2018 Barcelona MotoGP Sunday Round Up: A War Of Attrition, Internal Politics, And Friendship Between Rivals

How do you win a championship? There are two schools of thought. Casey Stoner believed that the way you won world titles was by focusing on winning races. "If you win races, the championships will look after themselves," he said when he was still racing. Others argue that consistency is key, that you win titles by getting the best result available on the day, and hope that you don't make mistakes. After all, Emilio Alzamora became 125cc World Champion in 1999 through sheer consistency, without winning a single race that season.

The riders in contention for the 2018 MotoGP title have mixed opinions about the best way to win a championship. Marc Márquez wanted to win every race he started in, until the 2015 Honda RC213V got the better of him, and he had to push too hard to try to be competitive, crashing himself out of contention. Since then, he has tamed his approach, winning whenever possible, but understanding that sometimes, he has to grit his teeth and settle for whatever is available on the day.

Valentino Rossi, wily veteran that he is, follows the same approach, take what you can, where you can, and wait to see where it takes you. That's how he came close to racking up title number ten in 2015, and that's how he has remained in contention every season since he came back to Yamaha in 2013. On Sunday night, Andrea Dovizioso affirmed that he was thinking about the championship in every race as well. "My approach to the race is always thinking about the championship," the Ducati rider said. "If I fight for the championship or for another position, I always race for the championship."

More grip, yet more greasy

So it was clear from the first day of practice at Barcelona that this race could be key in the championship. The new surface at the circuit vastly improves the grip from last year, but doesn't make the challenge any less complicated. New asphalt contains more oil, which takes some time to evaporate, and can make a track greasy. New asphalt is darker, which means it gets hotter more quickly when the sun is on it. Tire choice becomes crucial, complicating the job of the riders and teams even further. The track changed a lot from morning to afternoon, and as more rubber was laid down on the track.

The one man who seemed entirely untroubled whatever the conditions was Jorge Lorenzo. Fresh from his first victory on the Ducati at Mugello, at his home race, at one of his favorite circuits, the Mallorcan started off the weekend looking invincible, and never really looked anything else all the way until the checkered flag on Sunday. Even what looked like a slight regression in FP3 was merely misconception: while the pack sought safe passage to Q2, Lorenzo spent his morning doing a race simulation, racking up almost race distance on a set of soft tires, preparing himself for Sunday afternoon. In FP4, he was bested by Andrea Iannone, though only because the Suzuki rider slipped on fresh rubber in pursuit of a quick lap.

Pole had not quite been a formality for Lorenzo, but it would have been quite a surprise if he had not started from first on the grid. Marc Márquez had done his best to deprive Lorenzo of pole, taking extreme risks in the attempt, but fallen just short. Márquez knew that if he was to beat Jorge Lorenzo, his only chance lay in beating him to the first corner, and trying to disrupt his rhythm through the race.

That was no easy feat: in recent races, Lorenzo had found his starting mojo. Since Jerez, the Spaniard had led into the first corner, and from there, the opening laps. At Mugello, after he finally got the new tank spacer he had been asking for, he led the first lap, the last lap, and all the laps in between. Lorenzo style. For the Barcelona race, bookmakers were offering odds on the margin of Lorenzo's victory, regarding the fact that he would win as a foregone conclusion.

Holeshot hopes

Having failed to claim pole, Marc Márquez had one more shot. Get off the line ahead of Lorenzo and lead into Turn 1, and he would have a shot at upsetting his pace through the race, and managing his own choice of hard tires front and rear. In a supreme effort off the line, he led the pack into Turn 1, Lorenzo hot on his heels. "I was just trying to be really focused on the start to take the lead, because I chose the hard front, hard rear," Márquez told the press conference.

The next task was to keep Lorenzo behind him, and he had a little help from Andrea Iannone. The Suzuki rider was off the line quickly and past Lorenzo, bumping him back into the clutches of Andrea Dovizioso. Iannone's pass gave Márquez some respite, a tiny gap opening up to the blue and yellow GSX-RR. But on the soft tires front and rear, Iannone's tactic was to try to get to the front as quickly as possible, and he made an enthusiastic attempt to take the lead from Márquez at Turn 10. But his enthusiasm exceeded his ability to brake and get the bike turned, and in running wide, he slowed Márquez up just enough to allow Lorenzo to catch the Repsol Honda once again.

