Silly Season Round Up: The MotoGP Merry-Go-Round, Moto2 And Moto3 Madness, And Guessing At The 2015 Calendar
The period since the MotoGP circus rolled up at Silverstone has been pretty frantic. Almost as soon as the teams and riders arrived in the UK, the negotiations over 2015 and beyond started. The developments around Gresini's impending switch to Aprilia triggered a further round of haggling and fundraising, with several teams and riders trying to cover all the possible permutations of the Honda RC213V becoming available. The submission date for the Moto2 and Moto3 entries intensified the bargaining over rider placements, the field split into those who must pay, and those who will be paid. Time for a quick round up of all that has happened.
The most pressing problem in MotoGP at the moment is the situation around Scott Redding and the Honda RC213V being abandoned by Gresini. Where that bike goes depends on just a single factor: money. Aspar is interested in the bike, but cannot raise the extra money it would cost over and above the cost of a Honda RCV1000R. Marc VDS Racing is in a desperate scramble to find the last 1.9 million euros they need to plug the gap in their budget if they are to move up to MotoGP. LCR Honda could perhaps find the budget to put Redding alongside Cal Crutchlow, and having two British riders would greatly please CWM FX, the British foreign exchange trading firm stepping in as a title sponsor. CWM have already fronted the money for 2015, but would have to increase their sponsorship if LCR were to take a second RC213V.
The Gresini/Redding situation has repercussions elsewhere. Until Redding finalizes where he will be riding in 2015, Ducati will be holding open the seat at Pramac, complete with full factory backing. Redding's priority is to be riding a Honda RC213V, but if that plan falls through, then there are worse options than a factory-backed Desmosedici GP15. The Ducati is very much his second choice, however: if you had to choose between the bike being ridden by the current world champion, and a machine which hasn't been built yet, which, Ducati management assures everyone, promises to be better than the bike it replaces, a bike which hasn't won a race since 2010, then the time taken to make your decision would be measured in nanoseconds.
2014 Silverstone MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Three Great Races, A Fast Ducati, And A Tough Home Round For British Riders
The crowds at Silverstone certainly got their money's worth at this year's British Grand Prix. The weather turned, the sun shone, the temperature rose and the fans were treated to three scintillating races, along with an action-packed support program. The Moto3 race was the usual nail-biter, the race only decided on the entry to the final complex at Brooklands and Luffield. The Moto2 race was a throwback to the thrillers of old, with three men battling for victory to the wire. And the MotoGP was a replay of the 2013 Silverstone race, a duel decided by raw aggression.
That the MotoGP race should be so close was a surprise. After Friday practice, Marc Marquez looked to already have the race in the bag. The championship leader was fast right out of the box, setting a pace no one else could follow. Where the rest complained of a lack of grip from the cold conditions, and of struggling with the bumps created by F1, Marquez simply blew everyone away. A night of hard work figuring out set up solutions by crew and suspension technicians saw most riders greatly up the pace on Saturday, the front end now riding over the bumps, rather than being jolted around by them. Marquez still took pole, but the pace in FP4 looked much closer.
The concerns which the Yamahas had was mostly temperature, and so a bright, sunny day was exactly what they needed. It completed the transformation of Jorge Lorenzo from Friday. The tire brought by Bridgestone – the same compound as last year, but with the heat treatment layer which makes the edge of the tire a fraction stiffer – was not working for the Movistar Yamaha rider on Friday, but come Sunday, Lorenzo's crew had solved nearly all of his problems. "We improved the bike so much from Friday," he said after the race. They had found more corner speed during the morning warm up, and that gave Lorenzo the chance to fight. Once the lights dropped, Lorenzo took off like a scalded cat and tried to make a break from the front.
It has been a long, hard weekend of negotiating in the paddock at Silverstone for a number of team managers. Especially for everyone involved in the situation revolving around the Go&Fun Gresini team, and the rider they have a contract with for 2015, Scott Redding. Meetings have been held with factories, team managers, riders and sponsors, in a bid to get everything back on track for next year.
At the core of the problem lies the impending loss of title sponsor Go&Fun by Gresini. Without the money the Italian energy drink firm brings in, Gresini can no longer afford the factory option Honda RC213V it leases from HRC. Without an RC213V, Redding will not ride for Gresini. And without bikes from Honda, Gresini will have to find another way of surviving in MotoGP.
Silverstone was the deadline HRC had given Gresini to tell them whether he would be racing with Honda next year. If Gresini could not afford the RC213V, this would give Honda the time to find an alternative slot for the bike. Rumors that Gresini would not be able to afford the bike had started a flurry of activity, both rumored and real, among other teams and factories. If an RC213V were to become available, there were teams who were willing to snap it up. If Redding were to become available, there were teams and factories who were keen to see him on their bikes.
