MotoGP mutterings: Jerez

by Mat Oxley on 9th May 2018

What happened at Jerez, and how and why

The pile-up // Dovi blames Jorge // Iannone's Suzuki hopes // Miller on factory Ducati? // Goodbye to aero // Rossi: 'Yamaha must work' // Trouble at Marc VDS // Crutchlow: fast but floored 

The pile-up – who's to blame?

One month after two of MotoGP’s most elbow-happy riders clashed in Argentina, three of the championship’s best-behaved riders ended up in a heap at Jerez.

Who was to blame this time? Dovizioso out-braked Lorenzo, then ran slightly wide, so Lorenzo cut back inside, where he collided with Pedrosa. All three riders played their part in the incident but, if anyone could have averted disaster, it was Lorenzo. He knew there were three riders in the group (via the ‘G3’ on his pitboard), so he knew someone was behind him when he cut back to the inside kerb.

“It was the three cleanest riders in the championship, so it was unlucky that we all finished on the ground,” said the Spaniard, who led for seven laps before Marc Márquez took control. “Everything happened so fast. I was cutting back, going for the best acceleration and then Dani was there. It was like dominoes and very unlucky, especially for Andrea who is fighting for the championship. But I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.”

Dovizioso – who has never been one to court controversy – laid the blame on his team-mate and Pedrosa. “For sure, Dani and Jorge made a mistake,” he said. “Dani was the third rider and when you are behind you can manage the situation better. He rode his normal line, but faster than normal because he wanted to beat another rider. On the other hand, Jorge didn’t check, he didn’t care about the rider behind him and he cut his line too fast in order to exit the corner as fast as he could. I’m not saying anyone should be penalised, but I’m going home with zero points.”

'Jorge kept slowing to close the door'

Dovizioso had further criticism for Lorenzo, suggesting that major cracks are appearing within the factory Ducati garage.

First, there was Valencia 2017, where Lorenzo failed to offer a clear track to his title-chasing team-mate. Of course, at the time the team insisted all was sweetness and light, but since then it’s been hard to miss the sideways looks of Ducati’s Davide Tardozzi, Paolo Ciabatti and Claudio Domenicali towards their most expensive rider of all time. And then there was Lorenzo’s recent allegation that Dovizioso is undermining his position at Ducati. And on Sunday Dovizioso had something to say about Lorenzo’s riding at Jerez, even though it’s way too early for any kind of team orders.

“Everyone was on the limit, which is why a lot of riders crashed with the front,” said Dovizioso who fought back from eighth on the first lap. “If I had been where Jorge was when Márquez took the lead, there was a chance I could have followed him. Marc was fast, but it wasn’t impossible.

“I lost too much time with Jorge. He was fast, but he was too slow in the middle of the corners because he was struggling with the front. He also didn’t want to let me pass; that’s why we lost time with Marc. He kept slowing down to close the door, that’s why I took 10 laps to try to overtake him, because I didn’t want to make a mistake. I was on the limit – the front tyre locked many times and I twice lost the front in the middle of corners. I just wanted to overtake Jorge, because I knew if I could make one lap in front of him then I would make a gap, because Dani was also on the limit.”

'30 per cent chance Iannone will stay at Suzuki'

Chasing who-goes-where stories can be the biggest waste of time in the paddock. Millions of Euros, the careers of riders and the reputation of manufacturers are at stake, so why would anyone tell a journalist the truth until deals have been signed, sealed and delivered? Until then, the words of riders, factory staff, rider managers and everyone else means zilch.

Nevertheless, there’s always one rider manager worth talking to, even if you know he’s not always telling the truth. Carlo Pernat has looked after Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi, Marco Simoncelli and now, Andrea Iannone.

With most of next year’s deals already as good as done, the focus is on Iannone and Lorenzo, who are both working to raise their stock after failing to win any races since 2016. But MotoGP is fast running out of 2019 factory rides. Both Lorenzo and Iannone have a chance with Suzuki. The Spaniard was favourite, but things may have changed since the Italian came good with podiums at COTA and Jerez.

