With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders. In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.
For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from 6 to 5 per season. Each rider now has 5 engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out. While Honda and Ducati are right on course to last the season, Yamaha find themselves unexpectedly struggling. An unidentified design flaw has seen Yamaha losing engines too rapidly for comfort. Both factory Yamaha men have had an engine withdrawn, while there are question marks over the life left in one engine each allocated to Valentino Rossi and the two Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders.
There was a small flurry of excitement when the minutes of the last meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, including rules on the spec ECU and factory entries were announced last week. That was then followed by a bout of confusion, as everyone tried to figure out what all of the various changes meant, and what impact they may have on the series. It appears that the answer to that question is "not as much as you might think," so let us take a look at what has changed.
The changes announced in the FIM press release (shown below) outline two major changes, both regarding the replacement of CRTs for 2014. Since the return to a larger capacity, the Grand Prix Commission (MotoGP's rulemaking body, comprising representatives of the FIM, Dorna, the teams and the manufacturers) opened the door to a simpler, cheaper form of racing, which in practice (though not by rule) consisted of putting tuned engines from road bikes into prototype chassis. To help such teams compete against the engineering prowess of HRC, Yamaha Racing and Ducati Corse, teams entering under the CRT rules were given extra engines and extra fuel, to allow them to make more power and sacrifice reliability. To prevent other factories from entering under the guise of a CRT, the GPC instituted a claiming rule, which meant that any factory could buy the engine from a CRT for 20,000 euros.
2013 Laguna Seca MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: Of Marquez' Achievements, The Legality Of The Pass, And The Lone Yamaha
It may be, in the colorful phrase of Jeremy Burgess, a "sh*tty little race track," but somehow Laguna Seca always manages to produce moments of magic. This year was no different, with Stefan Bradl finally getting his first podium, Marc Marquez breaking record after record, and Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa coming back after both damaging their collarbones at the Sachsenring.
As memorable as those performances were, they will all be overshadowed by one moment. Marc Marquez passed Valentino Rossi in the Corkscrew on lap 4, running through the dirt in scenes reminiscent of Rossi's iconic pass on Casey Stoner back in 2008. The incident fired the imagination of MotoGP fans for so very many different reasons: the reminder of Rossi's pass on Stoner; the even deeper line which Marquez took through the gravel in 2013; the thrill of a rider running through that corner and still managing to return and maintain his position.
Naturally, it was the talk of the press conference. When asked about the pass, Rossi turned his attention to HRC team principal (and Marc Marquez' team boss) Livio Suppo. Suppo was Casey Stoner's team boss back in 2008, and had complained bitterly of Rossi's pass at the Corkscrew. "You and Stoner break my balls for two or three years about that overtake, because I cut the kerb. So what do you say about that? Have to be disqualified hey?" Rossi asked to much laughter. Not to be outdone, Suppo replied in kind: "Thanks for the question, and thanks to Marc, because after a few years, we pay you back!"
2013 Laguna Seca MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Surprise Front Rows, Record Books And Qualifying Shake Ups
After free practice at Laguna Seca, things looked pretty well sewn up. Marc Marquez was on another planet, with his fourth pole position a mere formality. Alongside him on the front row would be Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi, with Crutchlow looking like having the stronger pace after free practice, while Rossi possessing more sheer outright speed. The rest? Well, they were irrelevant, and would be even more so once qualifying had proved the pundits right.
Only it didn't quite work out that way. A hectic and eventful qualifying saw Stefan Bradl take his first ever pole position, ahead of Marc Marquez and another surprise package in Alvaro Bautista. Rossi and Crutchlow were left on the second row, just ahead of the walking wounded pair of Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, the Repsol Honda rider heading up the third row.
