Sun, 2020-06-21 11:58

Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR at the 2020 Phillip Island WorldSBK round - photo by Steve English

The news that Jonathan Rea had re-signed with Kawasaki was met with almost universal ambivalence. There are lots of pros and cons to Rea staying put. From a racing perspective, why would he leave? He has a team centred around him with a proven track record of success. What could motivate him to move? A new challenge is the reason most cited.

In 2014 there was a general feeling in the WorldSBK paddock that Rea was a rider waiting for the right opportunity to show his true ability. Years on a Honda had seen him at the sharp end of the field, despite racing with a blunt weapon. Switching to the all-conquering Kawasaki gave him the opportunity he had been waiting for.

Five world titles, 74 race wins, and 128 podiums later, and Rea is regarded as the greatest Superbike rider of all-time. There’s nothing left for Rea to prove in WorldSBK so why would he leave? A loyal team, a good bike, a hefty pay cheque and an ambassadorial role with the manufacturer when he retires would certainly make it very difficult to walk away from Team Green.


In the past Rea has dallied with options on the table from other manufacturers. He’s flirted with Ducati in the past and held court with Aprilia and Suzuki, but there was never a concrete offer on the table to move to MotoGP. Moving to Ducati in WorldSBK, which would give the possibility of moving to MotoGP, would be an attractive proposition for any rider, but Rea is also a realist. He’d want to be paid for leaving Kawasaki. After all his success, he holds the cards at the negotiating table.

With that being the case he opted to remain with what he knows and stayed with Kawasaki. Is it such a bad thing that Rea has elected to stay with Kawasaki for “multiple years?” The Northern Irishman has won five titles in a row and is the bookies favourite to make it six in 2020.

Why would he leave indeed?

The biggest reason to leave is the competitive balance of WorldSBK. Have Ducati moved into the ascendancy with their V4R? Their bike certainly looked all-conquering with Alvaro Bautista in the early rounds last year. The Spaniard was a perfect match with the bike and circuits in the early part of his Superbike career and it showed what was possible. When the Ducati was on form it was unbeatable.

Would that have sparked any doubts for Rea? It would only be human for them to surface and he surely needed to hear some arguments from Kawasaki about their future plans for the ZX10-RR. Whether it will be the right decision for the final chapter of Rea’s career remains to be seen, but it could make for a compelling close to his career.

Digging deep

Last year was Rea at his best. The ability to dig deep and overcome the battering ram that was Bautista was amazing. One rider fell apart while the other asserted themselves. It was a one-of-a-kind campaign from Rea. Whether he can do that in future years, particularly 2020, will be a very interesting story to follow. We’ve seen what Rea can do with the dominant package in WorldSBK and now we need to see how the Ducati develops with Scott Redding this year.

Redding is the key player in WorldSBK. He has arguably the best bike on the grid and is with a team that’s as well resourced as Kawasaki Racing Team. The Englishman is incredibly motivated and took to WorldSBK well in Australia. Was that a sign of what we’ll see from him all year? Or was testing a more accurate portrayal, where he was fast but not amazingly so? Has Rea signed on for “multiple years” of chasing Ducati rather than setting the pace?

Challenges internal and external

For a championship that has, wrongly, been derided for having a dominant champion, suddenly we’ll see Rea have to dig deep on a regular basis. He’ll do that with a teammate, Alex Lowes, who’s out to win and prove his mettle. With a second year of his contract confirmed Lowes is as relaxed as he is focused.

Battles within and battles outside Kawasaki look set to rage for Rea. It’s going to be fascinating to see how reacts to both. Would it have been good to see Rea on another bike? Definitely. I’m also definite that it wouldn’t have been good to see him on the Ducati. Rea won’t have it all his own way going forward because the Ducati V4R is just too good a motorcycle for that to be the case.

The greatest Superbike rider of all time has signed his new contract, and we’ll get to see him at his best with his back against the wall at times. It’s an exciting prospect.

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

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Tue, 2020-06-16 09:25

Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia RS-GP at the 2019 MotoGP round at Valencia. Photo: @CormacGP

Aleix Espargaro speaks to me seated in the living room of his Andorra home, in the middle of a very lively and hectic family life. Max and Mia, the Espargaro twins who just turned two years old a few days earlier, are talkative and active playing just a few meters away. Their joyful squeaking punctuates the interview, providing a unique soundtrack. Behind him hangs the Aspar ART bike he was given as a present from Jorge Martinez for his wedding - a location he had to negotiate with his interior designer wife Laura, before she agreed to have it stood pointing skyward, front wheel vertical. When asked, Espargaro said that Aspar was upset when he left for team Forward (2014) and only forgave him when he invited his former team to the wedding.

