MotoGP: The best of Mat Oxley from 2020

MotoGP

The highlights from a season like no other: some of the best of Mat Oxley's Motor Sport columns from 2020

Moto GP Emilia Romagna

In July this year, the Motor Sport inbox pinged with a concerned-sounding email from Mat Oxley.

The MotoGP season was about to start in unprecedented circumstances. With a minimal paddock, there was no access for journalists, every possibility of Covid causing race cancellations and limited knowledgeof how the new rear slick tyre would affect the running order.

“I most likely won’t be writing as much as usual,” Mat told us.

The first race soon dispelled any notion that his keyboard would be getting a rest.

It was a season like no other, captured in full colour by Mat. Despite confinement to the media centre, he still took us to the nuts and bolts (and grippier rear rubber) of the bikes; into the minds of the riders contesting the tight-fought championship; and brought historical perspective to the proceedings

He’s selected four of the best columns from the season below.

 

Postcard from the Coronavirus Grand Prix

A weekend after the Qatar GP was cancelled, the report goes behind the scenes of a weird weekend in MotoGP’s most unreal venue

Workers clear out pit garages uring the 2020 MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix

Masked workers clear out MotoGP’s unused garages at Losail during the Qatar GP

Oxley

March 10, 2020

The Qatar Grand Prix has always felt a bit unreal. The first time MotoGP visited in October 2004 the newly built track was a 20-minute drive out of Doha into the desert – the Arabian Gulf shimmering in the east, a few caravans of camels ambling along in the distance, but nothing else.

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Nothing else at all. There we were, marooned in a sea of sand, watched over by at least a dozen spectators, wondering what the hell was going on.

That weekend the ambient temperature in pit lane reached 48 degrees, but it was even hotter in the Yamaha and Honda garages. The night before the race Valentino Rossi’s crew rode a paddock scooter onto the grid to use its rear tyre to lay some rubber on Rossi’s grid slot, for better traction at the start. Their trick was spotted by rivals and reported to Race Direction, who sent the Italian to the back of the grid.

Rossi accused title-rival Sete Gibernau of doing the snitching, and called the Spaniard’s team “bastards” on live TV. When Gibernau won the race the following day Rossi vowed he would never win another. Spookily, the curse held true.

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Why inline-four MotoGP bikes handle better than V4 MotoGP bikes

It would prove to be a crucial factor in the championship. Last Spring, this article set out the basics: V4 MotoGP bikes make more power, inline-fours handle better. That’s why Johann Zarco, Jorge Lorenzo and others struggle when they switch from inline-fours to V4s

Maverick Vinales

There’s no doubt that Yamaha’s inline-four YZR-M1 is a rider-friendly motorcycle

Yamaha

May 19, 2020

Speak to most MotoGP engineers and they will tell you that the two most important words in race-bike engineering are balance and compromise.

Pretty much whatever you do to improve one area of performance impairs another: you make the bike turn quicker and it becomes less stable, you increase peak power and you lose midrange and so on.

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Therefore an engineer’s job is to compromise the positives and negatives, looking for a balance that maximises the positives and minimises the negatives.

This is just as important in the macro – the basic design of the motorcycle – as the micro – a few clicks of damping or a half millimetre change to the ride height.

Both MotoGP engine configurations – the V4 (Aprilia RS-GP, Ducati Desmosedici, Honda RC213V and KTM RC16) and the inline-four (Suzuki GSX-RR and Yamaha YZR-M1) – have their positives and negatives. In brief, a V4 engine produces more horsepower, while the inline-four allows better handling.

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New Michelin has changed MotoGP’s balance of power

Under the headline news of a Czech GP win for Brad Binder came the explanation for Yamaha’s rising fortunes at the expense of Ducati, with riders weighing in on the effect of the new rear slick

Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller, Brno 2020

Michelin’s new rear slick isn’t working for Dovizioso and Miller

Ducati

August 10, 2020

You have to feel for Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati. Over the past three years the only thing that stopped them winning the MotoGP title was Marc Márquez. And now that Márquez is out of the equation (barring miracles) their hopes are being ruined by a rear tyre that’s got them in a spin.

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At the same time Yamaha is back in the game. Over three races its YZR-M1 has used Michelin’s 2020 rear slick better than any other of the bikes, either through luck or judgement. Yamaha has had six riders on the podium on three Sundays, the first time the company has managed that since the days of Bridgestone tyres. No doubt about it, the new Michelin has changed MotoGP’s balance of power in MotoGP.

The new rear slick – with softer construction which gives a bigger contact patch for more grip – was designed to make everyone faster, but as is often the case with spec rubber the tyre seems to favour some bikes more than others. Perhaps the previous rear slick favoured the V4s over the inline-fours, but we just never looked at it like that?

More rear grip isn’t necessarily a good thing, because the previous rear slick already over-powered Michelin’s front slick, so the 2020 rear exacerbates that problem.

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50 years ago today in Barcelona: Barry Sheene’s GP debut

On September 27, 1970, Barry Sheene contested his first world championship race, at Barcelona’s Montjuïc circuit. Mat Oxley looks back at the early days of a British racing legend

Sheene and Lesley Shepherd, Montjuic 1970 Borje Jansson Maico #2

Sheene and girlfriend Lesley Shepherd await scrutineering, by Montjuic’s Olympic stadium

September 27, 2020

Fifty years ago today, just 20 miles from where I’m sat at the Barcelona circuit watching today’s MotoGP stars go to work, one of the greatest grand prix careers of all time got underway.

Barry Sheene was at Montjuïc, the unforgiving, undulating street circuit that wends its way across hilly parkland overlooking Barcelona’s port and city centre.

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This was the biggest day of the 20-year-old’s life thus far: his first world championship race, his first chance to measure himself against world-class competition.

Sheene had travelled to Spain with his family – his dad Frank had raced at Brooklands in the 1930s and at the TT in the 1950s – and girlfriend Lesley Shepherd.

It was quite a trip. First stop was Jerez in southwest Spain, a 1300-mile drive from London in a very second-hand Ford Thames van – cruising speed 50mph – on single-carriageway roads. And this was a decade and a half before the Jerez short circuit was built, so Sheene raced around another street circuit in the north-west suburbs of Jerez city. And after the Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuïc he rode another street race in Zaragoza, 200 miles inland from Barcelona, before returning home to hatch plans for his first full GP season in 1971.

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