Silverstone, like so many British racetracks, is built on the site of a former World War II airfield. Though that fact may appear to be largely irrelevant, the location makes a massive difference to conditions at the circuit. To allow the lumbering RAF bombers to take off on their nightly runs to Germany, the airfield was set up on the flat top of a hill. The combination of altitude and ubiquitous wind gave the bombers as much help as possible at take off.
Though the bombers are gone, the wind remains, and it played havoc with all three Grand Prix classes on Friday. The blustery wind blew the bantamweight Moto3 bikes all over the track. It hammered the heavier Moto2 bikes from all sides. And it robbed the precious warmth from the MotoGP bikes' Bridgestone tires, draining heat and reducing the grip. The mixture of strong winds, major cloud cover and low temperatures made it difficult for everyone during free practice.
As the heaviest and most powerful of the three classes, the MotoGP bikes suffered the least directly. It was not so much a question of being blown about, Bradley Smith explained, as having to concentrate on your braking markers and take more care when accelerating. With a headwind in one direction, you could find yourself able to brake a little later, the Tech 3 Yamaha man said, while a couple of corners later, when you had switched direction, a tailwind would blow you into corners faster, meaning braking a little bit earlier than normal. Getting on the gas could be tricky: if the front wheel lifted too much, then you could find yourself off line and running wide. Having bikes weighing 160kg meant they were not easily overpowered by the wind, but the more subtle changes made it all the more treacherous.
Silverstone has all the makings of being a very hectic weekend for a lot of people. Not so much because of the weather – things are looking up compared to a week ago, with just a few drops of rain forecast for Friday, and dry weather for Saturday and Sunday – but more because of the goings on behind the scenes. Thursday was the deadline for Moto2 and Moto3 entries to be submitted. The class looks to be oversubscribed again, with Dorna and IRTA left to whittle the entry list down to something of its present size. The extra entries are mostly expansion projects of existing teams, one-rider teams wanting to expand to two, or two-rider teams looking to become three-rider projects. The teams now have to stump up a deposit, before presenting their final rider lists at Aragon.
That has produced a certain pressure in the paddock for teams to sign riders for next year. The main players now know more or less where they are heading, though few will admit what their plans are. Most of the top Moto3 riders are off to Moto2, with those that remain filling the juiciest spots left open by those who are departing. The Estrella Galicia team of Alex Marquez and Alex Rins is to be split up, with one Alex rumored to be off to Marc VDS alongside Tito Rabat, while the other heads to the Pons team. Which Alex goes where is yet to be confirmed, but the smart money puts Marquez at Marc VDS, and Rins at Pons, in a charmingly consonant distribution of riders. Rins' slot depends on what happens with Jack Miller: if the Australian does not go to LCR Honda in MotoGP as rumored, he will take the spot vacated by Maverick Viñales. Miller's place at Red Bull KTM Ajo is to be taken by Brad Binder.
If the situation in Moto2 and Moto3 is close being settled, all is still up in the air in MotoGP. Before the summer break, not much was expected to change, but the impending loss of Go&Fun as sponsor to the Gresini team has thrown a spanner in the works. HRC has given Gresini until this weekend to place an order for the factory Honda RC213V, but without the backing of a major sponsor, Gresini will not be able to afford the bike. That would wreck Gresini's existing plans, and lead them on a search for alternatives, one of which could be running the factory Aprilia effort.
2014 Silverstone MotoGP Preview - Yamaha Territory, Racing At Home, And The Future Of The British Grand Prix
Since the beginning of the season, as he racked up one victory after another, Marc Marquez faced the same question over and over again: can you keep on winning? And over and over again, Marc Marquez gave the same answer: one day, he would not win. On that day, he added, it would be important to think of the championship, and get on the podium if possible.
That day came 10 days ago, at Brno. After struggling all weekend with a lack of rear grip on his Repsol Honda, Marquez couldn't match the pace of his teammate Dani Pedrosa, and the two Movistar Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Fourth was all that Marquez could manage.
The measure of a champion is not just how he wins, but also how he handles defeat. As Marquez rolled back into his garage after the race – a rare occurrence indeed, this the first time Marquez finished off the podium in his MotoGP career – there were no tantrums, no anger, no shouting. He patted his mechanics on their shoulders, sat down in his seat, and immediately started analyzing the defeat he had just suffered with his team. This was clearly not an experience he was keen to replicate any time soon. If any doubt still lingered, the eagerness with which he attacked the official test at Brno on the Monday after the race quickly removed them.