“We need one or two races, maybe Mugello, before we can really talk with Suzuki about Andrea,” said Pernat. “The Suzuki is coming good and right now I think there is a 30 per cent chance that Andrea will stay with Suzuki. But I don’t think Lorenzo is Suzuki’s dream.

“Now there’s not so many factory bikes left. There’s one Ducati, one Suzuki and one Aprilia, plus one factory bike at Pramac. I think it’s difficult to see Lorenzo staying at Ducati because Ducati is pushing for [Jack] Miller. That leaves one free place at Pramac, because [Pecco] Bagnaia is already coming and [Danilo] Petrucci isn’t in a good situation. Maybe he will go to Aprilia. So now Suzuki can play for Andrea and Lorenzo. They will wait until they have the knife in their hand: you want a Suzuki? OK, you must come on our conditions! 

“For sure, Honda will take Pedrosa for one more year, because he is the perfect team-mate for Marc, while they wait for [reigning Moto3 champ Joan] Mir. Dovizioso for sure will stay with Ducati; he’s just been playing the usual game, talking to other factories. What I also know is that KTM signed Zarco in December – it was his Christmas gift.”

Pernat believes that Iannone’s much-improved results aren’t all down to Suzuki’s hard work. “At the last races Andrea has changed his riding style because it’s impossible to ride the Suzuki the way he rode the Ducati: braking at the last minute and so on. He started to work at changing his technique in the Buriram and Qatar tests. I spoke with him a while back: Andrea it’s better to ride the bike the way the bike wants to be ridden."

Dovizioso’s manager Simone Battistella agrees that his rider is on the verge of inking another deal with the factory he joined in 2013. “We have no other offer on the table,” he said at Jerez.

Miller time at Ducati?

If Ducati doesn’t agree terms with Lorenzo, the company is in a great position to hire born-again Aussie Jack Miller.

Former racer Tardozzi, who is responsible for some of the factory’s greatest successes, has huge respect for the youngster but doesn’t want to put too much pressure on him too soon.

“Jack is still climbing the learning curve because he didn’t have the best opportunities in his first years in MotoGP, so I think he has a lot to grow,” said Tardozzi. “First, we asked him to be consistent, then once he is consistent, he can work at being fast. He is doing this. But we need to wait and not put pressure on him. We need time with him; maybe not one year, maybe two years, but we trust that he has the talent to become a very fast Ducati rider. His riding attitude suits our bike perfectly: if the bike isn’t turning then he makes it turn!”

It’s no coincidence that Ducati’s greatest riders are Aussies who grew up riding dirt track; Casey Stoner, Troy Bayliss and now perhaps Miller. Dirt trackers use the rear brake all the time to help control the bike, so with Miller it’s as natural as opening the throttle, while Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Petrucci had to learn this technique when they climbed aboard the Desmosedici.

“I’d hate to see my rear brake temperature,” grinned Miller at Jerez, where the numerous long sweeping curves kept his right foot very busy. “I’m burying the rear brake, I don’t think it gets much of a rest. I used the brake with the Honda more to stop the bike and stop wheelies. With this bike it’s more to help the bike turn.”

Miller shrugged off any 2019 factory-ride rumours. “I’ve got an option with Ducati, so it’s whether or not they use it,” he said.

Say goodbye to MotoGP aero

On Saturday at Jerez the MSMA (the Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association) gave a proposal to the Grand Prix Commission to ban MotoGP’s special aerodynamics from the end of this season. In other words, when 2019 testing gets underway two days after the Valencia Grand Prix, MotoGP bikes will most likely wear conventional bodywork, with no wings, strakes or any other aerodynamic devices.