Both Bradl and Bautista have excelled at Laguna Seca so far, Bradl showing more speed, but Bautista posting a ferocious and competitive race pace. The success of the two is surprising, and wagging tongues in the paddock attribute their sudden burst of speed to the fact that both their seats are currently being widely discussed as being up for grabs for fast and competitive riders. Bradl, it is said, is likely to be moved aside to accommodate Cal Crutchlow, while Bautista could be dropped in favor of Nicky Hayden.
The two satellite Honda riders defended their seats in the most forceful way possible on Saturday. Bautista had been quick all weekend, his best laps keeping him just out of the headlines, but running a consistent pace in the low 1'22s which should be good enough to run at the very front during the race. Bradl took the honor of being the first ever German to secure a pole position, writing his name in the history books alongside his former Moto2 rival Marc Marquez.
When Yamaha announced they would be leasing their M1 engines to ex-CRT teams for 2014, the first wave of reaction was overwhelmingly positive. With 24 liters of fuel allowed, and 12 engines instead of 5, the Yamaha engine package looked like being the best thing on offer to the so-called non-MSMA teams, as CRT is to be called from next year1.
Then doubt set in. Looking at the Yamaha M1 package, what you'd want from Yamaha was the chassis rather than the motor. The engine is the least powerful of the MotoGP prototypes, but its chassis was by far the best of the bunch. Both the Honda and the Yamaha non-MSMA packages appeared to be offering the worst part of each bike: Honda offering their chassis (good, but not great) and a dumbed-down version of their superlative engine; Yamaha offering a full-fat engine (the weakest of the bunch), for teams to have someone build a chassis around without Yamaha's 20+ years of experience building Deltabox frames. Perhaps the Yamaha M1 lease package - a lot of money, just for some engines - was not the bargain it at first appeared.
Laguna Seca is a peculiar track. It is short, tight, dusty, and not really suited to MotoGP, either in terms of facilities or, if we are brutally honest, in terms of safety, despite its FIM approval. It is foggy and cold in the morning, when the sea fog rolls in from Monterey Bay, and hot and dusty in the afternoon, with nowhere for the fans to escape the heat, except for a few solitary oaks scattered around the track. It is only really on the calendar because of its location, in the very heart of California's motorcycling community (though there are many, many people in Southern California who would heartily disagree with that statement.
Despite that, it is still a magnificent venue. If you asked everyone in the paddock which was their favorite event, Laguna Seca would be right up there vying with Mugello. The atmosphere, the location, the surrounding countryside, MotoGP people love the place, so much so that they often stay on afterwards to enjoy the area with a little more time to spare.
The track may be short and tight, but it still seems to generate some great racing. The epic clash between Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi in 2008 may be the high point, but Stoner's battle with Jorge Lorenzo in 2011, Nicky Hayden's first win when the series returned to the track in 2005, the tight battle between Dani Pedrosa and Rossi in '09. There is something about the track which can bring out the magic.
Just when it looked like the MotoGP silly season was getting ready to wrap up, a few new developments threw a spanner or two in the works. A week ago, most MotoGP pundits were convinced that Cal Crutchlow would be going to Ducati, Scott Redding would be moving up with his Marc VDS Racing team, and there was next to no interest in Yamaha's leased engines. At the Sachsenring, many things changed, in part at the instigation of Honda, and in part because of Yamaha.
Honda has made the biggest move in the market. At the Sachsenring, credible rumors emerged of Honda attempting to secure both Redding and Crutchlow, in two different moves. HRC's approach to Crutchlow could cause the biggest upset. The Japanese factory is known to be very impressed by Crutchlow, but their dilemma is that all four Honda prototype seats are ostensibly taken for 2014. While both Marquez and Pedrosa have contracts for next year, and Bautista is locked in at Gresini for 2014, Stefan Bradl's seat at LCR Honda could possibly be available. While Bradl is locked in to a two-year deal with HRC, Honda hold the option to decide not to take the second year, potentially freeing up Bradl's bike, and that seat could then be taken by Cal Crutchlow.
