2016 Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: On Weather, Deceptive Race Pace, and Rules & Regulations

The disadvantage of reporting on your home race is that during the media debriefs, the period when riders speak to the press, they turn to you and ask, "So what's the weather going to do?" Living in The Netherlands, Assen is my home race, and so this weekend, it is me they are asking about the weather. There is only one honest answer I can give them. "This is Assen. Anything can happen."

The weather has been a constant topic of discussion. Weather apps and weather websites have been compared, and each of them says something different. Some say it will only rain heavily on Sunday. Others say Sunday will be dry, and the rain will fall on Saturday. Check another site, and it says rain overnight, but only heavy clouds during the day, with the risk of rain at a minimum. Which site to believe? This is Assen. Anything can happen.

There was a sense of nervousness in both FP1 and FP2 for the MotoGP class. Riders pushed late to chase a lap good enough to put them into the top ten, and automatic entry into Q2. Some, like Bradley Smith, got their strategy wrong, went out on a hard rear tire instead of a medium, and ended up languishing down the order. Others, like Dani Pedrosa, were just having a dismal time. "No improvement from FP1 to FP2, no improvement on different tires, and no feeling with the bike."

Italian vengeance

That was not the case with Andrea Iannone. The Italian is a man on a mission, after having been put to the back of the grid. Iannone was fastest in both free practice sessions, though his margin in FP2 was just four thousandths of a second, much to the chagrin of Valentino Rossi. More importantly, Iannone's race pace is strong, though starting from the back of the grid puts an end to any ambitions he may have of a podium.

He may be fast, but he is far from happy. "In the change of direction the bike is really hard to ride, especially when I use the front brake to reduce the speed changing direction," the factory Ducati rider told the media. "The bike is hard. This is the big problem at the moment. For the race and 26 laps it’s difficult to manage this situation." A single fast lap is one thing. Stringing together 26 laps is another thing altogether.

Iannone was confident of finding some improvement on Saturday, but when asked about the progress made at Ducati since the start of the year, the Italian spent a lot of time beating about the bush to say that there had been very little. Hampered by limited English he struggled to say that both his riding and the bike needed improving, that he had been working on his riding, but there had been little progress with the bike. "The limit is always very close," he said. "It's very easy to crash or make a mistake."

Fast riders facing tire choices

Who else was quick? Marc Márquez was feeling reasonably confident, happier with his race pace than with his single lap pace. "For the pace I’m near the top," the Repsol Honda man told the media. "It’s not the main target on Friday, but it means we are already there."

Valentino Rossi is also a danger man. The Italian spent the day working on the hard tire, trying to extract the maximum performance from it, using the thesis that this could be the race tire, depending on the weather. "I want to try to work on the hard rear, because the first impression with the soft is that for me, it's too soft," Rossi said. "But the door is open. Michelin is very comfortable with soft tire, they say, please try it."

The weather, and especially whether overnight rain scrubbed rubber from the track, would be crucial. "It depends also very much on the condition. The track improve very much from the beginning to the end, because we put rubber on the ground. We need to understand if it rains or not. Because if it doesn't rain overnight, the track will improve practice by practice and the soft tire can be an option. Because if it rains at night, the track is cleaned a little bit. So it's early to say, but for the rear it's open, also for the soft tire."

Omerta

Rossi was also running a new chassis, fresh from the test in Barcelona. Both he and Jorge Lorenzo were running back-to-back tests against the standard Yamaha M1 chassis, and both elected to stick with the standard chassis they have been using since the beginning of the year. Rossi told the media that the new chassis was better in one area, but lost out in stability. When pushed to explain exactly where the new chassis was better, Rossi would not. "I cannot explain very much," he said. "We try to work to improve the feeling with the Michelin, with the front, but we gain something where we think, but unfortunately, we lose in the stability."

Jorge Lorenzo was even more reticent, refusing to provide any details on the differences in the chassis. This silence on changes seems to be part of a policy change inside Yamaha, clamping down on technical communication. Engineering details and changes in how new parts work appear to be a taboo subject for Yamaha, riders speaking in ever vaguer terms, and making it obliquely clear that they have been muzzled.

This is a shame, and a reversal of Yamaha's previous openness on such subjects. Up until 2010, Yamaha used to make a presentation at the last race of the year in Valencia, in which they would explain in general terms how they had changed the bike to make it more competitive. One year, that presentation was a lot less specific, Yamaha engineers telling the media that they did not want to give too much information away to their rivals. The next year, the presentation was canceled, and we were left guessing.

What the MotoGP world needs now is less secrecy

This is part of a wider pattern, and by no means unique to Yamaha. When fairings have to come off a Honda RC213V or a Ducati GP16, either garage doors go down, or screens are placed in front of the bike and alongside it, to protect the chassis and engine from prying eyes. Yamaha used to be more open than their rivals, but that policy has been completely reversed. With their riders gagged, we now learn nothing about the M1.

This secrecy is a massive loss for the championship. The technical detail is one aspect of MotoGP which appeals to a certain subset of fans, and which adds to their enjoyment of the sport. That enjoyment has been gradually stripped away, to the point where it is almost impossible to provide accurate information. The last real crusader for technical truth is MotoGP.com's pit lane reporter Dylan Gray, who has both the technical background and the access afforded by Dorna to try to dig up stories. The rest of us have been pretty much left out in the cold.

There is one bright spot left in the MotoGP paddock, however. Aprilia is still very open, doing little to hide their bikes from view. When we go to speak to Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl, we are ushered into the garage, where the riders are sitting with their crew chiefs. Meanwhile, mechanics are busy working on the bikes, fairings off and parts open and visible. It is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stifling atmosphere.

Aleix to Aprilia?

