Analysis

Buriram MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Are Eight Fast Ducatis Too Much Of A Good Thing For Pecco Bagnaia?

Saturday at Buriram gave us a glimpse of the future. If you want to know what the sprint races will look like next year, look no further than the fact that Ducati have secured their sixth front-row lockout of the season, that there were five Ducatis in the first two rows, and that there were two more on the third row. It was the thirteenth time a Ducati qualified on pole this year, in seventeen events.

Only Fabio Quartararo (Indonesia), Aleix Espargaro (Argentina and Barcelona), and Marc Marquez (Motegi) have prevented Ducati from sweeping an entire season's worth of poles. Pecco Bagnaia is just two races away from winning the BMW M award as best qualifier, which features seven Ducati riders in the top nine.

The bike really does play a very large role in that dominance of qualifying. With his breathtaking last lap, breaking Fabio Quartararo's pole record from 2019, Marco Bezzecchi became the seventh Ducati rider to secure pole this year. Only Bezzecchi's Mooney VR46 teammate Luca Marini is letting the side down, though Marini has been close, starting from the front row twice this year.

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Buriram MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fast Ducatis, Miller's Improvement, Marquez' Poetry In Motion, And 21 Races In 2023

The MotoGP paddock had been looking fearfully at weather forecasts the entire week, and well into the night. Some of them drove through flooded roads to arrive at the Buriram circuit in Thailand, a week after losing Saturday to the rain at Motegi. MotoGP feared another washout.

Instead, they appear to have dodged a bullet. There were a couple of rain showers, and some half-wet, half-dry conditions for Moto3 and Moto2, but MotoGP had two sessions of pretty much completely dry practice. And looking at the weather forecast for tomorrow, there is every chance of it being dry again on Saturday. But also, every chance of rain.

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Buriram MotoGP Preview: More Weather Disruption, Searching For Setup, And The Difference Between Europe And Japan

With barely a moment to catch its collective breath, the MotoGP paddock alights at Buriram, in the east of Thailand. The heavy rain which lashed the paddock in Motegi has followed them across the South China Sea, with heavy rain and flooding in many parts of Thailand. Some who chose to drive rather than fly from Bangkok to Buriram reported flooded roads at several points along the way, and fields around the track are also flooded.

Nor is the rain done with MotoGP just yet. Thursday's media duties took place in heavy rain, marshals and circuit workers doing their best to rid the track of the worst of its surface water. More rain is expected over the weekend, though the forecast is very difficult to read. There could be delays to track action on Friday, if the rain is as heavy as predicted. But there are also likely to be a couple of dry sessions spread over the weekend. Right now, the race looks to be wet. But three days out, that is pretty meaningless.

A wet race would both simplify and complicate matters, depending on your point of view. The track in Buriram is one of only two tracks – the other being the Red Bull Ring in Austria – which requires the use of the special, stiffer casing Michelin uses to resist the extremely high loads and temperatures at the two circuits. That is good for most, but not for Aleix Espargaro, the Aprilia rider not a fan of the special tire Michelin brings to the Red Bull Ring.

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Measuring Progress: How Much Faster Did MotoGP Bikes Get In The Past Three Years?

After an absence of three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MotoGP is returning to the circuits in Asia and Australia. A lot has happened in those three years in terms of motorcycle development; there has been a sea change in the way that bikes are controlled, as ride-height devices have been introduced to aid acceleration and braking, and engineers have gotten a better understanding of aerodynamics, sufficient to start gaining in the corner, as well as on entry and exit.

When MotoGP raced in Argentina for the first time since 2019 earlier this year, Aleix Espargaro's winning time of 41:36.198 was more than 7.5 seconds faster than the 41:43.688 Marc Marquez took to win in 2019. Argentina, however, is not a great basis for comparison, as the track sees very little use in between races, and the condition of the surface can change a lot.

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Motegi MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Magic Miller, Why Ducati Can't Win A Championship, And Marquez Up To Speed Again

It has been three long years since MotoGP last embarked on its Pacific tour, the flyway races in Asia and Australia which form the crescendo which build toward the season finale, and invariably decide the MotoGP championship. So the Motegi race, first of four overseas rounds, provided both a solid benchmark for the progress made over the last two and a half seasons, and gave us a foretaste of what is to come.

Motegi also changed the complexion of the championship. The importance of each race ramps up exponentially, as there are fewer and fewer points available. Closing gaps in the championship gets harder each race, the penalties for mistakes harsher, the rewards for success richer. Motegi mattered more than Aragon, and next Sunday, Buriram will matter even more than Motegi.

What we saw in Japan was a masterful display of riding, Jack Miller rising head and shoulders above the rest. We saw two Ducatis on the podium, though both of them the 'wrong' Ducatis in terms of the championship. We saw Marc Marquez complete a MotoGP race without pain for the first time since 2019 (and frankly, probably for much longer than that), and give a taste of what he is still capable of.