The older of the two Espargaro brothers has been racing at world championship level since 2005 – it's easy to forget that Aleix Espargaro was the youngest ever Spanish 125cc champion of the 125 all the way back in 2004. He has ridden for some of the biggest teams in the last 15 years, but undoubtedly his contribution to the development of the Aprilia RS-GP in the last three seasons (and before that to the Suzuki) has brought him a well earned third contract with the Italian manufacturer.

Espargaro was never afraid to speak his mind. He was not shy to talk about politics, stand against bullfighting and also share his thoughts about his own team. Lack of staff, mistakes in the development., promises broken by the team and lack of support for the riders with early dismissal of his teammates. He was also the first to commend them about the changes done in the team’s structure.

Here, too, Espargaro speaks his mind. So much so that we have had to split the interview into two parts. In the first part, Aleix Espargaro talks about cycling, training, testing, the importance of family, how close he came to retiring, and how that turned into another contract with Aprilia. But first of all, he says he is happy at the prospect of racing again.

Aleix Espargaro: I am very happy they released the calendar. I am enjoying this lockdown but I want to race, I need to travel, I need some rock & roll.

Q: You look ready, very skinny, very fit

AE: Andorra is a very nice place to live and to train, but it is a very hard place as well, because there isn't a single meter of flat ground. I train a lot with the bicycle so I am very fit. I think I am skinnier than ever, 65 kg. I think on the physical side I'm better than ever. I used this time, this period to train a lot and obviously we need the rhythm, the pace of riding a MotoGP bike, but physically I feel better than ever.

Q: When you train by cycling it means you are not training the upper body, so how do you overcome that?

AE: I want to train my upper body, but I do it very carefully as I do not want to gain any grams of weight. During two sessions per week in my home gym with my physical trainer, I train the upper part of the body while trying not to use weights, so I try to train with just my body weight. Like this I have enough power but I don't gain muscle mass so much. The priority for me, as I am a very tall guy, to try to be as light as possible for the acceleration, agility and aerodynamics.

Q: You have been back on the bike at the mini circuit in Andorra, and on the RSV4 Superstock bike at Barcelona, can you describe the feeling of the first time on the bike?

AE: Yes, I mean, this is like riding a bicycle, you never forget. But especially the first day of riding at Montmelo on the Superstock bike, I remember when I rode it in the past I thought it was boring and very slow, which it is not, but if you compare it to MotoGP bike, it is. But the first time I rode it after three months in Montmelo, I thought ‘wow this is very fast!’ Then after two runs, I started to feel that the bike is slow, but at the beginning the feeling of speed was very nice.

Q: At the moment Biaggi, Savadori and Smith are testing in Misano, but you aren't there yet?

AE: The plan was that I would go there and ride the Superbike. The first day's schedule was for Bradley to try the new engine, different parts and to see how the bike is after such a long time. The plan was that I would ride the Superbike, but it was very difficult as there were no flights to go there. I had to drive for 12 hours just to ride one day, so at the end Aprilia said to me, we will postpone it, and that I should ride the old Superstock in Barcelona or wherever I can, and I will come next week. Because I will go there on 22nd June, so no rush.

Q: What is planned to be tested then

AE: During the two test days they were comparing the two different spec engines that I tried in Qatar. I think Savadori also tried the old spec bike, and the plan is to try everything again with me later on. Also, there was a lot of time with no activity for the engineers and the mechanics, so it was also a good schooling day for them. Next week I will travel to Portugal to Portimao to train with the Superbike bike for two days, and then I will fly to Italy. And I can't wait to ride the RS-GP because one test before the Jerez race is obviously more than welcome.

Q: Congratulations on your third contract with Aprilia - the longest an Aprilia rider has been under contract in the current age. How important was it for you to carry on with the project?

AE: The last two months of the last season, I didn't know if I should retire but I almost decided to go. Retire or see about other options for the future, because I struggled a lot and I know I won't be racing until I am 40 years old, so the last part of my career I want to enjoy riding, I want to fight for the podium. Last year I struggled a lot and I did not enjoy it at all.

But then after Christmas when I flew to Malaysia and I tried the new bike, everything changed in my mind. The new bike convinced me, but not only that, the direction the project is going towards with the arrival of [Massimo] Rivola, the arrival of a lot more engineers. Aprilia is going to another dimension so this convinced me.

