Latest MotoGP News
You would think that the secrets of how to make a MotoGP bike go faster would be kept under lock and key at all times. Not so if you're Yamaha: On Friday night, Yamaha's technical leaders Masao Furusawa and Masahiko Nakajima gave their annual presentation on what they did to the YZR-M1 to ensure that they won the championship again in 2009.
The first thing they did was identify the changes to the 2009 regulations that would be key to the development direction. They highlighted three rule changes they needed to deal with to maximize the performance of the bike:
- The tire restrictions, with just 20 slicks in two compounds and 8 wets available at each race;
- The reduction in practice, with the Friday morning session scrapped;
- The engine limits, with just 5 engines available for the final 7 races of the season.
They then pinpointed three goals that would allow Yamaha to adapt to these rule changes, and get the best out of the 2009 bike. An improvement in the chassis, to allow them to get the maximum performance out of the tires; increased reliability, while sacrificing as little performance as possible; and a refinement in the engine management system, to allow them to control what they called the vehicle dynamics.
Ever since its inception, the 800cc MotoGP formula has been unpopular with both the fans and the riders. The high state of engine tune has made the formula extremely expensive, as well as requiring the extensive use of electronics just to make the bikes ridable. This, in turn, has taken much of the spectacle out of the riding, requiring an incredible precision of style to get the best out of them, and making passing very difficult indeed.
The biggest problem, though, is the expense. With the cost of leasing a satellite MotoGP bike upwards of 2 million euros a year, grids are shrinking with little prospect of that trend being reversed. Something clearly needs to be done, but with the manufacturers already heavily invested in the 800cc formula, getting any change in engine capacity through the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, is a very difficult task.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is determined to try, however. In an online chat with visitors to the website of the Spanish TV broadcaster RTVE, Ezpeleta explained that he intended to push forward his previously discussed plans for a return to 1000cc at this weekend's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia. When asked if he would like to see a return to 1000cc in 2011, he replied "Right now, it is not going to be possible to switch in 2011, because the agreement with the manufacturers means that we could only make that change before the end of the 2011 season if there was unanimous agreement among the manufacturers. But we are thinking about a return to a 1000cc capacity from the start of the 2012 season, and we will start discussing it this weekend."
After Livio Suppo's shock departure from the Marlboro Ducati team, details of his new role at HRC are emerging which cast a new light on how the Italian came to leave Ducati. Suppo's departure had caused speculation of problems inside the team over Casey Stoner's absence, but it is now emerging that the switch was very much down to Suppo, rather than Ducati.
Suppo has been hired by HRC to fulfill the role of Marketing Director, where his duties will be focused on raising money for Honda's MotoGP effort. Suppo is widely credited with being a key player in finding sponsors for Ducati, as a result of which Ducati's is the only MotoGP program to be fully covered by sponsorship cash. While Yamaha, Honda and especially Suzuki still pay a significant part of their MotoGP budgets out of their own pockets, Ducati funds almost its entire racing program from the money it receives from its sponsors.
Ever since Yamaha announced that Ben Spies would be making a wildcard appearance at the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, message boards across the internet have been abuzz with the question of how many engines the Texan would have for his Yamaha. The rules for the regulars - contracted riders, to use the jargon of the FIM rulebook - state that each rider has 5 engines to last the final 7 races, from Brno onwards. But how did this affect Spies? Would he have all 5 engines for the weekend? Would he have just 1 engine, as the minimum of 5 divided by 7? How were you supposed to the math to work it out?
To settle the matter, we went straight to the person who should know: Mike Webb, MotoGP's Technical Director and the man charged with enforcing the rules. We chased him down here at Valencia, and asked him what the score was. "There are no rules for wildcards," Webb told us. "So in theory, Spies could have as many engines as he likes." The problem is that the rules make no provision for wildcards, Webb explained. This had been discussed in the Grand Prix Commission when the engine limits were debated, but the MSMA - the manufacturers' organization who put forward the engine limit proposals - didn't think it important enough to cover at the time.
