2018 Argentina Friday Round Up: Marquez' Slides, Ducati's Difficulties, Sensationalizing A Trailer, And The Canet Incident

We expected practice at Termas De Rio Hondo to be dominated by the weather, and we were right, though not in the way we expected. Rain had been forecast for all of Friday, but it largely held off except for the odd wayward shower which caused more of a nuisance than any real disruption. But a combination of a dirty track and strong and gusty winds made conditions difficult at the Argentinian round of MotoGP. It turned the field on its head: Andrea Dovizioso, the man who had won the previous race at Qatar, finished FP2 as 24th and last on Friday in Argentina.

The track played a big part in making life difficult for the riders (or more accurately, everyone not called Marc Márquez). The resurfacing had been a major improvement, removing the worst of the bumps, but the new surface didn't really have any extra grip, the riders said. "It's positive about the bumps," Andrea Dovizioso said. "Apart from Turn 4 all the other corners are much better, almost perfect. The grip is not good like the old one, maybe it's worse, maybe it's too new, I don't know when they did."

Valentino Rossi agreed. "The new surface is a bit better because we have less bumps," the Italian said. "I think Michelin was a bit worried about the level of grip because they bring more tires. At the end the level of grip of the new asphalt is the same as the level of grip with the old asphalt." The real problem was the track still being dirty, and not being rubbered in, Marc Márquez explained. "It's good. In terms of grip, very very similar the new and old, you cannot feel the difference, because there is no rubber, it's just dirty. But it's so good about the bumps. Last year it was at the limit, quite dangerous with big bumps, but this year it's completely flat," the Spaniard told reporters.

Less grip, more fun

Those conditions were ideal as far as Márquez was concerned. All that time racing dirt track pays off when there is little or no grip, as Márquez can use his mastery of sliding the bike around to lap faster than anyone else. On Friday, only Cal Crutchlow got within half a second of Márquez, while the Spaniard had nine tenths advantage over his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa.

Márquez was in his element. "Of course today was a good day, but it was a strange day, because the track was so slippery," the Repsol Honda rider said. "It was so difficult to get the feeling. Of course, it was the same for everybody, but when it's slippery, I feel better. I feel good, I like to play with the bike, and I was able to do a good lap, a good pace." He feared his advantage would not last. "I think tomorrow and especially Sunday, everything will be closer and closer, because the grip will improve and everything will be more tight."

After stonewalling questions on the Jerez test when asked them in the press conference, Márquez let slip a little of what they had been working on after practice on Friday. "At the Jerez test, we did another step," Márquez said. "There we found a little bit more. I already said in Qatar, we are good but still missing something on the electronic side, on the character on the engine. So step by step we are trying to find small things, and we confirmed here that it is working well."

The Termas De Rio Hondo circuit is a track which suits the Honda RC213V better than Qatar did, but the results at Qatar were a sign of just how strong the Honda is this year, Márquez explained. "This is one race track that suits better with the bike and rider compared with for example Qatar. We said in Qatar, if we are in a good place there – we finished second very close to Ducati – we are in a good level. This bike is working better than it was last year, we have more power, and the lap time is coming easier."

The rough with the smooth

Things did not go entirely smoothly for Márquez on Friday, however. In FP1, he almost collided with Maverick Viñales and Karel Abraham. "They were wide and maybe slower, but here when you go onto the dirty part of the track, it's so difficult to turn the bike, so difficult to stop," Márquez said, describing the incident. "I was going in and then I started to lose the rear, and so I said, OK, I go wide, I realized that I would go wide, but they were outside and when I saw a small gap between Abraham and Maverick, I just released the brakes and opened the gas to get through the gap."

That near-miss had been caused by Abraham, Maverick Viñales explained. "Actually, it was not with Marc, it was with Karel," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. "I was trying to push, but Karel was a little bit stopping and going, and braked so early in Turn 5. So I avoided him, and then all the riders who were behind me also had the same problem. So we needed to avoid each other."