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Fri, 2020-06-05 08:00

Data: this is the information which engineers try to mine in pursuit of ever more performance

In the first part of the interview with Andrea Zugna, the former Honda and Yamaha engineer told the story of how he came to MotoGP, brought in by former Yamaha racing boss Masao Furusawa. Zugna talked about the different roles he played at Yamaha. And he gave an engineer's view of the MotoGP technical regulations, and rules in general.

At the end of 2009, Zugna left Yamaha to join Honda. As Head of Performance at HRC, his role expanded to include the entire bike, and not just the electronics. "In general, performance analysis is where you look at the whole package - rider, bike, tires and everything - and you try to figure out where to work, what works and what doesn't, and so on," Zugna explained.

"I think now every company, every manufacturer has kind of a performance analysis group, also because we are at the point of refinement where you don’t make big steps. It’s more about refining, analyzing deeply and so on. So objective numbers are getting more and more important. But, at that time in 2010 it was just starting," the Italian told me.

Things have changed a lot over the last decade, however. "Now, maybe ten years later, it’s common practice. Not only in MotoGP - you have data science, whatever, machine learning, cloud computing… all these terms that are now normal, weren’t ten years ago. So maybe that was more of a general process in how you tried to get the maximum out of the data you had."

An ocean of data

Just as it has in the world at large, the amount of data collected in racing has exploded. And that creates its own sets of challenges and opportunities. "I think we collect much more than we analyze," Zugna said. "This is a general trend, I think, even in normal industry, not just racing."

This has forced a different approach. "At first everybody realized, OK, now we have to do data science, so they just started to spend money, collect data and getting nothing out of it. Then they started to say, now we have to do machine learning and so on. Now the latest trend in the industry is to say, we have to put the data scientists in contact with the people who know about the subject. Because in reality, data science without the common sense of knowing the subject you are studying is sort of giving you the obvious. But then you want to look at what is the difference from the obvious and go deeper and deeper and deeper."

This is where Andrea Zugna feels he benefited from the approach taken by Yamaha boss Masao Furusawa, who put him through an apprenticeship of sorts, as he explained in the first part of this interview. "The key point was analyzing data knowing the practical side," he told me. "That’s why I said Furusawa had the master plan nearly sixteen years ago where he said data people have to first know how to learn the basics, do the mapping for the rider, then go to the development, then put it all together. So this is the thing that makes a difference now in MotoGP."

Wetware not hardware

It was not always an easy ride, however. As valuable as working with engineers from an earlier era, whose education and style had been far more hands-on and practical had been, those engineers had not exactly welcomed him into the fold. "It helped, but also it was quite hard at the time because there was a lot of rejection," Zugna told me. "For example, when I showed up in the garage for the first time in 2004, and JB was in the winter before the first year of racing with Vale [Rossi] in Yamaha. So I came there, they introduced us to each other. I said, I’m here, I’m young, I will work on data analysis. The first thing he told me was he started to count the computers in the garage and he said, 'We don’t need computers here, we need good brains. If you come here with a computer, you are useless.' So that was sort of, 'we have too many computers in the garage'."

Despite the lack of a welcome, there was a lot for Zugna to learn. "At the beginning there was a lot of rejection, but for me it was very helpful to listen to people that had to make a good, winning bike without the help of computers. So it sort of told me, OK, you have to do at least as good as them and then something better with the computer. Not trying to match what they could do with their brain with your computer, or reinventing the wheel with a computer, replicating what a good brain could do already by itself. This kind of approach."

Marginal gains

Zugna benefited from entering the sport in that transitional period, in the time after everything was done by experience and feel, and before data dominated. And that helped him as times changed and riders who grew up looking at data entered the class. "They definitely use data a lot," he explained. "The debriefs have gotten longer and longer, but not because the riders of the past were more clever, no. It's simply that the more you get closer to the optimal performance, the more a small gain comes with a big effort."

This is all part of the development of MotoGP as a sport over the past couple of decades. As the bikes have become more equal, and the riders have become more professional, the margin for finding an advantage has become slimmer. "So about 15 years ago, all the steps were more gross, or bigger," Zugna explained. "So brains counted more, but because you were working on ideas more than really the last millimeter. While now everybody is sorted out on the basics, almost, and then you are really working on the last millimeter or the details."

This brought its own set of dangers, Zugna warned. "There is a danger now that some people think about the millimeter and lose contact with the big picture. So sometimes you could have a totally wrong weight distribution, but just think about the fine details and not just make one step back and look at the big picture sometime. Forget all the details. That’s the danger with the young generation of engineers. (Now I can say young because I’m getting older, so I can talk about young people, not me!) So that’s a risk. They are deep with their nose into their screen and they lose the grand picture."

