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."
The key to success in motorcycle racing is about controlling as many variables as you can. There are two variables which riders and teams cannot control, and which they fear for that very reason: the weather, and crashes. The weather spared both MotoGP and Moto2 at Brno on Saturday, but played havoc in Moto3. Crashes, too, made life difficult, both for MotoGP and in Moto3. It made for an intriguing day of practice.
The day started under leaden skies, with the threat of rain ever present throughout the morning. Dark clouds rolled in, then rolled right out again, chased deeper into Moravia and away from the track. They broke only briefly in the afternoon, the Moto3 qualifying session the main victim. Standing at trackside, the rain came and went so quickly that by the time I posted an update on Twitter, the weather had changed, immediately contradicting me. In the end, a red flag saved my blushes, Phillip Oettl crashing and damaging the air fence, causing the session to be halted while the air fence was repaired.
The rain had disappeared by the time MotoGP qualifying rolled around, conditions good enough for Marc Marquez to get close to Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013. That Marquez should take pole is hardly a surprise – that's nine out of eleven this year – but the way he controlled not just pole position, but the whole front row of the grid. Marquez jumped straight to pole on his first run out of the pits, but as he started his second run, he picked up a passenger. Andrea Iannone latched onto the tail of Marquez, and as Marquez flashed across the line to improve his time, Iannone used his tow to leapfrog ahead of his time, taking provisional pole from the Repsol Honda man. His soft tire spent, Iannone couldn't follow Marquez on his second run, the world champion going on to reclaim pole and demote Iannone to second. Further down the grid, Andrea Dovizioso followed Valentino Rossi around the circuit to improve his own time, moving up to second and demoting Iannone another spot.
2014 Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Big Improvement, Elbow Down In The Wet, And The Factory Bosses Speak
The first day of practice at Brno turned out to be a day of two halves. The morning was glorious, sunny and relatively warm. Clouds began gathering shortly after lunch, and the first spots of rain started to fall just as FP2 for the Moto3 class came to a close. The rain grew steadily heavier for the first half of the MotoGP afternoon practice session, easing up and stopping with some ten minutes to go. By the time the Moto2 bikes took to the track, the circuit was already drying, though it only really dried out completely towards the end of Moto2.
The two halves of MotoGP practice showed the same picture, however. Marc Marquez is fast in the wet and fast in the dry, and clearly looking comfortable on the Repsol Honda. Teammate Dani Pedrosa is also quick in both conditions, though a little closer to Marquez on a wet track than on a dry track. In the dry, Jorge Lorenzo is very close to Marc Marquez, but in the wet, both he and Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi are a second off the pace of the Repsols.
Speed in the morning had given Lorenzo confidence he could be competitive with Marquez, and his pace in the wet was not a worry, he said. Everyone had started slowly in the wet, and Lorenzo was no exception. For Rossi, the second they are giving away to the Hondas in the wet is an issue, but losing track time to the rain was more of a problem. Rossi had been fifth in the dry, just a quarter of a second off Marquez, and after FP1, he and his crew had some ideas to improve turn in and enter the corner faster, right where he is losing out to the others. The rain meant he did not have a chance to test it, and with the chance of rain on Saturday, Rossi was concerned he would not be able to try it out before the race.
Leon Camier turned a lot of heads at Indianapolis in his first ride on the Drive M7 Aspar Honda production racer. The Englishman was drafted in to replace Nicky Hayden while he recovers from surgery, but despite it being the first time he rode a MotoGP bike, the Bridgestone tires, carbon brakes, and the Indianapolis circuit, Camier was very quickly up to speed with the other Open class Hondas.
Having a fast rider come in to MotoGP from World Superbikes allows a number of comparisons to be made. Among the most interesting is the difference in technology and tires. At Brno, Camier explained the difference in feel and cornering between the World Superbike Pirellis and the MotoGP Bridgestones. The front tire, especially, is a completely different kettle of fish, requiring a different style, and therefore different set up.
"The main [differene] for me is the tires and the brakes," Camier told us, "the tires being the biggest one. It's just that you have so much more front grip and with angle that you can brake and turn in with the brake on. [The front tire] is adjusting itself to be able to do that."
Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez' record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before. At some point, the chips will fall someone else's way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. "A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed," Marquez' Repsol Honda teammate said. "So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed." Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. "You can't plan things against Marc," Pedrosa said, "he is smart, he can adapt each time."
