi also revealed that he was getting advice on riding from back home. His brother, Luca Marini, had told the media that their mother Stefania kept an eagle eye on everything that went on on track.

"She's very technical in every advice," Marini said. "She texted me something about – I don't remember sincerely, but she sent me a message for sure about something like braking, or entry of the corner. She's checking also the live timing and also the sectors, she is telling me the sectors where I am losing more. It's nice. She has a very big passion for this sport."

Valentino Rossi confirmed what his brother had told us. "My mother is always very technical and always has interesting things to say," the Italian told the media. "You can say she always has really another point of view! But we always enjoy, because with Luca and my mother, we always make technical questions to her, and it's very funny to hear what she thinks."

Stefania's advice may be funny, but it was also searingly accurate, Rossi acknowledged. "Yeah, yeah! She's also right, she has a great experience because you imagine that she started to follow motorcycle races with Graziano 40 years ago, and after that Valentino, and after that Luca, so she has more experience than me!"


Rossi's teammate Franco Morbidelli was fastest Yamaha again, just as he had been last year. The Petronas Yamaha SRT rider had gotten through a lot of work, and found his bike improved, even though it was "merely" an updated 2019-spec Yamaha M1. "Many, many small details, and this is the Yamaha style," Morbidelli replied when questioned about the changes to the bike. "To change many small thing that finally can improve the package. I cannot go into detail as I don’t know them yet, but Ramon showed me a paper with all the things that have changed on the bike and there were a lot."

"They are small of course because the bike looks the same and actually feels quite the same," Morbidelli said. But the most pleasing change was that they had found some more top speed. "We have seen that there are some improvements. Today on the straights I was not last as last year. I was able to be more or less halfway in the speed chart today, so I’m really happy about that and thankful to Yamaha."

Morbidelli's enigmatic and idiosyncratic approach to life and racing were symbolized by the fact that his new helmet design featured a colorful array of flowers, an unusual sight in a field that is usually reserved for dour machismo.

The idea had come from Italian designer Aldo Druid, Morbidelli said. "We wanted to change something with the design this year with Aldo. He had the idea of putting some flowers on the helmet, because he told me if you are not going to do it then who else is going to do it?"

The contrast with the usual array of hackneyed symbols amused Morbidelli. "I mean, in such an aggressive world to bring something like flowers it is not usual and normal. They don’t communicate aggressivity or anger or something aggressive like a devil could be or something more racing or aggressive. So I said yes I want to put some flowers on my helmet. Because of my behavior and who I am, we decided to put some flowers and I think they came out really nice."

The chosen design was a floral tribute to his two homes of Brazil and Italy, Morbidelli explained. "I wanted to maintain the two flags, as I am really linked to the two flags, but I think it came out pretty well because the flags remain, but there are some Brazilian tropical flowers on the Brazilian side and some Italian and European flowers on the left side. I think it’s quite a good and colorful design. I hope you all like it."

Franco Morbidelli remains a unique individual, a racer who follows his own path. So far, that path has led him to a surprising amount of success. The next few days will give us a hint of how much more is to come.

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Sat, 2021-03-06 12:52

Very few changes to Suzuki's lucky livery

Then again, why change a winning team?

Joan Mir is running the #1, but as his name, not his number

A stylish way to show off your sponsors

Monster may be bringing money, but the addition of the logo detracts from the Suzuki's clean design

Cooling ducts on the latest Brembo brakes

The end Suzuki hope to be showing to their rivals

Alex Rins has unfinished business after starting last year with an injury

Torque sensor on the output shaft, water pump, and massive Monster logo

Easily the most beautiful exhaust system in MotoGP. Or indeed anywhere

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Wed, 2021-03-03 17:57

2021 is going to be a decisive season for Valentino Rossi. Then again, we have been saying that for some time, as the 42-year-old Italian MotoGP legend continues his career well beyond what even the most experienced MotoGP hands ever expected. Will he carry on racing? Has he still got what it takes to chase podiums and win races? Is a seventh MotoGP title and tenth Grand Prix title still a realistic possibility?

Those are big questions after Rossi's worst ever season in Grand Prix racing. The Italian scored his lowest points total with 66 points from 12 races, his lowest points average at 5.5 points a race, and his worst finishing position in the championship with a 15th position. He scored a single podium, matching his previous worst season tally in Grand Prix in 2011, when he also ended with just one podium during his disastrous first year at Ducati.

For 2021, Rossi moves to the Petronas Yamaha SRT team. The Italian must put his faith in the benefits of the best-run satellite team in MotoGP, and in Yamaha's engineers having learned the costly lessons of last year, and finding a solution to the M1's turning woes.

The Petronas Yamaha SRT team held a zoom media debrief with Rossi ahead of the first test of 2021, the first opportunity the media have had to talk to the Italian since he joined the Malaysian squad for this season. Rossi talked about moving to a satellite team, his hopes and expectations for 2021, how he will make a decision on his future, and his friendship with new teammate Franco Morbidelli.

Q: You are back in a satellite team after a long time as a factory rider. Are you hoping to thrive in a more relaxed environment?

VR: I was a factory rider for long, long time. I think from 2002 to 2020, so 19 seasons in MotoGP. But in the first two seasons for me in the 500s I was in similar situation because I was in a satellite team. It’s true, it’s 20 years ago and with the 500 it was another world. But in that moment I felt very comfortable. Like you said, from what I understand there are less people to work around the bike. But also in the satellite team the way to work is a bit different. You can focus more about the performance of the race than the development of the bike during season. This can be good. I’m happy about my technical situation. I have the full support from Yamaha. This team in their first two seasons showed they can win races and can bring their rider to the top. I expect a very high level and I can’t wait to start the season.

