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The most important news from the 2019 Spanish MotoGP Grand Prix, including Ducati’s struggles, Lorenzo’s morale, updates from Aprilia and HRC and Yamaha’s potential saviour
Andrea Dovizioso and his team returned to Italy this week a bit worried, because they now know Marc Márquez is stronger than ever, because they have more rivals to worry about than ever and because the Desmosedici’s weak point is still a real problem.
Jerez has never been a happy hunting ground for Ducati, because the Desmosedici doesn’t turn well through the track’s numerous high-speed sweepers, but Dovizioso was expecting better than fourth.
“We are faster than last year, but there are more competitors in better shape this year,” said the Italian, the only man to regularly challenge Márquez in 2017 and 2018. “I didn’t need this race to confirm the negative points of our bike – our speed in fast corners – but I thought the gap would be smaller.
“Maybe we can be stronger at the next few races, but maybe it’s not enough, because Marc is strong enough to fight for victory or the podium at every race, even when he’s at a track that’s bad for him. This is why I’m not too happy.
“Marc will be strong all season, Rins confirmed again that he is a championship contender and Yamaha struggled a little bit, but they are fast. In the race I pushed really hard and took a lot of risks because I wanted the podium, but the limit of our speed in fast corners is too big. This season will be hard.
“When Rins overtook me his speed in the middle of the corners was amazing. The Suzuki turns better than all the other bikes, although maybe they are not so strong in hard braking, maybe they have a limit there.
“For this year we improved the turning a little bit, but we improved our strong points – acceleration, braking and electronics – more than we improved our weak point.”
In theory, Dovizioso and the GP19 should be stronger at Le Mans, where acceleration and braking performance are the big deals. However, he’s only scored one French GP podium with a Desmosedici, way back in 2015. And if he doesn’t start scoring regular podiums soon, his title challenge will start to fade.
Dovizioso will certainly be less worried going to Le Mans than his former team-mate. Jorge Lorenzo had a horrible first home grand prix with Repsol Honda – 11th in qualifying, 12th in the race, 14th in the championship – and cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m sad, disappointed and worried,” he said on Sunday afternoon. “I put everything on the track but I couldn’t go faster. I don’t like the situation, but I’m a champion and champions keep fighting and I will find a solution.”
Lorenzo has a very particular riding technique and therefore needs a very particular machine set-up. At Ducati it took him 24 races to find winning speed and he doesn’t want to wait that long with the RC213V.
In fact the problem he’s having with the Honda isn’t that dissimilar to one of the problems he had at Ducati. It’s all about getting him in the right position during braking, although this is complicated by the fact that the RC213V is a shorter, smaller motorcycle than his previous bikes.
“The Honda is much more compact, so I don’t feel really comfortable, especially in braking,” added the three-time MotoGP champion. “I have problems in corner entry because the bike is transferring too much weight to the front.
“I’m braking quite late but because I don’t feel comfortable in braking. I arrive too late at the corner and I make the corner too late. I’d like to stop before and lean before and finish the corner faster with more corner speed and to exit faster. I’m losing a lot of time compared to all the other Honda riders and I won’t be fast until we solve this problem. We need to find solutions; maybe something with the engine-braking or the chassis.”
Expect more Lorenzo ergonomic updates soon.
Yamaha has yet to break out of the doldrums into which it drifted several years ago, but things could be so much worse for the premier category’s second most successful manufacturer.
This time last year Yamaha was living a nightmare. Its two factory riders hadn’t won a race in almost 12 months, then Tech 3, its faithful independent team, announced its move to KTM. For some months there was a real possibility that Yamaha would have only two bikes on the grid from 2019, which would have a serious impact on machine development, rider procurement and much more.
And then the factory was saved by Malaysian money. Petronas and Sepang opened their wallets to lease four YZR-M1s and hire two young talents: VR46 rider Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo. Imagine last weekend’s Spanish GP without those two: Yamaha’s highlights would’ve been one second-row start and one third-place finish.
Both third-place Viñales and sixth-place Valentino Rossi are already using Petronas team data in their quest to find that last tenth of a second to make them fully competitive.
“It’s very important that Fabio and Franky [Morbidelli] are fast because there’s more data to check,” said Viñales after his first Jerez MotoGP podium. “This is a difficult track for Yamaha, but Fabio is very fast and his riding is very good, so it’s good to have someone like him at Yamaha that can push more and help us understand which way to go with the bike.”
Rossi concurred, happy to learn from brave youngsters who are riding indie bikes that are probably closer than ever to full-factory-spec.
“Over the last two years we had some confusion, because the new stuff from the factory didn’t work,” he said. “[Johann] Zarco was sometimes faster than us, because he is a very fast rider, but also because sometimes the older stuff was better than the new stuff.
