2015 Jerez MotoGP Preview - The Season Starts Here, For Real This Time

Jerez is always a very special weekend. When Valentino Rossi described the first race back in Europe using those words, he spoke for everyone in the MotoGP paddock. Everyone loves being back in Europe, because the atmosphere changes, the hospitality units fill the paddock, the catering staff, hospitality managers, runners, cleaners, general dogsbodies – in other words, the people who actually do any real work – return to fill the paddock, and old friends are reunited after a long winter away, often doing something else to subsidize the meager pay they take for the privilege of working in Grand Prix during the summer. The paddock becomes a village once again, awaking from the long winter slumber.

The setting helps. The charming old city of Jerez is showing the first shoots of economic recovery, not yet enough to match the full bloom of spring happening on the surrounding hillsides, the slopes covered with wild flowers, but there is a much more positive vibe than there has been for some years. There is a sense of optimism. That sense of optimism flows into the paddock, already buzzing after a sizzling and surprising start to the 2015 MotoGP season. With over 100,000 people expected to pack the stands on Sunday, Jerez feels like the right way to kick off the long European leg of the championship.

The weather helps too. It is hot and sunny, with a long, dry weekend ahead of us. That will please everyone, giving them all a chance to actually work on set up. The track is short enough for them all to go out, test a set up, come back in and try something else, and with the weather holding, they can repeat that process until Sunday's race. For Andrea Dovizioso, this was key: with so much still to figure out with the brand new GP15, the factory Ducati men want as much dry weather and stable conditions as they can get. The bike has worked at every track they have been at so far, and Jerez was always a particular bugbear of the Ducati. Both Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone are keen to see how the new bike will actually go around the track here. "I have a good feeling for this weekend, because the agility has improved a lot," said Iannone. Agility is key at this track, because of the many changes of direction. "I think this bike is ready to fight with the best," the Italian said.

That would make for a fascinating race weekend. Jerez suits both the Yamaha and the Honda, and having the Ducati be fast here would add to the excitement. The sweeping corners allow the Yamaha to use its corner speed to full effect, and the changes of direction suit the nimble nature of the M1. But the layout also works for the Hondas. "There's a lot of places here where you can go to maximum angle and then pick the bike up quite quickly," Bradley Smith explained. That suits the Hondas, and allows them to get around the lack of grip the RC213V sometimes suffers.

Temperature will play a key role. The Jerez track gets greasier as the temperature goes up, grip disappearing as the mercury rises. If the track gets too hot, then it gets harder for the Yamaha riders to maintain the corner speed they need to shine. Cooler suits them, but then again, too cool and the grip goes again, but in a different direction. It can be hard to figure out which conditions suit the Yamaha and which the Honda, but Bradley Smith was at hand to explain. "We rely more on the track grip than the Honda does, the Honda and the Ducati seem to search for grip more than we do."

Does that mean that the temperature has to be within a certain range for the Yamaha to work? "Not necessarily," Smith replied. "It depends on how abrasive the track is, how the tires are working for that specific track. So it's not necessarily temperature windows we're looking at, it's the whole combination of scientific match between the tire and the surface. We could have 15° degrees track temperature and still have amazing grip. Or there's another track where it might have 35 or 40 and still have amazing grip. Because if you have a look at Sepang, we actually go alright, despite it being 45°. So it's a bit more scientific than that, usually down to track abrasion than anything else."

The Yamaha is the Goldilocks of MotoGP bikes. When everything is just right, the Yamaha is better. If things are just off, the Honda is better. "There's let's say five ways to ride a Honda, and only two ways to ride a Yamaha," Smith said. That is an improvement over last year. "Before this year, or before Valentino's resurgence, there was one way. So the bike's slowly changing, and they are slowly allowing us to play a little bit more and figure out a little bit more how to ride these bikes, rather than Jorge's style. Because they realize at the moment it's not working." They have more freedom to pursue their own direction. "You've just got more free range a little bit to find your own way, and it's not being drummed into you as much, you have to do this, you have to brake smooth, you have to do this, you have to do that."

That has been good for Smith. The Tech 3 rider puts that change down to his own improved fortunes. That hasn't worked so far for his teammate Pol Espargaro, but that has less to do with the change to the bike than with things not having gone Espargaro's way. But it is a hopeful sign for all the Yamaha riders. Jorge Lorenzo's high-corner-speed style is an astonishingly fast way to get around the track, but it is not a style that suits everyone. With the change to the Bridgestone tires, taking away edge grip, Yamaha have been forced to make the bike a little more versatile. The fully seamless gearbox improves the bike in braking, making it possible to pitch the bike into the corner a little later. New parts are coming for Tech 3 to help them find traction, giving even more drive out of corners. That, as much as anything, has helped the bike become more competitive.