Now it's official: Ducati have announced officially that Livio Suppo is to leave Ducati, as we reported yesterday. Suppo is to embark on "a new professional adventure," according to the press release. His position is to be split in two, with Vito Guareschi taking over as team manager, while Ducati Corse's marketing manager Alessandro Cicognani is due to take over as the project manager. The official Ducati press release is shown below:
LIVIO SUPPO LEAVES THE DUCATI MOTOGP TEAM. NEW MANAGEMENT OF THE 2010 SQUAD IS ANNOUNCED
Borgo Panigale (Bologna, Italy), 5 November 2009 – The last race of the 2009 MotoGP season will also be the last race in Ducati MotoGP Team colours for Livio Suppo, Ducati's MotoGP project manager. The Italian manager will leave Ducati to embark on a new professional adventure.
In Ducati since 1999, Suppo was involved in this challenging and ambitious project from the very beginning, contributing with his intuition, perseverance and enthusiasm to the world title victory of 2007 and to the many podiums and successes that have characterised the life of the Ducati Desmosedici from its debut in 2003 up until today.
Shockwaves are running through both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks today, as news of further management shakeups in Ducati's World Superbike and MotoGP teams is leaking out. We reported yesterday that Livio Suppo would be leaving the MotoGP team at the end of the season, but now it has emerged that Davide Tardozzi, head of Ducati's World Superbike team is also to leave.
The reasons for each departure, though, are different. Suppo, according to GPOne.com and the Corriere dello Sport, has been lured away by Honda to run their racing program. Suppo's decision will have been made easier by the rumors of discord in the Italian factory. The appointment of Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi to the position of Ducati MotoGP Team Manager was widely seen as evidence of trouble, with Ducati and Phillip Morris unhappy at the handling of Casey Stoner's surprise absence from three races in the summer, and Suppo's departure is likely to be related to this to a greater or lesser extent.
Tardozzi, on the other hand, handed in his resignation without any alternative destination to go to. Tardozzi told GPOne.com that his reason for leaving was that he felt he had lost the drive he needed to keep him motivated at this level, at least with the Ducati team. He had not yet thought about alternatives, he told GPOne.com, but he was open to offers, if they were interesting enough. "Racing is still my world," Tardozzi said, "and if something interesting comes my way, I'm sure to stay."
Stunning news from the MotoGP paddock at Valencia. According to the well-informed Superbikeplanet.com website, Livio Suppo, Ducati's MotoGP project manager, is to leave the Ducati team at the end of the season. The news follows on from earlier reports that current Ducati test rider Vito Guareschi is to be promoted to Team Manager, a position which would be much more hands on between the riders and management than Suppo has been.
Suppo's departure, if it is confirmed, would mark a huge break with the past of Ducati's MotoGP program. To a very large extent, Suppo IS Ducati's MotoGP program, as the Italian has run the program from the very start. With Suppo out of the way, Ducati's MotoGP team would be likely to undergo a radical shakeup.
The reasons for this change are unclear, but the rumor mill has been in overdrive since September that these are all the first steps in a courting dance aimed at tempting Valentino Rossi to join the Italian factory. The conspiracists say that Suppo and Rossi have no real affection for each other, and that Suppo has been arguing against signing Rossi, as he is believed to fear it would disrupt Ducati's MotoGP project too much. Guareschi and Rossi get on very well, on the other hand, and the removal of Suppo and the arrival of Guareschi is merely preparing the ground for the arrival of the world's most popular motorcycle racer.
Putting together a season of international motorcycle racing is difficult enough at the best of times. But the 2010 calendar has proven to be a particularly tough nut to crack, as the FIFA Soccer World Cup and a reshuffle of the Formula One calendar has wreaked havoc and caused a number of high-profile clashes. Le Mans is scheduled for the same weekend as the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, and the Misano MotoGP round is due to clash with the Monza Formula One race. Add the fact that several World Cup soccer matches are likely to be played at the same time as some of the MotoGP races, and the complexity of the calendar is complete.
