Latest MotoGP News
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.
The Idemistu Honda Team Asia today issued a press release with a clarification on Takaaki Nakagami's disqualification after the Moto2 race at Losail. Nakagami's Kalex was found to be fitted with an illegal air filter during a technical inspection, as Race Director Mike Webb explained to the MotoGP.com website. Webb acknowledged that the error was entirely unintentional, and was a result of misinterpreting the technical rules.
Tady Okada, the former 500GP racer winner who now runs Idemitsu Team Asia, explained in the press release that they had failed to interpret the rules correctly. At the time the team took part in the first test, at the end of 2012, the foam air filter which is part of the HRC race kit was legal. The team fitted this part for testing, and continued to use the part throughout the 2013 season and the first race of 2014. However, for the 2013 season, the use of a standard paper filter was made compulsory, and the use of the foam filter was banned.
2014 Qatar MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Deserving Winners, Old Champions, And The Correct Way To Celebrate Victory
There's an old racing adage: when the flag drops, the talking stops, though the word 'talking' is rarely used. It's a cliche, but like all cliches, it is a cliche because it reflects such a basic truth. Without bikes circulating on track in anger, fans and press have nothing to do but engage in idle speculation, and pick over the minutiae of rules, rumors and races long past. As soon as the racing starts again, all is forgotten, and we all lose ourselves in the now. It is the zen which all racing fans aspire to.
So after spending months going round in circles over the 2014 regulations, speculating about who they favor, and expressing outrage at either the perceived injustice of the rules, or the supposed incompetence of those involved in drawing them up at the last minute, the talk stopped at Qatar on Sunday night. The fans filled their bellies on three outstanding races, all of which went down to the wire. With something once again at stake, all talk of rules was forgotten.
And to be honest, the 2014 rules had none of the negative effects which so many people had feared. The best riders on the day still ended up on the podium, while the gap between the winner and the rest of the pack was much reduced. The gap from the winner to the first Ducati was cut from 22 seconds in 2013 to 12 seconds this year. The gap from the winner to Aleix Espargaro – first CRT in 2013, first Open class rider in 2014 – was cut from 49 seconds to just 11 seconds. And even ignoring Espargaro's Yamaha M1, the gap to the first Honda production racer – an outstanding performance by Scott Redding on the Gresini RCV1000R – was slashed to 32 seconds.
Penalties Galore: Takaaki Nakagami Disqualified For Illegal Air Filter, Penalty Points For Cortese And Simeon
Race Direction were busy at Qatar. Penalties were handed out for one incident during Moto2 qualifying practice on Saturday and two incidents during the Moto2 race on Sunday. Sandro Cortese and Xavier Simeon were handed one penalty point a piece, while Takaaki Nakagami was disqualified for using an illegal air filter in his Idemitsu Honda Moto2 machine.
The disqualification of Nakagami was the most far-reaching of the punishments. During the standard technical inspection after the race, Takaaki Nakagami's Kalex Honda was found to be using an illegal air filter. Under Moto2 regulations, only the standard filter supplied with the spec Moto2 engine may be used. Though the error by Nakagami's crew was believed to have been an honest mistake, the rule book is very clear. The Idemitsu Honda team appealed against the penalty, but their appeal was rejected.
One of the main complaints aimed at the last-minute rule changes in MotoGP is that they made it impossible to explain to the casual viewer exactly who is riding what, and why. How many categories are there exactly in MotoGP? Who has more fuel and who doesn't? And who loses what privileges if they win or podium? To clear up some of the confusion, here is our simple guide to the categories in MotoGP.
There are two categories of bike entered into MotoGP:
- Factory Option
All MotoGP bikes, Open or Factory Option, are 1000cc four strokes with a maximum capacity of 1000cc, a maximum bore of 81mm, and a minimum weight of 160kg. They all use the standard Magneti Marelli ECU* and datalogger. They all have a choice of 2 different compounds of tires at each race. Each team has to decided whether to enter as Open or Factory Option team before the start of the season (28th February). Once the season is underway, they cannot switch until the following season.
The differences between the two classes are as follows:
2014 Qatar MotoGP Saturday Round Up - Marquez' Miracle, Espargaro Under Pressure, And Honda Back In Moto3 Business
On Thursday night, it looked like a revolution had been unleashed in MotoGP. After qualifying on Saturday, that revolution has been postponed. Three Spaniards on pole, two Spaniards on the front row for both MotoGP and Moto3. No prizes for guessing the names of any of the polesitters, all three were hotly tipped favorites at the beginning of the year.
So what has changed to restore order to the proceedings? In a word, track time. When the riders took to the track on Thursday, the factory riders had a lot of catching up to do. They had been down at Phillip Island, a track which has lots of grip and puts plenty of load into the tires. The heat resistant layer added to the 2013 tires really comes into its own, the track imbuing the riders with confidence. Qatar is a low grip track, thanks in part to the cooler temperatures at night, but the sand which continuously blows onto the track also makes it extremely abrasive, posing a double challenge to tire makers. Use rubber which is too soft, and the tire is gone in a couple of laps. Make it hard enough to withstand the abrasion, and it's hard to get the tire up to temperature.
