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With the MotoGP series due to switch over to standard software for the spec Magneti Marelli ECU in 2016, there comes a point at which it makes no sense for the factories to continue developing their own electronics. There is, after all, little point in spending money on software which will be discarded all the way to the last race of 2015, especially as the factories will need to start work on the shared electronics package for 2016 and beyond.
GPOne.com is reporting that the factories have finally agreed a date for an electronics freeze to commence. From the 2015 Assen round of MotoGP, all development of factory software will be frozen, Ducati, Honda and Yamaha racing the rest of the 2015 season with the software they have developed up until that point. Ducati had initially opposed the software freeze, GPOne.com reports, but finally settled for the Assen date.
Normally it takes bad weather to shake things up in a MotoGP race. For most of the day, it looked like the rain was ready to start at any time, but in the end it stayed pretty much completely dry, bar a quick and meaningless shower just before the Moto2 race started. Regardless of what the weather decided to do, we still ended up with a bizarre MotoGP race anyway. The weirdness started even before the race had started, and continued pretty much all the way to the very last corner.
Jorge Lorenzo came to Texas knowing he faced an uphill challenge. Last year at the Circuit of the Americas, Marc Marquez had run away with the race, with only Dani Pedrosa able to follow. Lorenzo had put up a valiant struggle, but had been unable to prevent a Repsol Honda whitewash. In 2014, Lorenzo had come facing an even tougher task, if that were possible. After crashing out at the first race, Lorenzo knew he had to score as many points as he could without taking too many risks. He would have to find a very fine balance between pushing hard to try to catch – and who knows, maybe even beat – the Repsol Hondas, and ensuring he didn't risk ending up with a second zero to go with the crash at Qatar.
Those who fear a Marquez whitewash at the Circuit of the Americas could draw some comfort from the raw numbers on the timesheets as Saturday progressed. Marquez gap from Friday was cut dramatically, first to under a second in FP3, then to a third of a second in FP4, before being slashed to less than three tenths in qualifying. Is the end of Marquez' dominance at Austin in sight?
But raw numbers are deceptive. Sure, the gap in single lap times is small, but there is still no one who can get close to the reigning world champion. Marquez' four flying laps were faster than the best laps by any other rider on the grid. Second place man Dani Pedrosa's fastest lap was still slower than Marquez' slowest. In FP4, Marquez punched out four laps in the 2'03s, while the best anyone else could do is lap in the 2'04s. During the morning FP3 session, Marquez racked up five 2'03s, while only Pedrosa could manage two 2'03s, Stefan Bradl, Andrea Dovizioso and Bradley Smith managing only a single solitary lap under 2'04.
How do you solve a problem like Marc Marquez? The short answer is you don't. You can push as hard as you like, beat everyone else on the grid, but try as you might, you still find yourself a second or more behind the reigning world champion. Marquez came to Texas, he saw, and he conquered. Just like last year. And nobody seems capable of stopping him.
Valentino Rossi could only shake his head in dismay. 'Today he was very strong. He is on another level,' Rossi said. Was it down to the bike, was it Marquez? Sure, Austin is a Honda track – first-gear corners are still where the Honda has the advantage – but the bike wasn't really the issue. 'He makes the difference,' Rossi said. Sure, the bike was good, but it was mostly down to Marquez' riding. Speaking to the Italian press, Rossi had a single word to describe Marquez' riding: 'bellissima'. Beautiful.
2014 Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Edwards Retires, Blandspeak Returns, And The Dearth Of US Racers
It was fitting – some might say inevitable – that Colin Edwards chose the Grand Prix of the Americas in his home state of Texas to announce his retirement. He had just spent the last couple of weeks at home, with his growing kids, doing dad stuff like taking them to gymnastics and baseball and motocross, then hosted a group, including current GP riders and a couple of journos, at his Bootcamp dirt track school. He had had time to mull over his future, then talk it over with his wife Ally, and come to a decision. There wasn't really a much better setting for the double World Superbike champion to announce he was calling it quits than sitting next to former teammate Valentino Rossi, the American he fought so memorably with in 2006, Nicky Hayden, the latest US addition to the Grand Prix paddock Josh Herrin, and with Marc Marquez, prodigy and 2013 MotoGP champion. It felt right. Sad, but right.
