2013 Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Primer On The Dry Flag-to-Flag MotoGP Race, And Apportioning Blame For The Debacle

There should have been plenty to talk about after qualifying at Phillip Island. Jorge Lorenzo's stunning fast lap, Marc Marquez getting on the front row for the 11th time in his rookie season, Valentino Rossi's return to the front row, and his excellent race pace, Scott Redding's fractured wrist ending his title hopes, so much to talk about, and more. But one subject dominates MotoGP right now: tires, the incompetence of the tire suppliers, and the stopgap solutions put in place to deal with it.

Shortly after qualifying had finished, Race Direction announced that the Moto2 race would be shortened to 13 laps, and the MotoGP race would be shortened to 26 laps, but that the riders would have to come in for a compulsory pit stop to change rear tires (or in practice, swap bikes), and that nobody would be allowed to do more than 14 laps on a rear tire. (How they intend to enforce that is a mystery, unless any rider exceeding the number of laps gets black flagged, which would be the ultimate irony). So Phillip Island makes history once again: in 2006 it was the scene of the first wet-weather flag-to-flag race; in 2013, it will host the first ever flag-to-flag race held in dry conditions.

Why a flag-to-flag race? Race Direction had three options: shorten the race to 14 laps, run two 13-lap races, or run a flag-to-flag race with a compulsory tire swap. The first option would have been the safest, but would have left the TV broadcasters with a half hour or so of dead air to fill, and would have cost Dorna money in TV rights. The second option would have overrun the allotted TV slot, and the chaos of having to line up on the grid for two starts would have been time consuming, placed a lot of extra stress on engines and clutches, and would have thrown the rest of the schedule for the support races into disarray. Two grids would effectively double the chances of something going wrong. The final option, a flag-to-flag race, was a known quantity and catered for in the rules, though it had never been done in the dry before.

Holding a flag-to-flag race in the dry was not the best option, but neither was it the worst. Opinion among the riders was divided, though few riders had a distinct preference. None of the solutions was ideal, but some riders thought one option was marginally better than the other. Marc Marquez preferred a single, shortened race, Valentino Rossi two sprint races, and Jorge Lorenzo with two sprint races 'but with 25 points for each race,' the Spaniard joked. Trailing Marc Marquez by 43 points, and having dominated throughout the weekend, it would have been a very attractive option indeed for Lorenzo.

The root cause of the problem was of course the tire companies. Neither Dunlop nor Bridgestone had tested at the circuit since the new surface had been laid, despite explicit information from the circuit owners, and despite the problems for the World Superbike series at the start of the season. Why not? Well, it was probably a matter of cost. The savings from switching to a single tire supplier have proven to be a false economy indeed. This is exactly the area in which Dorna should be pressuring Bridgestone and Dunlop to react, to ensure that they bring tires that work to each and every circuit. Loris Capirossi was appointed safety officer with the explicit task of liaising with the tire suppliers to ensure that they respond to the demands and requirements of the riders and the series. Bridgestone, Dunlop, Dorna, Capirossi, they all slipped up, and so Race Direction had to step in.

They even had to convene an emergency meeting of the Grand Prix Commission to make it possible, granting Race Direction almost blanket powers to alter the regulations and run the race as they see fit to be able to deal with safety issues. Though this is a sensible response to a difficult situation, it hardly looks like a measure taken calmly or rationally. The failure of Bridgestone and Dunlop to go testing on the new surface at Phillip Island has made the series look stupid, and grasping at desperate measures. This is not the way a series could be run.

The problem is that Dorna has little control over the tire companies, and few means of exerting pressure. Commercial contracts have been signed and as long as the companies are seen to be making an effort, they get off scot-free. The only repercussions can come at contract negotiation time, but having gone for one single supplier, it is hard to make the switch. That might still happen, at least in the case of Bridgestone. After the debacle of 2010 and 2011, when so many riders were injured after cold-tire highsides, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta met several times with representatives of Michelin, to discuss the possibility of the French company submitting a bid to replace Bridgestone as single tire supplier when the Japanese company's contract expires at the end of the 2014 season. Since then, Bridgestone has made a huge effort to improve, the tires vastly improved in terms of safety, and Ezpeleta is said to be much happier about the situation. Phillip Island, attributable solely to a lack of testing by the tire companies, may once again sour the relationship. You have to wonder whether Ezpeleta will be dialing a lot of numbers starting with international dialing code +33 over the next couple of weeks.

What is likely to change is that tire companies will be forced to go testing at circuits which have been newly resurfaced. Doing so may be more expensive, but at least it will avoid a repeat of the farce which Phillip Island has become. The savings in terms of PR behind-covering will surely more than cover the cost of compulsory testing.