Márquez had another big moment during the flag-to-flag practice at the end of FP2. After a very quick stop, he nearly highsided himself out of the pit lane when the rear of his Honda span up as he rode away on his second bike. This is a perpetual concern in pit lane: tracks may be resurfaced, but pit lanes almost never are, and pit lane is where oil, grease, fuel, and other liquids get dropped onto the asphalt. The asphalt used is often cheaper, and not laid with the aim of providing optimum grip. This makes pit lane a dangerous place. "It's kind of different tarmac and it was more slippery and dirty, and I lost the rear," Márquez said. "So we need to be careful with this on Sunday, because it's another point where we have some risks."

Yamahas on track

The Hondas aren't the only bikes which the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit suits. The track has always been a good match with the Yamaha as well. The two factory Yamahas got off to a strong start at Termas, finishing sixth and seventh overall. They may have been 1.1 seconds behind Márquez, but they were only two tenths off the time set by Dani Pedrosa in the morning, and in the middle of a tight group of ten or so riders all within a half a second of each other.

Maverick Viñales was much more positive than he had been at the end of the first day in Qatar, though his insatiable ambition never leaves him truly happy unless he is quickest. "I'm never pleased being sixth, I'm always looking for more," the Spaniard said. "But anyway, I'm pleased that we started better than at Qatar, I'm feeling better with the bike. Now we have to find a good set up in Argentina, it changed a lot from Qatar. Especially the grip, in Qatar it was quite good, here the level is low so I have some issues carrying corner speed, I go very wide."

They were still using the base set up found at Qatar, Viñales told reporters. There was still room for improvement, but at least he could stop the bike. "Stopping the bike is better than before, because we solved some problems with the engine brake that we resolved, and it's a little bit better," he said. "But still we have some issues to get the rear contact on the ground, and get grip to turn. I'm quite confident. Sure we started better than in Qatar, so let's see how we finish."

Despite nearly coming together with Marc Márquez, Viñales had found some benefit from the situation. He had managed to learn a few things riding behind the Repsol Honda. "It was very interesting," he said. "Very interesting to see where we are losing, and I think now a little bit better. It opened my eyes to see where we have problems." That was mainly in corner speed, Viñales said.

No grip, no fun

That, perhaps, is an artifact of the track condition. The Honda can manage low grip tracks, and Márquez can maintain high corner speeds when the bike is sliding around. The Yamaha needs more support through the corner, more grip to help it make the corner. When the track has grip, the Yamaha is pretty impressive. On Saturday, with more rubber on the track, grip conditions may come to the Yamaha, and give both Viñales and Valentino Rossi a chance to take the fight to Márquez.

Rossi is sounding particularly positive. "I like the track," the Italian said. "It’s in a good condition. I feel comfortable with the bike, especially with the race tires. I have good pace. I can ride in a good way." He has a problem with soft tires, however, which could pose a few problems come Saturday afternoon. "Unfortunately I have more problem with the soft tires. I expected to improve more. I suffer with the soft. This can be a problem to manage in a good way. We’ll see for tomorrow about the qualifying because we don’t know our potential, and we don’t know which tire we’ll use."

That inability to get much improvement from a soft tire had meant he had missed out on an even faster time. He had been fastest through three sectors on his penultimate run, but had pulled in for a final shot with softer rubber. But he hadn't made as much progress as he hoped with the softer rear tire. "I was with the race tire, I know I was fast," Rossi explained. "I want to stay in the top ten because tomorrow if it rains, for sure it’s a big problem. So I don’t know if I have enough time to put the soft, so I stop. But unfortunately with the soft I did one lap more or less the same. So if I knew I’d have finished the lap and I could have stayed more in front."

The top of the timesheets is a real mixture, with three Hondas fastest, the two Yamahas in sixth and seventh, the Suzukis in fifth and eighth, and a couple of Ducatis in fourth and tenth. For Suzuki, Andrea Iannone had an excellent day to finish a tenth behind Dani Pedrosa. The GSX-RR has plenty of top speed, but they are losing out in corner speed, he explained. "But I think we have some good cards to play," he said.

Teammate Alex Rins had a tougher time of it in the morning, but made a big step forward in the afternoon. That was largely down to improving grip: he had struggled with braking in the morning, a problem his crew had been unable to resolve whatever they tried. FP2, with more rubber on the track, Rins had safely bagged a spot in the top 10, and passage through to Q2.

