Marc Márquez has talked about this since last year, but now it’s time to let others have their say.
“Everything, everything, everything is about front tyre temperature and pressure – the difference is huge,” said Aprilia’s championship-challenger Aleix Espargaró.
“Every time I got close to Jack [Miller] on Sunday I started to have a lot of movement from the front tyre and I saw on the dash that the tyre was on fire, so I said, OK, let him go, about half second and stay there… And I knew Fabio [Quartararo, who chased Espargaró throughout] would have exactly the same problem with me.”
So fans were denied any real battle for second and third at Le Mans.
It had been the same for Espargaró at Jerez, where he spent much of the race chasing Miller and Márquez in the contest for third place. The trio rode line astern for 20 laps – mostly separated by only a few tenths – without a single change of position.
“Everything in MotoGP is now super-equal, so this makes a problem, because a small difference can be huge,” added the Spaniard. “At Jerez you cannot imagine the difference between 2.08 to 1.91 bar in the front tyre pressure. At 2.08 my bike had unbelievable chattering, I was losing the front, the bike wasn’t turning, so I couldn’t overtake. The bike was a disaster.”
When Espargaró finally got past his rivals and had clean, cool air in front of him, after Márquez nearly crashed, his RS-GP changed totally.
“With no bikes in front everything was perfect and I was half a second faster – it was crazy!
Mir: “Once I’m half a second behind the guy in front the front tyre gets too hot.”
“The problem is to get close to the bike in front of you. Your tyre pressure increases, then you have to brake earlier, or you crash. It’s very easy, as we saw at Portimao, with Jack and Joan [When Miller passed Mir at Turn 1, crashed and took out Mir]. By braking two metres later to overtake the guy in front you lose the front, so it’s very difficult to overtake now. All you can do is wait for the guy in front to make a mistake. If he doesn’t do that, no chance!”
Mir knows all about the problem.
“You have a tyre that’s really grippy and you have the bike really on point, then you are behind someone and it becomes completely the opposite – the bike becomes so difficult to ride,” said Suzuki’s 2020 MotoGP champion.
“It’s not actually racing, just surviving. That’s what we’re trying to deal with.”
“When you’re fighting with someone you want to use the slipstream for speed but I can’t even be close to the guy in front. Once I’m half a second behind the tyre gets too hot and I start going wide. It’s a problem.”
Miguel Oliveira too.
“In a race situation the tyre cannot handle much time behind anyone, so it becomes really crucial to try to manage the space,” said the Red Bull KTM rider, winner of round two in Indonesia. “If you’re fast enough to overtake you can overtake, but otherwise it’s a yoyo effect: you gain some time, you catch the guy, then your tyre overheats and you have to drop back again.
“Michelin’s MotoGP tyres are really, really high-performance tyres, but on the other hand, like any high-performance machine or equipment, they’re also very sensitive to temperature and pressure changes.
“Too much pressure and we crash, or it’s impossible to stop the bike. The front tyre becomes a hot balloon and even straight braking is scary because you really cannot stop the bike. The bike is skipping and sliding everywhere, so it’s tricky.”
Imagine dealing with this, several times a lap, from 170mph or 210mph, over 45 minutes.
“This makes it very easy to crash, or very easy to tie your hands during the race and not actually racing, just surviving,” added Oliveira. “That’s what we’re trying to deal with. It’s not easy for teams to think about and predict what pressure they’ll reach in the race so that we can be in a safe area.”
Oliveira: “The front tyre becomes a hot balloon and even straight braking is scary.”
Red Bull KTM
And Andrea Dovizioso.
“More or less everybody locks the front when they brake,” said the Italian veteran. “If you are already on the limit because you are locking the front, this means you are not able to brake even two metres later.”
Why has this suddenly become an issue? Michelin’s front slick has always been temperature and pressure sensitive but it’s now reaching a critical point, for various reasons.
First, the racing is getting faster and more competitive. Then there are several ways in which front-tyre loads have risen. Big aerodynamics don’t only reduce wheelies, they also increase downforce during braking, which increases load and therefore temperature into the front tyre.