The MotoGP race now being a compulsory flag-to-flag race has thrown up a host of question among everyone who isn't intimately familiar with the FIM rulebook for Grand Prix racing. As it is part of my job to be relatively well-versed in the rules, I cannot blame anyone for not taking the trouble to study them thoroughly. For anyone with a legalistic bent, or a perverse interested in the minutiae of Grand Prix racing, studying the rules is an interesting intellectual enterprise. For anyone who has what is casually referred to as 'a life', there are far, far more interesting things to be doing with their time. Paint doesn't watch itself dry, you know....

So here's a quick rundown of the possible implications for a flag-to-flag race, and all of permutations of what is and what isn't allowed. First and foremost, the mandatory pit stop, combined with the stipulation that a rider may not spend more than 14 laps on a rear tire, means that everyone will be in the pits between lap 12 and lap 14. They do have the option to do two pit stops instead of just one, coming in and swapping bikes early, and then later on in the race, but that is not a strategy worth pursuing, as the entire process of swapping bikes consumes between 30 and 40 seconds. Given that the difference in lap times between old tires and new tires is usually less than a second, that kind of time can never be made up.

So what about the fuel? With MotoGP bikes limited to 21 liters, how will that work in a flag-to-flag race? The answer to that is more simple: the rules do not stipulate how much fuel a rider is allowed to use during the race, they merely control the maximum capacity of the fuel tank. Each bike has a maximum allowance of 21 liters, and the fuel tank may not contain more than 21 liters. However, each rider has two bikes, and so in theory, could use both bikes and burn through a total of 42 liters. Actually consuming that amount of fuel is simply impossible, and so the teams will only put in the fuel they need for the race. Phillip Island has never been a circuit where fuel is critical, as there are few spots on the track where the bikes accelerate hard from a slow corner. Consequently, the teams will put 11 or 12 liters of fuel in each bike, more than enough to finish the race, and burn the fuel as freely as they wish.

Of course, starting with a half-empty tank will make life much easier for the riders which struggle with a full tank. Marc Marquez has been a slow starter in the past, and Bradley Smith - who is having an outstanding weekend - has had a huge problem with a full tank, as have Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow. But they will still have new tires to contend with, and this could make life more difficult, especially after the bike swap, when they go out on tires which have been heated by tire warmers, but have not had the full benefit of a hot warm up lap to get them up to temperature.

What happens if it rains? Although the weather forecast looks set for clear weather throughout Sunday afternoon, the fact remains that this is Phillip Island, and anything can happen. If it rains, the normal procedure takes over, and a normal wet race or flag-to-flag race is run. If it rains before the start of the race, riders will start on wets and ride either until the end, or until the track dries sufficiently to come in for slicks. If it rains before lap 12, riders can come in and swap bikes for one shod with wet tires. If it rains after lap 12, then everyone who has not yet pitted can come in and swap to their second bike with wet tires, and those who have already exited on slicks can come in again for a set of wet tires. The worst case scenario is if it starts raining heavily after some riders have already swapped bikes for one shod with slicks, but the likelihood of that happening is fairly slim.

Is there an advantage to be gained from strategy? Should you pit early, or pit late, to try to gain an advantage? That is hard to say. What is clear is that unlike in a wet race, there is no time to be gained by gambling on different tires in changing conditions, where the difference between slick and wets can easily be 5 seconds or more a lap. In that case, it is more a case of trying to come in early and use an empty pit lane to not get stuck in traffic. The trouble is, of course, that everyone will have the same idea, and so you could end up in traffic anyway. In theory, the further along pit lane you are, and the nearer pit lane exit, the better. This one goes to the Repsol Honda team, but not by much: both Marquez and Lorenzo could encounter a bunch of traffic when exiting if they're not careful.

And then there's the question of engines, especially given that Nicky Hayden is running very low on his allocation. If Hayden - or another rider wanting a fresh engine, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, for example - wanted to use a sixth engine, could he swap to a bike with a new engine after lap 12, and would that count as starting from pit lane? The Grand Prix Commission have already anticipated that situation, and the answer is no. If Hayden were to pit and jump onto his second bike and use engine number 6, then he would have to perform a ride through as well. If you are going to take a 6th engine, then it is better to start the race from pit lane. That way you only lose 12 or so seconds, starting 10 seconds after the green light has gone on, rather than the 30-odd that a ride through would cost.