The Ducati enigma

The real mystery of the day was with the Ducatis. If you just look at the manufacturer names on the timesheets, things don't look so bad for the Italian factory: there are Ducatis in fourth, tenth, and eleventh, all less than half a second behind Dani Pedrosa in third. The conundrum for Ducati is that those three Ducatis in the top eleven are all GP17s, last year's bikes. Tito Rabat is the fastest of the lot, riding the Avintia bike to the fourth best time, though he used Aleix Espargaro as a target to set his quickest lap. Jack Miller is tenth on the Pramac Ducati GP17, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista on the Angel Nieto Team GP17.

The riders on this year's bike are struggling, however. Danilo Petrucci is the fastest of the GP18 riders, fourteenth fastest overall, and slower than the two factory Aprilias. Andrea Dovizioso is fifteenth overall, thanks to a quick time set in FP1, but the man who won the Qatar opener was absolutely nowhere in FP2, finishing dead last. Jorge Lorenzo was sixteenth overall, again having set his best time in the morning session. None of the riders on a GP18 are in Q2, and they could all miss out if it rains on Saturday morning.

GP18 vs GP17

It looks as if the GP18 is a step backwards compared to the GP17, at least in Argentina. Going off what the riders had to say, Argentina was amplifying the weak points of the bike, and not allowing it to demonstrate its strengths. "The Ducati is moving around a lot at this track," Danilo Petrucci said, "it feels like a boat, moving and making it hard to ride the bike to the limit."

Jorge Lorenzo blamed the wind for the GP18's woes. "I think the conditions from today, especially the wind multiply the weak points of the bike, that is the front wheel is a little bit less in contact than the old one," Lorenzo said. "For example in the fast corner before the long straight, I lose half a second in that corner because I couldn't open full throttle, because I couldn't feel safe enough to do it. And in the rest of the track, I also didn't feel great. Very strange conditions, special conditions."

Andrea Dovizioso wasn't certain it was all down to the wind, but the wind certainly hadn't helped. "I don't know," he said. " It's always difficult to know this. Maybe yes. But I can't say and it's six years I've been riding this bike, so to say 'okay we have a negative point in these conditions…' I'm not sure. For sure it was difficult. Very, very difficult. I have to close the throttle in turn four, in the straight, so it was scary."

Though Dovizioso also did not shirk his own role in the results - "For sure our bike is not the best for this track and these conditions, but some riders were faster than me so it means I didn’t ride at my maximum," he said – but this was also the nature of the bike. "Unfortunately it's similar to the past!" he laughed. "This is the bad thing and the normal thing. This confirms that this kind of track is more difficult for us compared to other tracks."

Where's the fairing?

What has caused this sudden regression for Ducati? Though it is hard to pinpoint an exact cause, there are signs which point to a general direction. The big improvement for the GP18 was the chassis, the bike being more flexible and easier to turn. This agility has come at a cost, however. The bike appears to be more prone to wheelies (perhaps a function of the engine as well), and this takes weight off the front tire.

The way Ducati fixed this in previous years was with winglets, or aerodynamic packages as we must now call them. What is extremely odd is that none of the GP18 riders have used an aerodynamic package at all so far this year. Even Jorge Lorenzo, who saw his fortunes radically reversed once he got his hands on Ducati's aero package at Brno last year, which took him from mid-pack to podium challenger.

So why aren't the Ducati riders using the winglets? They are evasive when asked about it. Jorge Lorenzo: "Let's see what we can do for tomorrow or the next tracks. But it's a complex thing at this moment." A recent story on the website of Spanish sports daily AS quoted Ducati sources as indicating that the combination of aerodynamic fairing and new chassis was causing he front wheel to want to fold in corners. The fact that Ducati have yet to wheel out the winged fairing suggests there may be something to that story.

