We'd been wondering how long it would last. Nobody had started a formal pool yet, but we knew that at some point in the season, Marc Marquez would try something which would generate a mountain of controversy. The question was not if, but when, surely.
It took three races, which is positively restrained measured by the standards of his 2012 Moto2 season. Then, he managed to embroil himself in controversy in the very first race when he ran Thomas Luthi off the track at the end of the straight at the beginning of the final lap.
Yet while Marquez' pass on Jorge Lorenzo is already generating enough print copy to wipe out a small forest, it is totally different from his move at Qatar in 2012. That was a cynical slide to the left which saw him edge Luthi off the track and out of contention. This was a dive up the inside of a gap left by Lorenzo in the final corner of the final lap, after Marquez had spent the previous five or six laps making it perfectly clear to Lorenzo that he was hell-bent on finishing ahead of him.
Saturday at Jerez was a crash fest, in just about every class. Why? The heat - well, perhaps heat is an exaggeration, but certainly the weather was better than anyone expected a few weeks ago. Once the heat hits the Andalusian track, the grip drops off a cliff, and the riders are left struggling to cope. In Moto3, MotoGP and Moto2, a lot of riders hit the deck on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Rins was one of the first to fall, crashing out during qualifying for the Moto3 class. It did not slow him down, the Spaniard grabbing pole for the second race in succession. MotoGP was much worse: during the final session of free practice, Cal Crutchlow threw his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha away at the start of the back straight. Later in that session, Crutchlow watched from behind as Marc Marquez fought a losing battle with gravity at the other end of the straight, the front folding and the rear whipping round on him despite valiant efforts to save it. "I was willing him to save it," Crutchlow joked afterwards, "but in the end gravity won."
Ask Jorge Lorenzo if there is one thing which the Yamaha needs to allow him to compete with the Hondas, and he will tell you it is a seamless gearbox. The system used by Honda on the RC213V allows the riders to shift gear while the bike is still leaned over, without upsetting the machine. It is an important factor in the Honda's better drive out of corners, as Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista can shift gear earlier and make optimum use of the rev range to accelerate harder.
That Yamaha is working on a seamless gearbox is no secret, with Yamaha's test riders currently racking up the kilometers around tracks in Japan, testing the reliability of the maintenance-intensive system to the limit before using it in a race. Recently, however, Spanish magazine SoloMoto published an article suggesting that Yamaha has already been using its new seamless gearbox since the beginning of the season. In evidence, the magazine pointed to an apparent difference in fuel consumption between the factory Yamahas and the satellite bike of Cal Crutchlow. While both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi made mistakes at Qatar, only Rossi was able to recover, and then battle with Marc Marquez for the podium. The theory put forward by SoloMoto was that the smoother transition between gears gave both better drive and lower fuel consumption, as the ignition is cut for a much shorter period, wasting less of the limited gasoline the MotoGP bikes are allowed.
2013 Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha vs Honda, Or Going Just As Fast In Two Very Different Ways
For the past couple of years, it has seemed as if there is some kind of unwritten law which states that any MotoGP weekend must be accompanied by rain. The weekends without the threat of rain or some other form of ill weather have been few and far between, so it is both a relief and a joy to come to Jerez and have the prospect of a full weekend of stable and dry weather. That's not to say that no rain has fallen: this morning, as we walked to the car, we felt three or four large drops, but that was all. From the forecast, this looks like the entire quota of rain for the weekend, and the paddock is duly grateful for small mercies.
A consistently dry track still posed problems for the riders, however. The last time MotoGP was here, back in March, conditions were far from ideal. It rained, every day, with plenty of sunshine in between, leaving the track treacherous and difficult, with low grip levels and a patchy surface. Though the teams collected plenty of data at that test, very little of it is usable this weekend, with much higher temperatures and better grip. Until the afternoon, that is, when the warmer temperatures meant that grip levels started to drop again, a perennial problem at Jerez. The bumps, too, are an issue, with many riders running wide after hitting them as they braked for the hairpins at the circuit.
Despite the fact that the conditions are better, times so far have not been faster than at the test. Quickest man on the first day of practice was Jorge Lorenzo, the reigning champion picking up where he left off at Qatar before the rude interruption of Austin. His advantage is small - just over a tenth over Dani Pedrosa, a fraction more over Cal Crutchlow - but his race pace is impressive so far. Lorenzo put a lot of laps on a single set of tires, testing tire wear, and getting ready for the race.
The MotoGP paddock is assembled in all its splendor at Jerez, and it is positively bulging at the seams. Shiny new hospitality units (very shiny, in the case of the Go&Fun Gresini unit) now pack the paddock, the existing units larger and new units added, causing the paddock to loosen its belt and expand into the adjacent car park, sequestering part of the area previously reserved for team and media cars. Under a bright blue Andalusian sky, it really is looking at its most appealing.
The expanded paddock makes you understand why IRTA decided to ban Moto2 and Moto3 riders from having their motorhomes in the paddock, all of them now expelled. The riders themselves are less impressed. "It was nice to have somewhere you could zone out during the day, and relax," Scott Redding said of the change. Sitting in the hospitality and watching the world go by was very pleasant, but still left him on his guard, he explained. Private quiet time was gone.
And it also removes part of the socialization process which young riders used to undergo, with the Moto2 and Moto3 men wandering around the paddock chatting to team members and other riders, everyone getting to know each other, and catching up on the latest news and gossip. It was part of what made the paddock feel like a village; a small Italian village, high in the mountains, with an inexplicably male-dominated population. The Moto2 and Moto3 riders added much to the fun of the place, spending most of their evenings challenging each other to wheelie competitions on mountain bikes and scooters. The paddock loses much with the change, feeling more like a workplace than a community.