Q: What are your expectations for 2021?

VR: It’s life, the 26th season is very long! But I don’t race just for spend the time. This is a very important season for me. I come from the last two seasons, 2019 and 2020 that were less than I expect. Especially the results. The result will be the key. I want to be competitive, to be stronger than in last two years, fight for the podium and try to win races and try to be competitive through all the season. I hope also the season, if the Covid is not fixed, I hope it will be more normal than last year. That we can use all the tracks in the right period. The target is to be strong from the beginning to the end.

Q: Will this be your last year? And what will your decision depend on?

VR: I will decide during the summer break. So, in the middle of the season. I want to make half a season. And my decision is based on the result. If I’m strong and can fight for the podium, can fight for the victory, I can continue for another year. Or if not, no. I will decide around summer.

Q: Did you ever imagine joining a new team at 42? And do you see Miguel Oliveira as a candidate for the title?

VR:bYeah. You never know what happens in a long career. I think that now for me and my moment it’s good to be in the Petronas team SRT. The technical support is good. The team demonstrated they can win races.

And I think Oliveira, after the performance of last year and now he’s in factory team, he can be a hard contender for the championship. I’ll put his name for the championship fight.

Q: Did you hear what Franco Morbidelli said yesterday?

VR: Yes, he said the friendship with me is more important than MotoGP?

Q: What do you think about it?

VR: Yeah, I agree with Franco. I’m happy with what he said. For sure the real friendship between persons is something very important for me in my life. It’s also because I always spend time and the power for have good friends. If you need to have a real friend and good friend, you have to work a little bit. It’s not easy!

I’m very good friends with Franco for a long time. We work together to bring him in MotoGP. I’m very happy to be his team-mate. He’s in a very interesting situation. Nobody is expecting me and him. For sure it will be hard to manage because to fight – you know your teammate is your first rival. To fight and continue to be friends you need to have a real friendship, a real relationship. It will be not easy but I think we can do it. And I hope we can be both competitive to try and win races.

Q: How are your preparations for this season?

VR: This year we can make the work, the preparation more normal. Last year on March 1st they said to us to stop, so we stopped for 3 months. Sincerely we didn't know if we would restart and when we would restart. It was a bit difficult to arrive at the first race at 100 percent.

This year the situation is more clear. We have the data more clear. We can work more. When you become older you have to work harder. Especially for the breath. More work on bike, more running and try to improve your high capacity. I feel good, I feel in a good shape and ready for start. But we need to wait for this first test. We’ll have 5 days on the bike. And after this test we can have the idea more clear.

Q: Wilco Zeelenberg said it would be better to reduce the time you spend in front of the computer studying data? Are you going to change your style? And also, your thoughts on Fausto Gresini?

VR: For the first question, sincerely I’m open for everything. I think from what I understand in the satellite team we’ll have less people to work around the bike. But you can concentrate more on the race on Sunday. When you are in factory team you have part of work that is to develop the bike during the season and form the next season. This takes a lot of time. I can’t wait to start to work with this team. This is my idea, my picture from outside, but I’m not inside. We have to understand the better way to work together with Wilco and all the guys. But for sure I’m open for everything.

About Fausto, it’s a very sad story. Also, a story that is a bad feeling for everybody. In the end Fausto was in a good shape, with 60 years old and he dies from the Covid. Everybody understands you can die from the Covid, even if you are OK.

For me personally, I know Fausto from when I was very young. When he was still a rider, I remember when he fight with Capirossi, because I followed all the races. Because [Rossi's father] Graziano is a former rider I know all the riders, I know also Fausto.

After we were very strong rivals. We fight against from 250 when he was with [Loris] Capirossi in 99, and also we fight for the MotoGP championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with Sete [Gibernau] and also in 2005 and 2006 with [Marco] Melandri. So, we were strong rivals. I think Fausto is a strong point in the paddock for the Italians. Also, because he is similar to the Academy. He has a Moto3 team. He grows up young riders. Moto2 and MotoGP. Also, our team is 15km from his team. We always speak about. It’s very bad that we don’t have Fausto anymore. He’s an important image for the paddock.

Q: Is it good to be racing, and not to be developing bike? And what are your thoughts on Cal Crutchlow as a test rider?

VR: I need to understand. Anyway, will be different, yes. You can concentrate more on the weekend and the priority is not to develop the bike. So this is good for the result. We saw that in the last year have a lot of strong results, the satellite riders. Sometimes the factory riders have more problems. This is good for me.

We expect a strong support from Cal. Because Cal is a MotoGP rider. He stopped just last year. He’s in a good shape. He ride Honda for a long time. He can give to Yamaha some advice. I want to speak with him after his first touch with the M1.

Q: Morbidelli was very successful with the 2019 Yamaha M1. Want to test Frankie’s bike?

VR: No. Because Yamaha have already decided last year. They said that the 2020 is for me, Maverick [Viñales] and Fabio [Quartararo]. And Franco will continue with the ‘19 bike. This will be a very important aspect for this year. We need to understand if they are able to improve the 2020 bike or if the ‘19 is still very competitive. It will be a bit more hard in the team with two different bikes. This makes a bit of confusion. But anyway, it’s not a big difference but anyway I will not ride the old one.

Q: Have you thought about how it will be when you retire?

VR: Yes, it’s not an easy decision. But for sure everything depends on the result. If I can be competitive, if I can fight for the podium, for the victory, I can continue for another year. This is my idea. But I don’t speak to the team or to Yamaha. Maybe they say to me I don’t have a decision! [laughs] It’s possible.

Yes, it will change a lot my life. But I’m not very worried. I know I have had a long, long career and I’m happy. About my power, I can have also another season but it depends on the results. And after when you stop after 26 years of this life, something will change. But I want to continue to be a driver and I want to race with the cars. Maybe it will change but not a lot. I hope!