Homologation special

Yet Ducati will have already homologated an aerodynamic fairing, as they had to do so at Qatar. The rules state that they have to homologate the external shape of the fairing, though Ducati may add or subtract struts and vanes inside the aerodynamic duct which provides the main downforce. It is possible that Ducati have homologated an aero fairing with ducts which can be added on like they had last year, but they have simply not yet decided to use it, while they work on a solution to fixing the lift with internal vanes to make the fairing usable.

Or it may be that they have abandoned their attempt at exterior ducts altogether, and will only race with the plain fairing for the first half of the year, until they decide to homologate the one update they are allowed for the year, after all three GP18 riders have had a chance to test it, either at Jerez or at Barcelona at the IRTA tests.

All this is speculation for the moment. But whatever the problem, there is something fishy going on with Ducati's GP18 fairing. In a couple more races, we should have a better idea of what Ducati are doing. If the fairing hasn't been used by Mugello, then they will probably be waiting for a new design to meet with the approval of the riders.

Speaking of Ducati, there are signs that there could be some movement on contracts in the next few weeks. Andrea Dovizioso is the biggest boulder holding back the flood, but he looks to be in the final stages of negotiating a new contract with Ducati. Johann Zarco will be another big mover, once he makes a choice between Repsol Honda and Factory KTM, though Zarco will most likely not make a choice until he gets back to Europe.

Sensationalizing a trailer

The more interesting developments have come around Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo's fate at Ducati has been shrouded in mystery for a while, and the trailer for an interview with Spanish broadcaster Movistar has only added to the confusion over Lorenzo's future. The trailer – a clip from a longer segment no doubt chosen to generate the maximum amount of interest – shows Lorenzo saying that Andrea Dovizioso "had always tried to undermine his morale throughout my career."

Naturally, the press – especially the Italian press, who still have a vendetta against Lorenzo because of how the 2015 MotoGP season ended – jumped on the quote and tried to sell it as a sign of Lorenzo's dissatisfaction within Ducati. There are other signs that Lorenzo may not be happy there – the speed with which Alex Debon was first brought into Ducati, then dropped again by Jorge Lorenzo last week, for example – and so this teaser fits in very nicely with that pattern.

Lorenzo didn't help his cause by refusing to answer questions about the statements on Friday. "Now we are in race mode," the Spaniard said, and that meant only talking about track conditions and Sunday's race. Anyone wanting answers would have to wait until Austin. "Maybe next Thursday we will speak about that. Now, we must concentrate on race questions, and you can see the interview. I never lie, always say what I think, and what I think is the truth."

How much weight should we put on Lorenzo's comments? I am told that Lorenzo's comments were made in response to comments by Dovizioso in Qatar, and were part of a much larger discussion about the rivalry between the two which has existed for as long as the two men have been racing each other, since 2001. Dovizioso acknowledged as much in comments to the Italian press. "Jorge and I have been racing together since 2001, and there has always been competition between us, both on and off the track." Put in that context, Lorenzo's comments are far more innocuous than the quote made them appear.

Hard sell

It is obvious that Movistar has taken the quote out of context to try to boost the audience for the full interview when it airs. Throwing out a quote which can seem controversial without the context in which it was made is a good way of generating interest from the fans and media. The press will leap upon the quote and write about it, and more people tune in to watch the whole interview. Whether that interview lives up to their expectations afterwards doesn't really matter. After all, the trailers for Hollywood blockbusters always show the most exciting parts of the film, not the long stretches during which the narrative is being expounded.

The full interview with Lorenzo is due to be broadcast on Sunday. By that time, however, the full context of Lorenzo's quote will get lost amid the sound and fury of the race weekend. Only a few people will take the time to consider the entire interview in context. Most will have moved on to the next subject.

Canet unpunished

There was some controversy in Moto3 on Friday. Aron Canet collided with Kazakh rider Makar Yurchenko, in an incident which looked entirely intentional. Canet had run across Yurchenko earlier, the Kazakh rider being much slower than Canet. Canet had taken this personally, irritated that Yurchenko was holding him up, and by the fact that he had run wide and nearly lost the rear when he ran across the kerbs. And so Canet tried an excessively aggressive pass up the inside of Yurchenko to get back ahead of him at Turn 7. But the Spaniard couldn't get his bike turned, and he ended up running straight on, clipping Yurchenko's bike in the process, taking them both down.