2013 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Record Breakers, Deserved And Undeserved Attention, and Banquo's Ghost
Another day, another record. Marc Marquez now takes the place of Freddie Spencer as both the youngest rider ever to take a premier class pole, and youngest rider ever to win a premier class Grand Prix. If you had any doubt that Marquez is something special, then the inaugural round of MotoGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas should have removed it. Marquez is on the path which all great riders take, scoring a podium in his first race, pole and a win in his second. This is what preternaturally talented riders do: learn fast, and race fast, and win soon.
The manner of Marquez' win was what was most impressive. Together with his team, the Spaniard elected to run the harder rear tire, holding station when everyone else (except for fellow Honda rider Stefan Bradl) chose the softer of the two options. After overshooting the start, he slotted in behind his Repsol Honda teammate - a rider in his 8th season of MotoGP - evaluated how wear was affecting his rear tire, then pushed hard to pass Pedrosa in a strong and gutsy move through turns 5 and 6. He then nursed a front tire that had developed a minor problem home to take his maiden win in MotoGP, and take two of Spencer's records, both of which had stood since 1982. His win was not just a matter of talent, but also of great maturity, and of having the backing of arguably the strongest crew in the paddock.
One record down, one to go. By qualifying on pole in just his second MotoGP race, at the age of 20 years and 61 days, Marc Marquez becomes the youngest premier class polesitter in history, deposing the legendary Freddie Spencer of the crown he has held for 31 years. On Sunday, Marc Marquez will go after the next target: the record as the youngest winner of a premier class Grand Prix, also held by Spencer. If he fails to win on Sunday - a very distinct possibility - he still has until Indianapolis to take Spencer's record, making it very far from safe.
Marquez' pole was the crowning glory of an utterly impressive weekend so far. The Repsol Honda youngster has dominated most of practice, leading his teammate by a quarter of a second or more in every session but one. He was immediately fast, but his race rhythm is just as impressive. In FP3, as grip on the track improved, Marquez cranked out 2'04s and 2'05s like they were going out of style. He was consistent, too. Not quite Jorge Lorenzo consistent, but he was running a pace that would have let him build up a lead, with only Dani Pedrosa able to stay close.
The first day of practice at the Circuit of The Americas was summed up with eloquent brevity by the headline of the press release issued by the RW Racing GP Moto3 team of Jasper Iwema and Jakub Kornfeil: "No grip in Texas." Despite the awesome facility, a fascinating and difficult track, and clear blue Texan skies, the times set by all three Grand Prix classes in Austin were a very long way off what had been expected, as the riders struggled to find any grip anywhere.
Why was the grip so low? The heavy rains from the previous day didn't help, washing any rubber that was on the track away. Not that there was much, on a track that has seen very little bike use in its short existence so far. Then there was the cool temperatures, with thermostats showing just 13°C in the morning, and a strong wind blowing away any heat the sun managed to get into the tarmac. "Like riding on ice," was the common consensus in the morning, with times some five and a half seconds off that set by Marc Marquez at the previous test back in mid March, at which conditions were far from ideal.
"This is the reality," factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso told the media after finishing 7th at Qatar, some 24 seconds off the pace of the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Hopes had been raised on Saturday night, after the Italian had qualified in fourth, posting a flying lap within half a second of polesitter Lorenzo. While Dovizioso's qualifying performance had been strong, he had at the time warned against too much optimism. The Desmosedici is good on new tires, but as they begin to wear, the chronic understeer which has plagued the Ducati since, well, probably since the beginning of the 800cc era, and maybe even well before that, rears its ugly head and makes posting competitively fast laps nigh on impossible.
The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly, a chassis issue, which is a mixture of weight distribution, gearbox output shaft layout, frame geometry and, to a lesser extent, chassis flexibility. And secondly, a problem with engine response, an issue which is down in part to electronics, and in part to Ducati still using just a single injector per throttle body. The weight distribution problem causes the bike to want to run wide at corners, making it hard to keep it on line; the throttle response issue just makes this worse, with the throttle either very harsh and aggressive, and difficult to control, or, when the revised electronics package is used to soften power delivery, makes the throttle response feel remote, and removes the connection between throttle and drive from the rear wheel.
Much has been made in the days since the thrilling MotoGP season opener at Qatar of the charge of Valentino Rossi through the field and the pace he ran to catch the group behind Dani Pedrosa. Speculation has been rife that had Rossi got a better start - and more importantly, got a much better qualifying position - he could have matched the pace of Lorenzo, and taken the fight to him. But just how realistic is the idea that Rossi could have run with Lorenzo at Qatar, and that Rossi could have matched the pace of his teammate? Reality, or just wishful thinking?
There's one way to assess the relative performance of the two riders, relatively free from speculation and conjecture: by comparing the fastest lap times of the two, and seeing whose pace is better. Setting the fastest laps of Lorenzo against the fastest laps of Rossi - and the fastest laps of all top five riders, including Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow - should give a much more objective few of the relative speed of the riders.
At least, that's the theory. In practice, there are a number of factors which influence the lap times set by each rider which need to be taken into account. When was the lap time set? Where was the rider in the running order when the time was set? What strategy was the rider pursuing when the lap times were set?
Rossi vs Lorenzo