Q: Is Cal Crutchlow as a test rider the missing piece of the puzzle for Yamaha?

VR: I think that Cal can make the difference, can help a lot Yamaha. Also, I have a good relationship with Cal. So, I’m very happy to work with him. It depends very much on the motivation. To be a test rider, it’s not easy. For sure you have to find the motivation to push to the limit of the bike also if you don’t race. This will be not easy for Cal. I hope he arrive with good motivation, with a good approach. He stopped just this winter so he’s in a good shape. This can make the difference, I think.

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Tue, 2021-03-02 17:58

Franco Morbidelli was the surprise of the 2020 MotoGP season. The Petronas Yamaha SRT rider shocked the MotoGP world by finishing second in the championship, and comfortably the best Yamaha rider, on a year-old M1 machine. But Morbidelli went into the 2020 with very little pressure on him. After a mediocre 2019, in which he had been overshadowed by his teammate Fabio Quartararo, expectations for him were low.

That was not how Franco Morbidelli saw it himself. Angry and frustrated at his performance in 2019, he massive stepped up his training and focus for 2020. That effort paid off handsomely, with three race wins and a second place in the MotoGP riders championship.

Morbidelli goes into 2021 in a very different position. Universally acknowledged as one of the favorites for the title, a great deal is expected of the Italian, despite once again being the only Yamaha rider on the older, 2019-spec M1. He has a new teammate, Fabio Quartararo having departed for the factory team, while Morbidelli's long-time friend and mentor Valentino Rossi steps down from the Monster Energy Yamaha squad to join him in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team.

After yesterday's launch of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, today the media got a chance to speak to Franco Morbidelli. It was a fascinating interview, in which Morbidelli revealed himself to be part athlete, part poet, and part philosopher, and showed a remarkable sense of perspective. Morbidelli spoke of his ambitions for 2021, his relationship and rivalry with Valentino Rossi, and the importance – or lack thereof – of racing.

Q: Last year you beat your teammate and finished 2nd. Can you do the same this year?

FM: I hope so. I will try to do similar results to last year. I have been working exactly as last year, if not better. So I will try to make the same performance on track, I will try to bring the same stuff that I brought last year on track. I have more knowledge in myself, I have more trust in myself, I have more trust in the package and more knowledge of the package, given the fact that the package is going to remain the same. So everything is a little bit more known than last year, so everything has room for development, apart from the package. So I will try to do the same results as last year. I don't know if I will manage, but I will try.

Q: It seemed like you took motivation from being on old bike last year, will you have the same this year?

FM: I am bringing that same motivation. I'm going to be honest with you. 2019 got me pretty frustrated as a rider, and that frustration made me pull something out of me that I wasn't expecting, or at least I wasn't waiting for that. So I'm going to use that kind of feeling at my service also this year. I hope it's going to work out. I don't know. So I will try to do that.

What do I expect from the machine? I don't know what to expect. I know that my bike is going to be the same, and I hope that some small updates that fit both bikes, factory and my one, are going to come on my bike also, because anyway small updates are going to help. So I don't know what to expect from the other machines.

I saw that Ducati was very strong last year, especially at the end of the season with Jack, so I suppose that they are working and trying to improve, and I expect them big time this year. I expect Suzuki. These are the two main strengths, I would say, thinking about it just now. Those are the two main machines that I expect this year.

Q: Other riders say you're one of the favorites? Do you feel you have to fight for title, or are you not thinking about it?

FM: I cannot hide, I don't want to hide behind preset answers. So last year I did a very good season, and toward the end of the season I was able to feel great with the bike, and to be able to attack and squeeze the things and the performance at a level that wasn't expected by anyone. So it's my duty and my job to replicate that feeling and to replicate that performance. If I'm able to replicate that I will be able to fight for the championship and important positions in the championship and not just single races. That's my job, that's my duty, that's what I want to do, and that's what I will try to do.

I know it's not just about human, it's also about machine. But I also know that the gap between my machine and every other factory machine is not as big as it would be if it were two normal seasons. These are two very strange seasons, and the development of the bikes is not going forward very fast, and as fast as it would be in a normal one.

So I hope and I think that the gap, if there is a gap, has remained similar or the same to last year. I hope that it's going to be just about the human side, and I really trust in that side and that matter, so I will really try to make a good job.

Q: Any specific changes in the way you trained? Anything you have specifically worked to improve?

FM: Yes, we are trying to be a little bit more powerful for one single lap. I was able to make two pole positions last year, but I definitely have to improve on that side. So we've been trying to improve on that area. Especially at the gym, but also on track I try to focus a little bit more on being a little bit more powerful in one single lap. So that's a thing we've been trying to improve this winter. Plus trying to make a small step everyone else.

Q: What did you do to improve yourself as well?

FM: Well, I have got to say, I got more serious about my job from 2019 to 2020. I got more serious, I started to train more, I started to train better, I started to focus more on motorcycles, and I like that, I like that quite a lot. Because the serious behavior that I had to maintain was reflected in results, and I liked that quite a lot. So I kept doing this and I kept having that behavior also this winter. OK I was forced to, but I enjoyed more going through the misery, and going through the training this year because of what I felt last year, because of what it gave me back last year.

Q: Were there any moments you would have done different last year, things you learned you can use in 2021?

FM: Well, there are some technical details that we can improve for the race this year. I think last year we threw away some races because of some small technical details that we needed to care about a little bit more than we did. So I think that caring a little bit more about these small details this year will allow us to not throw away any important points. We will focus more on the details this year.

Q: Are you worried about how your relationship with Valentino Rossi will change now he is your teammate? Any decisions you have made with yourself about how to handle this?