With Lorenzo now firmly on his tail, Márquez suspected that his fate was probably sealed. "It was difficult in the first lap to warm the tires. Then I was waiting for Jorge to overtake me. I was waiting and already on the first straight he overtook me." There was no answer to the superior horsepower of the Desmosedici GP18, backed by Lorenzo's ability to get off the corner. With the finish line so close to the last corner, Márquez led Lorenzo across the line at the end of the first lap, a blemish on Lorenzo's perfect record in the last three races, but by the end of the straight, Lorenzo had the lead.

His chance of victory probably gone, Márquez turned to plan B: if you can't win the race, get what you can for the championship. "Then I tried to follow him," Márquez said. "I was pushing a lot because my mentality was try to follow him for open the gap with the others." Sticking with Lorenzo for as long as possible would put pressure on his championship rivals. Jorge Lorenzo was far enough behind him in the championship standings that he could afford to cede him five points. Anything he could gain on Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Viñales was a bonus.

Mr Metronome

The race became a war of attrition. Jorge Lorenzo, certain of his pace, hammered out his metronomic rhythm, a reprise of his performance at Yamaha, lap after lap with little variation between them. From lap 3 to lap 13, Lorenzo did four 1'40.0s, four 1'40.1s, and a couple of 1'40.2s. From lap 14 to lap 22, before he started to slow for the checkered flag, he did four 1'40.4s, a couple of 1'40.3s, and 1'40.502. His pace varied by three tenths in the first half of the race, and three tenths in the second half of the race. This was the hammer and the butter combining to create victory.

As Lorenzo focused on grinding out his asphyxiating pace, those behind him were left struggling for breath. Márquez clung on to Lorenzo's tail for dear life, knowing that if he could stay with the Ducati, he could open a gap to Andrea Dovizioso behind him. The Italian, meanwhile, was pushing hard to try to stay with Márquez, fearing losing yet more points to the world champion after two DNFs already this season. Márquez was pushing to stay with Lorenzo, Dovizioso was pushing to catch Márquez, and seeing the Repsol Honda slowly creep away from him.

Something had to give. Staying with Lorenzo forced Márquez to take risks he hadn't planned on taking. But it was Dovizioso who as the first to break. On lap 9, the Italian crashed out at Turn 5, pushing too hard to try to keep up. Dovizioso was brutally honest about the cause of the crash. "I arrived 5-6 kilometers faster because I was able to exit a bit better Turn 4, and I braked too much. A mistake because I was on the limit."

Strategic failure

His crash was not because he feared Lorenzo outperforming him, Dovizioso said, but because he was focused on the battle in the championship with Márquez. "It's not about Jorge, it's about I want to win the race because I have the good speed and we have to gain the points to Marc. And Marc was there," Dovizioso told us. "So I was pushing. I didn't want to give up. My speed in the race wasn't good enough. I lose one tenth, almost two tenths in one lap. But when the grip is very low, one or two tenths can be like one second. So I was pushing too much. This is what happened and we go home with zero points."

Dovizioso's crash came almost as a relief to Marc Márquez. "In one moment I lost the front in the same lap that Dovi crashed," he told the press conference. "Then I start to see many yellow flags in the circuit, many crashes. After Mugello, there was something that I was missing some confidence. This weekend we already crashed two times. I had a big save in the last corner. So it was time to finish the race, take 20 points. Last laps I try to keep pushing for see if Lorenzo drop with the tires, but mine were dropping in the same way. So then I just managed the distance with Valentino and finish the race in second place."