So does the compulsory bike-swap format favor Jorge Lorenzo or Marc Marquez? That is hard to say. What is certain is that Lorenzo's experience of flag-to-flag races will stand him in good stead, where Marquez has never had to pit and swap bikes before, though he has practiced it many times in the past. But the obligation to run the harder of the two options available (an extra hard option was also tried, but discarded, as it span up too much and degraded more quickly than the hard option) would appear to favor the Honda. On race pace, both Marquez and Lorenzo look very close on the hard tire, and though Rossi's race pace is strong on the hard tire, it is not in the same ball park as the two championship leaders'. Dark horse in the proceedings is Dani Pedrosa, who appears to have more pace than he is letting on, and who will easily be able to handle the hard rear.

The biggest worry in all of this is the fact that it has happened at Phillip Island, a track with a very narrow pit lane - the service roads at several tracks around the world are wider than PI's pit lane. With all 23 bikes due to pit in a very narrow, 3-lap window, pit lane is likely to be a very crowded place indeed. Access for film crews and photographers should be limited, but even then, there will be a lot of people in a small space with a lot of bikes coming in and out of the pits. Pit lane will have to be very heavily policed, but even those policing it will form a risk if they don't keep their wits about them at all times. The middle of tomorrow's race will be a very nerve-wracking period, not just for the riders and the fans, but for everyone involved in the sport.

And so, drama awaits on race day. More drama than was necessary, and all for the lack of a little testing. The tire companies made MotoGP look a bit silly on Saturday. Let's hope that the series fares better on Sunday.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

The MotoGP race has now been shortened to 19 laps. The full details can be found here.

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I'm actually hearing from enough semi-hardcore fans that they're really looking forward to the GP. Yes, they're gutted for Scott, and rightly so. But seeing something, anything different in the GP has strangely stirred a rather complacent audience. And I'll admit, I can't wait either.

I am excited! This will be a kick. Speaking of kick, there are a bunch of things that come to mind that would be a fun spectacle that are a horrible idea..
LeMans push start
Marquez starting from the back
Zero traction control race
Riders assigned a random bike for the wknd
Adding a rolling crest to get air off of ala TT
Grid spots given in reverse of last race's finish (slowest in front)...

We are all well too aware of the senseless inane CRAP things series organizers have created that make little sense and are lousy for the entertainment value. Makes this an easy pill to swallow for me.

Does anyone know exactly why the soft rear tyre is not an option? I know the hard ought to work better in the "unexpected" conditions, but that seems not to be the experience on many occasions this season.
From the rider interviews it seems many of the riders were satisfied the soft rear could make full race distance (27 laps) safely. Shortening the tyre life to just 14laps and mandating the hard tyre, when many of the riders did many more on the soft tyre in practice safely, seems odd. Ruling the soft option tyre out must hurt some bikes and riders more than others. It seems someone made the decision the soft can't work for even 14 laps, despite evidence to the contrary and no-one questioned it.

It really is a farce not to let the riders/teams choose which tyre to run and when or if to pit. I think allowing them to change bikes/tyres mid race ought to be allowed at all races, because it adds to the spectacle at no cost. I'm sure it will add to the spectacle for this race too, but may also favour some riders/teams over others, because of the tight restrictions imposed (pitting lap and hard tyre).

They cut open some soft tyres after practice, and found they were blistering so badly that they wouldn't allow anyone to race on them.

It does not start raining on lap 16 or after because if it does then it's going to be red flagged and called that is 2/3 distance rounded down so can be caled a full race. Imagine 23 bikes (minus attrition) coming into pit lane all on the same lap while crew are struggling to change tires and brakes and suspension setup all at once.

Also, I wonder why the far-reaching kneejerk rule changes the FIM rushed through explicitly state that the Moto2 race is shortened yet will still give full points. This is in conflict with 1.25.3 of the rulebook. Its one thing to make a call where the rulebook is not sufficient (like for spec equipment failure) but another to directly contradict it for no apparrent reason.


In other news, Pol Espargaro has a chance to open a sizeable lead in the title chase if he does well now that Redding is out and full points are being awarded in the shortened Moto2 race. ;)


This is really unfortunate for Phillip Island circuit, as they did a superb job of the resurfacing, only to be let down by MotoGP itself. Hopefully PI is not implicated in the negative publicity this generates. After all the info on the excellent new track surface it's hard to fathom that MotoGP has ended up in this position, it's not even really HOT there, just warm.
In the absence of competition, laziness creeps in. And so it has been with the tyre companies - give them a monopoly and quite they unsurprisingly kick the heels up on the workbench and crack a few beers. Special tyres for this track or the other? Naaah, too much hassle. And this is where we end up. Get rid of the tyre monopoly.
I thought Redding's off looked a bit odd, the back really snapped around on him. Would be interesting to know how many laps he'd done on that rear tyre and what condition it was in post-crash. Gutted for him, even though the momentum was with Rabat and Espargaro already, I was really hoping he'd still lift the championship.
The pit-stop race? Ignoring the farcical reason behind, from a purely entertainment standpoint it'll no doubt spice up the show quite considerably. Lets hope everyone gets through it okay, there's usually good reasons you don't invent rules on the run - they often don't get thought through properly.