FM: With Vale, I make to myself the same wish that I make to myself towards all my friends. I hope to be fair, just, and right, with all my friends, not just with Vale. Vale is a big friend of mine, and his figure is maybe even bigger than a friend, and I hope to be fair, just, and right towards him in every aspect of life. We race against each other, and to be fair, right, and just with him and with me, I need to race against him, and I will race against him in the same way that I have been racing against him all my life.

Nothing is going to change. Of course we are fighting for something big, but we need to remember that nothing is as big as friendship, love.

The human side is more important than games. This is just a game. A pretty important one, a game we have been doing since we were a little kid, but it's still a game. So it's important to remember this when we are fighting, and I hope we will be fighting for top spots and important things.

Q: Valentino Rossi has seen many of the riders he has mentored do very well, riders such as yourself, Luca Marini, Pecco Bagnaia. It seems like he feels a father's pride when his pupils succeed?

FM: I don't know what goes through his mind when he sees his pupils doing so well. Trying to understand him, I think he's filled with pride, that's for sure. That's one of the main things that is going through his mind when he sees me, Luca [Marini], Bezze [Marco Bezzecchi], but also the other riders going well, I think he is more filled with pride and he's more happy about his job and his work and his legacy.

Q: Rossi always believed in you from the beginning. Does this come from him training with you at the Ranch? And who is the fastest in training there now?

FM: We all train together, and I think that in training, you can see, you can taste and understand the matter of a character. And you can understand some sides and some faces of someone's way of thinking and someone's behavior. So we know this is what we mean when we say, we know each other well. This is not just Vale, this is all the guys of the academy. We know each other well because we train together and we see how we behave in certain situations.

But I also believe that racing with real bikes, Moto3, Moto2, MotoGP, it's a little bit different, it's a different matter, it's a different world, it's something a little bit more serious, and mostly everybody of us brings something else, something extra – sometimes something less, but mostly something more – in the real racing.

So I think Vale had an idea of myself, knowing me from our training, and he brought that image and idea also to the real racing. That's for sure. And that's why he was believing in me when I had no one behind me in 2012, and that's why he was believing in me when I was struggling in MotoGP in 2018. so that's why we all have this kind of thinking about one another.

Q: When you see Rossi in the garage opposite you, will you see Valentino or the first rival to beat?

FM: I will see both. It's difficult to split. Our thoughts never go in one direction. Our thoughts always go in different directions, and it's difficult to pinpoint one. Maybe in one moment and in one situation, I will see him as the first guy to beat. And then five minutes later I will see him as one of my best friends. So it's difficult to pinpoint one of the two. I think that for sure when I will be in the pitbox, I will feel more that sporting feeling. So the first rider to beat, for sure. I will have that feeling more. But it's difficult to split the rider from the friend.

Q: What do you think about Marc Márquez?

FM: I think he had a huge injury. He had one of the worst injuries that we have ever seen from a top sportsman. I don't remember seeing a rider and a guy that's at his pinnacle losing one year of his job, of his sport. I don't remember. So it's going to be difficult to come back in the same shape and in the same way he has always been. But not impossible.

Q: Will it be impossible mentally or physically for Márquez to come back?

FM: If I put myself in his shoes, I don't know the extent of his injury, but it's a pretty big one, I don't know the pain he is going through right now, so I cannot judge about that, I can't judge about physical struggles. But I can judge about mental struggles. And I know that such a big injury for sure has repercussions in your head. Because we are humans, and we remember bad stuff. That's what brought us ahead in evolution. So we remember back stuff, and to fight against something a big bad thing is going to be tough. But he's a tough guy, he's a tough athlete, and he's a tough person, so I don't see why he won't be able to fight back and come back as he was.

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Tue, 2021-03-02 02:26

There has been a reversal of roles in the Yamaha camp. The youthful Fabio Quartararo has swapped the confines of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team for the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. In turn, the 42-year-old hoary veteran Valentino Rossi has been demoted from the factory squad into what is supposed to be the junior team, where young talent is nurtured and prepared to move up to the factory team.

Given the relative performance of the two Yamaha teams in 2020, it seems wrong to class Rossi's move as a demotion, or Quartararo's as a promotion. The Petronas Yamaha team finished second in the 2020 team championship, while the Monster Energy Yamaha team finished sixth. Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was the best-placed Yamaha rider, ending the season in second, while factory rider Maverick Viñales finished just 5 points ahead of second Petronas man Quartararo.

In that light, the rider reshuffle seems almost irrelevant. All four Yamaha riders will be on more or less the same spec of machines as in 2020, albeit with updates to start the 2021 season. Franco Morbidelli starts on an upgraded A-spec bike based on the 2019 Yamaha M1, while new teammate Valentino Rossi and factory riders Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo will race heavily revised version of the 2020 Yamaha. The engine homologation freeze for 2021 instigated at the start of the 2020 season in light of the Covid-19 pandemic means the difference in engine performance will be negligible.

First mover disadvantage

So why bother? Two factors led directly to Rossi's arrival in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, where he joins Morbidelli. The first was the MotoGP fad of signing contracts ever earlier, in an attempt to head off rival factories in a fiercely competitive rider market. That trend saw Maverick Viñales sign a contract for 2021 back in January of 2020, and then Fabio Quartararo promoted to the factory team ahead of the Sepang MotoGP test in February 2020. Both riders were signed for 2021 even before testing for the 2020 season had begun.

The second was the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the start of the MotoGP season pushed back all the way to July. With 14 races crammed into an 18-week period, that left little time for careful evaluations of riders over the course of several races. Decisions had to be made early, based on the risk of losing valued riders to other teams, and the relative benefits of signing an experienced rider versus a rookie from Moto2.