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Motegi MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Torrential Rain, Why BMW Doesn't Race In MotoGP, And The Return Of Marc Marquez

If you wondered why BMW does not build and race a MotoGP bike, Saturday at Motegi gave you your answer. With torrential rain forcing a red flag in the Moto2 Q2 session, the cancellation of MotoGP's untimed practice session FP3 (FP4 had already been scrapped due to the shortened schedule), and the delay of MotoGP Q1 and Q2, Loris Capirossi and his crew were sent out multiple times to assess the state of the track in their safety cars.

That meant that the audience were treated to hour upon hour of BMW cars circulating at speed, with close ups of the cars drifting through the water, the BMW branding on display. (Do not ask me what car it is: I have so little interest in cars I don't even own one. The only thing I know is that it is some form of M model, which, I learned from the introduction of the BMW M1000RR superbike, is BMW's sports brand.)

With this, and the BMW M Award for the best qualifying performances of the year, BMW gets a massive amount of exposure through MotoGP, without the risk of failure associated with actually racing in the series. Why would they trade that in to go racing?

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Motegi MotoGP Friday Round Up: Just How Much Has MotoGP Moved On In Three Years?

Friday at Motegi was the equivalent of being fourteen and having a distant relative visit for the first time in three years. "Goodness, haven't you grown up!" they say to you, as you roll your eyes and try not to look utterly exasperated and embarrassed.

In this case, it's the MotoGP bikes in the role of the surly teenager and Motegi as the annoying relative. The bikes really have changed a lot over the past three years, as a quick glance at the timesheets will tell you.

In 2019, after two 45-minute sessions of practice on the first day, Fabio Quartararo posted a fastest time of 1'44.764. In 2022, despite only having one 75-minute session of free practice, the first nine riders were all under Quartararo's 2019 time, with Jack Miller nearly a quarter of a second quicker. Maverick Viñales was second fastest in 2019, with a lap of 1'45.085. The first sixteen riders, all the way down to Franco Morbidelli, were faster than that.

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Motegi MotoGP Thursday Preview: A New World Awaits

We are entering the four most important weekends of the season. Important for a lot of reasons: there are five races to go and just 17 points separate the championship leaders. But above all, important because we are heading to three tracks where MotoGP hasn't been since 2019, and Sepang, where MotoGP has only tested in 2020 and 2022. We are heading into the unknown, just as the championship is coming to a head.

So much has changed since MotoGP was on its last Pacific tour. Valentino Rossi was still in the Monster Energy Yamaha team. A young rookie called Fabio Quartararo was making a massive impression on fans. Andrea Dovizioso was doing his best to win a championship for Ducati, against an unstoppable Marc Marquez. Marquez was having perhaps the best season in grand prix racing since Giacomo Agostini crushed the opposition in the late 1960s on the MV Agusta.

2019 saw the ride-height devices first start to make an appearance, Jack Miller using the system in Thailand. It was the last year of the old Michelin rear casing, the new tire introduced in 2020 effectively killing off Andrea Dovizioso's career.

All change

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Aragon MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: The Nonsense Of Team Orders, And Losing Out At The Start

Much of the attention after Sunday's race went to what happened at the front: Enea Bastianini beating fellow Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia, Brad Binder firing from mid pack to the front in the first couple of corners, and of course, the massive crash caused by Fabio Quartararo hitting the back of Marc Marquez' Repsol Honda, and in the aftermath, Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami colliding, and Marquez being forced to pull out of the race with a piece of Quartararo's fairing stuck in his rear wheel.

But that meant that some of the things which went on behind were overlooked in the media overload. Aleix Espargaro's return to the podium puts him right back in the championship chase. Brad Binder showed his exceptional class to finish fourth, and nearly on the podium. And some of the riders who felt they had the pace to make up ground in the first couple of laps after qualifying badly.

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Aragon MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Marquez As Scapegoat, The Danger Of Ride-Height Devices, And How Ducati Made Tire Management Irrelevant

Marc Marquez was hoping to make an impact on his return to MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit. He made an impact alright, but not quite the one he was intending. A lightning start, collisions with Fabio Quartararo and Takaaki Nakagami – much, much more on that later – and a withdrawal due to having a chunk of Quartararo's fairing stuck in the back of his bike. Marquez had come up short on his objective: "Try to get kilometers, try to finish the race, and we didn't get the target. I just did one lap," he said after the race.

We will come to apportioning blame for the Quartararo-Marquez crash later, and how Enea Bastianini came to the championship leader's aid at the end of the race. The race itself was in some ways a repeat of last year: a waiting game, with a burst of excitement settling the outcome in the last couple of laps.

Bastianini's victory wrapped up the manufacturers championship for Ducati again with five races to go. There is no doubt that the Ducati is now the best bike on the MotoGP grid. But the halfhearted celebrations in the factory Ducati Lenovo garage betrayed just how much more the riders championship matters to Ducati.

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