Archive - Opinion
In a few hours time, we will know who will be the 2014 World Superbike champion. Tom Sykes leads Sylvain Guintoli by 12 points going into the final two races at Qatar. With 50 points up for grabs, the title race is still completely open, and in a series as close as World Superbikes has been this year, anything could happen.
What both Sykes and Guintoli need are help from their teammates. Guintoli most of all: if the Frenchman is to be champion, he will need someone, such as his Aprilia teammate Marco Melandri, to get in between him and the Kawasaki of Sykes. Sykes, on the other hand, can wrap up the title by winning both races, or at least finishing ahead of Guintoli. If he can't finish ahead of the Frenchman, then he will hope that his teammate Loris Baz can assist.
As loyal teammates, surely Melandri and Baz will be happy to help? That was only partially the case at the last round in Magny-Cours. In race one, Melandri theatrically waved Guintoli past and into the lead, making it patently obvious that victory was Melandri's to dispense as he saw fit, and he was prepared to allow his teammate to win this time. Further back, Baz did the same same for Sykes, though without making quite as much of a song and dance about it as Melandri did.
Race two was a different affair. Once again, Melandri led, and could grant victory to Guintoli if he wanted to. He chose not to, taking the win – despite his pit board making the feelings of his team very clear indeed, for the second race in a row – and taking 5 precious points from Guintoli. If Melandri had obeyed team orders and moved over, then Guintoli would have trailed Sykes by 7 points instead of 12. That would put Guintoli's destiny in his own hands: win both races, and it would not matter what Sykes did. Now, Guintoli needs help, he needs someone between him and the Englishman. Will his teammate come to his rescue this time? Will the Aprilia WSBK team issue team orders again, commanding Melandri to serve the cause of Guintoli's championship challenge?
Today, we continue our look at how the MotoGP riders stack up so far. Yesterday, we reviewed the top eight in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. Today, we pick up where we left off, reviewing the bottom half of the championship standings. We start with Stefan Bradl, and work our way down to Mike Di Meglio, yet to score a point in the series.
With MotoGP on its summer break, and the riders combining a bit of relaxation with a lot of training, there is time to review the first half of the season. Who has performed above expectations, and who has fallen short? Here's a rundown of how we rate the MotoGP riders over the first half of the season. Today, the top eight riders in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. The remainder, from Stefan Bradl to Mike Di Meglio, will appear on Friday.
At the Barcelona round of MotoGP – or to give it its full title, the 'Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya' – title sponsors Monster Energy are to unveil a new flavor of their product, called 'The Doctor', marketed around Valentino Rossi. This is not a particularly unusual event at a MotoGP weekend. Almost every race there is a presentation for one product or another, linking in with a team, or a race, or a factory. If anything, the presentation of the Monster Energy drink is even more typical than most, featuring motorcycle racing's marketing dynamite Valentino Rossi promoting an energy drink, the financial backbone of the sport.
It is also a sign of the deep trouble in which motorcycle racing finds itself. Energy drinks are slowly taking over the role which tobacco once played, funding teams, riders and races, and acting as the foundation on which much of the sport is built. Red Bull funds three MotoGP rounds, a Moto3 team and backs a handful of riders in MotoGP and World Superbikes. Monster Energy sponsors two MotoGP rounds, is the title sponsor of the Tech 3 MotoGP squad, a major backer of the factory Yamaha squad and has a squadron of other riders which it supports in both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks. Then there's the armada of other brands: Gresini's Go & Fun (a peculiar name if ever there was one), Drive M7 backing Aspar, Rockstar backing Spanish riders, Relentless, Burn, and far too many more to mention.
Why is the massive interest in backing motorcycle racing a bad thing? Because energy drinks, like the tobacco sponsors they replace, are facing a relentless onslaught to reduce the sale and marketing of the products. A long-standing ban of the sale of Red Bull – though strangely, only Red Bull – was struck down in France in 2008. Sale of energy drinks to under-18s has been banned in Lithuania. Some states and cities in the US are considering age bans on energy drink consumption. And perhaps more significantly, the American Medical Association has been pushing for a ban on marketing energy drinks to minors, a call which resulted in leaders in the industry being called to testify in front of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the US Senate.
With Marc Marquez already signed up for 2015 and 2016, and Valentino Rossi on the verge of penning a new deal with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Will Lorenzo want to stay with Yamaha or switch to Honda? Will Pedrosa be prepared to take a pay cut or head off to a different factory? All these are thing we will learn over the coming weeks.
Pedrosa's case is particularly interesting. Some well-informed sources are starting to report on his options for the future. According to the Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Dani Pedrosa has been offered a substantial pay cut by Honda, with base salary cut from something in the region of 6 million euros a season to 1.5 million euros, with a very generous bonus scheme for winning races and the championship.