After the online launch of the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad, Team Principal Razlan Razali and Team Director Johan Stigefelt explained via the now customary zoom media debrief how they arrived at the line up they have for 2021, and their plans for the coming years. They gave a deep and frank assessment of things that went wrong in 2020, as well as of their major successes. And they shared their expectations of 2021, and their vision of what comes after that.

Both the presentation and the interviews given by Razali and Stigefelt emphasized how much of a Malaysian and Southeast Asian team Petronas is. With Petronas as the title sponsor, and the Sepang Circuit as an important part of the infrastructure, the team is heavily focused on that region and its markets.

The arrival of Valentino Rossi in the team is relevant here. The Italian legend has a massive following throughout the entire region, and his popularity has helped grow the popularity of the sport there.

"Overwhelming for a lot of the fans," is how Razlan Razali described Rossi joining the Petronas team. "In Malaysia and Southeast Asia, there are a lot of Valentino fans. I can remember that when I was managing the Sepang circuit, we had one whole grandstand of just Valentino tribute in the first corner, I think K1. I think we sold 18,000 tickets just on Valentino alone."

That enthusiasm would only increase, Razali predicted. "Before they were supporting him in a factory team, in the Yamaha factory team, in the blue colors. And now Valentino is joining us in a national team, in a Malaysian team. It's something that is quite exciting and overwhelming for the fans. It's important for us to have a Malaysian grand prix in October this year so we can race at home, and with Valentino racing in the team, it will be fantastic for the Malaysian grand prix, and the Malaysian fans and Southeast Asian fans."

The Malaysian grand prix has gone from having a handful of spectators to be completely sold out, and the region's fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated in the world. The Southeast Asian market is now a mature market for MotoGP. That was clear from the fact that the first two questions of Razlan Razali's debrief went to a Malaysian and an Indonesian journalist respectively. Both experienced and knowledgeable regulars in the MotoGP paddock, asking well-informed and hard-hitting questions.

The privateer

While Valentino Rossi's contract is a factory deal with Yamaha, to ride in the Petronas Yamaha team, Franco Morbidelli is contracted directly with the team. Unlike Ducati and Honda, where the satellite riders all have factory contracts, Morbidelli is paid by and has a deal with the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad.

Razlan Razali explained how that came about. "Well, after our first year, in the second year, the focus was very much on Fabio, and there was less emphasis on Frankie," the Team Principal explained. That was to be expected, given the phenomenal rookie season Quartararo had had in 2019, which was in stark contrast to Morbidelli's modest first year on a Yamaha.

But the Italian turned that around over the winter of 2020. "He had a good off season to prepare himself for 2020, and he came strong and we know the results," Razali said. "But when we started the championship in July, it's also the time we have to look to the future. And at that time, we had the two Jerez races, and that's where the problems started with Frankie's bike, mechanical problems. And though he was more consistent than Fabio, he only started to shine in Brno, to get his first podium."

Despite being just three races into the season, Petronas was forced to make a quick decision on Morbidelli. "At that time we could not wait and risk other teams talking to Frankie, and we are in a pandemic year where we don't want to take any risks looking at other riders. So continuity was important, so that's why we decided to sign Frankie directly for the next two years until 2022."

That early decision is why Morbidelli has ended up with a 2019 A-spec Yamaha for 2021. Given that Morbidelli finished second in the championship in 2020, that is not necessarily a disadvantage. Yamaha had explained their strategy to the Petronas team in 2019, Razali said, Morbidelli's 2019-spec M1 both a benchmark and a fallback position should development of the 2020 machine take a wrong turn.

"With Frankie's bike, this is what Yamaha have told us as well during the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2019, it's that the 2020 bike is a totally new bike," Razali explained. "If they develop it better, it can be great, if not, they have the risk of problems. So they wanted us to have two kind of specs so that the 2019 bike is like a fallback if anything untoward happens with the new bike."

To some extent, that is the scenario which played out, with the 2020 M1 dominant at some races and nowhere at others, while Morbidelli climbed to second in the championship thanks to consistently challenging for wins and podiums. "That's not to say that the 2020 bike is completely not very good, because the 2020 bike won 4 races collectively with Fabio and Maverick," Razali insisted. "It's just that the lack of testing by the test teams, no testing during the year, so they couldn't develop the bike any further, any more than they can. And it is a bike in its first year. So I believe they have already identified all these problems, and it will be better this year."

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Mon, 2021-03-01 02:06

The 2020 MotoGP season was something of a schizophrenic affair for Yamaha. On the one hand, a Yamaha won 7 of the 14 MotoGP races last year, with Franco Morbidelli finishing second in the riders' championship, Yamaha finishing second in the constructors' championship, and the Petronas Yamaha SRT team ending second in the teams' standings.

On the other hand, Yamaha's most successful rider was in a satellite team on a 2019-spec bike. Of the 7 Yamaha victories last year, the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team had just a single one. Morbidelli took 5 podiums on the 2019 M1, while Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Fabio Quartararo scored just 7 podiums combined. The first factory Yamaha in the championship – Maverick Viñales – finished in 6th, behind the Suzukis, a Ducati, a KTM, and Morbidelli on the 2019 M1.

There was the valve saga which saw Yamaha have points deducted in the constructors' championship for using non-homologated parts – switching valves between suppliers, and thereby breaking the homologation rules. And there were the brake issues at the Red Bull Ring, where the Yamaha riders insisted on using the older, smaller Brembo calipers which suffered overheating and even brake failure in the case of Viñales.

Was 2020 a good year for Yamaha? Yes. And no. Most of all, it was an inconsistent year, with the M1 (especially in factory guise) either at the front or struggling to score points. The 2020 Yamaha M1 showed lots of promise. But it also had some serious, and painfully obvious, flaws.