So Dorna and the FIM are due to sit down this weekend at the final MotoGP round of the 2009 season to try and sort out the 2010 calendar, but it will be no easy task. Both Le Mans and Misano are likely to be moved, but the best candidate for being shifted around is the British Grand Prix, due to be held at Silverstone for the first time in many years. Currently, the race is scheduled to clash with the Isle of Man TT, one of the biggest events on the motorcycling calendar, especially for British fans, and so attendance could have been poor at the first running of the race's return to the Northamptonshire track. Now that Donington's excessively ambitious plans to host the British Formula One Grand Prix have fallen through, Silverstone is back in the running for the F1 race, and that event is likely to add to the pressure of rescheduling the MotoGP event.
When Yamaha announced that Ben Spies would make a wildcard appearance at Valencia, there was some speculation about whose logos would adorn the Texan's Yamaha M1. The early rumor was that Michael Jordan may step in and run a one-off livery for Spies, as the former NBA superstar continues to promote his clothing brand through the AMA Superbike series, or what is left of it.
Those rumors were wrong, it now appears. Yamaha today announced that Sterilgarda, the Italian dairy giant who backed the Yamaha Motor Italia team in World Superbikes, would also be sponsoring Spies for one more outing, this time during his wildcard appearance at Valencia. Yamaha also released photos of the new livery, and we have to say it actually looks very good. Judge for yourself below, and clicking on the image will bring up an image large enough to use as a desktop.
The final MotoGP round of the 2009 season may not yet be over, yet the jockeying for position in contract negotiations for the 2011 season has already begun. After Yamaha expressed the hope that Valentino Rossi would end his career with the Japanese firm, today it was the turn of Jorge Lorenzo to express the same desire.
Speaking at the launch of the game Forza Motorsport 3 at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Lorenzo told the Spanish press agency Europa Press that he "hoped to spend the rest of his career with Yamaha." He was quick to point out that there was no guarantee that he actually would, though. "In a world [MotoGP] which changes all the time, you can't be certain of anything," Lorenzo said.
It has not been Niccolo Canepa's season. After a long and difficult year struggling with the Pramac Ducati, the Italian is to miss the final round of MotoGP at Valencia, leaving the series without a final chance to prove his mettle. The Valencia round will be the third race in a row that Canepa has been forced to miss, as he is still recovering from the skin transplant necessitated by his crash in practice at the Australian Grand Prix a month ago.
Canepa's place will once again be taken by Aleix Espargaro, something the Spaniard was due to do anyway as of Monday after the Grand Prix. Espargaro will now get another couple of days extra time on the bike to familiarize himself before testing for the 2010 season starts in earnest after the Grand Prix is over. The Spaniard has shown good progress in his time on the bike replacing both Canepa and team mate Mika Kallio, and is hoping to put on a good show for the Spanish fans.
Canepa, meanwhile, will be concentrating on finding a ride in Moto2 for the 2010 season. The full list of riders is due to be announced at Valencia, though financial problems continue to dog some of the teams, meaning that at least some of the teams with a reserve entry are likely to be given a full time slot on the grid.
After the final Formula One Grand Prix of the season, at the beautiful but bizarre Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, a surprise announcement was made. Bridgestone, the sole tire supplier for car racing's premier class, announced that they would be pulling out of that role at the end of their contract period, the 2010 Formula One season. The statement quoted "the continuing evolution of the business environment" - probably code for the global economic crisis - as the main reason for the withdrawal, as well as having achieved the goals the company had set itself for in terms of raising brand awareness and recognition.
The company emphasized that the withdrawal from Formula One would have no effect on the other series they supply, including MotoGP. But the statement by Bridgestone holds clues to the danger of a single tire series, and the good reasons to fear that the Japanese tire manufacturer could consider pulling out after its contract to supply MotoGP expires at the end of 2011.