I think I am hearing a good argument to return to multiple tire suppliers. The experiment was run as a cost-saver, and the cost/benefit hasn't panned out. (Just ask Ducati.)
Instead it has promoted a single best bike configuration which is contrary to basic prototype tenets.
Monopolies seldom turn out well for customers, and this might be one more proof.

PI has always been a high load, high heat generation track due to the high speeds and long duration on the one edge. The new surface offers more grip which generates more heat, higher footprint temps.

The softer tyre showed no external damage but when removed from the rim showed internal disintegration so it can't be used either.

From a strategy point of view, it's not just when to pit and how fast you change bikes but rather what you times you do while the your competitor is going into the pits, while in the pits and what times their out lap is.

Positions can be own or lost based on whether a rider pulls a blinder of a lap while your rival is going into the pits, while they pit and what times they do on their first lap out.

The in and out laps and those preceeding and after pit laps are critical.

...and what if a rider trashed his bike in warm up? Where does he go except to change a wheel lap 12-14. Forcing this because of poor tire supply is not fair. He could have nursed his 2nd bike without extra penalty. If the rule makers insist on 'control items' they must be able to perform reliably for the entire race.
Shame on you Bridgestone (you too Dunlop).
And especially GP commission. Thanks Dorna. NOT!

Now there might actually be 2 good races instead of the boring single race that racing has become of late. Most races are over by the fifth lap and the TV can be offed because you know the outcome. IMO VR will love this ... he likes the fight and the fact he'll be able to see the 3 aliens not far ahead might make him twist it a little harder.

Likely to be voted off for this, but I feel that you've taken a very questionable position on this debate David. Generally your comments are reasonably unbiased, but I don't remember you calling a crew, team, or rider stupid or incompetent due to a single messed up round (ie picking the wrong tire, going to hard into a corner, etc). Reality is that the job of Bridgestone its too make money, if the series does not wish to pay enough to cover additional testing, than there is some blame to be apportioned there, also if having a single tire manufacturer is such a bad idea, than the teams who argued for it should also accept some of the blame. The job of the engineers who develop the tires is hard enough without you calling into question their ability, which in my mind is pretty high considering the difficulties they face with the different bike configurations they have to accommodate

I dunno about being voted off but you need to consider how expensive it is for tyre manufacturers to compete against each other in an open tyre formula. Tyre testing and develop costs are horrendous. Doing one test at Phillip Island due to a surface change would pale into insignificance compared to tyre manufacturers having to test at all tracks.

Secondly you have to consider the millions in advertising dollars that Bridgestone gain from being the sole tyre supplier. Surely they can afford one test at the island.

I also don't believe that David has ever called into question the tyre technicians and engineers ability to make tyres but rather their lack of effort in doing their research to provide a durable tyre for this track.

Having worked for a Japanese race tyre company I do know that it is an issue with construction to reduce heat build up rather than just a compound issue.

The development for race use especially a prototype is completely different for tyre development for road use for an average punter.

If you want to produce the best road tyre for the average punter then you go testing for that, it's that simple.

You think that Bridgestone have the best road tyre because they supply MotoGP.? You gotta be kidding.

Yes, the average punter does not use a MogoGP tire but the manufacturers used the info gained by intense abuse for 45 minutes on the racetrack to develop tires that last 10,000 miles on the street.

Radials, multi tread compounds, profile shapes, various belting materials and techniques and just about every motorcycle tire technology advance years were developed in the racing environment.

What has not happened in the past 5 years with motorcycle tires? No new technology. It didn't just happen at the same time that every major race series instituted spec tire rules that eliminiated competition. No competition, no reason to make something better than the next guy because there is no next guy.


You have been watching too many tyre ads. You believe the advertising hype. You like to think that racing improves the breed and the technology used in racing is transferred to road tyres. That's crap. It advertising hype.if you're going to set yourself up with a blog and make comment at least learn how things are really done.

