Analysis

Portimão MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, An Improved Honda, And What The Yamaha Is Really Missing

If anyone was holding out the forlorn hope of a return to normality now that MotoGP is back in Europe, they were to be bitterly disappointed the way the first day of practice played out at Portimão. It rained all day, occasionally easing up, only for the rain to hammer down again. The track surface varied from wet to absolutely soaking, a rivulet of water running across the apex of Turn 5, a corner which is tricky enough in the dry.

Remarkably, nobody crashed there, despite it being notorious for catching out the unwary. There was plenty of crashing elsewhere: a grand total of 41 on the first day across all three classes, one shy of three-day total of last October's Algarve Grand Prix, and six short of the total accrued in the race here last April. The vast majority fell at Turn 4, the first left hander after the main straight, and nearly half the track from the previous left. In the cold, wet, and miserable conditions, the left side of the tire was losing a lot of heat, and it was easy to crash.

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Portimão MotoGP Thursday Preview: How The Factories Fare At A Fast And Flowing Track

Traditionally, we say that the MotoGP season only starts properly once it reaches European soil. The overseas races which kick off the year are always held in rather unusual circumstances, or unique tracks, and with so little preseason testing, the bikes still have so many bugs and details to iron out before they really start to show what they are capable of.

The start of 2022 has been even less useful than other years. A day and a half of testing in Sepang before the rain came. A new track at Mandalika, which needed a day to clean and then started coming part. The race at Qatar was moved earlier, putting practice into a much hotter part of the day compared to the race. Freight delays to Argentina, which meant that Friday was canceled and two days of practice and qualifying were compressed into the Saturday. And Austin, the nearest thing to normality, remains a strange and unique circuit.

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Why Is MotoGP So Unpredictable? How New Technologies Have Changed The Face Of The Sport

It has been hard to make sense of the start of the 2022 MotoGP season. In the first three races, nine different riders filled the nine podium positions. In Texas, we had our first repeat winner in Enea Bastianini, and Alex Rins repeated his podium from Argentina, while Jack Miller became the tenth rider to stand on the podium in four races.

In one respect, the 2022 season is picking up where 2021 left off. In 2021, MotoGP had eight different winners in 18 races, and 15 different riders on the podium. The 2020 season before it had nine winners and 15 different riders on the podium from just 14 races, the season drastically shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Much of that variation can surely be ascribed to the absence of Marc Marquez as a competitive factor. The eight-time world champion missed all of 2020 and was only really getting up to speed toward the end of 2021. Without Marquez consistently at the front, there was more room for others on the podium.

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The 2022 MotoGP Silly Season: The Slow Burn Starts

Despite the fact that almost the entire MotoGP grid started the year without a contract for 2023 and beyond, it has been extremely quiet on the contract front so far this year. The only new contract announced was the unsurprising news that Pecco Bagnaia is to stay in the factory Ducati team for the next two seasons, with that contract announced between the Mandalika test and the season opener at Qatar.

The general feeling seems to be one of wanting to wait and see. An informal poll of team managers at the Sepang test suggest that they expected to wait until Mugello at the earliest to start thinking about next year. At the moment, it seems likely that major moves will not be made until after the summer break.

But that doesn't mean there won't be any major moves made, however. There are growing rumors of talks having started behind the scenes among several key players. If these talks play out as expected, the grid could see look rather different in 2023.

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Austin MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Satellite Challenger, What Went Wrong With Marquez, And Consistency Is Key

The Circuit of The Americas is an impressive venue set on the edge of a spectacular city, with much to commend it. Vast grounds to walk around, with plenty of grass banks overlooking large sections of track. And everywhere there is something to do, not necessarily racing related, with a large vendor area, a funfair, and more.

What COTA isn't known for is spectacular racing. As MotoGP commentator and Paddock Pass Podcast regular Neil Morrison likes to say, the usual sequence of events is, we spend Thursday speculating who might be able to beat Marc Marquez this year, spend Friday analyzing Marquez' pace, and wondering if he's lost his edge at the track, marvel at him grabbing pole on Saturday, then watch him disappear into the distance after the first lap or two, as the race turns into a procession.