What does 2020 portend for 2021? With engine development frozen for the coming season, finding significantly more horsepower looks like an uphill task. But the engine freeze also means that at least Yamaha know their horsepower deficit will not get worse, Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis said at the launch of the Monster Energy Yamaha team's 2021 campaign.

"In terms of the performance level, in terms of pure horsepower, we know that we have a deficit to our competitors, so this will remain the same," Jarvis said. "But one of the advantages of this engine freeze situation is that the situation stays the same. If everybody was allowed to develop the engine, you could develop more horsepower. But maybe your your competitors can develop even more horsepower. So in this situation, I think it's fairly predictable how our performance will be, and let's see."

"Engine development is frozen, but it's just one element of the bike," Takahiro Sumi, Yamaha's MotoGP Project Leader said. "All other areas are open to development." Yamaha would use the parts not subject to homologation – exhaust, airbox, electronics – to try to improve engine performance.

Only KTM and Aprilia will have new engines for 2021, limiting the steps Yamaha's rivals can make. That gave Jarvis confidence, the Yamaha MD said. " I think we'll do fine. We won 7 races without having the same horsepower as our competitors, so I think we can do the same again."

Trouble brewing

Yamaha ran into problems at the very first race in 2020. At the Jerez round, both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales suffered engine failures, which would later be traced an issue with the valves used. The extreme heat of Jerez in July, coupled with a manufacturing process which created problems with durability, meant that the valves had to be swapped for items from the original supplier.

It later transpired that the Jerez valves were illegal under the homologation rules, as the valves from the original supplier were the ones they had homologated at the canceled Qatar round at the start of the season. Yamaha were later punished for that breach of the rules.

Will Yamaha face a similar problem, now that the engine homologation is frozen? Fortunately for them, the original supplier was able to produce sufficient valves for Yamaha for the 2021 season. "We were plagued by technical problems last year which showed up at the very first race of the season, even before the first race, and that was a problem for us to deal with," Lin Jarvis. "But fortunately for us, the valves in the engines that were homologated and the valves that we're going to be running in the engines this year are the good ones. So we're fortunate in that sense that we start the year with the valves that we know have no technical defect."

The sudden need to manage 13 races with just three – or in the case of Franco Morbidelli, two – engines had been extremely stressful, but also extraordinarily educational. Yamaha engineers and crew chiefs learned some very valuable lessons from having to cope with a reduced engine supply. Yamaha learned a lot about the durability of the engine, and how to minimize stress and wear on the engine using electronics and engine management systems.

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Mon, 2021-02-22 22:32

Marc Márquez' absence has left a gaping hole in MotoGP for the last seven months. Sure, the racing has been fantastic, and Joan Mir was a worthy winner of the 2020 title. But the fact that the man who won six of the last eight championships was missing from the series was the elephant in the room throughout last season, a presence noted all the more for his not being there.

The significance of Márquez' absence has been made all the greater by the near total radio silence out of the Spaniard's entourage. With the exception of a single interview given to Spanish TV broadcaster DAZN, the only thing that we have heard from Marc Márquez have been leaks from various sources around him.

The last time the general media had a chance to speak to the six-time MotoGP champion was last July, at the second round at Jerez, after his abortive comeback from the injury sustained in the first race. Márquez shattered the humerus in his right upper arm when he crashed out between Turns 3 and 4 at the opening MotoGP race of the season at Jerez. Márquez was doing push ups just hours after surgery, and decided to try to race at the Andalusian Grand Prix at Jerez, just a few days later.

Too early

Márquez would come to regret that decision. He rode on Saturday, but was forced to give up when he felt something shift in his arm, and he lost the strength to control a MotoGP machine. Then, a week later, the plate holding his humerus together broke from the strain of trying to open a heavy glass French window. Two operations followed, one to replace the broken plate, and another to replace the second plate, treat an infection in the humerus and insert material to promote bone growth.

Though rumors of an imminent return abounded throughout his absence, Márquez did not come back to racing in 2020. And indeed, it is far from certain that he will be ready at the first race in Qatar, though that remains his objective.

After the online launch of the Repsol Honda MotoGP Team for 2021, the general media finally had a chance to speak directly to Márquez. The Spaniard was open and direct, though there were still some things left unsaid, in part due to a lack of time. So what did we learn from what Marc Márquez told us? And what did we learn from what he didn't say?

The bigger pictures

The most important lesson Márquez learned from all this is a sense of perspective. "I learned a few things," the Repsol Honda rider responded when asked. "One of them is we take a lot of risk all the time. And sometimes we try to come back as soon as possible." That was not always the right choice, he said. "It’s not the most important thing to come back as soon as possible. This is what I learned in 2020. We did a mistake to come back in Jerez, and we must accept that mistake."

Márquez shouldered most of the blame for that decision. "It was a consequence of many things," he said, referring to the chain of events and discussions that had gone on between rider, team, his management, and the doctors. "But in the end, the last decision was mine. I felt I was able to do it. But I learned from that situation for the future."

Motorcycle racing is a team sport, Márquez emphasized, so there was no point trying to point fingers in search of a scapegoat. "In the end it was a decision of everybody. When we won a title we always speak about team and the people around me. When we do a mistake we must speak about everything. Of course the last decision is mine."

But Márquez hinted at not getting enough pushback from the medical profession, the doctors who operated on him and at the track. "When me, Honda and my team receive a good feeling from the doctors, then of course you try, because you know the riders, and you know how the riders are. If you say they can try, then they try."

Márquez paid a heavy price for that hubris. "I felt I was able to try," he said. "But what I felt was not what my body needed. This was the main thing."

