Analysis

Argentina MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Long And Winding Road To Success

In November 2014, at the Valencia post-race test, there was something of a buzz. Aprilia to make a return to MotoGP as a factory team for the 2015 season, albeit under the umbrella of the Gresini squad. Up until that point, Aprilias had been racing in MotoGP, but they were modified versions of the Noale factory's RSV-4 superbike, with a lot of chassis work and a much more powerful engine. They would be racing more or less the same bikes in 2015, but the ambition was to step up development and build a genuinely competitive motorcycle.

To do that, they had abandoned their factory entry in the WorldSBK championship – a championship which Sylvain Guintoli had won for them the previous year – and drafted in Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri. Bautista was keen to push the project forward, but from the very first moment he appeared in the MotoGP paddock again, Melandri made it glaringly obvious he did not want to be there.

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Argentina MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Hard Work And Making History

The Grand Prix of Argentina continues its proud tradition of weirdness, with Friday skipped and a day and a half of practice and qualifying crammed into Saturday. The missing cargo, the result of not one but two planes breaking down between Mandalika and Termas de Rio Hondo, meant that Friday was canceled and the work of preparing for practice started around 2am on Saturday morning, as bikes and equipment were delivered up and down pit lane. But MotoGP as a whole pulled it off: apart from the weird schedule, practice and qualifying happened, and history was made.

With missing bikes and parts, teams had gone back to their hotels early on Friday afternoon, to get some sleep ahead of a long night. But you wouldn't know it looking at the pit boxes on Saturday morning. The work of a couple of days was condensed to a few short hours.

With success, for some. The Mooney VR46 Ducatis had turned up in the dead of night, and the crew had worked through the night to get the bikes ready for practice and qualifying. Luca Marini rewarded their grit and hard work with a front row start in Argentina, his second after the one in Misano last year.

No rest for the wicked

"My team did an amazing job so thanks to them and thanks to Ducati because they prepared for me two perfect bikes today," Marini said on Saturday evening. "It was not so easy for them because they did the work in just eight hours. They always do it in two days normally."

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Argentina MotoGP Friday Notes: Following Freight, And The Benefits Of A Different Schedule

It has been a busy day for everyone involved in MotoGP. A large section of the paddock was sat either behind a computer or staring at a mobile device frantically refreshing their flight tracker app of choice, watching the exploits of Aerostan aircraft EX-47001, as it finally made its way from Mombasa in Kenya to Lagos in Nigeria to Salvador in Brazil. As I write this, it has taken off from Salvador and is winging its way to Tucuman, where it is due to land some time after 9pm. At Salvador, the flight number changed from BSC4042 to BSC4043. A sign? I leave it up to the reader to decipher the letters BSC in the flight number.

At San Miguel de Tucuman, the plane will have to be unloaded and the customs formalities dealt with, before the contents of the plane are transported from the airport to the circuit at Termas de Rio Hondo, just under 100km away. They should at least arrive some time before midnight.

That will mean mechanics working through the night to get the bikes ready for Saturday. In preparation for this, the Gresini mechanics left the circuit early on Friday, presumably to get some sleep ahead of a long night.

Prepping the bikes

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Argentina MotoGP Preview: An Always Wild Weekend Gets Weirder And Weirder

Despite being back to something resembling relative normality, MotoGP is off to a strange start in 2022. The season opener at Qatar saw the favorites fall short, and a surprise winner and championship leader. The second race, at Mandalika in Indonesia, nudged uncomfortably close to farce, the rain saving the MotoGP race from disaster. But like many wet races, the result was far from representative.

For round 3, MotoGP heads to Argentina, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. The track in Argentina is a lesson in contrasts. The layout is magnificent, a fast, sweeping track with challenging corners, a straight that emphasizes acceleration over outright horsepower, and plenty of spots to pass other riders. But the location – near a modest town, and some distance away from major population centers – means the track gets little use outside of the MotoGP weekend. That usually leaves the surface of the track a mess, covered in dust and dirt, making preparation difficult.

Drama central

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Mandalika, Michelin, Marquez - How A Chain Of Unfortunate Choices Ended In Disaster

Honda went into the Indonesian Grand Prix widely seen as potential front runners. Pol Espargaro had been fastest in the test at Mandalika a month previously, Marc Marquez had been quickest on the second day of the test, Honda riders had set a consistently fast pace, looking better than their single-lap speed. What's more, Espargaro was coming off a podium at the season opener at Qatar, the race where Marc Marquez had finished fifth.