You can read the full story of Edwards' retirement here, but his announcement highlighted two different problems for motorcycle racing. One local, one global, and neither particularly easy to fix. The loss of Colin Edwards sees the MotoGP paddock, indeed all of international motorcycle racing, robbed of its most outspoken and colorful character. Edwards was a straight talker, with a colorful turn of phrase and uninhibited manner of speech. His interviews were five parts home truths, five parts witticisms and a handful of obscenities thrown in for good measure. He livened up press conferences, racing dinners, and casual conversations alike.
Bridgestone's decision to bring the 2013-spec medium compound rear tire to the Austin round of MotoGP has met with near universal displeasure among the MotoGP riders. The Japanese tire company was forced to revert to the 2013-spec tire, without the added heat-resistant layer, after a production issue with the 2014 tires meant that they were unable to bring enough of the new spec tires to the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin.
That decision was cause for much disappointment among MotoGP riders. 'I'm not happy to use the old tire,' Valentino Rossi told the press conference. 'I don't like it. I want to use the new one, and what Bridgestone did this weekend, bring the old tire after we worked a lot on the bike to make it use the new tire, this is something that sincerely I don't understand.'
Colin Edwards has announced that he is to retire from motorcycle racing at the end of the 2014 season. The 40-year-old Texan told a shocked press conference that he had decided to hang up his helmet for good, after finding it increasingly harder to be competitive, and struggling to make the family sacrifices with children growing up.
Edwards seemed uncharacteristically at a loss for words as he made his announcement. The Texan has always been outspoken, and never afraid to speak his mind, yet this announcement was hard. 'I don't even know how to say it, I rehearsed it so many times,' Edwards hesitated. '2014 will be my last year racing motorcycles.' It was a tough decision to make, he said. He has been racing in Europe since 1995, and been away from his family an awful lot. With his kids reaching the age where they are becoming much more active, Edwards hinted that it was getting hard to keep missing big moments in their lives.
This is the second part of our two-part series on how the silly season for next year's MotoGP rider line up may play out. If you missed the first part, you can catch up with the situation in the Honda and Yamaha factory teams here.
Up until late in the 2013 season, change in the rider line up for Yamaha and Honda's MotoGP squads looked to be limited. Though all four riders will technically be on the open market at the end of 2014, the most likely scenarios for 2015 and beyond looked fairly settled. Either the line ups of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha teams would remain identical, or Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa might swap seats. The biggest question mark, it appeared, hung over whether Valentino Rossi would continue racing after 2014.
Two major shake ups changed all that. For Valentino Rossi, the replacement of Jeremy Burgess with Silvano Galbusera – and the increased role for electronics engineer Matteo Flamigni – has helped him find at least some of the time he was losing to the three Spaniards who dominated MotoGP last year, making it more likely he will stay on at Yamaha for another couple of seasons. That leaves the situation at Yamaha look more stable than before.
It is going to be a busy – and lucrative – year for the managers of MotoGP riders. With almost everyone out of contract at the end of 2014, and with Suzuki coming back in 2015, top riders will be in high demand. The signs that competition will be intense for both riders and teams are already there, with the first shots already being fired.
Silly season for the 2015 championship kicked off very early. At the end of last year, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto made a few casual remarks expressing an interesting in persuading Jorge Lorenzo to come to Honda. He repeated those comments at the Sepang tests, making no secret of his desire to see Lorenzo signed to an HRC contract.
Lorenzo has so far been cautious, ruling nothing out while reiterating his commitment to Yamaha. He is aware of the role Yamaha have played in his career, signing the Spaniard up while he was still in 250s, and bringing him straight into the factory team alongside Valentino Rossi in 2008, against some very vigorous protests from the multiple world champion. Yamaha have stuck with Lorenzo since then, refusing to bow to pressure to the extent of letting Rossi leave for Ducati, and in turn, Lorenzo has repaid their support by bringing them two world titles, 31 victories and 43 other podium finishes.
Towards the end of the 800cc era, MotoGP looked to be in dire condition. Grids were dwindling, factories were reducing their participation, and teams were in difficult financial straits indeed. By the end of 2011, there were just 17 full time entries, Suzuki was down to a single rider, and were about to pull out entirely for 2012.
How different the situation looks today. The CRTs have served their purpose - to persuade the factories to help fill the grid, and supply the teams with (relatively) affordable equipment - and the reduction in costs brought about in part by the spec electronics is enticing factories back to MotoGP. Suzuki is in full testing mode, and getting ready to return to racing full time in 2015, and Aprilia is working towards a full-time return in 2016.
