2015 Phillip Island MotoGP Thursday Notes: On The Yamaha Rivalry, Bridgestone's Brilliant Asymmetric Solution, And Bastianini's Future

Is the strain of the championship starting to take its toll on the relationship between the two Movistar Yamaha riders? It was all Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo could do to roll their eyes when they were asked this question during the press conference. They get asked it a lot: in just about every press conference at which they are together, in their media debriefs after every day of practice, and presumably, in just about every TV and media interview.

Valentino Rossi had armed himself with a quip to deflect the question. "We are very happy about your interest," he joked. "We have a diary about our relationship, which we will keep secret until the last race." It is a shame he was only joking. There is no doubt that a diary, especially a video diary, following Rossi and Lorenzo behind the scenes through this season would have made compelling reading or viewing.

Once he was done with gently mocking the questioner, Rossi acknowledged that both he and Lorenzo are "hard rivals" and that fighting for a championship was always difficult. But they were used to it. When two riders are in the same team, they get used to seeing each other in the box and out. Lorenzo agreed, adding "We are two world champions who both want the same thing. It's normal that the relationship gets a little bit more tense." He also pointed out that it would be the same with whoever he was fighting with for the title.

It may be a tired question, but it is useful one nevertheless. As veteran journalist Michael Scott once told me, "it's not about the question, it's about the answer." The answers given by Rossi and Lorenzo have changed slightly over time, but the relationship has changed exactly as Lorenzo said. Elite athletes may be on friendly terms with their rivals, they may even get on well with them, but when it comes to competing, they neither ask for nor give any quarter. It takes an almost sociopathic level of dedication and ambition to do what it takes to compete at the highest level of any sport. They love winning – or in many cases, hate losing, which is even more effective – and will go to any length to achieve their goal. They can be friends when others are not a threat, but that friendship is the first thing to go out of the window once that friend is the obstacle between them and a championship.

In some ways, a relationship such as exists between Rossi and Lorenzo is better than any genuine friendship. Since Rossi's return to Yamaha, their relationship has been cordial and professional. They won't be inviting each other over to spend Christmas together, but they might send each other Christmas cards. Not handwritten cards, obviously. The ones with the printed signature and stock greeting text.

With no friendship at stake, each understands perfectly well what the other is trying to achieve. It makes them impervious to mind games, as neither one is taken in by the ploys of the other. They both know where they stand, and what to expect. Their ambition ensures the atmosphere is far from jovial, but it remains workable. Having said that, if the title is still open when they get to Valencia, you will probably be able to cut the tension in Cheste with a knife.

First, they must deal with Phillip Island, a track which once again every rider spent time heaping praise on. To help in that regard, Bridgestone have brought a revised version of their asymmetric front tire, designed to handle the combination of high loads in the many left handers while retaining sufficient grip in the few right handers. The solution they found is both obvious and ingenious.

Last year, the left-hand side and the main body of the tire was the soft compound, to deal with the left handers. On the right-hand side of the tire was the extra-soft compound, but it would only start to be used once the bike was leaned over to the right at an angle of 30°. The problem was that a lot of riders crashed under braking, losing the front as they braked in a straight line.

That tipped Bridgestone off to the correct solution. This year, the design of the tires has been flipped around. The main body of the tire is now the extra-soft rubber, along with the right-hand side. The soft rubber, capable of dealing better with the stresses in the left handers, starts at approximately the same spot as last year, around a lean angle of 30°, but to the left this time. Last year's problems were caused by the center of the tire cooling off in the cold and windy conditions. The softer rubber in the center should now provide plenty of grip, even in the cold temperatures expected on Sunday.

The announcement by Jack Miller that he will be racing for the Marc VDS Estrella Galicia team in 2016 brought the MotoGP grid close to completion, but there is still a glaring hole in the line up of the Estrella Galicia Moto3 squad. Fabio Quartararo's shock departure from the team leaves a vacancy, which Emilio Alzamora is keen to fill with Enea Bastianini. The problem is that Bastianini has a contract with Gresini for 2016, but the Italian is keen to leave the team.

Talks took place on Thursday between Bastianini's manager and Gresini, according to Speedweek, but no agreement has been reached yet. Gresini is in a difficult situation, as though he has a contract with Bastianini, it is impossible to force a rider to stay with him if that rider wants to leave. Emilio Alzamora and Honda are keen for Bastianini to switch to Estrella Galicia, as Bastianini will be leading Honda's Moto3 challenge after Leopard Racing's switch to KTM for Fabio Quartararo. Honda will at least still have Niccolo Antonelli, who will ride a Honda for Ongetta Rivacold next year.

If Bastianini does leave, then Gresini will bring the shutters down on his Moto3 team. This would please Aprilia, who are not pleased to have HRC engineers walking through the Gresini garage, passing by the Aprilia MotoGP project on their way to the Moto3 bikes. If he doesn't leave, then Alzamora and Estrella Galicia will have a bit of a problem, with no top Moto3 riders left to put alongside Jorge Navarro. At least Navarro has already proven to be a top rider himself this year.


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Comments

Why does Bastianini want to leave Gresini for another team with same bike ? Money ?

that thinks Michelin is just gonna turn the series on its head? It took Bridgestone YEARS to finally find a solution (presumably) to Philip Island and some of these other tracks. Is Michelin really going to just waltz right in and get it right first go round? I know I'm probably flying off the handle but I have this feeling there are going to be more than one surprise winners in 2016 and I'm not talking about wet races.