Press releases from the WorldSBK and WorldSSP teams after the first race of the weekend in Qatar:
MotoMatters.com, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. Every week after each MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.
Ernesto Marinelli has been an almost ever present force within Ducati's World Superbike program for over two decades. Last month the Italian announced that he would leave his role as Superbike Project Leader but having enjoyed a hugely successful 22 years with the Italian manufacturer he will leave with a heavy heart.
Having joined Ducati fresh out of university as an engine technician, Marinelli was keen to prove his worth. He did this with an innovative approach to engine simulations while working as an undergraduate and quickly found his way into the Race Department, Ducati Corse. It is with a heavy heart that he finally decided to move away from Ducati and onto a new chapter in his career.
“Ducati is an extraordinary company,” reflected the Italian. “Even after 22 years I still love my job but it is a stressful life. Between testing and racing there really is no break. You do it because you have a passion and it’s not a normal job. It was actually quite hard when we announced it because of all the messages from people that worked for me. I was very pleased to see that you leave to everyone a good memory.
…and it probably is, but even if Andrea Dovizioso fails to climb the cliff at Valencia, he can still be satisfied with a near-perfect 2017
The odds will not be stacked in Andrea Dovizioso’s favour when he gets to Valencia next week. But there’s a tired old saying we’ve been regurgitating in the MotoGP media centre for the past three decades or so: anything can happen in motorcycle racing, and usually does.
Or as the late, great Nicky Hayden put it: “That’s why we line up on Sunday – you never know what’s going to happen."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's race in Sepang:
Fantastic 1-2 victory for Ducati at Sepang. Andrea Dovizioso wins the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix ahead of Jorge Lorenzo to keep his title hopes alive, 21 points behind Marquez
Sometimes, winning a championship requires a little bit of help from your team. Especially when championships are tight. A little help from your teammate, perhaps persuaded by a quiet word in their ear from the team boss. Who knows, maybe even a little financial sweetener to help swallow a bitter pill, a cut of a win bonus. It helps if you and your teammate don't actively despise each other, of course.
Team orders are something of a taboo subject in motorcycle racing. Journalists, riders, teams all pussyfoot around the issue, while fans speculate like mad about which results were down to riders doing what they were told by team bosses, rather than putting it all out on the track. With no ship-to-shore radio communication, the only methods of communication are via the pit board, and since last year, via a list of permitted messages on the dashboard.
In a way, not having radio communication has led to more speculation about team orders, rather than less. Because pit boards are visible to other teams, and space is necessarily limited, the messages tend to be both terse and obscure. Valentino Rossi is forever being asked to explain what the letters BRK on his pit board mean. Dani Pedrosa is in a league of his own in this regard: at one point during a race, the word DOGMA appeared on his pit board. At another, the letters ZZTT were shown at the start of the last lap.
Will we have a 2017 MotoGP champion by Sunday night? The odds are on the side of Marc Márquez. Second place would be good enough to wrap it up for the Repsol Honda rider wherever Andrea Dovizioso finishes. If Dovizioso doesn't win, then Márquez has to finish within eight points of the Italian. If Dovizioso is second, then fourth is good enough. If he's third, then eighth is good enough. So far this season, Marc Márquez has always finished sixth place or better. Except when he doesn't finish, of course...
Márquez has two obstacles to overcome. The first is the weather. The forecast for Sunday at Sepang is heavy rain, from around the time warm up for MotoGP tends until early evening. On Friday, it was Andrea Dovizioso who was strongest in the rain, while Márquez was a little slower, and had a fleet of Ducatis to contend with.
The second obstacle is the big group of very fast riders at Sepang. Going by the timesheets in FP3 and FP4, there are a bunch of people who are capable of a podium, and maybe even a win. "I think there are five, six, seven riders who have similar pace, there is not a clear favorite," was Jorge Lorenzo's assessment. "It's very, very open the fight for the victory, the fight for the podium," Valentino Rossi concurred, "because have a lot, a lot of different riders that for sure have the pace for the podium but also for the victory."
If there is one thing clear from Friday at Sepang, it is that neither Andrea Dovizioso nor Marc Márquez believe the 2017 championship is done. The two men left in the title fight came out punching, chasing fast times just that little bit harder than the rest. Dovizioso topped both morning and afternoon sessions, blatant about his intentions to make a final bid for the championship. Márquez was a little slower in the mixed-but-drying conditions of FP1, but only half a second behind Dovizioso in a wet FP2. Márquez will give as hard as he gets.
The headline times are deceptive, though, as were the conditions. The morning session started with a track that would not dry fast enough – a persistent problem since the track was resurfaced, and an issue with drainage in certain sections of the track – and riders choosing to sit out the first third or so of FP1. Even once the riders took to the track in earnest, times were variable. It was only towards the end where track was dry enough to start to post quick times.
In the dry, Márquez focused on pace, putting in a single long run, while Andrea Dovizioso got on with setup work, ending FP1 at the top of the timesheets, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista. "I’m really happy about the lap time I did this morning," Dovizioso said. "It was quite fast but the conditions were strange. There was not a lot of rubber on the ground so it wasn’t normal. Anyway, this was the condition for the other riders. We did a good lap time. I was first."
So just like 2015, the MotoGP paddock packed up after a breathtaking race in Phillip Island and headed to the sweltering tropical heat of Sepang. And once again, two riders fly to Malaysia with a clean shot at the title. Fortunately, though, this time there was no one to drip poison into the ears of the protagonists and sour the atmosphere at the penultimate race of the season. We can look back at an astounding race and savor it, without it leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.
The lack of added stress is welcome. The Sepang round of MotoGP is the toughest of the season, for a lot of reasons. "I think this race is the most demanding of all the season because it is very hot," Valentino Rossi told the press conference. It is not uncommon for riders to come close to passing out at the end of a 45 minute race in sweltering temperatures and steam room humidity levels. Conditions are oppressive.
Making things worse is the fact that Sepang is the last of the three Pacific flyaway races. Sepang is the third weekend in a row where riders have faced a 9-hour flight, followed by promotional activities in the MotoGP manufacturers' most important markets, followed by a full race weekend. They have gone from a chilly and soaking Japan to a chilly and mixed Phillip Island to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia, jumping in and out of air-conditioned vehicles, hotels, and aircraft to face the elements on a racing motorcycle. Coughs, cold sweats, and hot fevers are the order of the day.
Preview press releases from some of the MotoGP teams and Michelin ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix:
Repsol Honda Team head to Malaysia for the last stint of the triple-header
Fresh from Marc Marquez’s brilliant victory in Australia, the Repsol Honda Team have rushed to Malaysia for the penultimate round of the season leading the Rider, Constructor and Team Championships.
With a margin of 33 points over second-place Andrea Dovizioso and a maximum of 50 points still available, Marc will have his first chance to secure the 2017 MotoGP Title next Sunday.