Coming to Qatar is always tricky, riders needing time to build confidence and learn to trust the tires. Coming to Qatar from Phillip Island is a culture shock, and takes a while to get your head around. Riders need to throw away everything they have just learned, and start again. That, Bradley Smith explained, was one of the reasons he was on the front row – his first in MotoGP, a significant achievement for the young Briton – and the factory Movistar Yamaha riders weren't. 'Australia wasn't great for the factory guys, because they got to ride a tire which isn't this one,' he told the press conference. Smith and the other satellite riders had come from Sepang, another low-grip track, and spent three more days on the same tire and in similar grip conditions. 'Testing here ten days ago has helped a lot,' Smith concluded.
When was the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race? Any MotoGP fan worth their salt will be able to give you year, track and rider: 2006, Estoril, Toni Elias. Ask them why he won and they will give you all sorts of answers – Dani Pedrosa taking out Nicky Hayden in the early laps, Colin Edwards not being able to maintain his pace to the end of the race, Kenny Roberts Jr misjudging the number of laps left in the race, or, as Valentino Rossi put it, because 'Toni ride like the devil' – but none they can be sure of.
There is a less well-known explanation for Elias' performance, though. Ahead of the Estoril race, Elias was given a set of the overnight special tires shipped in especially for Michelin factory riders. In this case, Elias was handed a set of 'Saturday night specials' destined for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had elected not to use, and so were going spare. Elias liked the same kind of soft carcass tire which Pedrosa was being offered, and went on to exploit the advantage it offered.
What does that have to do with Friday at Qatar? Two things. Firstly, it highlights exactly how important tires are in motorcycle racing. Tires dictate a huge amount of the performance of a motorcycle. They are the connection between the bike and the track, but that is a very full and complex function. Tires determine how far a bike can be leaned, how much drive the bikes can get out of a corner, how well the power delivery of an engine transfers to the tarmac, how hard the bike can brake, they provide a certain amount of suspension, and they pass information about track surface, grip conditions and where the limits of braking and turning are for a motorcycle. And that's just the beginning. Tires are (quite literally) a black art. Their complexity cannot be underestimated.
2014 Qatar MotoGP Thursday Round Up - The Open Revolution, Bridgestone's 2014 Tires, And Moto3's Mixed Bag
The old adage about not judging a book by its cover seems particularly apt after the first day at Qatar. Fans and followers were hoping the changes made over the winter might shake things up a little, but they weren't expecting a revolution. At the top of the timesheets in MotoGP sits Aleix Espargaro on the Open class Forward Yamaha, nearly half a second ahead of the rest. In second place was Alvaro Bautista, not on an Open bike, but on a satellite Honda. Bautista, in turn, was ahead of three other satellite machines, Tech 3's Bradley Smith leading Pramac Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, with the other Tech 3 bike of Pol Espargaro behind.
The first factory rider (that's factory rider, not Factory Option) was Dani Pedrosa in 6th, over a second behind the Open class bike of Aleix. Valentino Rossi in 7th, on the factory Movistar Yamaha, could only just hold off former teammate Colin Edwards on the other Forward Yamaha. Even Nicky Hayden was just a tenth off the pace of Rossi, despite the Drive M7 Aspar rider being on the production RCV1000R Honda, a bike which was giving away over 12 km/h to the M1 of Rossi.
After a week of debate and discussion, the Grand Prix Commission has finally reached an agreement on the Factory 2 class. It took many hours of phone calls, and full agreement was not reached until late on Monday afternoon, but the agreement contains some significant changes to the long-term future of the MotoGP championship. The Factory 2 proposal has been adopted in a slightly modified guise, with any manufacturer entering in the Open class liable to lose fuel and soft tires should they win races. But the bigger news is that the full MotoGP class will switch to use the spec software and ECU from the 2016 season, a year earlier than expected.
The proposals adopted by the GPC now lays out a plan for MotoGP moving forward to 2016. In 2014 and 2015, there will be only two categories - Open and Factory Option - with the set of rules agreed at the end of last year. The new proposal sees manufacturers without a dry weather win in three years to compete as Factory Option entries, but with all of the advantages of the Open class - more fuel, more tires, no engine freeze and unlimited testing. However, should they start to achieve success, they will start to lose first fuel, and then the soft tires. If Ducati - for it is mainly Ducati to which these rules apply, as they are currently the only manufacturer who are eligible at the moment - score 1 win, 2 second place finishes or 3 third places during dry races, then all bikes entered by Ducati will have their fuel cut from 24 to 22 liters for each race. Should Ducati win 3 races in the dry, they will also lose use of the softer rear tires which the Open category entries can use. If Ducati were to lose the extra fuel or tires during 2014, they would also have to race under the same conditions in 2015.
It has been ten days since Carmelo Ezpeleta announced to an unsuspecting world that a new category would be added to the MotoGP class to contain Ducati, the 'Factory 2' class. The change was to be ratified on Tuesday, 11th March, in a telephone meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, and Ezpeleta was confident that it would go through without too many problems.
Tuesday came and went, and no agreement had been reached. In fact, it has taken all week and much of this weekend for the situation to approach a resolution. Sources with knowledge of the situation have now confirmed that an agreement will be announced on Monday, allowing the rules to be set in place for the start of the season on Thursday, 20th March.