Call me sick and twisted, but I’ve been enjoying my favourite document of the year: the MotoGP crash report. This isn’t because I like to spend the winter hibernating beneath a cosy blanket of schadenfreude, but because the crash list tells you a great deal about what went on during the season.
If victory is the ultimate good for a rider, then crashing is the ultimate bad. No-one has ever explained this better than former 500 GP winner and World Superbike champion Carlos Checa.
“Crashing is shit for you, shit for the bike, shit for the mechanics and shit for the set-up,” Checa told me a while back. “It’s a signal that you are heading in the wrong direction. You want to win but crashing is the opposite. It’s like being in France when you want to go to England and when you crash you go to Spain. That way you’ll never get to England!”
Thanks for that, Carlos. So true.
The MotoGP crash report – painstakingly compiled by Dorna’s Frine Velilla – contains an avalanche of statistics that tell you which rider crashed the most, which corner caused the most crashes, the average crash rate per race and so on.
But first things first; what you really want to know is who topped the 2015 MotoGP crashing league. Step forward recently sacked Red Bull KTM Moto3 rider Karel Hanika who hit the ground on 24 occasions, or 1.3 times a weekend. It’s always tight at the top, so Hanika only beat Moto2 rider Axel Pons by a single crash and the next eight top crashers were separated by just two accidents: Sam Lowes, Álex Márquez and Alex de Angelis on 19 each, with Louis Rossi, Jack Miller, Hiroki Ono, Xavier Siméon and Tatsuki Suzuki on 18.
Of course, analysing the stats is what it’s all about. Usually, the riders who crash the least are those who feel most at one with their motorcycles, so they know exactly where the limit is, so they’re able to skim that limit lap after lap, without bother. Often, those who crash the most are the riders whose bikes prevent them from consistently locating the limit, so they keep tripping over it.
At the top of the class of kings, Marc Márquez’s troubled season on a below-par Honda RC213V was characterised by an increase in trashed carbon-fibre, from 11 to 13 crashes. Meanwhile title-winner Jorge Lorenzo was as neat and precise as ever, with just three tumbles from his Yamaha. Lorenzo has crashed 36 times during his eight years in MotoGP, compared to Márquez’s 39 times in three years.
Last season was the second least painful of Valentino Rossi’s premier-class career. The sport’s most enduring star proved just how comfy he was on his YZR-M1 by crashing only twice. His least injurious campaign was 2003 when he crashed once on his way to a third premier-class title, aboard Honda’s all-conquering RC211V. That contrasts with 2011, his first year aboard Ducati’s diabolical Desmosedici, which threw him down the road a dozen times.
The most ruinous race weekends of 2015 were Silverstone and Le Mans – on 79 and 78 crashes – almost three times more than Argentina, where only 25 riders hit the dirt. No surprise that cool, wet weather played a major part in the high accident rates in Britain and France.
The most miserable corner of the year was Turn 10 at Misano (the Tramonto right-hander that leads onto the all-important back straight) which claimed 20 victims, many of them in the wet. Joining Tramonto on the podium of pain was Turn 10 at Catalunya (bumpy, off-camber and usually the last overtaking opportunity) and Turn Two at Jerez, with 16 victims each.
The 2014 season broke all records for crashes, with 981 (nine-hundred-and-eighty-one!) tumbles across three classes. Because the general trend for crashes is upwards – blame tighter racing, safer circuits and various other factors – last season looked like being MotoGP’s first to reach a thousand crashes. In fact, there were 976, an average of 54 at each MotoGP round.
That is a remarkable number, but what is even more remarkable is the lack of serious injuries. MotoGP is still dangerous – as the recent deaths of Shoya Tomizawa (2010) and Marco Simoncelli (2011) prove – but in general it is amazingly safe, considering the speeds.
Worst hurt were Alex de Angelis, who suffered head injuries, plus five broken vertebrae and three broken ribs at Motegi, and Dominique Aegerter, who sustained four fractured vertebrae, several broken ribs, a broken right wrist and bruised lungs at Aragon.
Apart from that the sum total of notable injuries was six broken fingers, four broken toes, three broken collarbones, two broken wrists, one broken arm, plus several mild concussions, dislocations and sprains. Obviously I’m not underestimating the pain: when a MotoGP rider crashes and the TV caption says ‘Rider OK’, what it really means is ‘Rider hurting like hell, but will race anyway because he’s a hard bastard’.
Today’s big question, of course, is this: will MotoGP’s unified software reduce or increase the crash rate in the premier class?
In theory, electronic rider aids reduce crashes. In fact, the reality in recent years has been slightly different. This area of motorcycling technology is still in its infancy, which means MotoGP electronics are a work in progress, which means that glitches and bugs can cause crashes that might otherwise not have happened.
The MotoGP crash report tells us that premier-class crashes have more than doubled since 2006 (from 98 crashes to 215), although of course it would be rash to blame this stunning increase on electronics alone.
However, there’s probably not a rider in MotoGP who hasn’t been hurled to the ground when his traction control or engine-braking control system didn’t work as expected. In this sense we are back in the 1960s or early 1970s when too many riders were hurt or killed by nascent two-stroke technology. Their sacrifice allowed the development of better metallurgy, lubrication and so on, which has helped pretty much every motorcyclist since. Today’s MotoGP riders are the crash-test dummies for electronics.
The dramatic increase in MotoGP accidents isn’t duplicated in the smaller classes, which have shown much less significant increases in recent years. How to explain that? Too many factors to go into here.
Back to the question of the Dorna software and hardware, created by Magneti Marelli in cooperation with Dorna’s Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli. Obviously the one-size-fits-all electronics are going to be lower-tech than the tailor-made factory software that has been under rapid development since the dawn of MotoGP.
During the recent first full tests of the Dorna kit at Valencia, most top riders were stunned at the backwards step. Rossi likened it to going back to 2008 or 2009; but the nine-time champ wasn’t completely negative.
“At first you are angry and you say ‘f***’ because the bike is more difficult to ride,” he said. “But for the racing this will be good because it will be a lot more difficult to always make the same lap time, so the battles will be better and more fun.”
Rossi may be right, but most likely his factory electronics engineers will have worked out how to get the best out of the software by next March.
By contrast, factory Ducati riders Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso seemed happiest with the new software. That’s no coincidence, because Magneti have worked for years on Ducati’s MotoGP and World Superbike projects. Inevitably Dorna’s Magneti software is closest to what Ducati have been using. Yamaha have also worked with Magneti, but less so than Ducati.
Least happy with the Dorna kit are Honda riders like Márquez, who suffered a huge highside at Jerez last week, because the traction control didn’t work as expected.
“The electronics are not really smooth,” he said. “There’s a lot of movement from the bike because the electronics are cutting too much. If you are sliding a lot then the cuts come too aggressive and also too late, so then you need to close the gas, so it’s difficult.”
Honda may be looking good on Michelins but they are probably at the biggest disadvantage going into MotoGP’s new electronics era because they have always developed their own hardware and software in-house. They’ve never been near Magneti kit until now, so there’s no doubt they will burning the midnight oil this winter at HRC’s Asaka HQ.