So, who is to blame for the three-class farce? When the 'Factory 2' regulations were first announced, fans and followers were quick to point the finger of blame at Honda. With good reason: HRC has made a series of comments about the way everyone except HRC have interpreted the Open class regulations. Honda thought it was their duty to build a production racer, so that is what they did. The fact that it is hopelessly uncompetitive against the Forward Yamahas – 2013-spec satellite Yamaha M1s running the 2013-spec Open software – led to suggestions from Honda that what Yamaha was doing was unfair. When Ducati announced that they would also be switching to the Open category, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo was quick to denounce the move, saying it would drive costs up for the Open class teams. It was easy to put two and two together, and come up with HRC putting pressure on Dorna to impose a penalty on Ducati, for fear of them exploiting the benefits of the Open class.
Those putting two and two together appear to have come up with a number which is not as close to four as they thought, however. The proposal for the new 'Factory 2' category did indeed come in response to pressure, but the pressure was not so much from Honda, as it was from the other Open class and satellite teams. They objected to Ducati coming in to the Open class at the same time as the new, radically updated and expanded version of the spec Magneti Marelli software was introduced. This version has vastly more capabilities than last year's version, as well as the mildly updated version used at the Sepang 1 test. The 2014 software was created by Magneti Marelli based in part on the input from Ducati, offered at the request of Dorna. Honda and Yamaha were also asked to contribute, but apparently refused.
The Open teams lack the experience and the staff to fully use the capabilities the 2014 software offers. If they chose to use it, they risked going slower, rather than faster. Ducati, on the other hand, has plenty of electronics engineers they can put to work optimizing every aspect of the new software. Put the complex software together with extra fuel Ducati is allowed under the Open class, and their performance is much more in line with the factory Yamaha and Honda teams than the Open teams. This was an unfair advantage, the Open teams said, and complained to Dorna.
As the 2013 World Superbike season ended, the question was how the series, now owned by Dorna, could once more fill the grids. With some races rewarding every finisher with points, while the cheaper Supersport and Superstock championships raced with full grids, it was clear that more seats were needed.
One part of the solution was the new EVO class. Essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines, EVO bikes are much cheaper and, from 2015, will be the standard specification of all bikes, and over a third of the full-time entries in 2014 are EVO bikes, with familiar riders taking some of the seats. Another part of the solution was the addition of several new and returning manufacturers to the series. Alongside Ducati, Aprilia, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki, we now have MV Agusta, Buell and, hopefully, Bimota bringing the number of marques to nine.
In the final part of our look back at 2013, we review the performance of the factories. How did Honda, Yamaha and Ducati stack up last season? What were their strong points, and how did they go about tackling their weaknesses? Above all, what does this mean for 2014? Here's our rating of MotoGP's manufacturers.
|Manufacturer's Championship Standing:||1st|
It seemed as if every technical rule change and tire decision swung against Honda in 2012. First, they found themselves outfoxed over the minimum weight by Ducati, after the MSMA first told the Grand Prix Commission that they had unanimously rejected a proposal to raise it from 153kg to 160kg. It turned out that only Honda and Yamaha had rejected it, with Ducati voting in favor, which meant the rule should have been adopted and not rejected. As a concession to the manufacturers, the weight was raised in two stages, to 157kg in 2012, and 160kg in 2013. Then, after being tested at Jerez, the riders voted to adopt the new, softer construction front tires, despite complaints from the Repsol Honda riders.
Honda struggled for much of 2012, first working out where to place an extra 4kg (a problem the other factories did not have, as they had struggled to get anywhere near the previous minimum of 153kg), and then running through chassis and suspension options in search of the braking stability they had lost with the introduction of the softer front tire. After the test at the Mugello round, they had most of the problems solved, and Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa went on to win eight of the last nine rounds.
Come the 2013 season, and Honda were well-prepared. They already had their braking stability issues under control, and the only point left was the extra 3kg they had to carry. Having had all of 2012 to prepare for the extra weight, they arrived at the start of the season with few issues. Dani Pedrosa took a little while to get used to the extra weight, his slight frame a disadvantage when it comes to flinging the extra bulk around, but he soon had the situation under control.
In the last of our series looking back at the riders of 2013, we come to the unluckiest man on the grid. Ben Spies' season was a thing of nightmares, ending with his decision to retire. Here's a review of his year.
|Ben Spies||Ignite Pramac Ducati|
|Score||Attitude 9/10, Luck 1/10|
Up until Qatar 2012, Ben Spies' career had been something of a fairytale. Talent spotted by his later crew chief Tom Houseworth, he took the fight to Mat Mladin in the AMA and beat him fair and square. He won the World Superbike title at his first attempt, on tracks he hadn't seen until Friday morning practice. He grabbed two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season, then a win in his second season after moving up to the factory Yamaha team. And then it all went horribly wrong.
