The Aragon round of MotoGP left an awful lot to talk about in all three classes: Alex Rins' masterful victory in Moto3, forcing Maverick Viñales into an error; Nico Terol's emotional win in Moto2, dominating all weekend after illness; Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro's epic battle for the Moto2 championship, which Espargaro came out on top of, though only just; Jorge Lorenzo's astonishing speed at what should have been a Honda track; Marc Marquez' astounding victory, moving him closer to the 2013 MotoGP title in his rookie year; Valentino Rossi's wily race, holding off first Stefan Bradl and then Alvaro Bautista to get on the podium; and much, much more. But I won't be talking about any of that tonight.
I won't be talking about it, because what started out as a minor mistake turned into a massive incident, with a spectacular crash as a result, leading to an ongoing investigation by race direction and a lot of talk about dangerous riding. Do the facts justify the debate? In my opinion, no, but the issue needs addressing, and so address it we will.
First, the facts, insofar as we know them. Jorge Lorenzo led away from the line, and was quickly hunted down by Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa passed Marquez cleanly on lap 5, on the way up to the Sacacorchos, or turns 8 and 9. Marquez sat behind Pedrosa for a lap, harrying his teammate throughout. On lap 6, on the way into turn 12, Marquez made a small mistake, getting a little too close and braking a fraction too late. Seeing that he was going too deep, Marquez tried to stand the bike up and run it wide, in an attempt to avoid prejudicing Pedrosa's race. He did not quite manage to avoid contact with Pedrosa, just clipping the back wheel of his teammate, a contact which at first seemed to have no effect on Pedrosa. Marquez ran wide and off the track, Pedrosa continued for a few meters, before highsiding suddenly and unexpectedly.
2013 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Championship Turnarounds, Honda's Moto3 Gambit, And The 2014 Calendar
Qualifying at Aragon showed that the fourteenth round of the season could turn out to be a turning point in all three Grand Prix championships. Momentum shifts, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, title races can open up again. Foregone conclusions are shown up for the illusions they are, and the words of every championship leader - 'I won't start thinking about the title until Valencia - are brought into keen focus.
In Moto3, the lead Luis Salom had built up after the summer break has slowly been dissipating, as Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have clawed points back from the Spanish veteran. On Saturday, Alex Rins took yet another pole - his sixth of the season - crushing the opposition and putting seven tenths of a second into Viñales, the man in second. Luis Salom struggled, ending the session in 8th, over a second slower than Viñales, and 1.7 seconds off the time of Rins. He must attempt to defend his championship lead from the third row of the grid, and with Rins, Viñales and Alex Marquez ahead of him, he will have his work cut out.
So what happened to the lap times? When MotoGP tested here at Aragon back in June, Jorge Lorenzo was nearly one and a half seconds faster than his time on the first day of practice. Marc Marquez was half a second slower than his time in testing, despite being the fastest man after FP1 and FP2, Valentino Rossi was a second slower, and Dani Pedrosa was just a couple of tenths slower than his test time, set here three months ago.
The answer is simple: no grip. Grip is missing both front and rear, as temperatures have soared unusually at the Spanish circuit. The track is also dirtier: a car event held before the test had laid rubber down and swept the track clean, but that was not the case ahead of this weekend. The lack of grip has meant everyone has struggled to match the lap times from earlier in the year.
If there is one complaint made about MotoGP it is that it is an almost entirely Spanish sport. The three title candidates in MotoGP are all Spanish, the three title candidates in Moto3 are all Spanish, and Scott Redding has his hands full holding off another Spanish rider, Pol Espargaro, for the 2013 Moto2 title. Spaniards dominate in all three classes, and it has been a long time since the Spanish national anthem hasn't been heard on a Grand Prix weekend.
So at first glance, the news that the Spanish CEV championship is to fall under FIM control and host rounds outside of Spain looks like increasing the stranglehold the Spanish have over Grand Prix racing. By raising the importance of the Spanish championship and therefore diminishing the status of other national championships, the FIM is making the situation worse, and handing even more control to Dorna, who run both the MotoGP and the Spanish CEV championships.
Though superficially attractive, there are some fundamentally wrong assumptions underlying that analysis. At the heart of the fear is the misconception that Dorna's main aim is to promote Spanish riders. The opposite is true: Dorna's main source of income is the sale of TV rights, and selling them as broadly as possible. Having too many Spanish riders in the series makes it hard to sell to broadcasters outside of Spain, hence Dorna's push to get more non-Spaniards into the series, especially in the Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Riders from outside of Spain are receiving preferential treatment in MotoGP, while pressure is being put on teams to reduce the number of Spaniards in the top class. The signing of Pol Espargaro has been a major bone of contention between Dorna and Yamaha, the repercussions of which are not yet fully worked out.
If half a second is a long time around Misano, seven tenths of a second is almost a geological era. Jorge Lorenzo was lacking grip and braking stability on Saturday; on Sunday morning, Ramon Forcada stiffened the front to improve Lorenzo's braking, and the factory Yamaha man crushed the opposition in the warm up. Four hours later, the reigning world champion did exactly the same again in the race, destroying his rivals in the first three laps, and holding on for a victory that was both overwhelming and important.
