2014 Qatar MotoGP Friday Round Up - The Myth Of Fairness, And Aleix Espargaro's One-Man Revolution

When was the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race? Any MotoGP fan worth their salt will be able to give you year, track and rider: 2006, Estoril, Toni Elias. Ask them why he won and they will give you all sorts of answers – Dani Pedrosa taking out Nicky Hayden in the early laps, Colin Edwards not being able to maintain his pace to the end of the race, Kenny Roberts Jr misjudging the number of laps left in the race, or, as Valentino Rossi put it, because 'Toni ride like the devil' – but none they can be sure of.

There is a less well-known explanation for Elias' performance, though. Ahead of the Estoril race, Elias was given a set of the overnight special tires shipped in especially for Michelin factory riders. In this case, Elias was handed a set of 'Saturday night specials' destined for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had elected not to use, and so were going spare. Elias liked the same kind of soft carcass tire which Pedrosa was being offered, and went on to exploit the advantage it offered.

What does that have to do with Friday at Qatar? Two things. Firstly, it highlights exactly how important tires are in motorcycle racing. Tires dictate a huge amount of the performance of a motorcycle. They are the connection between the bike and the track, but that is a very full and complex function. Tires determine how far a bike can be leaned, how much drive the bikes can get out of a corner, how well the power delivery of an engine transfers to the tarmac, how hard the bike can brake, they provide a certain amount of suspension, and they pass information about track surface, grip conditions and where the limits of braking and turning are for a motorcycle. And that's just the beginning. Tires are (quite literally) a black art. Their complexity cannot be underestimated.

The importance of tires leads onto the second point: the importance of equipment. Different riders have different tires, and their results differ because of that. This was true in the past when some riders were given tires built specifically to their demands, while others were forced to make do with the standard tires the tire companies had brought along as standard issue. Similarly, different riders have different bikes, and their results are not the same. A long time ago, the massive difference between satellite bikes and factory machinery meant that riders on a satellite bike didn't really have a chance. Today, that gap is smaller, but there are still important differences. Alvaro Bautista's bike is very close to that of Dani Pedrosa's, but he has to run Showa suspension and Nissin brakes for contractual reasons, and without the massive development which Öhlins pours into MotoGP, progress for Showa and Bautista is much slower. There is little doubt that Dani Pedrosa is a more talented rider than Alvaro Bautista, but some of the difference is in forks and brakes.

Back to Qatar. There are howls of indignant rage both inside and outside the paddock, complaints about the new rules and the different tire options available. It's not fair that we only have 20 liters of fuel, the Yamaha men cry. It's not fair the Open class riders have the soft tire, the satellite riders cry. It's not fair that the factory riders didn't get to test at Qatar, the fans cry – and as the factory riders have the largest contingent of fans, their cries are heard loudest, on social media and on forums.

While there is some merit in their complaints – the rules are a bit of a mess, a necessary evil which has finally helped persuade the factories to adopt spec electronics from 2016 – the accusation that it isn't fair misses the point. The rules were set last year (with the exception of the chaotic last-minute adoption of a special rule for Ducati) and the factories and teams made their various decisions about which avenues to pursue. Honda and Yamaha knew that they would have a liter less fuel, and Yamaha knew that fuel consumption was always a problem for them. Yet Yamaha accepted Honda's proposal, and decided to remain as a Factory Option team, rather than switching to the Open category and taking the extra fuel. They knew the challenge they faced, and they accepted it willingly.

Of course, it is the riders who suffer the consequences of Yamaha's decision. Valentino Rossi has been struggling with fuel almost since the start of the 800cc era, when the allowance was reduced to 21 liters. The reduction to 20 liters is killing him at a track like Qatar. He describes the engine as running on air, the bike having no power out of the last corner and along the straight. Ironically, Rossi is posting top speeds of 336 km/h along the straight, 5 km/h slower than Marc Marquez, and 6 km/h slower than the fastest Ducatis, but still nearly 11 km/h faster than Aleix Espargaro on the Open class Yamaha with 24 liters of fuel. And it is Aleix Espargaro who has topped the timesheets in all three sessions, and leads the way going into qualifying.