Riders and managers will be very busy this weekend at Brno, as negotiations continue for the open slots left on the 2015 MotoGP grid. The deals that saw Stefan Bradl leave LCR Honda for Forward Yamaha and Cal Crutchlow depart Ducati and head for LCR Honda have kicked negotiations for the remaining seats into overdrive. Forward Yamaha still has one seat open, with Aleix Espargaro set to join Maverick Viñales at Suzuki, a deal due to be announced in September. There are two Open class Hondas available, at Gresini and Aspar, with Scott Redding moving up to take the factory RC213V, and Hiroshi Aoyama set to lose his seat. Pramac Ducati has one seat available, now that Andrea Iannone has moved up to take Crutchlow's place in the factory Ducati team. And Aprilia will have two seats to fill when they reenter the class in 2015.
Marc Marquez winning ten races in a row is starting to cause a problem for us here at MotoMatters.com. You see, we have a strict no-spoilers policy on the front page, meaning that we do our very best to write headlines for race and practice results which do not reveal the the winner. That can sometimes result in rather convoluted headlines, trying to convey the sense of the race without giving away who won it.
This is where Marquez is causing us headaches. After winning his tenth race in a row, and all of the races this season, we are starting to wonder whether announcing a Marquez win is actually a spoiler any more. The deeper Marquez gets into record territory – and he is in very deep indeed, matching Giacomo Agostini for winning the first ten races of the season, and Mick Doohan for winning ten in a row, and Doohan, Valentino Rossi, Agostini and Casey Stoner for winning ten or more in one season – the harder it gets to write headlines. It is hard to sum up the story of a race, when the story is all about Marquez and the record books.
So how did Marc Marquez make it ten in a row? It certainly didn't look as easy as some of the other races he has won this year. A poor start left him behind Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso, and battling with Jorge Lorenzo. With track temperatures warmer than they had been all weekend, Marquez found the feeling with the front end not as good as during practice. After a couple of scares, he decided to take his time in the early laps, and follow Rossi around. On lap 11, an unmissable opportunity presented itself. Rossi led into the first corner, with Lorenzo diving up the inside of Marquez to take second. Marquez decided to strike back, and seeing Rossi run just a fraction wide on the entry to Turn 2, stuffed his bike up the inside of the Italian. The gap Rossi had left was big enough for Lorenzo as well, who then tried to hold the inside through Turn 3. That left him on the outside of Marquez for the left hander at Turn 4, and Marquez was gone.
2014 Indianapolis MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Fast Brits On Proddy Hondas, An Early Title For Marquez, And An Epic Moto3 Race
Is Indianapolis really a Honda circuit? With four Yamahas on the two front rows of the grid, you would have to say it wasn't any longer. There is a Honda on pole, but as that's Marc Marquez, that doesn't really count: alongside his perfect nine wins from nine races, he now also has eight poles from ten qualifying sessions. Any discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different manufacturers at a circuit really needs to disregard Marquez at the moment. In 2014, the Spaniard is just too much of an outlier, as his ability to put a couple of tenths or more on the opposition at will demonstrates.
Behind Marquez, the grid looks a lot more interesting. Behind Marquez is exactly how Andrea Dovizioso bagged another front row start, the Italian grabbing a tow off the Repsol Honda rider to set the second fastest time. The tow had allowed Dovizioso to follow Marquez' "crazy lines" as the Ducati rider put it, and the extra boost of the new engine Dovizioso has at his disposal may have contributed. The engine comes with a new fairing with revised cooling, suggesting the changes are more to do with making the engine more reliable at the top end, allowing it to be revved higher for longer. Given the Desmosedici's propensity for going up in a puff of smoke – Dovizioso has already lost three of his twelve engines this year, Andrea Iannone has got through four – reduced friction and reduced temperature would be a boon.
Jorge Lorenzo is the last man on the front row of the grid, but he was not disappointed with that. It was important for the Spaniard to build his confidence at Indy, and qualifying definitely helped. Lorenzo remarked that he was closer to Marquez than at the previous race, and that's not just true of qualifying. Lorenzo's race pace is strong too, though still a way off that of Marquez. In FP4, Marquez was running mid 1'32s consistently, while Lorenzo was hitting low 1'33s.