MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Welcome to MotoGP’s controlled electronics era
When the future looks uncertain, some people like to take refuge in the past, which goes some way to explaining the success of events like last weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is largely about old motor sport metal.
The metal is all important because, unlike most sports, motor racing has a hugely tangible history: gawping at the goal posts used at the 1938 FA Cup final is never going to be as much fun as examining the supercharged DKW that won the 1938 Lightweight TT.
Among those paying homage to the past at Goodwood was Valentino Rossi. The (currently uncrowned) king of MotoGP jetted in from Saturday’s Dutch TT, still giddy on the taste of his 111th Grand Prix victory, to take part in celebrations marking Yamaha’s 60th anniversary.
You would think with the deluge of words which has washed over the incident between Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi in the last corner (and to which I contributed more than my fair share, I must confess) that there were only two riders and one race at Assen on Saturday. Beyond the clash at the GT chicane, there was much more to talk about after Holland.
Whatever the immediate aftermath of the clash between Márquez and Rossi, the longer term implications of the result have made the championship even more interesting. Márquez' decision to switch back to the 2014 chassis for his Repsol Honda RC213V has been proven to be the correct one. Though the engine is still as aggressive as ever, the old chassis in combination with the new swingarm and new forks tested at Le Mans has made the bike much more manageable. Márquez can now slide the rear on corner entry in a much more controlled way than before, taking away the behavior the reigning champion has struggled with most. The Spaniard showed he could be competitive from the start of the race to the end, instead of crashing out as the tires started to go off.
The bike is still a long way from cured, however. Márquez switched to the medium front tire rather than the soft, the only rider to do so. The medium provides a bit more support under braking, compensating for the reduced braking from the rear wheel. That support comes at the cost of extra grip provided by the softer front. Whether Márquez will be able to employ that same strategy for the rest of the season remains to be seen. For a start, Assen is not a very typical track, featuring a lot more flowing corners than usual. At circuits with more corners needing hard braking, the challenge will be greater. The next race is at the Sachsenring, where asymmetric front tires will be on offer. How the Honda deals with that will be interesting.
A more competitive Márquez will certainly liven the championship up. After Lorenzo swept the previous four races, a Rossi comeback gave him back the advantage in the championship. Without Márquez, Rossi would only have extended his lead by five more points, but the Repsol Honda man put himself between the two Movistar Yamaha teammates, meaning that Lorenzo's deficit grew to ten points. With ten races to go, the championship is still wide open, though realistically, it is only between Rossi and Lorenzo. But the influence of a rider who is consistently capable of inserting himself between the two Yamahas could end up having a major effect on the championship.
Press releases from the teams and Bridgestone after Saturday's exhilarating Dutch TT at Assen:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Saturday's races at Assen:
Great final corners make history, every track should have one. A chicane, or a wide, tight final turn which allows riders to attempt a desperate last-gasp plunge up the inside, or for the exceptionally brave, round the outside, for the win. The truly great corners have just enough options after the turn for the attacking rider to make a mistake and let the rider he just passed retake the lead.
Assen has such a final corner. And not just a great final corner, but also a great sequence of corners which lead up to it, allowing riders to both plan ahead and to react to the unexpected. On Saturday, Assen's GT Chicane, and the complex from De Bult all the way to the exit of Ramshoek, delivered spectacular and exhilarating racing. It also delivered a moment which will go down in the annals of MotoGP history, and be debated for years to come. It might even prove to be the decisive moment in the 2015 championship.
The names of the protagonists should come as no surprise: Valentino Rossi led into the final corner, with Marc Márquez in hot pursuit. What happened next depends on whose version of events you wish to believe, as the participants differ in their perceptions. Rossi says he turned in to the first part of the chicane in front, got bumped wide by Márquez, and had no choice but to gas it across the gravel to avoid crashing. Márquez says he had the inside line in the corner, Rossi cut him off, then cut the corner on purpose to take the win. Which version is the truth? We'll come to that later, but to understand what happened we have to go back to the beginning of the race.
Ducati are to lose their concessions for the 2016 MotoGP season. Meeting at Assen, the Grand Prix Commission decided to apply the system of concession points which was due to take effect from the 2016 season to the results of Ducati for this season. This means that from next year, Ducati will race under the same rules as Honda and Yamaha, which means that they will have seven engines per season, with no development allowed during the season, and testing with factory riders restricted to official tests and a handful of private tests.
That Honda and Yamaha had been pushing for Ducati to have their concessions removed for next year was first reported here after Jerez. After Ducati's strong start to 2015, with six podiums from eight races, it was clear that the Desmosedici GP15 is a competitive motorcycle. Technically, Ducati would only have had their concessions for 2016 taken away if they had won a race in the dry. While the GP15 is fast, it is still a very young project, and needs some work doing to it. Winning a dry race would also require beating Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, not the easiest of tasks at the best of times.
Jeremy Burgess was famous for finding that special something on Sunday morning that gave Valentino Rossi the edge in the race in the afternoon. It is a tradition carried on by Silvano Galbusera, who has replaced Burgess since the start of the 2014 season. Galbusera, too, always seems to find that extra little tweak during warm up that makes the difference between cruising in fourth or finishing on the podium, and even on the top step. The fact that it has continued since Burgess' departure suggests that the tweaks were very much a collaborative effort, with input coming from his data engineers and mechanics, as well as the rider himself, of course.