Here too, he gained a sense of perspective. "At that point I don’t want to push the doctors. I mean, we took many, many decisions and we took many, many risks in the past already with other injuries. When it’s going in a good way we say it was a miracle, something that wasn’t human."

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Mon, 2021-02-22 12:20

The Repsol Honda team issued transcripts of the interviews from the Repsol Honda online launch. In the video, Marc Marquez talked about his recovery, his injury, and his expectations for 2021. Below is the transcript, the questions were asked by Honda PR:

Q: First of all, Marc, how are you and how is the recovery?

“Yeah of course, step by step I feel much better and the recovery is going in a good way and this is the most important thing. Every time that I went to the doctor, normally we had good news - that’s really important because last year was quite long and tough. But now, you know, we just try to follow my body with the physio, with the doctor and try to increase the work at home. I can’t say because I don’t know, and the doctors don’t know, when I will be ready. But the most important thing is that every week, not every day, but every week, I feel a bit better and I’m optimistic to be on the bike as soon as possible. I don’t know exactly when the day will be.”

Q: What are you aiming for in 2021?

“Normally the goal for a season, for a rider, is to try and win the championship and find small details to fight for the championship. But this 2021 season is completely different, my main goal is trying to enjoy being on the bike again. This will be the main target for me: to be on the bike again, enjoy the bike and then step by step start to be as fast as I was. But this will be, it’s something that you need to understand, and you can’t pretend to arrive one year without being on the bike and be the same Marc in the first race. It’s something that we must understand, and the main target is what I said, to enjoy being on the bike.”

Q: Do you think you will need time to adapt back to riding?

“The thing is that’s a difficult question because it’s the first time in my life, in my career, that there has been six, seven, eight, nine, ten months without a bike, with a big injury. Of course, the first time that I will ride the bike I will not be truly 100% because you know, one thing is to be 100% on the bone side, then being 100% on the muscles and all these things. We will see, I can imagine the best comeback that is to start riding the bike again and be the same, but it will be difficult to be like this. But we will see if it takes one race, two races, half the season to be the same Marc.”

Q: Who do you see as your biggest rival in 2021?

“The main opponents this year, honestly, now if I am honest, I don’t care. I don’t care who will be the strongest one because I have other goals but obviously to answer your question; it will be Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki. Of course, Suzuki, Mir is the World Champion so he must, he is the guy to defend the title. Suzuki did a great job last year, so they are the guys to beat and Yamaha, Ducati, and even KTM finished in a very good way with Oliveira, so yeah. But now I don’t care, it’s not my battle.”

Q: What did you miss most about not being at the races in 2020?

“Of course, I missed the entire team a lot, this is what I miss. But obviously I miss racing, I miss the adrenaline, but I miss everything a bit. Normally I hate events and all these things but also, I missed them. In the first part of the injury, you miss being on the track, to be racing and competing and having that adrenaline. Then you start to miss your team a lot, then you start to miss the atmosphere from the circuits and then you miss even the events, the interviews, the journalists but now step by step, it’s what I said, I feel that this feeling will come back soon.”

Q: You have raced against Pol for almost your entire career, how do you see him as a rider?

“Pol is a great rider, I battled against him in 125, since I was eight years old, we have raced together. Normally he was older than me and normally he beat me in the smallest categories but then when we arrived in the World Championship, we had a great battle in 2010, we also had a great battle in the Moto2 championship in 2012. This year past, 2020, he did an amazing season with KTM and his level was good, so I think that he has the talent that he needs, he’s coming from a great factory with great results and he’s arriving in the best team and needs to be on the podium in every race and to fight there in the top five, top three.”

Q: What is your first memory of Pol and which memory stands out the most in your mind?

“When I was 11 years old it was the first time that we were teammates in the RACC Impala with a Honda bike. It was in the Catalan Championship and that season he won the championship, I think I finished second or third, I don’t remember. But it was my first season, his second season in 125. We shared the team, then we passed to another team together to RACC CajaMadrid that was also with Honda. He was in the Spanish Championship and I was in the Catalan Championship and yeah, since that year he followed his way and I followed my way with different teams, same racetracks, nearly the same results but different teams. You can’t imagine as an 11-year-old you share a team and now at 27 years old you share a team again.”

Wed, 2021-02-17 17:04

Two major changes on the Monster Energy Yamaha bikes this year. 1: the black is blacker

2: no 46

... except if you zoom in closely to the right shoulder...

Red is the new yellow

Fun games, trying to zoom and decipher the meaning of the frame number - YZR M1 B xxxx ?

I'm no aesthete, but that is a nice helmet design

Maverick, meanwhile, rocks more of the same from last year. Nothing wrong with that

Side-on launch shots always have the forks turned at a slight angle, to prevent smart people from figuring out wheelbase & geometry...

Nerdiness: the old Brembo calipers fitted to this bike, the type that was abandoned after Maverick Viñales' spectacular failure at Austria last year

Of note: torque meter on the output shaft, and the thin light-blue pipe which is used to recharge the compressed air reservoir for the pneumatic valves

High speed and low speed compression adjustment on the rear Ohlins shock easily accessible for fast changes

Aluminum swingarm still attached, the preferred option of the factory team from 2020. Expect the exhaust to change for 2021, one of the few ways of tuning power with an engine freeze

Note the scooter brake on the left-hand handlebar

Yamaha's tail light for the rain is one of the most elegant in MotoGP

Circuit background projected against a greenscreen for the presentation left us wondering if this really was meant to be Sepang

Racing tuck

New groom

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Mon, 2021-02-15 23:45


After two months of quiet on the MotoGP front, the racing season is starting to burst into action. With the first test at Qatar approaching – and looking ever more likely to actually take place – there is a burst of activity, as the factories all hold their team launches. So frenetic, indeed, that we barely have a moment to ponder one launch before we are onto the next.

