Dirty money in MotoGP? It’s nothing new
For many decades the wheels of motorcycle racing have been oiled by money emanating from unsavoury sources
How Marc Márquez swept to his tenth consecutive German GP win on Sunday, using the craziest lean angles ever seen, plus HRC’s new frame that should allow him to take fewer risks in the corners
Márquez set an all-time lean-angle record of 66 degrees at the Sachsenring Photo: Motorsport Images
Marc Márquez made some more history at the Sachsenring on Sunday. Ten pole positions and ten victories in ten visits to a racetrack is astonishing, especially given the unpredictability of racing and the frequency with which the young Spaniard has tended to visit the gravel traps over the years.
Of course, we all know why Márquez nearly always wins at anti-clockwise tracks. He likes turning left because that’s how he’s spent most of his life, thrashing around dirt ovals, hardwiring the connection between his brain, his right wrist, his backside and a fast-spinning rear tyre.
This is one reason Márquez is making everyone else in MotoGP look very second rate at the moment. He is 58 points ahead of the pack, which is Mick Doohan-style domination. And even without the Barcelona pile-up, he would be 40 or so points in front.
The other reason was made clear during practice, when Márquez reached an all-time lean-angle record of 66 degrees as he hauled his Repsol Honda RC213V around the short but complicated German venue.
He beat everyone by 4.5 seconds, while daydreaming about his holidays and his younger brother’s earlier runaway victory
Márquez’s run of ten consecutive victories at the same track across multiples classes isn’t an all-time record, although it might as well be.
The only rider to have bettered that score over 70-and-a-half seasons of Grand Prix racing is Giacomo Agostini, who won 13 successive races in the 500cc and 350cc classes at Imatra, Finland, between 1966 and 1973.
But those years were a bit different. For example, in 1968 Ago won the Finnish 500 GP by about three minutes, lapping every other rider at least once aboard his 80-horsepower MV Agusta triple. Second place went to Aussie privateer Jack Findlay, riding a 50-horsepower Matchless G50 single.
I’m not taking anything away from Agostini, who beat Mike Hailwood at the height of his powers, but for much of his reign he effectively raced a MotoGP bike against Moto2 bikes.
There are other differences between Agostini and Márquez. Ago raced at a time when there was romance in racing. A journalist who interviewed the Italian stallion in the late 1960s wrote that the motorcycle racer’s job was to “race and skid and crash and then make love and drink wine”.
Fast forward half a century and the romance of racing has been usurped by science, commerce and the media. Nowadays the racer’s job is to “race and skid and crash and then gawp at computer data, do meet-and-greet sessions with sponsor guests and undergo relentless cross-examination by journalists and TV crews”.
It’s a different kind of life that requires a very, very special kind of human being. Márquez has it all: rivers deep and mountains high of talent, bravery, intelligence, focus, dedication and everything else that’s required to succeed in one of the most pitiless sports invented by mankind.
Márquez extends the gap Photo: Motorsport Images
Márquez’s latest Sachsenring victory was his 49th in MotoGP, which leaves just three men ahead of him in the all-time league of premier-class winners: Mick Doohan on 54 wins, Ago on 68 and Valentino Rossi on 89. Sunday’s success also increased his victory tally across all classes to 75, which puts him one behind Hailwood, the fourth most successful motorcycle racer of all time.
He beat everyone at Sachsenring by 4.5 seconds, while daydreaming about his holidays and his younger brother’s earlier runaway victory in Moto2. He made a hash of his start from pole, rode around everyone at the treacherously negative-camber turn one, controlled the first two laps and then disappeared.
“The plan was there and I followed it,” he said. “The plan was to lead from the beginning to the end – just warm the tyres the first two laps, then push from lap three. We found the way in FP4, to be very precise with the electronics, the tyres and everything. I was convinced to race the hard rear, then on the grid, okay, we changed to the medium [which all riders agreed was harder than the hard]. It was the correct choice and it felt good to me. I’m very happy because the summer break will be very good for our family because my brother won the Moto2 race and he leads his championship too.”