The first three laps? Lorenzo probably won the race in the first 100 meters off the line. Lorenzo had fluffed his practice starts on Saturday, bogging down and not really getting off the line. On Sunday, he was so fast away off the line that he had two bike lengths before he had even changed up into second gear. By the time he crossed the timing line at the end of the first sector, he was already 0.4 seconds ahead. By the end of the first lap, he was 1.2 seconds ahead. It was already game over.
There was the small matter of the remaining 27 laps, of course, but Lorenzo controlled the race imperiously. Every time one of the Repsol Hondas chasing him got a little closer, Lorenzo responded, upping his pace to match either Dani Pedrosa or Marc Marquez, depending on who was leading the chase. The gap climbed to three seconds, dropped to two seconds, climbed again to four before Lorenzo crossed the line nearly three and a half seconds ahead of Marquez. It had been a typically Lorenzian performance, ruling the race with an iron fist, crushing the opposition before it even had a chance to consider trying to put up a fight.
Half a second at Misano is a very, very long time. At a short track like this, gaps are measured in tenths, not seconds. The gap from 5th to 12th, for example, is 0.505. Yet the gap from Marc Marquez on pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider with the second fastest time, was 0.513 seconds. A huge difference.
Despite another one of his fast crashes in free practice, from which he keeps walking away almost unhurt, Marquez stayed calm, posted an impressive fast lap in his first run of Q2, and then followed it up by obliterating Casey Stoner's 2011 Misano pole lap record by over two tenths of a second. The lap was stunning - another trademark of Marquez since his switch to MotoGP - and beyond the capability of anyone to follow. The Repsol Honda man looked unstoppable during qualifying.
Not just during qualifying. There has only been one session of practice in which Marc Marquez was not fastest at Misano, and that was Q1, a session he did not participate in. Marquez has now scored six poles in his first year, joining Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as the only riders to have started from pole so many times in a season. He is, in case you haven't noticed, downright impressive.
2013 Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Seamless, Ducati's New Exhaust, And Race Direction's View Of Rivas And Marquez
So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears. Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition. The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.
You didn't even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.
2013 Misano MotoGP Preview: On Yamaha's Seamless Gearbox, Marquez' Misdemeanors And The Veto That Wasn't
Will they or won't they? "They", of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time. That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications - including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro.com - predicted that Yamaha's seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.
They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. 'It will be here for the weekend,' he said, going on to clarify: 'tomorrow.' Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.
It was not by any means a magic bullet, Rossi was at pains to stress, but it would make it easier to ride over the full length of a race. There is no real gain in terms of lap time, but with reduced tire wear and reduced strain on the rider, it did add up to gains in total race time. 'It was a nice feeling not to feel this dropping of power for a few milliseconds,' Lorenzo explained. 'You don't feel it on the seamless - it is like a scooter, an automatic bike.' The biggest gain was in shifting up through the gearbox with the bike banked over, Lorenzo said. With the conventional gearbox, the bike would move, but with the seamless, 'the bike doesn’t move and you save more the tires and are in more in control of the bike.'
2013 Silverstone MotoGP Monday Round Up: Rossi In The Second Group, An Improving Bautista, And Aprilia's CRT
With so much happening at the front of all three races at Silverstone last Sunday, it is easy to overlook the battles behind. Especially when those battles seem to be falling into a fixed pattern, repeating the results of previous races. A glance at the results of the MotoGP race Silverstone gives you a sense of deja vu. While the top three swapped places, positions four to six were identical to their finishes at Brno, places seven to nine differed only in the riders who crashed out, and Aleix Espargaro took tenth spot, as he did in the Czech Republic. A pattern is definitely starting to form here.
The biggest victim of that pattern is probably Valentino Rossi. Finishing fourth for the third race in a row is frustrating. Battling for fourth with Alvaro Bautista for the third race in a row is even more frustrating. Finish over ten seconds off the leaders for the third race in a row is positively depressing. 'It's like arriving at a party and not being invited in,' Rossi joked afterwards.
Over 75,000 paying customers came oto watch the races at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, and each and every one of them got their money's worth. Three classes, three winners, battles to the very end, and serious consequences for all three championships, with two thirds of the races done.
The day got off to a great start for the home crowd with a calculated and determined performance from Scott Redding to win the Moto2 race. Redding had come to Silverstone with two goals: to win the race, and to further demoralize his main rival for the title Pol Espargaro. He succeeded totally in both objectives, much to the relief of the British fans.
When Redding turned up at his home track with a special patriotic livery, the Union Jack splashed all over the fairing of his bike, fans feared the worst. Bad memories of previous years when British riders had sported patriotic color schemes were imprinted fresh on their minds, and they feared that Redding had jinxed himself. Redding disagreed, and demonstrated his point by running in the top 3 in every session but one. He made sure that he always finished ahead of Espargaro, and once he qualified on the front row, posting a stunningly consistent string of fast laps in the process, he had the job half done.