The Sachsenring is a key point on the MotoGP calendar. For the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, it is the last race before the summer break, while the MotoGP men have one more race, at Laguna Seca, before heading off for an all too brief summer hiatus. A good result in Moto2 and Moto3 is crucial, as it determines the momentum you carry into the summer: you either spend the next five weeks brooding over what could have been, or on a high and wishing the next race was the next weekend. Momentum is not quite such an issue for the MotoGP riders, but a bad result puts them on the back foot ahead of Laguna Seca, and their own summer break. As it is often also contract time, especially in MotoGP, the pressure is on to perform and secure a seat for next season. Good results and championship points are vital, as this race can help determine the course of the remainder of the season.
The significance of the Sachsenring was visible in all three races on Sunday, for wildly different reasons and with wildly differing outcomes. In Moto3, the top 3 riders merely underline once again that they are a cut above the rest - or at least the rest of those who are also riding a KTM. In Moto2, Pol Espargaro gained important momentum in his title challenge, but failed to drive home his advantage, swinging the balance of power slowly back his way, but not as fast or as powerfully as he had hoped, while Scott Redding struggled badly, salvaging points only thanks to Espargaro's finish. As for MotoGP, the absence of the two championship leaders has blown the title race wide open again, allowing Marc Marquez to take the lead, and both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi got closer to being back in contention again.
How quickly things change. Yesterday, it looked like Jorge Lorenzo had handed the 2013 MotoGP championship to Dani Pedrosa on a plate, by crashing unnecessarily at Turn 10, and bending the titanium plate he had fitted to his collarbone after breaking it at Assen. Today, Pedrosa did his best to level the playing field again, by pushing a little too hard on a cold tire at Turn 1, and being catapulted out of the saddle in a cold tire, closed throttle highside. He flew a long way, and hit the ground hard, coming up rubbing his collarbone much as Jorge Lorenzo had done. He was forced to miss qualifying, and for most of the afternoon, it looked like he too could be forced to miss the Sachsenring race, and possibly also Laguna Seca.
At the end of the afternoon, the medical intervention team - a group of experienced Spanish emergency doctors who spend their free weekends hooning around race tracks in hotrodded BMW M550d medical cars - gave a press conference to explain Pedrosa's medical situation, and what had happened that afternoon. Dr Charte and Dr Caceres told the media that Pedrosa had had a huge crash, walked away feeling dizzy, and been rushed to the medical center. There, he had one X-ray on his collarbone, but just as he was about to have a second X-ray, his blood pressure dropped dramatically. The second X-ray was immediately aborted as the medical staff intervened to stabilize Pedrosa.
There's an expression in the Dutch language, "een ongeluk zit in een klein hoekje," which translates literally as "accidents hide in small corners." It seems particularly relevant at the Sachsenring on Friday, as while there were crashes galore at Turn 11, the fast corner at the top of the long downhill run to the two final left handers, Jorge Lorenzo crashed at Turn 10, the uphill left which precedes Turn 11. It is not much of a corner, just the last of the long sequence of left handers which proceed from the Omegakurve towards the top of the hill, and the plunge down the waterfall. But it was enough to bend the titanium plate holding Jorge Lorenzo's collarbone together, and put him out of the German Grand Prix, and maybe Laguna Seca as well. That relatively minor corner may have ended Jorge Lorenzo's championship hopes.
What happened? It's hard to say exactly, but buoyed by the fact he topped the timesheets in FP1, and was consistently fast, Lorenzo came out in FP2 in attack mode. He pushed aggressively for the first two laps, setting a time that would put him in 4th on just his second full lap out of the pits. He was faster still round the first two sectors of the track, and then Turn 10 happened. The factory Yamaha man was thrown off his bike and into the air, landing having on his shoulder and back. The impact was violent enough to bend the titanium plate, and Lorenzo immediately knew something was wrong. He got up, zipped open his leathers and started gingerly feeling his collarbone.