You think they design a new tyre and take it straight to racing. They just would never take that risk. They cannot afford to have embarrassing tyre failures happen on a world stage. They would never take that risk. A tyre would have to be thoroughly test and proven by hundreds of miles of testing. You have to be an idiot to take anew design straight to racing.

truth is that the work is done in the lab by tyre engineers working with computers looking at tyre ingredient permutations and constructions. They can even test the tyre on computer before it's made. They then make and then test that tyre. If something works and is applicable for racing they use if for that, if it suits road tyres they use it for that.

Again, do you really think that Bridgestone make the best road tyre. You think Michelin are crap.

C'mon get real.

I never rated anyone's street tires. For most riders I think most any manufacturer will do. My post was pointing out that you pointing out that tire development costs are a horrendus cost for tire manufacturers is missing the point. What else should tire manufacturers spend money developing?

You're also putting a lot of interpretation on what I said. Pushing a tire to its limit is a part of the development process. First in the lab then with riders then on the track.

It was not too long ago that there were tire tests every pre-season with top race teams where the manufacturers brought development tires to evaluate and see what the riders thought worked best. And these race only technologies did make it to street tires, especially the DOT-race tires. Now with spec tire rules there's no real need for development because there is no risk of embarassment in the marketing realm that is racing. So the companies embark on cost reduction efforts instead of improvement.

Yet still lots of ex-racers work for tire and bike companies doing testing because they give them information that is hard or impossible to obtain any other way and because current (faster) racers won't do it because they want to race, not ride around a test track. Yes, lots of engineering and computer modelling is involved but also lots of evaluation by professional riders who are likely regarded as closing the feedback loop. If they say the tire feels crappy and the models don't then the models need correcting. The faster and more precise the test riders the better they can tweak their computer models to get closer and reduce the number of physical iterations needed. Honda must be ecstatic to have Stoner available for testing. One of the top 2 or 3 fastest riders alive, still in physical shape and happy to only test. Honda have hundreds of simulations and thousands of engineers, but only one test rider who can push the bike to its limits at will.

BS gets data (loading, wear, thermal limits, dynamic grip, the list goes on) from the MotoGP series that can't be generated by any computer model. To think they don't use this information to further their understanding of tire construction and behavior with the intent of improving all of their products is silly. It may not happen on the next model tire but it does happen.


Look you obviously can't comprehend English and it's pretty apparent that you don't wish to consider a persons actual tyre industry experience or knowledge either so it's a waste of time talking to you.

Bridgestone's reward is to make money, their job is to provide suitable tyres to all MotoGP teams for the weekend.
Bridgestone have excellent engineers and make excellent tyres, however someone (i'd say the person would be fairly high up in management) decided that they could make do with a certain tyre at PI, thereby saving some money, that decision has back-fired

commeting on the crap shoot that comes out of running a flag to flag in the dry when it should never have been and also making a total sprint race out of Moto2. Make no doubt about it rider and crew saftey comes into play when they have to change bikes virtually on the same lap.

possible fix for the future if we stick with single tyre rule.
1. re-surfacing (of any portion) means the tyre manufacturer MUST test in advance of the race.

may or may not help

while it may be exciting to watch I'm hoping it does not influence the outcomes (Redding aside).

Dorna should be getting the lion's share of the blame. Is there any communication among management? Nobody put 1+1 together whern WSBK had problems eariler this year? What's Capirossi doing besides cashing a paycheck?

BS is working according to their contract with Dorna, which we will never know the details of. It likely includes no extra money, no extra tests or development clauses, that's the name of the spec equipment game.

The GPC should be ashamed at themselves for sticking that last item about teams ignoring recommendations and endangering rider safety. We've seen no rider crash due to a tire failure this year and if this PI situation was an issue of improper pressures then the race would not need to be restructured once they were corrected.

And I don't know if 'compel' should ever be used in a rulebook. What are they going to have tire pressure checks at pit out? Have we really gotten to the point that tire pressure is now going to be an enforced item?


Dorna has to wear a large part of the blame for this.

As Rossi said, tyre testing without the top riders is just pointless, but to use the top riders would require an official test - i.e. Dorna would need to approve it.

Dorna should have anticipated the need for a test and approved an official test weekend, so that Bridgestone and Dunlop could get the data they needed.

Then if they still screwed up, the mfgs would have been responsible.

I wouldn't mind if the riders decided to boycott, on safety grounds. Bridgestone ought'a be sacked, surely there is a performance clause in their contract and they have been pretty poor at providing suitable tyres for years, just ask Ducatti. It's getting close to 1/3rd race distance. If I bought something that only did a third of the capacity it was supposed to, I'd be returning it.

Atleast Dunlop haven't changed from their original position, despite failing to provide a tyre to last the distance.