While Jorge Lorenzo has fewer concerns about the fuel, he is seriously worried about the rear Bridgestone tire being used at the moment. He once again branded the tire as dangerous, and brought the subject up in the Safety Commission, where the riders sit with representatives of the series to discuss matters of safety. While Lorenzo has little backing for the claims that the rear Bridgestone is dangerous, the other Yamaha men all back his complaints about the tire. The 2014 tire is basically the same tire that was used at Assen and Mugello last year, one which includes a heat resistant layer. It works superbly at tracks which stress the tires, but in the dusty and cool conditions at Qatar, the heat resistant layer merely robs the tire of edge grip. Lorenzo's style in particular relies on being able to generate edge grip as he spends a long time leaned right over and carrying corner speed.

The tire is also posing problems for the Tech 3 riders, though it is not slowing them up much. Both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith suffered big crashes, though both came away relatively unhurt. Smith described his crash as a '500 crash', a massive highside reminiscent of the 500cc two-stroke era. His crew had sacrificed a little bit of edge grip for a bit more mid corner speed, and Smith paid the price. The lack of edge grip for the Yamaha men clearly making set up more critical than it was last year.

Real improvement will only come at Le Mans, when Bridgestone will bring a modified version of its medium compound 2014 tire for the rest of the season. That modification will use technology applied to the hard tire at the end of 2013, which provided more edge grip and turned the harder option tire from a garage ornament into a viable race option. Though the modified tire probably won't provide the same feel at the cooler and less grippy tracks that last year's tire did, it will surely be an improvement on what they have now.

The combination of fuel and tires is not the only reason the grid order has been shaken up. The fact that the satellite and Open class teams all tested here two weeks' ago is also still having an effect. But that effect was diminishing in every session: while the riders who had tested here all took a half a second off their times from yesterday, the factory riders, who had been testing tires at Phillip Island instead of Qatar, improved by well over a second. Marc Marquez has moved up the order to fifth, and all of the factory riders bar Cal Crutchlow made it straight through to Q2 by the end of FP3.

For Qatar remains a strange track. The low grip conditions require a lot of confidence to learn to trust, and that only comes with track time and set up. Satellite riders and teams have that, the factory riders don't.

Which means we have a rather fascinating prospect for qualifying. Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, the two riders who most often found themselves having to battle through Q1 to get into Q2, now top the timesheets and qualify on merit. However, the rest of the riders going through to Q2 are those you might expect: the top 12 consists of Aleix Espargaro and the 11 Factory Option riders. The order may be a little less conventional, but some of that is surely down to testing. If all of the riders had tested at Phillip Island or Qatar, the order may have looked a little different.

Aleix Espargaro's domination of the timesheets – his odds to win halved again after today, now down to 5/1 from 11/1 yesterday, and 51/1 before the riders had hit the track – has been much talked about as being a sign of how the rules are unfairly affecting the standings. But Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo was much more candid about the situation. When asked about how poorly the Honda RCV1000R was performing compared to the Forward Yamahas, Suppo was clear: 'Our problem has a first name and a last name: Aleix Espargaro.' It is Espargaro's performance which has raised eyebrows, but his speed has more to do with his ability than the bike he is on. Spending years on different bikes, few of them competitive, teaches you a lot of things about managing a racing motorcycle, and now Aleix finally has a chance to put all those to use.

Where the rules will have the biggest effect is during qualifying. The softer rear tire the Open class bikes and the Ducatis have is a genuine advantage, and is likely to produce a few surprises on the grid. Aleix Espargaro looks to be the hot favorite for pole, the Forward rider fast on both the soft and the medium tire. The Ducatis, too, are benefiting, with the exception currently of Cal Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso were 2nd and 4th overall, and should both find slots on the first two rows tomorrow. Apart from them, it seems more likely that normal service will be resumed, with Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi all picking up speed.