At Suzuki, they were also working with two different chassis, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales having chosen different chassis to use for the rest of the year. Viñales has gone with the newer version of the chassis, while Espargaro is sticking with the old version.

Espargaro was also close to letting slip that he will be riding with Aprilia next season, though with the contract still not completely done, he was forced to bite his tongue and wait for the announcement. "I know where I am going to be racing next year," Espargaro said." Sometimes it's not that easy and small details don't allow you to do it, but we are on the way and I think it's going to be close."

Safety revisited

There was also a Safety Commission meeting on Friday, the first one since the difficult meeting in Barcelona after Luis Salom was killed at the track. Observers say that the Safety Commission was very well attended – reports are that there were 17 riders present, compared to 10 at Barcelona. The topic of discussion was obviously the Barcelona track, and how to change it to make it safe. The first option is to revert to the original layout, with more runoff at Turn 12. The second option is to retain the Formula One chicane, with a more permanent solution to the problems of a narrow track at Turn 13.

No details have emerged from the discussions in the Safety Commission, so we do not know what choices have been made. But Assen itself may offer a possible solution: In 2006, as part of the track changes, the circuit built a new grandstand at the GT chicane. The new grandstand was raised up and made "floating", over hanging a much expanded gravel trap in the run off area. Given that it is the placement of a grandstand which is limiting run off at Barcelona, perhaps this too could be an option.

While the Safety Commission met on Friday, the Grand Prix Commission is meeting on Saturday. At that meeting, the MSMA is due to submit a proposal to limit the role of winglets and aerodynamics in the MotoGP class, after winglets were banned in both Moto2 and Moto3 championships earlier this year. If they do not submit a proposal, then Dorna will put forward its own proposal, based entirely on the safety argument. If the MSMA have been unable to reach an agreement among themselves – a likely scenario, given Ducati's strong desire to keep working with winglets – then Dorna will submit a counter proposal. That proposal will be short and sweet: "We propose that winglets be banned from MotoGP motorcycles." It is very likely it will pass.


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Comments

Here in New England (and I'm sure other locales) we say "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute."

Yet another insightful and well-written article, light on the sensational. Just how I like it.

Question re last turn -
David what is the scoop re the changes to the curbing on the bumped Rossi route of the final turn entry? It is more visible obviously, but is it also more of a bump? Looks like they removed a bit of fake grass and put in more curb. Just safety?

I don't recall the specifics, but this was discussed during the Thursday press conference, if you have Dorna's video subscription. They mentioned it during the introduction and when questioning the riders. It was a safety consideration, I just can't recall the exact reasoning of how the changes were expected to improve safety. 

What are winglets' impact on flicking a bike from side to side?  What are they doing to a front tire's heat level when it's always finding itself leaned over on its side with even just slight, additional downforce planting it more firmly on the deck (as MM expressed concern about before)?  Then again, it seems they're only minimally effective and only at high speeds when they bike is straight up and down.  So perhaps they're doing nothing noticeable below 200 km/h, especially when the bike's cornering?  But I do have to wonder...

Where did this flicking difficulty for the GP16 come from?  Was it always there and I missed the reporting, or has Assen exposed some previously unseen issue?  Funny...this is the "loudest" complaint I've heard of all year from either Ducati rider re: the bike (could be forgetting something, but I thought in general, the bike's been well praised this year), yet the one doing so has ridden himself to the top of the time sheets in both FP sessions. 

All I know is, I find it easier to flip my pancakes in the morning when I'm not lowering their center of gravity or applying downforce on their front edge while simultaneoulsy lifting and rotating it's entire mass. 

 

I have wondered that myself, but I truly do wonder about the impact of them in terms of big aero loads. I've seen spoilers being tested on bikes that were massive back in the days, so I'd say these little wee "dive planes" are only starting to make some decent load at the higher speeds. Having read that the riders can get wheelies and wheelspin even in the high gears, maybe it just can give a little edge up that end. Plus the stability mentioned by the riders in reducing headshake

I have mentioned it several times both here and on various different MotoGP Facebook sides.  But everybody just wants to remember things when somone wins....

 

 

...how did he end up with the cast on his arm?  Did Jarvis take a wrench to him whilst he was trying to get a peak at the M1's through the garage door?

From FP2 discussion...He crashed at an Aragon track day. He is having surgery in a few days to repair what Nick described as a broken scaphoid but Gray corrected to say something like a distal radius. Blah blah blah, sounds like he broke his wrist being a hooligan on the track!

i love how that dude reports and the fact that he is out on track acting on his passions. My guess is that he should be pretty damn good on the track since he gets to watch the best in the world up close and personal every other weekend and he understands very well how to set up a bike. 

Go watch him riding on the MotoGP YouTube channel, he does a lap of each track and commentates about the track while riding

Whilst I understand some fans may be enjoying the technical chages and development of wings, especially as we can, for a change, see them, I hope wings are banned entirely.

As they have been banned in the minor classes, permitting them in MotoGP seems like just another thing to confuse the up and coming and ensure the same old faces are again prefered.

More importantly perhaps, they are utterly devoid of use to 'we' motorcycle riders and, worst of all, look simply appalling. I truly believe this matters; If our sport is to continue to attract new fans, they must not be put off by barmy looking contraptions being permitted go continue. Simply put, I hate them.

 

On another topic entirely, could not Dorna somehow work out a way to share MotoGP technical information with the fans without upsetting the factories too much? It would give them the opportunity to provide some much needed fan interaction. The only time I hear of them off thier own website is when they remove content from You Tube and such. They seem to have been poor at thinking of new ways to 'sell' the product to fans, happy instead to just sort their TV deals out. This could porvide a much needed avenue to technical data while allowing a level of control.