To say the Indonesian Grand Prix ended badly for Honda is an understatement. Pol Espargaro was fastest Honda once again, but the Repsol rider crossed the line way down in 12th, 33 seconds behind the winner, Miguel Oliveira. Espargaro was one of only two Honda riders to finish in the points, crossing the line just ahead of Alex Marquez on the LCR Honda in 13th. Takaaki Nakagami could only struggle to a 19th place, 49 seconds behind the winner.

That wasn't the really bad news, however. The worst blow for Honda was the fact that Marc Marquez manage to miss the race, and perhaps endanger his chances of the 2022 title, or worse. Much worse.

Living on the edge

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Mandalika MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes: Indonesia Deserves Better, Why Confidence Matters, And A Surprising Rookie

As I wrote on Thursday, if there is one nation which deserves a MotoGP race, it is Indonesia. The fact that the President himself turned up for the race, (and actually hung around for the MotoGP race, rather than disappearing once the formalities had been handled) says plenty about the central role which the sport plays in Indonesia.

Indonesia may deserve a MotoGP round, but they deserve better than they got at Mandalika. Despite the fact that we had three races at the track, with three deserving winners, including an Indonesian rider on the front row in Moto3 and the first ever Thai winner of a grand prix, with Somkiat Chantra's victory in Moto2, MotoGP got through the event by the skin of its teeth.

Starting with the crowds. The fans who turned up were fantastic, enthusiastic and clearly reveling in the fact that they had a race in their home country at last. The official attendance figure was 62,923, but to paraphrase a popularly misattributed aphorism, there are lies, damned lies, and official sporting event attendance numbers.

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Mandalika MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Chaos Reigns, Honda Riders Moan At Michelin, And Ducatis Menace

The first Indonesian GP in 25 years has been a complicated affair. A new track, in the middle of a construction site where a new resort is being built. A track which was resurfaced after the test uncovered issues with the asphalt. The blistering tropical heat, capable of raising track temperatures to well over 60°. The swapping out of the rear tire used at the test for an older, safer tire used in Austria and Buriram to prevent the tire from blistering if track temperatures get that high. And the intense rains which leave the track wet for a long time, have eaten into setup time, and keep washing dirt onto the surface.

When working on a problem, such as the correct setup for a MotoGP bike, engineers like to change one variable at a time, to understand how it works. At Mandalika, that just hasn't been possible. The teams already had two new variables – a new track surface and different tires – thrown at them, and the weather is adding a third. It is making it almost impossible to figure out what needs to be changed to make the bikes go faster.

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Mandalika MotoGP Friday Round Up: How Low Grip Helps Yamaha, And Ducati Dropping Their Front Ride-Height Device

We say it pretty much every Friday of a MotoGP weekend: it's hard to draw conclusions from the first day of practice. The first day of practice is usually spent trying out different setups and then assessing which tires are the best compromise between performance and durability for the race, so just glancing at the timesheets doesn't tell you as much as you would like.

The first day of practice at Mandalika is even more complicated to unravel. First, there is the fact that it rained heavily on Friday morning, leaving the track damp at the start before drying out. Then there's the fact that nearly half the track has been resurfaced, the work finished not long before MotoGP arrived. Finally, Michelin changed the construction of the rear tire from the one used at the test, in response to the heat at the track, the new surface, and the data from the test.

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Mandalika MotoGP Preview: MotoGP Madness In The Heat Of The Tropics

If there is one country that deserves to have a MotoGP round, it is Indonesia. A country of over 270 million people, all of whom are absolutely mad about the sport. Anyone with a significant presence on Social Media knows about the passion the country has for MotoGP, as a large percentage of their followers will be from there. (In my own case, 12.5% of my 51,800 Twitter followers are from Indonesia, the third largest territory after the UK, 28.5%, and the US 14.4%. A remarkable number, given I am tweeting mainly in English, and not at all in Bahasa Indonesia.)

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Off To A Poor Start: Where It All Went Wrong For Ducati In Qatar

Fortunes in MotoGP can change fast. Before the opening weekend of the 2022 MotoGP season, Pecco Bagnaia was the most tipped rider to take the title, the Ducati GP22 was the hot bike to have. The question was not whether a Ducati would win one of the early races, but rather which one, and how many Ducatis would end up on the podium at them.

That prediction turned out to be accurate, but not in the way those making it expected. Enea Bastianini rode an outstanding race in Qatar to win the first race of 2022, and the first for the Gresini squad since Toni Elias back at Estoril in 2006. A Ducati stood on the top step of the podium, as expected. Only it was a satellite rider on a year-old bike, Bastianini riding a Ducati GP21.

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