The pass appeared intentionally reckless, though to be fair, it did not appear as if Canet had taken Yurchenko down on purpose. However, it did appear to be a violation of section 1.21.2 of the FIM Grand Prix Regulations, which states that riders "must ride in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors". Surprisingly, Race Director Mike Webb disagreed, writing the whole thing off as a racing incident, and not handing down any punishment to Canet.

That surprises me. Mike Webb is a scrupulously fair man, and is not inclined to let poor behavior go unpunished, especially in Moto3. Obviously, we, the fans and the media, don't have access to the same vast array of cameras as Race Direction do. But from the footage we saw, I can only put this down to a severe error of judgment on the part of Mike Webb. Certainly, Yurchenko probably deserved a warning at the very least for riding slowly on the racing line and getting in Canet's way. But Canet threw caution to the wind, and was riding dangerously. This does not set a good example.

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Thanks for breaking the news, I hadn't heard. That is ridiculous!!! I was watching this morning and I just kept thinking about Karel Hanika (can't remember who he took out). So do penalties only get handed out when the other rider is injured?! Every year Moto3 reaches some sort of boiling point; mass herds on racing lines, crashing into the back of each other on cool down laps, etc. Each year they try to sit them down and make various threats with varying degrees of effectiveness, then something like this comes up and they do nothing . This was a chance to try to nip it in the bud, start showing these young riders that's not tolerated. 

Canet thought he'd be cheeky but accidentally blew the turn and looked that much worse for it. Back of the grid penalty minimum.

I can't imagine dealing with what Mike Webb must, but this one just seemed pretty cut and dry

In this year's regulation, I cannot see any reference to specific aero fairings. Under Section point 10 as "Aero Body approval" it is written in such a way that actually any fairing can be seen to be an "aero" fairing, and why not.

Look at Qatar GP pictures, all factory teams besides Duc seem to be running "aero" fairings, probably with the famous innards removed, except Ducati (I can't tell for sure about the strange Honda fairing though). If they homologated the fairing without downforce, I believe this might be their only go-to fairing, before they spend the one update that is allowed during the course of the season.

So, perhaps Duc thought they can get one normal fairing, one aero fairing, and then one in-season update in, but are now stuck until they can get their aero fairing good enough to last the rest of the season

If they had wings, they would be using them for sure, with the way the GP17 are going and GP18s at a loss of front grip. There's no way even Italian engineers would have created a front downforce fairing that makes the front end wash out and homologated it.

Either Duc have misinterpreted the rules on the number of fairings, or they thought they could get away with the wingless fairing for Qatar (quite rightly) and have the proper fairing ready and homologated for Argentina (quite wrongly) - or then I am reading the rules wrong. Perhaps they're just having an issue in homologating the fairing?

O my, this is one hell of a round up, David. Excellent work!

Interesting to see the 04-99 debate. Knowing their characters I wouldn't expect it. Must be their managers speaking...


I agree with you on usually not having to question Webb's decisions.

However on this one I strongly disagree. Canet's move was a tit-for-tat move gone sour, what Mike Webb did might make hot headed riders have even less inhibition seeing how Canet went unpunished.

Hodsgon and Huewen started shouting at the screen in disbelief. Hodgson was lost for words and Huewen even went as far as to call Canet an idiot. I like the BTSports commentators, and I also know they can jump the ball sometimes, but I think this time it showed just how wreckless a move was when two ex world-class riders are in apparent shock and disgust about it.

For me, leaving Canet unpunished is absolutely wrong and I am afraid that it will also fan the flames of those who keep insisting that Dorna is Spanish biased, something which I firmly believe is wrong, but nevertheless there will be a fallout, only the scale remains to be determined.

I just watched the Moto3 FP1, and the canet incident.  Wow, totally gobsmacked.  I tend to agree that Mike Webb's calls have generally been spot on in the past so it leaves me wondering?  It was clearly a deliberate takedown, he even stood it up to get right in his way.  Taking himself out at the same time was icing on the cake.  I look forward to Webb's reasoning for this just being just another 'racing incident'.  Maybe Yurchenko had done some other crazy manouvres we didn't see on the tv feed earlier?  Sure enough he got in the way of Canet earlier, but by the time double-a-ron caught back up he was going at a decent speed - evidenced by Canet having to crash so as to be able to take him out.