Under normal circumstances, Scott Redding would already know exactly where he will be racing in 2015. He has a contract with HRC and Gresini to race with the Go&Fun Gresini team, which puts him aboard the factory option Honda RC213V next year, replacing Alvaro Bautista. Up until a few races ago, the only question mark was whether Redding would continue to run Showa suspension and Nissin brakes, which come as part of a lucrative sponsorship deal for Gresini, or whether the team would switch to Ohlins and Brembo, like the factory Honda team.
In the past couple of weeks, that situation appears to have changed. Ahead of the Brno round of MotoGP, rumors emerged that Gresini was struggling to raise the funds for 2015. Title sponsor Go&Fun is alleged to be having financial problems, with Andrea Iannone's manager Carlo Pernat telling reporters at Brno that Iannone has yet to receive the money for the helmet sponsorship deal the Italian signed with them. There are now doubts that Go&Fun will be able to afford to continue the sponsorship of the Gresini Honda team for 2015, despite having a contract with the Italian team for 2015.
One belief common among motorcycle racing fans is that racers will ride harder while they are negotiating a new contract, only to slack off once the contract is in the bag. Ask a rider about this, and they deny it fervently, saying they have to ride just as hard after a new contract is signed as they did before. That their contract situation affects their performance is beyond question, though it is not as simple as it appears.
Bradley Smith is a case in point. Since the start of the season, the Englishman has known he has been riding for his place next year, with Yamaha and Tech 3 taking a seriously look at riders in both Moto2 and Moto3 to replace him. The pressure was starting to get to Smith, the Tech 3 man crashing rather too frequently, with the low point being the race at the Sachsenring. Smith crashed four times that weekend, twice on Friday, once on Saturday, and again in the race. It was a very tough weekend indeed.
So when Smith signed a new deal with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team ahead of the race at Brno, there was a palpable sense of relief. With this future secure for another year, he could get concentrate on racing again with a clear mind, and without the pressure of his results being judged every race. Over the course of the weekend at Brno, we asked Smith how he felt after his contract extension, and what effect he felt it had had on his results. His answers were revealing, and provide an insight into the pressure which all MotoGP riders must function under.
Marc Marquez did not take kindly to finishing fourth on Sunday, that much was obvious from the test. He lined up at pit lane exit at precisely 10am, waiting for the track to open. As soon as it opened, he was away, the first rider to take to the track in a long way. When Jorge Lorenzo went fastest, Marquez seemed determined to catch him, finally leaving the test at the end of a long day at the top of the timesheets.
Testing is not really about who is fastest, though riders cannot avoid turning it into a competitive sport. It is more about carefully running through options and testing parts, selecting what works and what doesn't, trying new bikes and parts, and testing out set up changes which are too experimental or time-consuming to try on a normal race weekend. Riders are still trying to go fast, but they and the teams are more interested in comparing their own times, rather than the times of others.
The factory Honda and Yamaha teams had similar programs. Both had the latest version of their 2015 bikes for the riders to test, as well as minor modifications to their current set ups in search of a bit more performance for the end of the year. That Honda's 2015 bike is working should be no surprise: Marc Marquez topped the timesheets on the new bike, praising the work done so far. It is an improvement over the 2014 machine, and faster in the middle of the corner, though there are still a few areas that need work. It was good enough for Marquez to get under Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013, however. Would he like to use it for the rest of the season? Though the bike is faster, it would be too much of a risk using it for the rest of the season.
The hot-hand fallacy finally caught up with Marc Marquez. His amazing streak of consecutive wins stays at ten, the Spaniard being beaten for the first time this year. In his twenty-ninth race in the MotoGP class, Marquez and his crew finally failed to find a good enough set up to win, or even make it onto the podium. The Repsol Honda man has only missed out on the podium twice before, once at Mugello last year, when he crashed, and once at Phillip Island, when he was disqualified from the tire fiasco race.
Defeat had been waiting in the wings for Marquez for a while now. Look solely at the points table, and his dominance looks complete. But go back and look at his winning margin, and his advantage has not looked quite so large. Of his ten wins, only two were by a considerable margin: one at Austin, where he has always been better than the rest; one at Assen, where rain created large gaps. His advantage at Argentina and Indianapolis was 1.8 seconds, at Jerez, Le Mans and the Sachsenring under a second and a half. Marquez could only eke out victory at Qatar, Mugello and Barcelona, races he won by a half a second or less. At most races, Marquez was winning by a slender margin indeed, lapping on average just five or six hundredths of a second quicker than his rivals. It was enough, but it was really not very much at all.
Marquez' slender advantage over his rivals was a sign of just how close they really were. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had all come close to beating Marquez, and in the case of Pedrosa at Barcelona, Marquez had been forced to delve deep into his bag of tricks to beat his teammate. Marquez' talent may have loaded the dice he was rolling, but eventually they would fall another way. "People said winning was easy for me," Marquez told the Spanish media, "but I know how hard it was."