Not in 2022, though. This year, the race brought spectacle, hard battles, and a much more open race than in the past. A new winner, and a rider who seems to have an edge. And yes, a spectacular ride by Marc Marquez demonstrating his superiority at COTA, though this time, forced into it by a problem on the grid that saw him enter the first corner dead last.

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Austin MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why Saturday Is Always A Red Letter Day

Qualifying in MotoGP is a conundrum. The closeness of the modern premier class means it is easy to find yourself down on the fourth row, or even out of Q2 altogether. Add in innovations such as aerodynamic wings and ride-height devices, which make braking ever more difficult, and the emphasis on qualifying only grows.

One factory has made something of a speciality of qualifying, having had at least one bike on the front row of the grid in every race since the Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana in 2020. That is 23 races in a row. After Saturday in Texas, that streak has been extended to 24 races. And in that period, they have locked out the front row three times.

I am talking, of course, about Ducati. Over a single lap, the Ducati has proven to be almost peerless. In those 24 races, Ducatis have occupied 41 of the 72 available front row places, including 13 pole positions. Yamaha are the closest, though the gap is massive: they have 18 front row spots, and 7 pole positions. Jorge Martin and Pecco Bagnaia have 6 poles a piece for Ducati, Fabio Quartararo the same for Yamaha, with Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli taking a single pole each for Ducati and Yamaha respectively.

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Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: Better But Not Briliant New Surface, Marquez Returns, Ducati's Front Ride-Height, and Quartararo's Contract

After all the talk, the riders finally to walk the walk. Or rather, ride the new surface at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. After the bitter complaints last year about the bumps, the MotoGP riders got to experience for themselves just what a difference a new layer of asphalt made.

At the start of the first session of the day, I headed up the hill and around the first half of the track, stopping to watch the Moto2 bikes through Turn 2, and then wandering around to Turn 10 – a decent hike at a vast track, but frankly, I need the exercise. Last year, the bikes had been bottoming out through the bump on the entry to Turn 2, where this year the rear was clearly moving, but not excessively.

At Turn 10, what looked like a motocross step-down had been largely tamed. There was still a sizable bump there, enough to kick the riders out of their seats, but it was no longer the terrifying ordeal it had been. "Turn 10, if you are not on the line, it is tricky, but on the line is OK," was Fabio Quartararo assessment.

From dangerous to difficult

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Austin MotoGP Preview: A Tough Track With A Clear Favorite?

It has been a rough start to the 2022 MotoGP season. Qatar started relatively smoothly, but things started going downhill from there. The Indonesian round at Mandalika barely scraped through, the newly resurfaced track already coming up in the final corner as the new asphalt had not had time to bed in. Then two broken cargo aircraft suffered technical problems and left part of the freight stranded in Mombasa, Africa on its way to Argentina.

A hastily rescheduled two-day event at the Termas de Rio Honda followed, which came off surprisingly well. Then with a short turnaround getting the freight from Argentina to Texas, there was another problem with cargo planes breaking down, and freight arriving late. Fortunately for the GP of the Americas at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, the delay was merely stressful rather than problematic. The last flight cases arrived at the beginning of the afternoon on Thursday, with teams rushing to unpack and prepare everything ready for Friday morning. But that is a deadline they would easily make, making delay or rescheduling unnecessary.

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Method In The Madness - Why A Pattern Is About To Emerge In The MotoGP Championship

The start of the 2022 MotoGP season has been labeled chaotic. There have been nine different riders on the podium in the first three races, with nobody managing to get on the podium twice. There have been three different leaders in the teams championship, and two different leaders in the riders championship, with Aleix Espargaro taking over from Enea Bastianini, and Ducati and KTM have swapped the lead in the manufacturers championship. The winners of the first three races were three different riders on three different bikes. How are we expect to make sense of that?

At first, there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the start of the season. Fans, pundits, and experts have racked their brains trying to make sense of 2022 so far. Every race seems to throw up new anomalies, every time a rider has a strong race, they seem to falter badly at the next race. Consistency appears to have gone out of style in a big way.

While it may look like chaos reigns in the premier class, that is not the full picture. The season is starting to take shape, but for most teams, the biggest issue is finding a base setting that works everywhere. At some tracks, the bikes work well. At others, a key piece of the puzzle is still missing.

Why the mess?

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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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