“Now, I think the situation is clearer because all the Yamahas are very, very similar. This weekend the human made the difference. Quartararo was very, very fast because he rode better. And without the [gear-shifter] problem he would have finished second or third. The important thing is that all the bikes are similar, so it’s easier for Yamaha to develop.
“During each weekend I speak a lot with Franco, about tyre choice and bike settings. The good thing about working with young riders is that they can learn a lot from me, but also I can learn a lot from them. I always learn from Franco, because he’s very, very strong.”
Of course, Rossi and Viñales complained of the same old bike problems. Viñales was at least happy that he overcame his early-race woes, for once not going backwards when the lights went out, but he complained about rear grip and acceleration.
“We lose a lot when we lose grip and then acceleration,” he added. “It’s very important to make another step in the traction area, especially for my riding style because I ride more stop and go than the other Yamaha riders.”
Rossi was disappointed with his result, even though he put a brave face on it. Second at the previous two races and only three tenths off the podium at the season-opening Qatar GP, he had hoped for better than fifth place, beaten by his team-mate for the first time this year.
“I hoped in my heart to be strong like at Austin and to fight for the podium, but unfortunately we struggled a bit and I was less fast,” he said. “But we also had some good things: I felt more comfortable with the bike, I was fast on the last lap and the gap between me and first place was less than last year.”
Rossi was right in that assessment, but only just. At Jerez 2018 he finished 8.7 seconds behind winner Márquez; this time he crossed the line 7.5 seconds down.
“We are stronger than last year, but the road is long and the challenge is very high,” he added. “I’m not fully happy for sure, but we are working in a good direction and we can fight. The biggest problem is Márquez, because he is clearly the fastest, but we are there, we are only nine points behind and it looks like we can fight to try and get some more podiums and try to win some races.”
During Monday’s tests the nine-time world champion worked on… yes, you guessed it…. “trying to improve rear grip, trying to improve acceleration. We haven’t found anything fantastic, but some small details that we can use in the next few races.”
If the devastating speed of Márquez made Dovizioso, Lorenzo, and Rossi feel gloomy, they only had to take a look inside the KTM garage to feel better about their situations.
Inside was Johann Zarco, who at Jerez last year was basking in the glow of his newly-signed 2019/2020 KTM deal. This time, things were different. Zarco was caught by TV cameras turning the orange garage blue with angry complaints about the RC16’s engine and chassis. He qualified 18th, nine-tenths off pole, and finished 14th, 26 seconds behind Márquez.
“I’m a passenger on the bike,” he said. “I accepted to help grow this project with everything I have, but it’s a difficult time.”
Zarco tried more new parts during Monday’s Jerez tests, but ended the day 1.5 seconds behind Quartararo, his compatriot once again riding like the wind.
Zarco announced at Jerez that he is hiring racing legend Jean-Michel Bayle as a coach and mentor. Bayle won world motocross and US Supercross titles, then switched to road racing, scoring pole positions in 250cc and 500cc GPs and winning the Bol d’Or 24 hours.
“At grands prix we are doing all this heavy development, so the target is to better control the stress to keep the freedom in the mind that a top rider needs,” explained Zarco.
Honda MotoGP test rider Stefan Bradl didn’t only race a new frame with carbon-fibre coating at Jerez, he also raced for the first time with Honda’s answer to Ducati’s salad box: an HRC ‘bento box’.
More: Honda’s MotoGP bento box
No one knows what’s inside the box, first seen at February’s Sepang tests, but it may contain electronics bits and pieces removed from under the fuel tank cover to make way for the larger airbox and new fuel injectors that have helped boost the RC213V’s power and torque. Positioning mass as far as possible from the centre of the motorcycle can help damp out vibration and chatter. And it’s not impossible that the box contains some kind of mass damper,
On Monday, Márquez used Bradl’s bike, with new frame and bento box, to ride his fastest lap of the weekend, but said he’s unlikely to race the bike soon.
Aprilia has made a much better start to this season than last season, with Aleix Espargaró scoring three times as many points from the first four races, including 11th at Jerez, 15 seconds down on Márquez. The transformed RS-GP still lacks the pace to run close to the front, but at least it has the trickest ECU cooler in pit lane.
While Ducati uses a modified Bosch air-blower and other teams make do with airlines, Aprilia has this custom-made unit, which cools the ECU through slots in the fuel-tank cover.
“The ECU is designed to work up to 80 degrees Celsius,” says Aprilia technical director Romano Albesiano. “Magneti Marelli tells us it’s not safe to go above that temperature, so we must contain the temperature below 80 degrees.”
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