Dovizioso's approach to the championship of wanting to take points from Márquez turned out to be the wrong one at Barcelona. Speaking to the press afterwards, he conceded defeat, though he held open the slimmest sliver of hope. "I mean if you are objective in this moment, 49 points, a lot of riders in front of me, Marc is very consistent, fast everywhere," he said. "But I don’t think that’s the reality because every race, everything can happen. Because it's easy to make a mistake, everybody is on the limit, the weather can create a different situation, and all the strongest, all the fast riders on top of the championship are crazy! So it can create a lot of strange situations. About that there is not a question mark and, yes the reality is difficult, but there are a lot of points left."

How did Lorenzo win and Dovizioso end up crashing out? For the Italian, the key to his teammate's victory was the way he was braking. "I believe after the race, for riders who brake with some slide, it didn't work here, Dovizioso explained. "If you look, Jorge was braking completely straight. I think in this track, with this asphalt and the tires we have, it worked because there isn't grip and it was very difficult to manage the slide. So when you are going in the race, and the grip is a little bit less, you are always on the limit of the grip. And if the grip is less you are slower. So I think if you brake a bit straight, it can help you. Especially if you lose one tenth in one lap."

Biting the bullet

With Dovizioso out, Márquez backed off three tenths a lap, and let Lorenzo finally slip out of his grasp. Yet in the press conference, he denied that seeing that the Italian had crashed had changed his strategy in the race. "It didn’t change because my strategy was clever and I was so focused just on my riding, forget the others," he said.

But finishing second is still not something that brings Márquez much pleasure. "When you finish in second place, inside of my mind I’m missing something. But if you check the championship we increase the advantage. Now we are 27 points in front. So, happy because the worst result this year is a second place. The other races is because I crash. We need to manage this and be constant on the podium."

It had been easy to crash at Barcelona, in part because the added grip of new asphalt gave the riders false confidence, Márquez explained. "Maybe is because it was quite difficult to stop the bike in a straight line because the rear slide a lot. Maybe with the new asphalt is a little bit like Le Mans. Not only in MotoGP but also Moto3 and Moto2 many crashes. New asphalt give to you good confidence to push, but when you have a warning it’s so aggressive. For that reason it's more difficult to find the limit, is what I explained in the past. With a track that is more slippery, then you are always there on the limit and you can manage in a better way. Is strange, but for me is like this."

On a track with less grip, the tires start to slide earlier, but they do so more gradually, giving the rider plenty of warning. On a track with fresh asphalt, the grip is higher, but that also means you are closer to the maximum grip of the tires. Once you go over that maximum, grip falls off a cliff, and the tires get away from you with no warning. Andrea Dovizioso wasn't the only rider to lose that battle at Barcelona. Nine others went down before and after him.

A long way to go

Valentino Rossi crossed the line in third, having lost contact with the leaders early on, but never really challenged from the rear. It was his third consecutive third place finish, consolidating his second place in the championship. He lost 4 more points to championship leader Marc Márquez, but he extended his advantage over Movistar Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales to 11 points.

Rossi was still happy with a podium, given the miserable time the Yamahas had had at Barcelona in 2017. "I’m happy for this podium because in this track last year we struggled very much, it was one of the worst races in the season," he said. He was happy to be competitive, but he knew he stood no chance against the men ahead of him. "I know after the practice that the two Ducatis and Marquez are faster than me. I think that I have to fight more with the second group like in Mugello because more or less the pace was that."

He and his crew had found something extra on Sunday morning, however, and that had given him a little bit of extra pace. "This morning in the warm up we improved the balance of the bike, and I was able to turn in a better way. Also I was very worried about the soft front, but in reality in the race, yes. At the beginning you have to manage, but after the tire work well and provide good grip. I’m also happy because my pace was good to the end. I was not so far form Jorge and Marc. Unfortunately is not enough for try to stay with them and fight, but anyway it was good."

Honda herd

If the race had been robbed of most of its tension once Andrea Dovizioso had crashed out, there was still some excitement in the battle for places behind the podium. Cal Crutchlow beat Dani Pedrosa into fourth, and was a little frustrated that he could have had a shot at third. He had chosen the medium front tire, and tried to manage that in the early laps, which had cost him time, he said.