As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. Though Red Bull owner Dieter Mateschitz has made vague threats to pull out of F1 over the new rules, as quoted in the Kurier story, there are no signs that Red Bull is looking to expand its presence inside MotoGP, beyond expanding the number of riders it backs. Red Bull's strategy continues to be to back individual athletes in motorcycle racing, as fans tend to follow riders rather than teams. However, that Bridgepoint will at some point sell its remaining stake in Dorna is a certainty. The question is, who they will sell it to, and at what price. Private equity firms are always seeking large returns on medium-term investments. Bridgepoint have owned Dorna now for 7 years, and so a sale is likely in the next two or three years. In the meantime, both the MotoGP and World Superbike series must be made as profitable as possible, which means cutting costs and raising revenues. The shift to pay-per-view broadcasting deals is possibly one strand of that strategy. Arguably, if Red Bull were to produce content and stream it free over the internet, it could help to grow the sport enormously, especially outside of the established markets. That is one area where Dorna's twin strategies - striking deals with PPV broadcasters, and expanding its online video offering - collide and conflict. Free, and freely shareable online content will remain a difficult subject for Dorna, unfortunately.
Now that April Fool's Day is over, we will once again focus on trying to ensure that all of the stories on the website are as accurate as possible. Normal service has now been resumed...
Red Bull are poised to make two dramatic announcements over the next two weekends, MotoMatters.com can exclusively reveal. At next weekend's Bahrain F1 race, the Austrian energy drink firm will announce its withdrawal from the premier four-wheeled racing series at the end of 2014. A week later, at the Austin MotoGP round for which it is the title sponsor, Red Bull is to announce that it is to purchase Bridgepoint Capital's remaining stake in MotoGP, and take over the running of the series.
Sources in the private finance industry with knowledge of the situation say that Bridgepoint has been looking to rid itself of its motorcycle racing business for some time. The private equity firm had acquired 71% of Dorna in 2006, at the peak of MotoGP's popularity, reputedly for GBP400 million. Since then, they have seen the value of their investment drop, and have been looking to get their money back from the deal ever since. The sale of a 39% stake in Dorna to the Canadian Pension Plan Investment board was the first step in recouping their investment. That deal was rumored to be worth 400 million euros, or just over 70% of their initial outlay. Sources with knowledge of the situation say that Red Bull is to acquire the remaining 32% of Dorna for around 300 million euros, but with full control over the series.
That was a condition for Dieter Mateschitz, the Austrian billionaire owner of the energy drink giant, to pull his investment from F1 and take over control of world championship motorcycle racing. Mateschitz had been unhappy with the direction F1 had been taking for some time now, and the debacle at the opening race of the year had prompted the Austrian to drop the first hints that he would withdraw from the series entirely. Speaking to the Austrian newspaper Kurier, Mateschitz had said 'The point of F1 is neither to set new records for fuel economy, nor to allow people to have whispered conversations during a race.' He suggested that there were better ways to get a return on investment. 'GP2 partially provides more racing and fighting and almost equal lap times as F1 with a small fraction of the budget.'
But mention of the open wheel support series to F1 was merely subterfuge, MotoMatters.com has exclusively learned. For a sum equivalent to a little more than the annual budget of the Red Bull F1 team, Mateschitz is able to obtain not just a team, but an entire race series. What is more, MotoGP is a better fit for Red Bull's target audience than F1, fans being generally younger and more open to new experiences than the older, more staid F1 audience. Though Red Bull had refrained from sponsoring a team directly, the energy firm had been slowly extending its reach in motorcycle racing, backing more and more riders, as well as three MotoGP rounds.
The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was quickly much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks. Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider. Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. 'Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,' he said cryptically.
Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same. Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike. They had been set by one of Honda's test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.
In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden - of whom much had been expected, not least by himself - had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry. Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American's time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.
Bridgestone is to bring its 2013-spec tires for the MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Production delays meant that the Japanese tire manufacturer was unable to guarantee a full allocation of the 2014 spec medium rear tires with the heat-resistant treatment being supplied to all of the MotoGP riders. Research and inspection of data from 2013 showed that there would be no problem with the tires without the heat-resistant treatment, and so it was decided to supply everyone with the 2013-spec medium rear tires.
The alternative to this would be having two different specifications of the medium compound available to the riders in Austin. A Bridgestone spokesperson told MotoMatters.com, 'Bridgestone felt this was a better option than having riders end up with non-heat resistant and heat-resistant tyres in the same compound option at a race weekend.' The 2013 tires will only be used at Austin, however, resulting from a production issue. 'This is a one-off situation, the 2014 specification slicks will be offered at all other venues,' the spokesperson said.