Watch a modern MotoGP, Moto2 or World Superbike race with a casual fan and you can be certain there is one question they will ask you: "Why are they waving their legs about like that?" Many theories have been offered, often directly contradicting each other. For example, several years ago, I suggested that the leg wave is entirely mental. Earlier this year, the Australian motorcycle coaching organization MotoDNA described the possible role which aerodynamics play, the exposed leg helping to create more drag. Much has been said, yet it seems impossible to settle the argument one way or another.
Asking the riders to explain does not help much. It is a question I and other journalists have asked of many different riders, including Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, and Dani Pedrosa. Their answers always boil down to the same thing: "It just feels natural," they say. An interesting response, perhaps providing an insight into how deeply racers have internalized so much of the physical part of their riding, but not doing much to help explain the phenomenon.
To attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery, I turned to some of the best minds in the MotoGP paddock. For an explanation of the physics behind the leg wave, I asked Monster Tech 3 Yamaha crew chief and technical guru Guy Coulon, while for further insight from the point of view of an observer and ex-rider, I spoke to Wilco Zeelenberg, team manager of Jorge Lorenzo - the one current MotoGP rider who does not dangle his leg while riding.
There is no rivalry in MotoGP more bitter than that between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, more bitter even than the one between Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz. It has been a constant element in their relationship since Stoner won his first MotoGP title in 2007 (ironically, Stoner named Rossi as one of his heroes on the t-shirt he wore to celebrate that championship), though hardly a surprise, as the two men are polar opposites in almost every respect, except for their prodigious talent. The rivalry has intensified over the years, stoked by a series of incidents (nicely outlined by the peerless Italian website GPOne.com recently), including the booing of Stoner by Rossi fans at Donington in 2008, the epic battle at Laguna Seca in 2008, and the war of words between the two in 2010, ahead of Rossi's move to Ducati.
The rivalry does not just polarize the two riders, it also polarizes their fans. The comments section of almost any news story featuring the two men is riddled with posts by people blinded by fanaticism, with logic and calm consideration nowhere to be found. This polarization leaves the media with a dilemma: on the one hand, events concerning the two, and verbal exchanges between them need to be treated as newsworthy, and due consideration given to covering them as such. On the other hand, the media operate in the certain knowledge that covering the dispute is sure to sell more newspapers and magazines, generate more traffic to a website, and grab more viewers for a TV show. Reporting on these stories leaves journalists open to charges of sensationalism, but not reporting on them means they can be accused of not doing their jobs.
What does it take to be a world champion? A little bit of luck, certainly. A whole heap of talent, for sure. But above all, it takes preparation: physical, mental and mechanical. That, most of all, is the lesson of Jorge Lorenzo's 2012 MotoGP championship. The 2010 champion came better prepared to the title chase, and ground down his opponents with his sheer consistency.
Lorenzo's assault on the 2012 championship started in Yamaha's racing department in 2011. The new 1000cc M1 may have been visually almost identical to the 800cc 2011 machine, but beneath the similarities was a very different machine. Yamaha's engineers had made the bike longer to cope with the extra torque and horsepower, and completely redesigned the engine to cope with the new rules. Modified electronics improved traction, while better wheelie control meant the bike lost less time in acceleration. The improved wheelie control alone cut a tenth of a second from the lap time.
It was obvious to Lorenzo that the 2012 bike would be competitive as soon as he rode it for the first time during the post-race test at Brno in August 2011. Where on the 800cc bike, he had been nearly half a second slower than Casey Stoner during Sunday's race, the day after, on the 1000cc M1, he was immediately within a tenth of the Australian on the Repsol Honda. Yamaha had done their homework, and Lorenzo knew that the rest was down to him.
Marc Marquez was heaped with praise in the media after his first laps on the Repsol Honda at Valencia on Wednesday. So much praise that some MotoGP fans grew sceptical, questioning whether ending the test over a second behind his new teammate and fastest man Dani Pedrosa was the great result that was being touted by the press. After all, Marquez had finished just 7th, behind all of the prototype riders from last year, and that was without the presence of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamahas.
So who is right? Are the media right to be excited about the times Marquez posted on Wednesday, or are they still blinded by his performance on Sunday, winning the Moto2 race from the back of the grid? Are the fans correct to point to his position, behind the satellite bikes despite being on a factory Honda? One answer may lie in the times.
Tuesday afternoon at Valencia saw groups of people huddled together up and down the paddock discussion what to do. With the weather having made the first day of testing difficult, and much, much worse forecast for Wednesday - half an inch or more of rain was forecast to fall during the seven hours of the test on Wednesday - several teams contemplated the prospect of packing up and heading elsewhere in search of a dry track.
In the end only Yamaha decided to go, heading off to Aragon, one of their nominated test tracks. In their wake, a string of journalists followed, hoping to get more of an idea of just how fast Valentino Rossi still is after his misadventure with Ducati, by being able to compare his times with those of Jorge Lorenzo's. It turned out to be a waste of time. The rain fell in Aragon, Valentino Rossi did a single lap - out, and then straight back into the pits - and Jorge Lorenzo posted nine laps in the wet before crashing, and walking away unhurt.