The softer tire is playing out much as expected, acting much as the old-fashioned qualifying tires did back before the single tire rule. Back when there was a super-soft qualifier, a brave rider could earn a starting position much closer to the front than his race pace deserved, adding some interest and excitement to the first part of the race. It looks like something similar will happen with the Open class softer tires, with the Ducatis and Aleix Espargaro capable of seriously threatening for pole.

Once the race starts, the situation may be a little different, with quality coming to the fore. That won't stop Aleix Espargaro though. Aleix set his fastest time on the super-soft tires he has at his disposal, but he was still the fastest man on track on the medium tires (hard for the Open class, soft for the Factory Option class) which everyone will be racing on. Valentino Rossi tipped Aleix as the favorite for the pole. Looking at it on Friday, you'd have to say he's favorite for the race as well.

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As oddball all of this is turning out so far, I have to concur. This has to be the most exciting start to any season in a long time. GP chaos theory comes full circle.

Yamaha are foolish to not have even tried the 24 liters for Rossi and Lorenzo. They should have at least attempted it in one of the tests. Perhaps one day Yamaha will side with themselves rather than always following Honda.

I do hope AE ends up on the top step Sunday Night. 4 liters of fuel is tens of millions cheaper than all the electronic wizardry. AE winning would be the dagger into the hearts of all this electronic mess.

In Japanese culture Honda is the boss. The competition between Honda and Yamaha is fair, in Honda's eyes, but it is both referee and match organizer for behavior.

However AE41's pace is certainly/has already had people calling people asking questions.

Lorenzo asked to test his bike with 24L or AE's Forward bike and they said NO. Considering their new sponsors they have this year....to not go after the best option or even test it with your factory pilots is completely stupid and arrogant. Rossi for one would have greatly benefitted as David has pointed out repeatedly due to his height and size. Rossi has even said he'd prefer 24L.

Therefore I hope AE mops the floor with everyone and shows them how stubborn they are. 4L of race gas is millions of dollars cheaper. Take the $ savings and donate it to the needy, give your execs a bonus, whatever.

Yamaha can't see the got damn Forest for the trees.

To be fair, while most of the rules were set last year, the "spec" electronic system for Open remained in flux well after the rules were established, and remains in flux today. So it's more than a bit unfair to say the factories had their chance to run in the Open class and chose not to. No one was really sure what "Open" was going to mean - and we don't even need to get into the whole "Factory 2" nonsense - what with Carmelo bleating about removing electronic rider aids.

If it were your $50 million or $80 million factory race program on the line, would you have chosen to trust it to a software system that could be changed on you at any time, as it has been?

Morbidelli, I can't agree with that. The rules were there for all to test. The ECU's existed. Yamaha didn't have the balls to break away from following Honda, and that is all on them, IMO.

But in that article that you just posted. It seemed more like the changes would be request from the teams. Meaning something added to the software, a new functionality that could be used or not be used. But whatever functions that were already there would still be there. So just because the changes are added, you do not loose the settings, functions, etc that you are already using. Code will just be expanded, not deleted. No?


But you've also got Carmelo telling anyone who will still listen to him that he's pushing for less functionality, not more. You've got the possibility of the new functionality benefiting your opponent more than you.

And the biggest problem of all is that - and this is crucial - it's not "spec" software at all. It's not set to any specification. It can be - and if I'm wrong, someone show me where it says otherwise - modified in any way, shape or form, and the Open teams have to use it. If MM pulled up to the paddock tonight and opened its laptops and uploaded onto all the Open bikes new ignition software, deleted the wheelie control or traction control software, and revised the engine braking software, the Open bikes would have to use it in tomorrow's race.

As the rules are now, Dorna could send technicians out onto the grid after the sighting lap to change or disable parts of the software on all the Open bikes. I'm not saying that will happen. I'm saying that it could under what passes nowadays as "rules" in MotoGP.