"I didn't go hard enough at the start but that was the risk with the full tank and a medium tire on the front. I picked them off one by one and thought if I could get one a lap then I’d be in a good position. I made a mistake with Dani because I should have passed him four laps before like I could have, but I didn't think Valentino was reachable."

For Pedrosa, the battle he had had with Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, and Maverick Viñales had proved instructive. "What I can say is that I was not as fast in the turns, and not as fast in the exit of the turns, so I was kind of blocking him a little bit in that part, but I was much stronger on the brakes," the Repsol Honda rider explained after the race. "I can see that the way of using the rear grip is different, and I wasn't going so fast out of the corner."

There were lessons here for future races, Pedrosa said, especially for qualifying, which has been his Achilles heel in recent races. "I think this is something we have to work for, because that I believe is one of the reasons I struggle in qualifying with a new tire. So if we can managed to change a little bit the way of going into the corner, then this can help to use better the grip on the mid and exit because today, as I could see with Cal and Petrucci, and also Viñales that came strong at the end, they were faster than me mid-exit, with more traction and grip, edge grip. I was good on the brakes, but the overall time, I was losing maybe 0.3, 0.4."

Poor qualifying had left Pedrosa stranded on the fourth row of the grid, caught in the opening lap melee. But he was pleased with his performance, fighting his way forward from eleventh on the grid to finish fifth. The twenty or so journalists who turned up to see him after what he felt was a solid performance was in stark contrast to the hundreds which had packed the HRC hospitality unit when they thought he might announce his retirement.

New tactics, same result

Pedrosa had held on to fifth just ahead of Maverick Viñales. The Movistar Yamaha rider had attempted a new procedure to help make him more competitive in the early laps, but had ended up with the same result: losing too much ground in the first couple of laps, then ending the race with pace that would have put him in contention for the podium.

"I don't know what to do any more," an exasperated Viñales told us on Sunday afternoon. "I use the same style that I do in the practice and then I get into the wheelie. Honestly, the first ten laps of the race is to put in the trash. It’s like this because [afterwards] I am riding as fast at the top guys. I had a nice battle with Johann but I don't think it is the place to be. We need to be at the front, at least close to Valentino so there is a lot of work to do for sure."

The new warm up procedure – pushing hard on the sighting lap and the warm up lap, to start the race with warmer tires – had helped, Viñales said, but it hadn't solved the problem. "For sure it helps but these were in much better conditions and finally I could brake much better. Still with a full tank it is impossible for me to ride the bike, I just go very wide everywhere and sliding a lot on the tires. Last year was a totally different feeling in the beginning of the race and in the first part of the season. I cannot do more with this bike, honestly. I give my best and give my maximum every lap."

Viñales rejected the idea that his result was down to it being at a particular track. "For me there is no good or bad track. If the bike works then it works everywhere. It cannot be there at one track you and there and then the next week you are tenth, like last year. This cannot happen."

Teamwork makes...

For Johann Zarco, the cause of his seventh place was clearer. He and his team had simply not made enough progress through the weekend, he told us. "This weekend, we started well, and instead of trying to go forward every practice, we were doing good things, and then going back, doing good things, then going back," Zarco said. "So it's not a good way to build up a victory for Sunday, but we need to live it to understand it. And now we were speaking with the team to say, it's easier to say it than do it, but if you start the weekend well and keep going forward, even if sometimes you have a bit down, but not every practice has up and down, then you are ready to think about very good things in the race."

Part of the problem, according to Zarco, is that the difference between the bikes and riders is once again smaller this year. "Since Texas, we can feel that the races are different than last year, and it looks much more difficult, because the tires are constant, and all the riders on the track are stronger, and they are controlling better, they are working better for the race than before. So it makes the job difficult for everyone, and me it makes me think a little bit differently for the next races."

That offered opportunities to those with experience, and those willing to use it, Zarco said. He had been watching what Valentino Rossi had been doing, and trying to learn from it. "That's the difference between last year and this year, and we can see Valentino is still the one catching the opportunities. All the opportunities he can, he takes them. Maybe I don't have enough experience to do that, but I'm clever enough to see that. I want to control well that things for the next races, because I won't let him go in the championship."