If there is one subject that is getting mind-numbingly tedious to have to write about in motorcycle racing right now, it's the weather. Almost every race this year has lost at least one session to difficult conditions, and we had hoped that the 2013 season might start off a little better. No such luck.
After a dry, clear night, the first rain showers arrived shortly before 10am, when the track was due to open for the test. By the time the track opened, enough rain had fallen to make it slick, greasy and extremely difficult to ride. That put an end to almost everyone's carefully laid plans, leaving large groups of people wandering around and alternating between looking to the skies and carefully examining the track. A few brave souls ventured out on to the track - including Valentino Rossi, at a few minutes after ten, the earliest he has ever taken to the track during testing since I've been following MotoGP, Rossi notoriously ill-disposed to mornings (as, I must admit, am I) - but for the most part, silence prevailed.
The sense of expectation in the air at Valencia is wound so tight it hums. Tomorrow morning, some time after 10am, some of that expectation will start to dissipate as we get the first glimpses of answers that have preoccupied MotoGP fans for the past few months.
Two things we hope to see: a glimpse of the past and a glimpse of the future. After two long, hard years, the army of Valentino Rossi fans will be hoping to see something they haven't since 2010, or maybe even 2009: a flowing, comfortable, aggressive Valentino Rossi at one with the machine underneath. That was something he never showed while riding the Ducati, the figure in the Rossi replica helmet sitting on the Ducati always looking more like a club racer had sneaked into the back of the Ducati garage to take the bike out for a spin, terrifying himself in the process. Rossi looked stiff, awkward, uncomfortable, his back arched like a cat negotiating a dog-infested yard.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: On Marquez' Talent, Pedrosa's Gamble, Lorenzo's Crash, And A Debt Left Open
So the 2012 MotoGP season is over, and someone with a great deal of courage and a little bit of money to wager could have ended the year rich beyond their wildest dreams. If you could have found someone to take your bet seriously, you would have got a very, very good return on one race being won from the back of the grid, and the other from a rider starting from pit lane. Just one of those events is highly unusual, having both of the happen on the same day is unheard of.
The odds on Marc Marquez winning from the back of the grid were probably disappointingly short. By now, every bookmaker in the world will have seen the onboard clip of Marc Marquez after stalling his bike on the grid at Motegi, and the way he disposed of twenty Moto2 competitors in the space of half a lap. The first lap at Valencia is likely to create as much of a sensation - or at least it would, if Dorna would either resist the temptation to take down Youtube videos before they go viral to keep their TV rights holders happy, or make the videos available free of charge on the MotoGP.com website so that they can go viral while retaining control - as Marquez passed another twenty riders in the space of five corners.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Lap Records, Hunger For Success, And Giving Factories Enough Rope
The last of the 990 pole records finally went at Valencia, along with the last record held by Valentino Rossi at any of the tracks currently on the calendar. Dani Pedrosa's astonishing last lap was inch perfect, and put him 0.158 seconds faster than Rossi's time, set in 2006 at the infamous season finale in which Rossi got a dismal start, then fell off trying to catch Nicky Hayden, handing the American the world championship in the process. Pedrosa's lap really was something special, though the Spaniard was not as impressed as the onlookers. He had had a few good laps in his career, he told the press conference, and this was definitely one of them. Pedrosa has looked ominous all weekend - actually, since Indianapolis - and if it were going to stay dry, then you would be hard put to think of anyone who could beat the Repsol Honda man.
Jorge Lorenzo is keen to try, and is fast all the way round the circuit to the final sector, but is losing a couple of tenths just in the acceleration out of the final corner and towards the line. The Hondas dominate there, good round the long left before the final corner - both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa were hanging the rear out all round that turn, showing a hint of the old tire-smokin' 990 days - but absolute missiles on acceleration. That has been Lorenzo's complaint all year, not sufficient acceleration and not the wheelie control which the Hondas appear to have. If Lorenzo arrives at the final corner with a Honda behind him, he will fear for his position.
2012 Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Dr Marquez And Mr Hyde, Bumpy Tracks, And Leasing Yamaha Engines
If there is one rider in the entire MotoGP paddock who recalls the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it is Marc Marquez. Around the paddock, speaking to the press, at public appearances, the Spaniard is soft-spoken, polite, friendly. When he speaks, he speaks only in commonplaces, his media training having expunged any trace of opinion or controversy from his speech (in either English or Spanish). Put him on a bike, however, and the beast is unleashed. He is merciless, in his speed, in his ownership of the track, and in his disregard of anyone else on the track.
So it was unsurprising that the Spaniard should find himself in trouble once again. During the afternoon practice, Marquez slotted his bike underneath an unsuspecting Simone Corsi going into turn 10, sending the Italian tumbling through the gravel in the process. The move was reminiscent of the incident at Motegi, where Marquez barged past Mika Kallio with similar disregard for the consequences, but unlike Motegi, this time Marquez received a penalty from Race Direction, for contravening section 1.21.2, a section Marquez by now must know almost by heart. That part of the Sporting Regulations which governs 'riding in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors'. For his sins, Marquez is to start from the back of the grid on Sunday, regardless of where he qualifies.