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Why There Are No Quick Fixes To MotoGP's Dearth Of Overtaking

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you will have heard the criticism of MotoGP. Though the field is close, it has become harder and harder to overtake the riders in front. The Le Mans race was a case in point: the 27-lap race featured only a handful of overtakes, most of which were made possible only by a mistake by the rider ahead.

The problem was brought into stark relief by last weekend's WorldSBK races at Estoril. Alvaro Bautista, Jonathan Rea, and Toprak Razgatlioglu put on a dazzling display of passing in all three races on Saturday and Sunday, finding ways to jam their bikes ahead of each other into the first corner, the fourth corner, the Parabolica Interior, and the tight, awkward uphill chicane. They produced three glorious races.

The spectacle of Rea, Razgatlioglu, and Bautista knocking spots off one another reinforced that the problem is indeed down to the technological point at which MotoGP finds itself. With limited aerodynamics and no ride-height devices, the WorldSBK trio found no problem diving out of the slipstream and outbraking each other.

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Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Qualifying Surprises, Evaluating Aleix, And Retiring Numbers

The MotoGP riders are hoping that Le Mans doesn't turn into another Portimão. In Portugal, they spent two days perfecting their wet setup, only to find themselves racing in the dry with next to no time on a dry track, outside of morning warm up. At Le Mans, it could well be the opposite. Two days of practice in near-perfect conditions, only for the race to be held in the rain. Or not, the forecast changes every time you look at it.

The weather isn't the only thing capable of surprising. All through FP3 and FP4, a very clear pattern emerged. The reigning world champion had come to his home grand prix with a plan, and vengeance in his heart. Still smarting from finishing second in Jerez, Fabio Quartararo is intent on stamping his authority on the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

The Frenchman's rhythm in free practice was fearsome. 1'31.7s with used tires in FP3, 1'31.6s with used tires in FP4. Not single laps either, but effortlessly stringing together runs of lap after lap. The only riders who came close to that kind of pace were Alex Rins and Aleix Espargaro, but they didn't have the consistency which Quartararo was displaying.

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Why So Many Crashes? And Why Is Overtaking So Hard?

It's only Friday, as riders will repeat endlessly to you on, well, on a Friday after the first day of practice. Friday is a day for assessing tires, testing new parts, and at the end of the day, posting a quick lap in an attempt to avoid the limbo of Q1.

That proved not to be easy at Le Mans. A weird combination of circumstances (more of which later) meant that there were five crashes in the last ten minutes of FP2. It was almost impossible to put in a quick lap without it being canceled due to yellow flags in some sector or other. "In the time attack, it was a bit of a disaster on track, I just saw 4 laps of yellow flags," Pecco Bagnaia complained. "And like this it's more difficult, so I didn't have the possibility to do a free lap."

That didn't matter for Bagnaia – he set his fastest time at the end of his first run while working on race pace, and still ended as fifth fastest, a sign of just how quick he is at the moment - but there were others for whom it did not work out quite so well. "It was unfortunate not to be inside the top 10," Jack Miller said after missing out on Q2. "We were trying, but a lot of yellow flags at the end, a lot of guys crashing, so it wasn't easy to make a lap."

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Jerez Test: Close Up Photos Of Yamaha's Swingarm And Fender, Honda's Exhausts, And Ducati's Ride-Height Devices

The Monday after Jerez was the first chance that the teams and factories got to work on their bikes since the entire design was homologated ahead of the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. Given the oft-discussed weird start to the 2022 season, where the teams never seemed to have more than 5 minutes of normal or consistent conditions, having a whole day with a dry track allowed everyone some badly-needed time to work on some very basic stuff.

Of course, not everything was perfect. The weather was significantly cooler than it had been on Sunday, and the wind picked up considerably. There was also a nice thick layer of Michelin rubber, laid down in Sunday's race, the with the MotoE class, also Michelin-shod, adding yet more to the track surface. If anyone had hoped to work on low grip conditions, they would have to create them themselves by running very, very old tires.

Starting first with satellite riders – real satellite riders, that is, not the factory-backed riders in junior teams like Pramac – and rookies. When you have no new parts to test, then what you work on is setup, and especially the kind of setup changes that you don't have time to try during a race weekend.

Setup first

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Cursed Calendar, Damp Crashes, Honda's Testing Program, And Silly Season Kicks Off

I am starting to suspect that the 2022 MotoGP season might be cursed. The Sepang test happened, and was relatively incident free, but it's all been downhill from there. The track coming apart at the Mandalika test, an almost normal Qatar, the track coming apart at the Mandalika race, freight problems in Argentina, an almost normal Austin (or as normal as Austin can be, the same going for Qatar), and then rained out practice at Portimão.