Two weeks ago in Barcelona, Rossi's team appeared to have found something extra special. For it did not just work on the Sunday in Catalonia, taking Rossi from the third row all the way up to 2nd, but it has even carried through to Assen, some 1600km further north. Rossi was quick from the moment he rolled out of pit lane for the first time at Assen, and has been at or near the top of the timesheets ever since. In this form, Rossi may well have expected to have been on the front row, but he went better than that. Putting in one of the best laps of his recent career with a couple of minutes to go, he simply hammered the opposition. As a sign of just how dominant he was at Assen, he led the second fastest man, Aleix Espargaro, by nearly a quarter of a second. The next quarter of a second difference covers second place to eleventh, from Aleix Espargaro to Danilo Petrucci. It is incredibly close at Assen, except at the front. One man reigns supreme.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and others after qualifying at Assen:
If the Honda is so bad, why are two RC213Vs at the top of the timesheets? That seems like a very valid question, given the public struggles which all of the Honda riders have had with the bike this year. Has the 2014 chassis finally fixed the Honda's ailments? Is Márquez back?
If only it were that simple. Firstly, of course, Marc Márquez never went away. The double world champion still possesses a gargantuan talent, and the desire and will to use it. He was hampered by many aspects of the 2015 bike, including both the engine and the chassis. The 2015 chassis, he explained at Assen, was more precise and could be used more accurately. Unfortunately, the only way to get the best out of it was to ride it like every lap was a qualifying lap. That level of intensity is just not sustainable over race distance. At some point, you will make a mistake, and the 2015 chassis punishes mistakes mercilessly. So HRC have reverted to a hybrid version, using a 2014 chassis and the new swingarm which Márquez first tested at Le Mans. That works better for Márquez: he has been forced to sacrifice some precision, but at least now he has a chance to recover from mistakes.
Assen is a funny old track. And when I say old, I mean old, the event has been on the calendar since 1925, though there was no such thing as world championship, and the race took place between Rolde, Borger and Schoonloo, some ten kilometers east of Assen. From 1926, it moved to a route between the villages of De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen and Laaghalerveen. The roads, forced into short straights with fast sweeping kinks and bends by the complex drainage patterns of the creeks and ditches which keep the region from reverting back to peat bogs, gave shape to the track which was to follow. They still leave their mark on the circuit today, despite being a closed circuit since 1955, though the track has been much shortened since then.
What remains is a track with nary a straight piece of asphalt on it. The back straight meanders between the Strubben hairpin and the fast right and long left of the Ruskenhoek, living up to its name of Veenslang, or Peat Snake. The short stretches between the fast combinations of corners weave and flow, and the only thing keeping the front straight straight is the pit wall. As a piece of geometric design, it is a disaster. As a race track, it is glorious, proving that the best tracks are not designed on paper, but laid out in a landscape. Mugello, Phillip Island, Assen: all great riders track, each owing a debt of gratitude to the landscape which forms them.
All these fast, flowing bends where riders barely touch the brakes – comparatively, for a MotoGP race that is – reward a bike that can carry corner speed and change direction easily. A bike that rewards a steady hand and a smooth style. In other words, a rider like Jorge Lorenzo on a bike like a Yamaha YZR-M1. Lorenzo has been fearsome around Assen in the past, laying down a pace impossible for mere mortals to follow. Having won the last four races in a row, Lorenzo is in pretty terrifying form as well. "I am in the best shape of my life," Lorenzo told the press conference, joking that he had even beat his personal trainer on a mountain bike ride for the first time. The Yamaha is strong, and Lorenzo is strong. Who can beat him?
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and others previewing the Dutch TT at Assen:
Michael van der Mark will now not be racing at his home MotoGP round of Assen. The deal to replace the injured Karel Abraham at the AB MotoRacing team has fallen through, the stumbling block being who would cover the cost of crash parts.
The deal came very close to fruition. Rumors that Van der Mark would take the place of Abraham first started over the weekend at Misano, emerging publicly on Monday afternoon. HRC had put Van der Mark forward to replace the injured Abraham, and the AB MotoRacing team were very open to having the young Dutchman as a substitute. Things soured on Monday, however, as discussions grew heated over who would pay for crash damage to the Open class Honda RC213V-RS if Van der Mark were to drop the bike. AB MotoRacing wanted HRC to pay for damage, Honda believed it was the responsibility of the team, just as it would be if Abraham were racing.
Michael van der Mark looks set to make his MotoGP debut at Assen this weekend. The 22-year-old Dutchman will be swapping his Pata Honda CBR1000RR World Superbike machine for the Open class Honda RC213V-RS of the AB MotoRacing team, where he is set to fill in for the injured Karel Abraham. Abraham badly injured his foot, severly dislocating his toe, in a fall during FP4 in Barcelona.
Rumors that the Dutchman would get the chance to race a MotoGP machine at his home race started circulating in the Dutch media earlier on Monday. Several sources close to the situation confirmed that the deal was very close to being sealed. There are just a few final details to be settled, including matters such as covering the cost of damage in case of a crash.