That promises to make for an exciting race on Sunday. As will the fact that both tires Bridgestone have brought look like being a viable race option, as they were at Argentina. That offers the prospect of riders gambling on one tire or the other, and either trying to get away early and hold a gap, as Marc Márquez did in Argentina, or going with the harder option, and hoping it will improve at the end, as Valentino Rossi did two weeks ago. What everyone is hoping won't happen is the collision that happened between the two in the last two laps. In the ideal world, Rossi and Márquez will battle to the end at Jerez. Hopefully with Andrea Dovizioso, and perhaps Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith thrown in for good measure.

The collision in Argentina got a good going over during the press conference at Jerez. The assembled media did what they do best, pried and probed looking for cracks in the relationship between Rossi and Márquez. Had their relationship changed since the incidents, Márquez slamming into Rossi, then colliding with his back wheel and going down? No, both men insisted. These things happen in the heat of battle, and crashing is one of the risks of racing. Battling hard for victory over the final laps was one of the great pleasures in racing, both men affirmed, and neither rider would do much very differently should they find themselves in the same situation again at Jerez. Was Rossi annoyed that Márquez hit him in Turn 6? No. Was Márquez surprised that Rossi's wheel came across in front of him between Turn 6 and Turn 7? Yes, but that was not because of Rossi, Márquez insisted. Márquez had not been expecting Rossi's wheel to be where it was, because the Honda uses different lines through that particular section, where they change direction from right to left.

Will Marc Márquez do anything differently, and settle for 20 points come Sunday? "Step-by-step I understand a little bit more that sometimes it is better to take 20 points. But my style is always to give 100%."

First, though, he has to be there. With his little finger freshly broken and put together again by Dr Mir, Márquez realizes that things won't be easy. He won't know how hard it will be until he starts to ride. The plan is for Márquez to be checked after each session, and the wound tended to, to make sure that no more damage has been done. Márquez broke his finger when he crashed in front of another bike ridden by a friend of his, and the friend rode over his hand. He was lucky to escape with just a broken little finger, Márquez acknowledged. "When a bike rides over your hand, it can be more."

Pain should not be the real problem, however. Pol Espargaro spoke of his experience when riding with a broken finger, having raced with a cracked middle finger in the past. The pain will not be a lot, but the different feeling having a finger fixed in the glove. "It’s not even the movement because you don’t use it," Espargaro said. "To have some stitches still in the glove, this will make everything a bit strange. It’s more the strange feeling to have something on the finger, to feel not normal, more than the pain. It’s more a distraction. For Marc it will not be a problem."

Will Jorge Lorenzo join the battle at the front? It would be foolish to write the Movistar Yamaha rider off. So far, things have not gone Lorenzo's way, but he has not faced anything major. Part of the problem has been the increased competitiveness of the grid. With six competitive factory bikes, and a handful of fast satellite machines, being slightly of can drop you a long way down the order. Instead of fighting for first or second, you can find yourself battling for fifth. The aim for Lorenzo is to get everything back on track, and battle for the win once again. To this end, he and his father have been training in Italy, not far from his home in Switzerland, riding a Yamaha R6 around a vast asphalt lot, which they can use to create miniature versions of any track on the calendar, one senior Spanish journalist told me. No dirt track, no motocross, but pure speed on asphalt. We shall see if it bears fruit soon enough.

Dani Pedrosa is the great absentee, the Spaniard having decided against racing after testing himself on a supermoto bike and not feeling at full strength afterwards. There are rumblings of discontent in the paddock, and rumors about concern from Honda. Toni Elias and Nicky Hayden have both had the same surgery, and those two were both racing again in less than two weeks. Pedrosa learned to be cautious after a period suffering with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, caused by a slightly misaligned screw in a plated collarbone fitted after he was knocked off his bike at Le Mans by Marco Simoncelli in 2011. Since then, he has not rushed back into racing, an approach which Honda have learned to accept. Whether they are happy about it or not remains to be seen.