The motorcycle racing season is winding down, and is due to reach its conclusion at the final race of the season, the Valencia MotoGP Round. Should you have any funds squirreled away for a rainy day (and here in Northern Europe, it is a VERY rainy day), then traveling to Valencia to celebrate the season's end with 130,000 crazed MotoGP fans is not a bad way to spend it.
While you're there, you can also help do some good. Thursday sees the traditional Riders for Health Experience, where you can do a lap of the circuit, pick up a souvenir at the celebrity auction, watch James Toseland and his band Crash play, or wander through the paddock and gawp at the bikes, teams and riders as they prepare for Sunday's race. Friday night sees another charity event, with friends and supporters of MotoMatters.com Pole Position Travel organizing a charity auction and party to benefit the Downs Syndrome Ireland charity. World Supersport runner up and former 250cc rider Eugene Laverty will be the star of the event, and some fantastic items will be going up for auction, including a pair of paddock passes, a weekend for two at next year's Silverstone GP, a very rare Laguna Seca 2009 poster - the banned version featuring Valentino Rossi vs Casey Stoner - signed by Valentino Rossi himself, as well as various items bearing a host of signatures from the MotoGP paddock. Pole Position has outstanding contacts inside the paddock, and various prominent figures are likely to turn up on the evening, including Julian Ryder, Dr Martin Raines, and possibly even the editor of an obscure motorcycle racing website.
Silly season for the 2010 MotoGP rider line up may be all but completed, but for technicians and engineers, it has only just begun. It started out in Australia, where it emerged that Pete Benson, Andrea Dovizioso's crew chief, and Daniele Romagnoli, Jorge Lorenzo's team manager, would both be leaving their positions at the end of the year. The attrition is continuing now, and most of the damage seems to be in Jorge Lorenzo's garage, as three Yamaha engineers are slated to leave at the end of the season.
First and foremost, perhaps, are Andrea Zugna, Yamaha's Engineering Division Manager, and Cristian Battaglia, Yamaha engineer, both of whom have been roped in to join HRC and work for Honda. The loss of Zugna and Battaglia could be a sensitive one, as the two men are credited with helping to develop arguably the best electronics package on the grid in the Yamaha M1. Their success has probably been the cause of their own downfall, as they have transferred their knowledge to Yamaha's Japanese engineers, who have now taken over responsibility for running the program. Carlo Luzzi has been plucked directly from Jorge Lorenzo's pit box, as the telemetry specialist is due to join Andrea Dovizioso's pit crew in exactly the same capacity, as Dovizioso's side of the Repsol Honda garage undergoes a shake up in the wake of Pete Benson's departure. Luzzi's place as telemetry engineer to Jorge Lorenzo is to be taken by Davide Marelli, currently Chris Vermeulen's telemetry specialist at Suzuki.
As the final race for the much-loved 250cc class approaches, news is starting to emerge of rider signings and ongoing negotiations for the Moto2 class which is scheduled to take its place. It was reported earlier this week that Alex de Angelis is close to a deal with Tech 3, after the enclave republic of San Marino was not prepared to fund the Scot Honda MotoGP project which would have kept the San Marino native in the premier class, but now more deals are being made public.
Most of the Moto2 news, though, has concentrated on De Angelis' Gresini Honda team mate Toni Elias. Elias was also in line for the Scot Honda deal, though he too would have had to raise money for the ride, something that has proved extremely difficult to do. After that deal fell through, Elias looked certain to ride for Sito Pons in Moto2, and had even signed a pre-contract. However, the Spanish sports daily AS.com is reporting that Elias has ripped up that contract, after Sito Pons refused to guarantee his salary. With Hector Barbera staging a 12 minute strike at Sepang over salary issues with the Pons team, Elias has decided that he cannot afford to risk riding for the team.