So we arrived in Jerez with the weather forecast looking promising. Some rain on Thursday night, but all dry for practice and throughout the test. Friday night dawned sunny and bright as promised, but nobody had told the track. Though the surface was mostly dry, a few persistent damp patches remained throughout the day, stubbornly resisting all attempts to remove them. When I left the track at 10:30pm, circuit staff were still out with special blowers trying to dispel the remaining water.

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Jerez MotoGP Preview: Who Can Beat Fast Fabio?

We are just over a quarter of the way into the 2022 MotoGP season. And yet Jerez is the sixth race of the 21 to be held this year. "Only a quarter done?" Joan Mir recoiled in horror when apprised of this fact by On Track Off Road's Adam Wheeler. That sentiment is almost universally shared throughout the paddock, given the expansion of the calendar this year.

It may also explain why rumors were circulating so widely about a supposed cancellation of the Finnish GP at the Kymiring in July. It turned out to be entirely wishful thinking, the race set to go ahead, the organization receiving a cash injection to make the race happen, marshals already being recruited and trained. Nobody can face the prospect of 21 races, and so they are inventing reasons for the calendar to be curtailed.

It is odd for Jerez to be the sixth race on the calendar. For many years, Jerez was the place the grand prix season started. It was only the arrival of Qatar, and the switch from a day race in the summer to a night race in spring that cost Jerez its place as season opener. Once Qatar had a foot in the door, that opened a path for others to be jammed into the start of the year. Austin, Argentina, now Mandalika and Portimão.

It starts here

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Portimão MotoGP Subscriber Notes: When The Rider Makes The Difference, And A Dash Of Normality Returning

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. It is a painfully trite cliché, and yet like most clichés, it gets used so often because it generalizes a truth. You may not always have the best tools at your disposal for the job at hand, so you just have to find a way to make the best of what you do have.

The current MotoGP elite know this lesson all too well. Marc Marquez won his Moto2 championship on a Suter against superior Kalexes. Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin came up through Moto3 riding Mahindra, a competent but underpowered motorcycle. Fabio Quartararo found himself on a Speed Up in Moto2, and found a way to win on a finicky but fast Moto2 bike. They didn't have what they wanted, but they found a way to make it work anyway.

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Portimão MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, An Improved Honda, And What The Yamaha Is Really Missing

If anyone was holding out the forlorn hope of a return to normality now that MotoGP is back in Europe, they were to be bitterly disappointed the way the first day of practice played out at Portimão. It rained all day, occasionally easing up, only for the rain to hammer down again. The track surface varied from wet to absolutely soaking, a rivulet of water running across the apex of Turn 5, a corner which is tricky enough in the dry.

Remarkably, nobody crashed there, despite it being notorious for catching out the unwary. There was plenty of crashing elsewhere: a grand total of 41 on the first day across all three classes, one shy of three-day total of last October's Algarve Grand Prix, and six short of the total accrued in the race here last April. The vast majority fell at Turn 4, the first left hander after the main straight, and nearly half the track from the previous left. In the cold, wet, and miserable conditions, the left side of the tire was losing a lot of heat, and it was easy to crash.

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Portimão MotoGP Thursday Preview: How The Factories Fare At A Fast And Flowing Track

Traditionally, we say that the MotoGP season only starts properly once it reaches European soil. The overseas races which kick off the year are always held in rather unusual circumstances, or unique tracks, and with so little preseason testing, the bikes still have so many bugs and details to iron out before they really start to show what they are capable of.

The start of 2022 has been even less useful than other years. A day and a half of testing in Sepang before the rain came. A new track at Mandalika, which needed a day to clean and then started coming part. The race at Qatar was moved earlier, putting practice into a much hotter part of the day compared to the race. Freight delays to Argentina, which meant that Friday was canceled and two days of practice and qualifying were compressed into the Saturday. And Austin, the nearest thing to normality, remains a strange and unique circuit.

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The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season: The Slow Burn Starts

Despite the fact that almost the entire MotoGP grid started the year without a contract for 2023 and beyond, it has been extremely quiet on the contract front so far this year. The only new contract announced was the unsurprising news that Pecco Bagnaia is to stay in the factory Ducati team for the next two seasons, with that contract announced between the Mandalika test and the season opener at Qatar.

The general feeling seems to be one of wanting to wait and see. An informal poll of team managers at the Sepang test suggest that they expected to wait until Mugello at the earliest to start thinking about next year. At the moment, it seems likely that major moves will not be made until after the summer break.

But that doesn't mean there won't be any major moves made, however. There are growing rumors of talks having started behind the scenes among several key players. If these talks play out as expected, the grid could see look rather different in 2023.

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