Now, once again, you're the guy who has to justify to your board of directors how you're going to spend tens of millions of dollars going racing. Do you choose this option, or the one where at least you've got control over your own bike?

In reading the comments of the factory reps after they voted in favor of "spec" software from 2016 on, they state clearly that they intend on developing that spec software themselves. It seems clear that they want control over their own machines.

As always, I could be wrong. But I'll tell you one thing: When I get on my racebike, I make damned sure that I'm the one who has the final say over how it performs.

One thing I will be doing when I get to Austin is trying to speak to Corrado Cecchinelli (and others inside Dorna) about how they expect to manage that process. This is going to be key to how MotoGP develops. The question is, what do the factories want to develop, and how will Dorna choose to manage that while still limiting performance. That's going to be very difficult indeed.

And while you are right in theory, the spec software is managed carefully. Functionality is added and changed only in consultation with all parties, and with plenty of warning. If functionality is added, then teams can choose not to use it.

Which, I think, led to the "Ducati Update" revolution - the factories didn't know how much functionality was being added to the "spec" software, and the Open teams didn't feel as though they could use said functionality, and it all showed up about three weeks prior to the season opening. It's hard, really hard, to make multi-million dollar decisions against this backdrop. I do hope that Dorna has learned something from this.

I believe that the "spec" software agreement of 2014 is much like a typical U.S. Congressional budget agreement or Supreme Court ruling - just specific enough to deal with the immediate crisis and pushing the hard work to a later date, in this case 2016.

Based on the comments I've seen in various interviews with the paddock principals, there seems to be wide disagreement over what the word "spec" actually means. But no one seems to think it's going to be like the "spec" tire, where Bridgestone just sort of shows up with a new tire a couple times a year and everyone has to adapt.

What no one seems to think is that it will be a BSB-type software suite, with severely limited functionality. And even that still offers enough room for optimization that the "factory-connected" teams build machines that are better than the privateer machine.

You are correct on two ideas, one in this post and one elsewhere:

- This issue is key to the way MotoGP develops.
- It is apparent that the 2016 "spec software" agreement is merely another place on the road for a long, bitter dispute.

Contracts with factories run for five years at a time. The current contracts will expire at the end of 2016, with new contracts starting in 2017. Those contracts commit factories for five years, under severe financial penalty for withdrawing.

My prediction: 2016, Dorna will play ball. 2017 and on, with signatures under contracts containing financial penalties, Dorna will start to exert more control. Bitter disputes may follow, but they will be expensive for the factories. Dorna then has five years to convince the factories that this is a viable way forward for them, even without electronics. Or perhaps, with limited electronics, offering development in very specific areas.

The way the sport is structured, Dorna holds the strong hand. The most important piece in the puzzle was imposing the spec software. Dorna has succeeded in that aim. With the spec software in place, they have a lot more possibilities of exerting control.

I think you're probably correct for 2016, but I think you may be selling the factories a bit short for the years afterward. With the knowledge that they will be committing to five-year contracts after that, I think the factories and other participants will be looking for contractual reassurance that they have the freedom to control the performance of their machines during that contract period - i.e., "continuing the development" of said software.

I can see how this could be a no-brainer, no-conflict situation for everyone involved. The factories could collaborate on code that will allow them latitude to do what they want to do individually with the bikes, and that same code will come with basic parameters that will work on the bikes further down the grid. It would kind of be like going to one of the existing high-end shops that will today sell you an Magneti Marelli kit for your bike, loaded with tire-specific traction control, wheelie control, ignition, fueling and engine braking maps, all for less than the cost of an existing Brembo MotoGP brake system. And they will present this, as a united entity, to Dorna.

By 2017, this stuff is going to be an increasingly mature technology, with a lot of the wizardry and experimentation done. As proof, I offer the fact that Magneti Marelli was able to, within a year of starting to write MotoGP "Championship" software, come up with a package that was virtually factory-level - and that's what started the "Ducati Open Uprising" of 2014.