Tank spacer

Victory for Jorge Lorenzo made it two wins in a row for the Spaniard, and they came at the right time for him, after he had taken so much criticism in the press – directly from journalists, indirectly from senior members of Ducati management, most notably Claudio Domenicali. Winning at Barcelona was important, but not as important as the win at Mugello. "I think the Mugello one [was more important] because I have to do it," Lorenzo said. "The pressure was higher."

"This time my mentality was let’s try to win, but if it’s not possible I try to be in the podium because I already have won. The most special one was Mugello because we are human. The first time you make something in life is the most special one, the one who make you more happy. Now I’m happy. I cannot deny that. I’m very happy and we’re going to celebrate this like in Mugello. But is not the same as the first one."

Where does this victory come from? The obvious thing which has changed is that he had finally been given a tank spacer which was shaped to give him the support in braking he had been asking for. Two pictures tweeted by MCN journalist Simon Patterson show the clear difference between the two. On the left, the much wider and thicker rear section which he can hook his legs under during braking. On the right, the narrower standard version which offers less support, but which allows more freedom of movement. (Worth noting that the tank does not help in the part of the corner shown here, but here you can see the change, and the change in body position).

Puzzle pieces

Lorenzo pointed out that there was more to it than just the tank, however. "As I said in these days I think the fuel tank was the last step that I needed to be back, to be more competitive," the Spaniard said. "But more than anything was the consistency. The saving of energy that give me the comfort to keep the same pace through a complete race." Before, he only lasted a certain number of laps before he started to slow down. "I was competitive five laps, seven laps or even fifteen laps, but then in the last part of the race I was so tired that I had to drop."

"But it was not only the fuel tank," Lorenzo added. "It was small steps that we were making the last months that give us this speed. When we got the speed, we just needed the last step on consistency." This was echoed by members of Ducati staff: at Jerez, Lorenzo had received a more flexible chassis which made it a little easier to turn. At the start of the season, they had introduced an engine which is slightly less aggressive. Over the winter, they had worked on the electronics to make the bike a little easier to handle. The fuel tank was the final piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle, the made it possible for Lorenzo to compete.

Or at least compete at Mugello and Barcelona, two tracks at which Lorenzo has always been strong, and where conditions worked in his favor. How much of Lorenzo's competitiveness will remain at Assen and Sachsenring, where he could have to ride on a cold and damp track, is still very much an open question. How that affects his confidence will be important, but if he comes through the next two races in decent shape, then more wins are not out of the question. With a deficit of 49 points to Marc Márquez, the championship looks out of reach. But as his teammate said, anything can still happen.

Industrial relations

Lorenzo's victory exposed the fact that the wounds Ducati and Lorenzo have inflicted upon one another through a troubled season and a half are still very much open. In Parc Ferme, Lorenzo studiously ignored Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali, just as he had done in Mugello. In the press conference, answering a question about the comparison between the bike he was riding and the bike which Valentino Rossi rode when the Italian was at Ducati, he saw another opportunity to apply his sometimes dry and very acerbic wit.

"I think Vale’s Ducati was more complicated," Lorenzo answered, comparing Rossi's bike to his own. "From the outside, I believe that. As I said before, now for me this is the more complete Ducati ever. Vale is a great rider, so why not?" Then, harking back to his own response to Domenicali calling him a great rider, Lorenzo stuck the knife in. "Not a great rider, a champion."

In an interview with Spanish sports daily AS.com, Domenicali gave his own version of events. "When they interviewed me [for Italian TV] after the race at Mugello, I said nothing had been decided," Domenicali told Mela Chercoles. "Ten minutes later, he said that he had already decided. More patience was needed. It's a shame he did not have it." The Ducati CEO went on to explain that it had taken a long time for the Ducati engineers to understand from Lorenzo's feedback exactly what was needed. The tank was the last part of a long line of parts which had helped, and this had made the difference.