This was Márquez the elder’s second biggest win of 2019, after Termas de Rio Hondo, where he made a point by winning the race by 9.8 seconds. It’s no coincidence that Sachsenring and Termas are the racetracks that allow him to wave goodbye to his pursuers. They are both low-grip circuits, where the fastest way around the track is by spinning the rear tyre to oversteer the bike through the corners. No one can do that like Márquez.
The last time Márquez got beaten at the Sachsenring was on 19th July 2009, when the 125cc German Grand Prix was won by Julian Simon. The race was an all-Spanish affair, with Sergio Gadea chasing Simon home while 16-year-old Márquez battled for the all-important final podium position with Joan Olive and Nico Terol. Heading towards the final corner Olive and Márquez collided, then Márquez highsided as he rode through the last corner, leaving Olive to climb the podium.
“I remember that – it looked like Marc braked with the rear to avoid Olive and crashed,” says MotoE rider Terol, who won the 125cc world title in 2011, the year Márquez graduated to Moto2. “As soon as Marc came to 125s in 2008 everyone said he was incredible – his feeling with the bike, his special lines, his different mentality. I finished second to him in the 2010 125cc world championship and this is a special memory for me, because I finished second to Marc Márquez, for me, possibly the best rider in history.”
Ironically, Simon is now rider coach to Márquez’s arch-rival Maverick Vinales, but he also remembers the youngster’s arrival in 2008, when they were team-mates at Red Bull KTM.
“The first time I saw Marc he was so young but I immediately knew he was a special rider,” says Simon, who won the 125 world title in 2009. “In the box, he always listened to his mechanics and to his team manager. Most especially his comments about bike settings were so precise and sensitive.”
Victory for old leathers: fewer crashes means fewer new leathers Photo: Motorsport Images
“In 2011 and 2012 we were both in Moto2. Again I could see he was special – in the entry of corners he had a lot of feeling for controlling the front tyre. He made many mistakes with the front tyre and he didn’t crash, like in MotoGP now. I especially remember him in 2012 when he rode a Suter chassis reinforced with carbon-fibre to make the frame more rigid. The bike was so stiff that only he could ride it. He did crash that bike, but he crashed less than I did because he had so much control of the front. This is his biggest thing – his control of the front tyre.”
So far this year Márquez has crashed six times over nine race weekends. At this stage of last year’s championship he had already had 11 falls; so he’s almost halved his crash rate, saving himself a lot of pain and saving Honda and Alpinestars a lot of money.
After Sunday’s race a journalist asked him why he was wearing old-ish leathers.
“Last year I always wore new leathers for the race because I crashed every weekend,” he laughed. In fact on average he crashed 1.3 times at every Grand Prix in 2018.
“This year I haven’t crashed in a race weekend since Le Mans because I always try to improve and I try to be calmer in practice. It’s all about staying concentrated. If you are very concentrated on the bike then you can save many crashes. Yes, this year I’m crashing less, but you need to count how many saves I’ve made. I crash less, but I save more.”
At this point third-place finisher Cal Crutchlow joined the conversation.
“Marc had six crashes this weekend!” he joked. “Anyone else would’ve crashed six times, but he saved them all.”
Márquez went into further detail. “This weekend at the first corner I saved three or four, but it’s like this. I did crash at the Montmelo [Barcelona] tests because I wasn’t 100 per cent concentrated. I lost the front and I crashed because I wasn’t focused enough. This is the way to ride the Honda: stay concentrated, find the limit and be the fastest.”
Many people insist that Márquez is already 2019 MotoGP champion, but they forget about Doohan, who led the 1992 500 championship by 52 points at the halfway point and didn’t win the title.
Obviously, the crown is his to lose, but the second half of the season may offer more challenges: Ducati’s Desmosedici goes well at Brno, Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, Misano, Aragon and Motegi, plus Vinales and Fabio Quartararo are finding new ways to make the Yamaha faster.