After a series of bizarre mechanical mishaps throughout the 2012 season, Spies suffered major shoulder damage in a crash at Sepang. He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac. After surgery to fix the damaged tendons in his shoulder, Spies turned up at Sepang in February 2013 only to find the going tougher than expected. He skipped one day of testing, then tried to make a return three weeks later, but found himself struggling once again.
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Here is a view of Colin Edwards and Danilo Petrucci, two riders who both exceeded expectations in 2013.
|Colin Edwards||NGM Mobile Forward Racing|
Colin Edwards was thirty-nine years of age when he lined up on the grid for the first race of 2013, and facing questions over his ability to keep competing. His performance had been slipping since losing his spot in the factory Yamaha team, reaching a low point in his first year with the NGM Forward team on the Suter BMW. Was he perhaps too old? Did he really have the motivation to compete at this level?
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Below is a look at the seasons of Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, in the news in 2013 for very different reasons.
|Aleix Espargaro||Power Electronics Aspar|
Aleix Espargaro became the poster boy for the CRT class in 2012, beating out his teammate Randy De Puniet. The two Aspar riders showed that even with less than a year of development, a slightly modified Superbike could compete with the slower of the satellite prototypes. 2013 saw the Aprilia ART take another step forward, but it was a step only Espargaro could follow, De Puniet complaining of a lack of feeling all year, his performance plummeting.
In the final chapter of our series running down the top ten finishers of the 2013 MotoGP season, we come to Bradley Smith. Here's a look at how his first year in the premier class went. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; part 8, Andrea Dovizioso; and part 9, Nicky Hayden.
|Bradley Smith||Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
Pity poor Bradley Smith. The young Englishman came in to MotoGP as a rookie, and did exactly what he was supposed to do: learn slowly, not crash too much, see his times and results improve gradually throughout the season. In any other year, Smith would have received quiet praise for the steady job he did.
But this was not any other year. This was the year that Marc Marquez moved up to MotoGP, destroying records and utterly redefining what is expected of a rookie. While Smith was steadily improving to go from finishing in the top ten to ending in the top six, Marquez was amassing podiums, wins, and well on his way to taking the title at the first attempt. Smith found himself being compared to the phenomenon that was Marquez, rather than the more realistic comparison with the rookie seasons of other MotoGP riders.
In the penultimate part of our restrospective on the season just past, we look back at Nicky Hayden. Here is our view of his final season with Ducati, and his move to Aspar for 2014. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; and part 8, Andrea Dovizioso.
|Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory|
It's been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since joining Ducati in 2009, his results have been in steady decline, along with the performance of the Desmosedici. The 2013 season was the second season in a row where the American did not score a single podium, Hayden finishing in the same position as 2012, with four more points than last year.
This year was probably his toughest with the Italian manufacturer. Hayden found himself battling with teammate Andrea Dovizioso just about all year long, starting from the first race in Qatar. The Ducatis were a match only for each other, not for the other prototypes. In twelve of the eighteen races, Dovizioso and Hayden finished behind each other, the only other rider they regularly tangled with being Bradley Smith, a MotoGP rookie. More times than not, Hayden emerged as loser of the intra Ducati battles, finishing behind Dovizioso nine times, and ahead of him only seven times.
In the eighth instalment of our series looking at 2013, we come to Andrea Dovizioso. This is how the Italian got on in his first year at Ducati. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; and part 7, Stefan Bradl.
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory|
After losing his factory Honda ride at the end of 2011, Dovizioso made the switch to Yamaha, joining Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 team. A strong year with six podiums saw him win the slot in the factory Ducati team vacated by Valentino Rossi. Dovizioso felt he deserved a factory ride, and he had got what he wanted.
That proved to be something of a poisoned chalice. The year after Ducati was taken over by Audi proved to be a year of stagnation, with new head of Ducati Corse Bernhard Gobmeier never really able to impose his authority on the race department. A lot of work was done with chassis stiffness, a new aerodynamics package was unveiled, the engine received a minor upgrade with improved throttle bodies. It all helped, a little, but the bike still had understeer, still wouldn't turn.
Continuing our look back at 2013, we come to seventh place man Stefan Bradl. Here's how he fared in 2013. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; and part 6, Alvaro Bautista.
|Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda|
In his first season of MotoGP, Stefan Bradl did exactly what was expected of him, learning slowly, building speed, and getting better week after week. He impressed his team, crew chief Christophe 'Beefy' Bourguignon expressing admiration at his calm and intelligent approach after the first test on the bike. He did not crash too often, finished inside the top six on a regular basis, and even got close to his first podium.
After such a strong start, he was expected to do even better in year two. The target was the occasional podium, and to be the best of the satellite riders. Strong support from Honda meant that Bradl had the tools to do the job, though starting the season using Nissin brakes instead of Brembo put him at a slight disadvantage, the Nissins offering fractionally inferior brake release.