Will Suzuki be capable of joining in the fun? At a track which rewards agility, Suzuki have their best shot at mixing it at the front. New parts are coming to help solve the chatter which both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales have suffered with on the right side of the bike. There is no sign of the seamless gearbox yet, which had initially been planned for introduction at this race. Rumors of mechanical problems with the complex gearbox mean that its introduction has been delayed. The risks of a mechanical failure are just too great: unlike an engine seizure, if a gearbox seizes, it locks up the rear wheel. If that happens at speed, it risks serious injury for the person riding the bike at the time. Those are not risks you want to take with two talented young riders.

Maverick Viñales faces another problem, one which Andrea Iannone must also deal with. The electronics of a MotoGP are so sophisticated that they can deal with different levels of tire wear, by changing the amount of traction control, engine braking and the power characteristics of the bike. Power is cut to a level a worn tire can cope with, rather than intervening as the tire starts to spin. However, the electronics are not so sophisticated that they can switch mappings by themselves, despite being programmed with predictive algorithms. That requires action from the rider, as certain preset points in the race. Working out which of the mappings and settings to choose from could be a challenge, especially if they are already engaged in battle. Working that out takes experience, something which all of MotoGP's youngsters – Viñales, Iannone, and Marc VDS rider Scott Redding – are still trying to gain.

Redding will also have some help this weekend, in the form of new parts from Honda. A new seat unit, and a new chassis with revised mounting points for the seat unit, should help to provide the Englishman with some more consistency. Cal Crutchlow has had the new chassis since Austin, and has reported that the chassis does not help with outright lap times, but more with consistency over the full race. Redding needs to find another step forward, and this may help, along with the stiffer suspension he started using in Texas.

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Comments

Thanks for the great preview.

More great commentary from Smith, too.

Interesting that Suzuki are already trying for a seamless gearbox; they are certainly taking their return to MotoGP seriously. Could we see Aleix on the podium soon?

Fantastic! Articles like this one is why I stop by MotoMatters. The paragraph quoting Bradley Smith about the Yamaha's evolution was very revealing. Jorge's style isn't working for the Yam right now. And all Yamaha riders don't have to ride it Jorge's way anymore. Which brings me to two points:
1) Many MotoGP fans (including myself) were lamenting the fact that Grand Prix racing was falling prey to the electronics wizards. What has actually happened is that now the riders and engineers can program into the performance of the bike some "looseness." This has turned out to be a good thing. Watch Rossi at the end of the Argentina race. So the black boxes have really allowed for yet another avenue for the bikes to take to allow each individual rider to find their own way to go fast, not just try to adapt to Jorge's way.
2) There was a first person account on the Superbikeplanet website of a sullen, despondent Jorge Lorenzo sitting in the trailer of a certain Kenny Roberts at the COTA track after another poor performance. I think Jorge's problems are really more than lack of edge grip. Remember last season when he actually pulled in to the pits at the Valencia race because he was about to be lapped by Marquez and Rossi? Jorge is in a downward spiral right now. MotoGP fans are for some reason big on predictions. So here's mine; Jorge is gonna have a bad season man. The Yamaha is changing, the atmosphere in the garage he is sharing with Rossi is changing, his confidence is lagging (whatever King Kenny told him in Texas sure didn't help in Argentina), the number of fast riders at each race is increasing.
I'm a Rossi fan through and through, and I hope he gets #10 this season, but I'm also a fan of these machines and the men who ride them. And this season is shaping up to be a real cracker!

David, very nice write up and in the part where you have written about Yamaha and quoted Bradley Smith "there are five ways of riding a Honda and to ways of riding a Yamaha", it seems that Yamaha have once again started to hear Rossi's feedback and give it a little more importance than Lorenzo's. Is it the reason why Rossi is dicing it out in the front while Lorenzo is having to stay content with fourth places (it was the reverse of this last season - Lorenzo raced at the front while Rossi usually rode to a lonely fourth place). If it is true that Yamaha are pitching their primary support to Rossi would that have anything to do with the fact that Michelins are coming in next year and Rossi has more experience on them than Lorenzo who rode them perhaps only in his debut season? I know you are a busy man and with the race weekend approaching you will find it less and less easy to answer specific question. If you do find the time to just answer this, I will be grateful to you. Thank you.

You could also argue that if the Michelins have more feel then it would suite Lorenzo.

I think that the Michelins of today will bear little resemblance to the Michelins of old, and even then, the bikes are all different these days.

Eventually, bar there being the odd real disagreement between rider/chassis/tyre, the status quo will probably re-emerge.

Rossi's lonely rides to P4 were more in 2013 than last year, as I recall. Didn't Vale take 2nd place last year, and by a sizable margin ahead of 3rd?