The fact that the factories are willing to engage in a collaborative effort from 2016 on tells me something very interesting - that they feel that they've reached the point where there's nothing significantly new in terms of breakthroughs in electronic rider controls on the horizon. There's little or nothing to hide from a competitor anymore when it comes to the source code. It's going to be more or less incremental refinements to that code, establishing the best settings, and the factories feel that factories are better able to get performance advantages from refinements than private teams.

At that point, one of Dorna's key reasons for insisting on limited functionality - excessive cost and limited availability - will be gone. Then it will simply be about a philosophy of overall machine performance, and that will be the sticking point, who will control it - Dorna or the machine's builder. Dorna will have to decide whether the goal of "no electronic aids" will be worth pursuing simply to prove a philosophical point. And when business needs and philosophy collide ...

As always, my crystal ball may be cloudy.

If these MFR's can't understand what 24L of fuel means then they need to close up shop and file Ch.11 or whatever bankruptcy code they have in Japan. That would mean they don't have a f'ing clue what they are doing. Pretty stupid if you ask me. A kid on a 2012 spec is embarassing them all, on soft tires, on race compounds, doesn't matter. Even if AE doesn't win the race the damage is already done. Honda and Yamaha look pretty foolish right now.

I think everyone is overlooking at what Bautista has done here. He's running the same medium compound tyres as the rest of the factory teams, he has an additional handicap(?) of the showa+nissin. And yet he went around 2 tenths faster than Marc Marquez, the 2nd fastest factory bike. Who would have thought?

His years in 250 were very poor considering his talent. Had the winning bike, very few competitors and he never managed to win the title.

If he ever gets more solid and consistent, he could certainly be in the top ones of MotoGP.

Still, it is not my personal desire as we have already too many drivers from Spain in the top group!

You're right. Bautista is looking good so far. I think Showa has made some Big improvements for this year.

If they can keep it up, podiums for sure

one day to go for losail and factory riders are having sleepless nights , what haunts them in their sleep....?? " 41 aleix in the form of GHOST RIDER burning the track with fire from his super soft rear tyre ". Though its unfair to HRC and YAM , the situation would have been quite different if they had 21 liters like last year. No engine development------accepted , Standard hardware-------accepted , No softer tyre------accepted even this unrequired 2014 tyres-------accepted but 20 liters of race fuel ......what the f*** . This tym ezpeleta has been too harsh to the factories and treating open riders as they are dorna's adopted children....!!!!

It's not unfair. Honda and Yamaha could have entered into the Open category. The problem is their arrogance and Pride. Doing so would have meant losing to Dorna, losing their competitive advantage to new mfr's entering the series. It's hardly unfair. What's unfair is their pride hindering the series for the fans. The fans should and are #1 priority, not Honda or Yamaha pride. Ducati doesn't care, they just want to win at all costs. That should be the goal, not face saving pride.
Gigi and Ducati have earned my respect for trying to win at all costs. They had the rules presented to them and made a choice, the right choice. Pride isn't their goal, winning is. The big sham in all of this Yamaha and Honda, and I feel sorry for their sponsors, as they deserve better.

- Why the lack of top speed in Aleix's Yamaha? Is that engine detuned?
- Stories all down the grid. What about Pol, Edwards, Hayden, Redding, Abraham, Yonny, Aoyama and all the Open Hondas. Note, Pol is in QP1 as well as Cal.
- Rossi forgetting he needed a top 10 and Uccio getting agitated reminding him. He was so close to being in QP1
- Rossi's girlfriend!
- Heavy overnight rain means dirty track on Sat.

[edited to add] More on that speed. http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2014/QAT/MotoGP/FP3/MaximumSpe... The Forward Yamahas are only 1kph faster than the Open Hondas at around 324Kph. And yet last year the factory Yamahas and Tech3 were nearer 335-340kph just as they are this year. So is this a Dorna ECU rev limit or a Forward-Yamaha contractual rev limit. Or something else entirely, like the Forward fairing vs the Yamaha fairing. Or maybe it's one of those measurement things where Aleix brakes early just before the speed check.