The main reason behind the decision is cost. However, it’s surprising that the MSMA was able to reach agreement, because the group demands unanimous decisions on such regulations. Most factories are happy to ban aero, but not Ducati, so some horse-trading must’ve gone on.

“The manufacturers came to us and said, it’s now like a war, we want to control costs,” said MotoGP technical director Danny Aldridge. “They met in Qatar, Argentina and Texas and have now submitted their proposal for 2019. It’s not confirmed but they want to go back to more traditional designs. The most important phrase is that they want fairings with a single skin, so you can’t have ducts, boxes or any attachments.

Rossi: 'Yamaha must work'

As usual, the factory Yamaha team spent much of Jerez trying to dig itself out of a hole, without much success. Valentino Rossi finished fifth, eight seconds behind the winner, with Maverick Viñales in seventh, a further seven seconds back.

Bike stability and traction were the biggest problems, magnified by a track with super-long corners that put the bike on the very edge of its tyres for long periods of time.

“We cannot exit the corners fast enough,” said Rossi. “It could be a mechanical grip thing. Within the team there are different ideas, but for me it’s more from the electronics side. It looks like the other factories have recently made a big step forward in this area. At this moment we don’t have the answer. Yamaha must work. In Saturday practice I followed Zarco. About his riding, it looks like he stresses the tyres less, but also he is smaller and lighter on the bike.”

Viñales seemed much more lost.

“We have a problem with mechanical grip, but the electronics don’t help, they increase the problem,” said the Spaniard. “In Austin, I felt really good, we improved a lot, but here we are slower than last year. The difficult part is that every track you go to you feel different with the bike, so at every track I ride the bike with a different riding style. In Austin I could use my own riding style: a little bit aggressive, braking late and attacking the corners. Here it’s impossible to do that, so I’m trying to be much smoother to help the bike.”

Rossi and Viñales do compare their data to Zarco’s, but so far without success. “It’s difficult, because when the bike goes well I can be very fast,” added Viñales. “But when the bike doesn’t work we have a lot of problems, so it’s difficult to make comparisons. Also, Zarco rides totally differently to me.”

Trouble at Marc VDS

There is always scandal afoot in racing paddocks, if you look closely enough. Bike racers are always desperate to make some cash to keep the wheels spinning.

At Jerez rumours swirled around the Marc VDS MotoGP and Moto2 team, which has been negotiating with Suzuki to run GSX-RRs in next year’s MotoGP series. The team is owned by beer billionaire Count Michael van der Straten and run by Michael Bartholemy, former World Supersport team owner and Kawasaki’s MotoGP competitions manager. The pair has fallen out, allegedly due to major financial irregularities. Bartholemy denies any wrongdoing but van der Straten plans to take him to court.

Meanwhile Bartholemy’s former team coordinator Marina Rossi may become temporary team leader. Marina Rossi, whose boyfriend is Moto2 rider Sam Lowes, was sacked by Bartholemy.

Suggestions that the team wouldn’t last the season have been officially denied by van der Straten, who says Marc VDS will continue racing to 2021.

Crutchlow: fast, but ultimately floored

While on the subject of (alleged) financial impropriety, Jerez polesitter Cal Crutchlow has been banned from gambling on superbike racing, for fear of insider dealing.

“I was going on some internet gambling sites because I wanted to bet on some boxing,” said Crutchlow. “I got a bet365 account and wanted to bet on superbikes. Just five quid, nothing big. Next day I get an email: you’re not allowed to bet on motorcycle racing. Why not? Really, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the race! They must think I’ve got underhand information.”

Crutchlow continued to impress with his speed at Jerez. He led Friday practice and took pole on Saturday, lapping faster than the Repsol riders, who had tested at the track just weeks earlier.

Sadly, it all went wrong in the race. He got a poor start, then struggled with rear traction which caused him to lose the front. How so?

“I was overheating the front tyre because I was struggling with rear grip, so I was trying to make it all up on corner entry,” he said.

 

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