"Move along please people, nothing to see here" says Officer Mike 'Barbrady' Webb.  :D :D

After reading the entire transcript of Lorenzo's comments, it is clear the snippet is crafted to maximize outrage. I do wonder if his comments had a more timely cause. Dovi made a comment recently that he “knew what Lorenzo’s problem was, but it wouldn't be appropriate to articulate it.” At first I thought this was race team SOP, but given this latest flap, I’m wondering if it wasn’t a mind game directed at 99. 

So much to consider here now! Lightly touching on some things. First, the Honda and Marc Marquez. Everyone should be very worried, we can't overstate how strong this guy is, and without a weakness. His corner speed is not something to speak of in conventional terms. Of course it is him exploring the limit even in bike changes and traction in the pits. Is he fast with a shopping cart getting groceries? Does he try to eat lunch while looking at data on the toilet too?

Zarco can also consistently slide a bike around to get it on lines others can't seem to find. And importantly, on the "rails" Yamaha. Again, something worth special note. More in a bit.

Riders complaining about too many tires to try? Cry me a river. Be thankful.

Abraham was 8 tenths faster than Vinales in FP3, so while Abraham may have been somewhat inconsistent, he is going quite fast. The GP17 is getting around the track a bit differently, braking hard included.

When Vinales speaks of seeing weaknesses in the Yamaha via Marquez's corner speed, you can see him setting he and his team up for frustration. Try to follow Cal for starters Maverick. Even HRC can't try to make sense of Marquez through a corner right now. Have you followed Zarco yet?

The Yamaha is not going dismally in low grip conditions. This is good. More power is getting down for the drive out. Watch for Rossi's facial expressions in the garage when he has just gotten off the bike and is talking with his team.

Rins has had a setback. The Suzuki motor has NOT! "The GSXRR has plenty of top speed" is a big deal statement. Keep it up fellas!

The track surface is ok, just a bit green and lacking rubber. Yamaha in lower grip conditions remains at the fore of awareness. It looks to be going okay at the moment.

Lorenzo is looking hard at going to Suzuki. He is not saying too much about Dovisioso that interests me now, but he is of himself. First of course that he is paying attention to such shite yet again (the way this guy gets motivated is odd), but more so that he is signaling displeasure with his situation at Ducati right now, on track and off. I truly want to see him at Suzuki. My eagerness may color things, but the color is not looking red.

Everyone needs to worry about an already strong Honda that has found something even more at the recent test. Electronics better shaping engine character. The chassis and set up has responded well to an ironing out. We know very well what Yamaha was able to do with their bike a dozen years ago. Gigi and Bologna pulled off a similar miracle. Here too lay quite a compelling transformation from Honda eh? Folks seemed distracted by Italian - Spanish drama in 2015, but don't forget how wayward the Honda project was. It had a weird love of gravel.

Speaking of a bizarrely wayward and incalcitrant bike, while Vinales was correct in getting back to a stiffer suspension and frame for him to thrash, I am far from convinced that he should guide engineering and bike development methods. Saying you know the bike weakness and pushing for changes does not equate to knowing how. He does not have a dynamic and productive rider-crewchief-engineer working relationship now. His expectations and working methods don't look confidence inspiring nor wise. Yet. Who does? Zarco! Who is going to Honda by the way. He has chosen. Again, everyone needs to worry about Honda right now.

Leaving the Ducati situation to the more technically minded. But Petrucci is making it go again, and is going to beat 99 Sunday. Winglets are off because they aren't working now during a development transition, and little more makes sense to me. I do trust though that this bike is improving and going through growing pains. And still some good old difficulty getting it to work at bogey tracks. If Dovisioso and the team can get the 04 a good finish (5th?) Sunday it will be a big deal.

Thanks David, great stuff! Oh, and gratitude for changing back from the "rich text editor," it was an Illmore, this one works great.