The 66 degrees of lean that Márquez achieved during German GP practice was jaw-dropping. But why does he do this? For kicks? For kudos? No, because this is one way he makes the Honda turn so fast.
From the outside, the 2019 RC213V looks pretty much identical to the 2018 RC213V. But in fact, the bike’s chassis underwent its biggest redesign during the winter. Honda’s main target for 2019 was increased horsepower, to match the Ducati on the straights and therefore save Márquez taking so many risks during braking and corner entry.
Who knows exactly how HRC engineers boosted the RC213V’s engine by a very significant amount? All we do know is that part of the process was revamping the intake system and airbox. Instead of the air intakes wrapping around either side of the frame and entering the airbox through cut-outs in the engine hangers, air now enters straight through the steering head.
Obviously, this required a complete redesign of the front of the frame, which inevitably changes frame rigidity, which affects the bike’s turning character. This presumably explains the carbon-fibre-coated frame, which Márquez tried during the post-race Jerez and Barcelona tests and used for the first time during a race weekend in Germany.
“With that frame I can be faster, but we’re not sure about race distance”
“It looks like with this year’s chassis maybe we lose in some points but we gain in other points, my critical points,” he said at Sachsenring.
“If I tell you why we have this [new carbon-coated] frame I will die,” he laughed, then continued. “I am using a lot of banking angle, too much, because the bike isn’t turning. I use all this banking not because it’s my style or because I like it, but because I need to. With this frame, we are trying to find better turning.”
Of course, HRC won’t reveal its thinking behind the carbon-fibre-coated frame, so we will have to use guesswork and a little knowhow extracted from paddock chassis engineers who prefer to remain anonymous.
MotoGP bikes need lateral frame flex to help them turn. When the bike is on its side in the corners the frame needs to flex to copy the bumps and imperfections in the asphalt to improve grip and therefore turning. Some chassis engineers also believe that the frame, swingarm, forks, triple clamps and so on need to create a certain type of lateral flex that makes the wheelbase actually curve through corners, creating a self-turning effect.
HRC’s black-coated RC213V is obviously designed to change flex in one way or another, but it’s impossible to work out what the engineers are trying to achieve just by looking at it.
The coated alloy frame itself is slightly different to the standard 2019 frame, with longitudinal recesses on the outside of each spar, presumably to increase longitudinal stiffness, which may allow them to further reduce lateral flex to give Márquez better turning.
“The potential of the new frame is there but still we need to understand more,” said Márquez after back-to-back testing during German GP practice. “It’s true that with that frame I can be faster, but we’re not sure about race distance. For the race it’s better to have something that’s maybe a bit worse but I know how it reacts.”
Possibly the cleverest thing about the black frame is that it allows HRC to make rapid changes to frame stiffness, which means it can get test rider Stefan Bradl and its full-time MotoGP riders to evaluate more options.
Fabricating a MotoGP frame can take up to a week: machining, welding, heat-treating and so on, whereas the carbon-fibre coating can be applied (most likely in an autoclave) in a matter of hours.
HRC can apply various kinds of stiffness in various areas by varying the thickness, the weave and the orientation of the carbon-fibre. For example, the coated frame that Márquez tried during German GP practice was different from the item he tested at Jerez.
Finally, we don’t know whether this composite concept is simply part of a development process – to find the ideal rigidity, then recreate that same rigidity in a non-coated frame – or whether Márquez may soon go racing with a composite frame.
For many decades the wheels of motorcycle racing have been oiled by money emanating from unsavoury sources
The 16-year-old Spaniard has ridden just four GPs and won three of them, thanks to his new-generation riding style and old-school attitude
There were tears of joy for Jerez winner Jack Miller and tears of anguish for arm-pump victim Fabio Quartararo
MotoGP braking g-forces have reached 2g, which makes bike (and rider) effectively weigh half a tonne on the brakes. Here’s what Brembo is doing about it…