Press releases after Sunday's races at Portimao:
Apologies for the extreme tardiness of this report, dear readers. Travel delays, the Romano Fenati situation, and a minor mishap at home threw my work schedule into utter disarray, and I got a long way behind. Aragon will be better.
"I have my strategy," Andrea Dovizioso told us after qualifying on Saturday at Misano. "It's always better to have a clear strategy, but to have a strategy and be able to make your strategy is a different story. You have to adapt to the conditions."
Dovizioso had seemed quietly confident as he sat in Ducati's hospitality unit and told us about his day qualifying. The Italian often exudes a sense of calm, but in hindsight, this was calm built on a sense of confidence. Dovizioso believed he could win on Sunday. But first, he would have to dispose of Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Viñales, both of whom had stamped their authority on practice with great ferocity. Then there was Marc Márquez, of course, who had spent practice concentrating on old tires, working for the latter stages of the race. Throw in a couple of wildcards – Jack Miller had impressed all weekend, while Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi were perennial threats – and winning in Misano was obviously a tough gig.
Press releases from the WorldSBK teams after Saturday:
Thomas Morsellino is a French freelance journalist and photographer, with keen eye for the technical details of MotoGP bikes. You may have seen some of his work on Twitter, where he runs the @Off_Bikes account. After every race, MotoMatters.com will be publishing a selection of Tom's photos of MotoGP bikes, together with technical explanations of the details. MotoMatters.com subscribers will get access to the full resolution photos, which they can download and study in detail, while readers who do not support the site will be limited to the 800x600 resolution photos.
In an interview I did with him at Assen, I asked Marc Márquez if he was ever afraid. "At the moment, no," he replied. The one time when he had been scared was after his big crash at Mugello, when he had locked the front wheel over the crest of the hill, and bailed at around 270 km/h to avoid hitting a wall. After that, whenever he crested the hill at the end of the straight, he had subconsciously backed off the gas. He did not believe he was afraid, until his data engineer showed him the throttle trace, which showed him closing the gas.
We can add a second occasion when Márquez was afraid. As at Mugello, it came after a crash. This time, though, it was not as a result of his own riding, but the riding of the marshal who rushed him back to the pits in record time during Q2, giving him one more shot at pole.
It started with Márquez' second run during qualifying. The Repsol Honda rider had elected to go for a two-stop strategy, and so had left the pits early and laid down a marker on his first run. That marker was overtaken by Jorge Lorenzo a minute later, and so Márquez went out and pushed hard on his second run. A little too hard, as it turned out.
Surely the teams who tested at Misano prior to Silverstone would have an advantage once MotoGP arrived at the Italian circuit? With a day to set up the bikes ahead of time, they would start the Misano weekend with a head start.
That is the theory, anyway. But when I spoke to one of Johann Zarco's mechanics, he dismissed the idea out of hand. "You have an advantage for about five laps," he said. The problem is the period of time between the test and the race. Conditions change too much. "What you find is a setup for the conditions on the day. When you get there for the race, the track is dirtier, the weather's different, the temperature's lower."
The track definitely changed a lot between the test and the race weekend, as those who were at the test pointed out. "When we came here for the test, the grip level of the track was higher," Valentino Rossi said. "But for some reason, also for the rain yesterday, the track even if it's a bit colder is more slippery."
The legacy of the Lost Grand Prix lingers on. Silverstone was on the minds of many at Misano, and there was still much to be said about the race. The conclusion remained nearly unanimous, with one dissenting opinion: it was way too dangerous to race at Silverstone, and the new surface was simply not draining correctly. Riders chimed in with their opinions of what had gone wrong with laying the asphalt, but those opinions should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. They may be intimately familiar with the feel and texture of asphalt, but the ability to ride a motorcycle almost inhumanly fast does not equate to understanding the underlying engineering and chemistry of large-scale civil engineering projects.
What riders do understand better than anyone, of course, is whether a race track is safe to race on, and all but Jack Miller felt the same way eleven days on from Silverstone. "The amount of rain was not enough to produce those conditions on the track," Marc Márquez told the press conference. "For me it was more about the asphalt, more than the weather conditions. And it was T2 and T3, that part was something that you cannot ride like this. Because there are many bumps, the water was there but inside the bump was even more water, and it was impossible to understand the track."
It had rained far more in 2015, when the race had been able to go ahead, than it had in 2018, when the race had been called off, Márquez said. "For example in 2015 it was raining much more, in Motegi last year it was raining much more. But for some reason, we already went out from the box and it was only light rain but the water was there. It was something strange."
And so we leave England, and the debacle that was Silverstone, a race that was canceled due to rain in a land which is green and pleasant thanks to the generous application of precipitation all year round. It is said that the English language has as many words for rain as some Inuit languages have for snow, but I have been told that the number of words the Inuit have for snow is greatly exaggerated.
MotoGP heads south to Misano, for a late summer race on the Adriatic Riviera and the certainty of a race actually happening. The washout at Silverstone could never happen at Misano, could it? Those with longer memories will remember 2007, and the first race back at the Italian circuit since Wayne Rainey suffered his career-ending injury there. A sudden flash storm on Friday revealed a severe drainage problem, with water flooding into the garages causing teams to scramble to get everything up above floor level, and leaving circuit officials standing waist-deep in water at one part of the track looking for a blocked drain.
Fortunately, the circuit fixed the problems, and since then, rain has not stopped practice from happening. So if it rains this weekend – and the forecast is for showers both on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning – the event should be able to proceed as normal. But if the forecast is correct, then it will have an effect on Sunday's race. Any loss of practice time will benefit any rider who has tested here recently. And as it happens, a bunch of factories and teams have done just that.
The 2019 MotoGP grid is now as good as complete. Today, the Reale Avintia squad announced they have signed a two-year contract with Karel Abraham which will see him racing a Ducati for the team for the next two seasons.
The announcement had been widely expected. Xavier Simeon has not lived up to expectations and failed to adapt to MotoGP, and Avintia were looking for a replacement. Abraham had been left without a team after the Aspar / Angel Nieto Team passed their grid slots to the Petronas Yamaha team, which had already signed riders for the coming season. Abraham needed a team, and Avintia needed a rider who could bring money, to replace the money lost when Simeon departed.
In the final part of our mammoth interview with Gilles Bigot, crew chief to Tom Lüthi, the Frenchman takes a deep dive into the process of adapting to riding in MotoGP, and some of the problems Lüthi has had in making the switch. The greatest task for a crew chief, Bigot explains, is finding the right setup to give the rider what they need to go fast, and convincing the rider of the best way to get the most out of the bike they are riding.
Through his explanation Bigot meanders through a range of fascinating subjects. From the effect of exhaust valves on two-stroke 500s, via riding a MotoGP bike with the front rather than the rear, to helping Tom Lüthi adapt to the extremely aggressive Honda, and perhaps the mistakes made along the way.
Taken together with the other two parts of this interview – part 1, where Bigot discusses seeing a young Valentino Rossi adapt to four-stroke MotoGP machines faster than his rivals, and how patience can be a key part of adapting from one class to the next, and part 2, detailing Lüthi's specific problems in adapting to MotoGP – a clear and informative picture emerges of the many and varied details which go into the process of switching from one class to the next.