Great insights from Bradley Smith. I hope he will be so forthcoming all year long.

I have a challenge for this group. I want to see half of those that make comments have that site supporter graphic next to their username. David doesn't often make a pitch for money so I'm gonna do it for him a bit. I constantly read on here how much everyone appreciates, respects, likes and worships the words put forth for us to devour. I often look to see if those folks show the site supporter and I'm sad to say that more often than not, they are not a site supporter and I always wonder why. Many talk about how it is their only real goto place for MotoGP news and information. Or that large group that claim there's no place other than here to find real, understandable reporting about the insides of the paddock. He asks for and makes sure with his magic eraser that the comments on this website stay topical and respectful. If you wanna sling curse words, threats to others or death to the DORNAdites then you won't last long here. So who's going to join the SiteSupporter group? See below.

Personally, I've followed David since not very long after he started this website. I was proud to be one of the charter pay-for-site members with a subscription to help him. At times I've been very active not only commenting here on the article/comment side of the website but also on the forums that are another part of the package that is MotoMatters. At other times, life has demanded differently and I've not been here as regular as I'd have liked. I've agreed with, debated with, disagreed with, argued with and listened to a variety of things David has written or posted. We didn't always agree but I knew one thing during this whole time, David did was what he thought was just and fair to all involved. I think he's done a good job of it and it shows with the way things are on this site.

Let me ask a simple question to everyone of you. Is being able to come this site, knowing how great the informationa and reporting is worth a few cents, pence or whatever a day to you? If so then it's real easy to give just that to MotoMatters so that we can have David writing full time for us instead of him having to write magazine articles to try and survive. I can be greedy and this is one of those times. I'd much prefer having David write for MotoMatters than Not_MotoMatters_Mag. So if those few coins, under 11 cents per day are worth it for you then simply go subscribe at the annual subscription page here on MotoMatters. In return, you'll get that site support graphic across from your username to show that you give a damn about quality MotoGP journalism. Best of all, you'll allow David to spare that much more of his time to dedicate here instead pf writing for someone else. Then again, maybe he'll make another race because he had the income to get there, cover lodging, food, car rental, etc., etc., etc.

Oh, if the annual subscription isn't for you or if you would like to do more than just the $40 for the annual subscription you can make a PayPal donation or got to GoFundMe and donate to MotoMatters.


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Thanks for the prompt/reminder - something I've been meaning to do for some time. I've been a reader here since 2008/09 so it's about time...

Since David's way too classy to go begging personally (this week I wish he worked for the local NPR outlet), I'm glad that somebody has taken the time to do the long, greedy, crass but necessary beg. I can't even tell you how long its been since I've been supporting, but on the 28th of every month when PayPal tells me I've sent the next five bucks payment, I just quietly smile with a thought of "money well spent."

Get going people. I'd be devastated if this site ever closed down.

If we don't pay, David may have to go off making wooden shoes or raising tulips. That would be a shame.

I don't comment much, but I follow the site religiously. An annual subscription and a calendar are a small price to pay for the excellent coverage.

I am starting to get acquainted with the smart and well said statements of Bradley. Very interesting and although I like Cal too, there's an ocean between them where they are in front of a mike.

To continue on motomania's comment:

I have to admit i was frequenting this site for years without supporting. Only when i lost ALL MotoGP coverage on TV (i live in Canada and can't get it anywhere) did i realize how much of what DE does contributed to my passion for motorcycle racing.

I found racing in french that i have to pay $4.00 a month for (and i don't even understand most of it). But if you really pay attention to DE's articles (and Scott's pictures) it makes for a fantastic experience.

I can't afford internet with enough data where i am that would let me get the MotoGP video pass, so I'm pretty limited to my options. Even if i ever did get that set up, i will always be a motomatters supporter from now on.

The point of all this is: If you have been reading the articles for some time and haven't supported it, think about how much you would miss it, how much you truly rely on it. Do that and the cost looks ridiculously low. #supportmotomatters its the right thing to do.

It feels great supporting the site.
I figure that if I was in the paddock and saw these (3?) guys hungry I would relish the opportunity to pick them up a lunch and thank them for crafting my MotoGP home base. That is about what it costs for a year. I am literally on here every day.

Ive been really impressed with how insightful he has been. He comes across as very intelligent and I think his career will eventually turn into one as a TV reporter or the like. Great to see a rider who can articulate what he does so well.