I am huge fan of Valentino Rossi, running Czech fan website for four years, but I dont cry that he is 10th atm. At the end we all complained about boring races and btw, Yamaha choose to make it with 20 litres so its their call.
I applaud to Dorna for catch factories in their own trap and I cant wait to see Sunday race, especially first 10 laps and hope that beside we should see some spectacular racing, that also all of riders will stay unhurt.
This season will be something special.

if a factory tire and Open class tire are not of equal equipment perhaps we should count the number of electronic engineers one has in ones garage vs. a fellow opponent before we start saying things are unfair.

Impressed with Aleix's performance but also with the clear an understandable analisys that is provided here. Keep up the good work, it makes for very enjoyable reading!

It's good for the sport that everybody agreed for spec ECU and spec software, going back to a single rule for all from 2016.
But clearly the joke is on Suzuki who first showed up at tests with a "21 L" version and Mitsubishi ECU and software, then worked on a "20 L" version with spec ECU and now have to put it in the bin before even racing it to develop a "22-24 L" version.

It should make it easy in the long run for factories to enter MotoGP (provided there is some stability in regulations, which is never guaranteed in MotoGP) but it certainly did not do so in the short term for Suzuki.

Worth remembering that if the grid is 'out of order' there's a higher risk of accidents in the first corner or two, and that's spoiled more than a few races I can think of. But if they all get away safely it could be a cracker.

I´m so angry at myself that I´ve extended my MotoGP video pass.
This Championship is totally screwed now.
What in hell has that still to do with a frigging prototype class?
This is three different classes starting at the same time!
I´m totally disappointed with this crap.
I wanted to see Vale fighting for his last title before he retires and now this bullshit.
All this unnatural change of rules is damaging this wonderful sport.

Forget the rules, forget the race, forget the drama. Let's talk journalism: David Emmett, you are a brilliant man, with a gift for getting to the point, explaining it eloquently and reminding us that there's so much more going on off the track than all the slomo in world can show us on track. Well done once again.

Dont forget Honda didnt even make their open bike have a 24 litre tank, Hayden, Aoyama and Redding are only running with 22 litres I believe

Honda's tank is 22L, Forward's tank is 22L ish and since the 2014 Ducati was originally ran in full Factory spec so they won't have a 24L tank either. Possibly the only people running 24L are Petrucci on the ART and Barbera on the Kwak, and I wouldn't be surprised to find they have smaller tanks too.

Tires will always be a huge factor. If you've ever raced you are aware of their importance. Whether it was WERA or AMA, as privateers we always hoped to catch the eye of the Dunlops rep, Jim Allen, he might throw you a set of tires from back in the truck and say, "here try these", they looked just like everybody elses DOT legal tires but you knew once you got them warmed up the difference was like day and night!

David, as usual a brilliant write up. I am beginning to feel like you run the promotional buildups to my favorite soap opera, Motogp. Sitting here drinking my morning tea reading this article and all the comments has me contented and at the same time frothing at the mouth waiting for the last practice and then qualifying for Motogp. No comments today, thanks for the great write up. Thumbs up!

Could it be that Yamaha just dropped the ball this year, and failed to improve the bike completely. Fuel limit really just affects the race and parts of the practice sessions when trying to find the optimum mapping. It should not prevent them from using maximum power when looking for few fast laps in practice and qualification. We will find out how bad the fuel limits affect them after the race. For the moment, the current chassis does not like the new tyres. They should be working tirelessly to adapt the bike to these tyres.

That there aren't a lot of places to go for Yamaha with that design.

Not that they didn't want to improve, just that they are hitting the physical limits of what's possible with that package.

They are going to struggle to get the power they need with the fuel limit.