That is in part a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In previous years, launches have been live events with an online element. (Manufacturers, both in racing and production, have learned that they can reach fans and buyers directly with online launches, without journalists sitting in the middle and muddying the message. Series organizers are on this path now as well.) While the pandemic still holds the world in its grip, those launches have moved completely online, with different factories taking different approaches.

Ducati were, as almost every year, the first manufacturer to launch their 2021 MotoGP project. You can watch the video on Ducati's YouTube channel or see it below, something worth doing. The video is well-produced, as you might expect, but it also provides real insight into what Ducati is doing (though, of course, not too much). As in previous years, they have one of their engineering specialists appearing in the launch. This time, it is Gabriele Conti, Ducati Corse Electronics Systems Manager, talking about some of the issues related to electronics.

Processing power

The reason they have Gabriele Conti on display is to showcase their new title sponsor. For the first time since the banning of tobacco sponsorship forced Ducati to abandon their Marlboro name at the end of 2009, the Italian factory has a name sponsor. For 2021, they will be known as the Ducati Lenovo team, partnering with the Chinese technology giant for the next three years. It is a relationship which started in 2018, and is now being expanded to a title role.

Of course, this does not mean that Phillip Morris, the tobacco giant which has backed Ducati since they entered the premier class back in 2003, have stepped away from the Italian manufacturer. Mission Winnow, the innovation project which serves as a shell company for PM's tobacco sponsorship, is still a major backer of Ducati. Mission Winnow is listed second on Ducati's list of sponsors behind Lenovo but ahead of Audi Sport, the brand's owners. Like the opening credits of a movie, the sponsors are listed in order of significance. Significance in this instance being largely a synonym for financial contribution.

That said, Lenovo is a natural partner for Ducati. The Italian factory has long been at the forefront of using computers to model every aspect of the motorcycle. While everyone is now using computational fluid dynamics to model aerodynamics, and various methods to model materials and engine performance, Ducati have expanded that to every aspect of the bike. Their partnership with Megaride to model tire performance is one example of where Ducati have been pioneers.

"Lenovo is not a new partner for us," Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna explained. "We have worked with them since 2018, and so we know them very well, and we evolve our IT technology with them in the last few years. And so it's quite normal for us to introduce new computers and new things that Lenovo can supply to us. For sure it's really important to evolve the IT technology, because the simulation of the bike has increased quite a lot in a few years, and now in particular for the aerodynamics, and many other things, we need a lot of power and Lenovo is the best partner for that, I think."

Gabriele Conti, Ducati Corse Electronics Systems Manager, went a little deeper into this subject, explaining how important a reliable and fast IT infrastructure is, not just at the factory, but also at the track, to analyze and examine the data coming from the bikes when they come into the garage.

"There are around five minutes, maybe four, to download all the data, talk to the rider, see what's happened and use our tools to put together a new package of thousands of new parameters to send back to the bike," Conti explained in the launch video. "Here are a few numbers: on the motorbike, we have about 50 sensors. But we are talking about 500 channels, because the software continues its calculations. All these numbers and data are aggregated by our control center, which has to wait for the bike to return to the pit. This means that we need to tailor-make the suit while it is being worn, so to speak."

Bespoke settings

Tailoring the bike to each rider is a necessity, Conti explained. "While the engine is the same for everyone, the electronics each rider has are extremely personalized and customized so that when they are on the track, they're comfortable. Because if they aren't, it's too late. You can't change."

Reliability was crucial to success. "It all has to work, because losing a connection on the grid just before the start means not starting. So the reliability of the IT tools that we use, which Lenovo is helping us with, is comparable to the reliability of the engine, because starting or not starting is like breaking the engine. And it was fundamental to have the right machines to manage this huge amount of data extremely quickly."

Computers and data processing touched every aspect of Ducati's work, Conti explained. "Apart from the electronics, many of these services serve other areas, like engine development and aerodynamics, which in recent years have demanded enormous calculation capacity."

Ducati's pioneering in aerodynamics and simulation technology has been the envy of the other MotoGP manufacturers. "We think we have a group of engineers and technicians at the very highest level, as well as the capacity to make unconventional choices, innovations devised and developed by Ducati engineers, which were then seen and applied by almost all the other manufacturers," Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti said.

Those engineers are constantly at risk of being poached by the other manufacturers. Michele Gada and Marco Frigerio, two electronics specialists who defected to Yamaha to apply their expertise to the spec Magneti Marelli electronics of the M1, are two of the most high profile examples in recent years. "Ducati engineers are very highly thought of in the paddock," team manager Davide Tardozzi said. "Every year someone tries to poach one or two or three of them, but it makes me very happy that many of them turn down those offers and prefer to stay at Ducati where they have learned and grown and continue to develop."

The innovations – some loved, some hated – are indicative of the freedom given to Ducati's engineers to try out new ideas, explore new solutions to existing problems. That creativity is visible in the way Ducati gets around technical restrictions put in their way by the rule makers. Ducati responded to the introduction of spec electronics by switching their focus to aerodynamics to control wheelie. When the Grand Prix Commission clamped down on aerodynamics, Ducati first introduced a holeshot device to control wheelie at the start of the race, then adapted it for use throughout the race, in the form of the "shapeshifter", or suspension lowering device.

Where Ducati led, others have followed. Every bike on the grid now has aerodynamic winglets within the bounds of the MotoGP regulations. They all either have a holeshot device, or are working on one. And most now also have a shapeshifter of some form or other. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Gigi Dall'Igna concedes. "At the end, it's a question of pride, because after the inevitable reflex of anger, being copied by the Japanese is actually a big compliment."

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