Working with the greats

Being talent-spotted by Masao Furusawa and given the opportunity to develop, and then earning a reputation as an engineer that could help make a bike competitive meant that Zugna got a chance to work with not just the best engineers and technicians, but also the best riders in the world. "I was so lucky to work with the greats: Vale (Rossi), Jorge (Lorenzo), Casey (Stoner), Dani (Pedrosa), and Marc (Márquez), all of them. Dovi (Andrea Dovizioso) as well, because in the end, when he was in Honda in 2011 we could do third in the championship, which was great from him. From there on he even improved further to become the challenger for the championship in the last few years."

Working with arguably the six best riders of recent years was a privilege, but it also made it that much more important to be able to understand and use their feedback. "The first thing is you have to learn the language they use. They are not engineers so they will maybe use inappropriate words to say the correct thing. So first of all, you have to make this first layer of translation," Zugna explained. "Then they have their routines with the crew chief, so you let them go and maybe at the end you can ask one or two questions."

Each rider was different, in the feedback they gave and how to translate it. "Vale was the guy that you felt you could listen to him and you didn’t need to switch on your computer afterwards at the time, because he had already explained in words what you would see in the data," Zugna said. "This was Vale."

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Thu, 2020-05-28 19:47

The KTM press office sent out the following press release after Pol Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa had spent two days' testing at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, the first time back on track since the Qatar test in February:

KTM back on track at Red Bull Ring in private MotoGP test

Dani Pedrosa testing the KTM RC16 at the private test in Spielberg in May 2020 - Photo from KTM Press

MotoGP 2020 Private Test (AUT)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing completed their first laps towards the long-delayed 2020 MotoGP campaign this week when Pol Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa took part in a two-day private test around the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. Both Spaniards worked on set-up refinement and re-familiarisation with the KTM RC16.

KTM relocated to the confines of the Red Bull Ring and in full adherence to Health and Safety guidelines in the wake of COVID-19 remissions on Wednesday and Thursday this week. The wheels of the KTM RC16 were spun for the first time since the IRTA test at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar at the end of February. Over twenty team members – most of which travelled inside the country but also from neighbouring territories – joined current racer Espargaro and test rider Pedrosa for further set-up work with a view towards a potential first event of the season in the coming months. All had tested negative for COVID-19 before resuming MotoGP activities after a three month pause.

Espargaro’s teammate, Brad Binder, could not take part in the test due to the travel restrictions affecting his current location in South Africa.

KTM are expecting to run another private testing session in the near future and then continue to prepare resources and material for all four MotoGP riders in anticipation of the first round of Grand Prix this summer.

Pol Espargaro: “I don’t think I have ever been so long without a bike – especially one for competition – so it was a little bit difficult in the first few runs yesterday but I was quickly up to the kind of rhythm I was setting in Qatar. It was great to get back in action and I think we all felt that: there were a lot of smiling faces in the box. Technically we made some improvements. The first priority was to get our feeling back with the bike but we also brought quite a lot to test and this was interesting. The good weather meant we could play with a lot on the bike and we improved mostly with the chassis but also some electronics. I’m really happy. Now just to look forward to the first race.”

Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager: “I’m really happy we could organise these two days here in Spielberg and get the MotoGP team back on track. It was a big effort to get it done but we tested everybody, made it happen and I think it was key for the mentality of the company, the team, everyone in the racing department and especially the riders. In general, we have been lucky with the weather. It was good for Pol to get back to race speed: after such a long time off the bike riders really need laps. For Dani also it was important to restart the test programme. Thanks go to the team for making this happen and to Spielberg for letting us test here. We now hope to have more news on the calendar in the middle of June and we are really looking forward to go racing again.”

Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director: “Seeing the bikes on the racetrack - where they belong - was great for all of us. It was a pleasure to see the happy faces of the riders and the crew but then it was back to work and back to normal. We tried to make the most of the time at the Red Bull Ring. With Pol we were able to check his 2020 bike on a new track and with Dani we ran a very extensive test program. But the most important thing was also the significance: we are making great strides. There is definitely an interesting Grand Prix calendar ahead of us and it is time to prepare our team for it. In the past weeks and months we had been very radical with our response to the virus situation through the closure of our motorsport department, but I promised the team that we would be the first to go out again. We were finally able to keep that promise here at the Red Bull Ring.”

Thu, 2020-05-21 09:35

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, run by contributor Steve English. You can find the original article on

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Mon, 2020-05-18 08:20

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

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

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

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 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, 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.


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

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 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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