The tensions between Lorenzo and Ducati, and the difference between how the Spaniard was perceived in the factory and how the Italian rider was were obvious even to Marc Márquez. "They are a professional team, and a factory and a team don't really care if one rider wins or the other, what they want to do is win races, win every championship," Márquez told the Spanish media. "But sometimes the passion is different. I have seen the team celebrating a victory by Dovi, and today saw them celebrating one by Jorge, and it's a very different thing."

Champions, but not friends

With Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, and Valentino Rossi on the podium, it was one of the most decorated of all time. The three podium men share 20 world titles, 246 Grand Prix victories, 488 podiums, and 205 poles between them, according to Spanish journalist Borja Gonzalez. Some record. The last time so many world championships were gathered together on a single podium was at Brno in 1975, where Phil Read beat Giacomo Agostini, but Agostini did enough to take his 15th world championship, which with Read's seven made it a grand total of 22 world titles on one podium.

In the press conference, Lorenzo and Rossi were asked if their relationship had changed in recent years, if their previous enmity had been dropped and they were friends once again. The answers they gave were revealing of the true nature of friendship between professional athletes competing in the same sport and at the same level. "I don’t think we are friends," Lorenzo said. "Even if I think outside the track probably we will have fun because I think we like to have fun outside the Grand Prix."

Rivalry trumps friendship, however. "It is difficult to be friends with a rival," Lorenzo said. "Two strong characters and two riders that want to win. But the most important thing is to have respect, and I have huge respect to Vale and I think the same to me. We are great champions and we are one of the best in history. Here we are three guys who have many championships, who made history in a lot of years in MotoGP. So it’s a good thing for the sport."

Rossi felt much the same way. "We have difficult times but also good times. A little bit of up and down. One or two quite deep. But is like this. Difficult when you fight for the same result, and also Jorge is one of my strongest and toughest rivals in my career. We stay a long time together in the same team, that means also more difficult. But I think is normal like this. The important thing is the respect for sure."

Riders can be friends

For a professional athlete, winning counts above everything. Above love, above friendship, above everything. That intensity of ambition is the only emotion strong enough which can sustain the level of sacrifice which athletes – and MotoGP riders are first and foremost athletes – have to make. There is only one MotoGP champion, and the riders who know they can win it cannot afford to feel any pity for the rivals who stand in their way.

That does not mean there can be no friendship between riders, however. The life and ambition of a rider is so unique that it is often only other riders who understand them, who know what they are going though. So there are riders who are good friends, but that is usually because their trajectories are not intersecting at that point in time. Cal Crutchlow has been a great friend and mentor to Jack Miller, arguably saving his career by taking him under his wing and helping him to mature, and focus on getting the best from his ability. But at the moment, Crutchlow's ambitions are focused on trying to be in a position to win races, while Miller is aiming to get into contention for the podium. When they are both gunning for wins, or gunning for a championship, strains may yet appear.

Chasing the title, breaking the streak

At the moment, however, the only rider with a clear chance at the title is Marc Márquez. Márquez rode a brilliant race under the circumstances, accepting that he could not beat Jorge Lorenzo, but hanging on to take as many points as possible in the championship. Valentino Rossi cemented his second place in the standings, taking another podium, with a little help from Andrea Dovizioso.

But Rossi's third place once again underlined the trouble Yamaha are in. This was the eighteenth race in a row without a victory for the Japanese factory, and they have now gone a full MotoGP season without a win. Barcelona equaled Yamaha's previous longest losing streak in 2002 and 2003, when they went winless after Sepang in 2002 and didn't win a race in 2003. It took Valentino Rossi defecting from Honda, together with a radically new engine design by engineer Masao Furusawa, to break that streak. Now Yamaha must pin their hopes on Rossi's magic at Assen for salvation once again.

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Lorenzo is 49 points behind Marquez.   But there's 12 races to go, so if Lorenzo won every one of those, with Marquez second, he'd take the title by 11 points.

This is obviously vanishingly unlikely, but I thought I'd point it out   :-)

Marquez has been good for one DNF in the second half of the season over the last 2 years. That plus a couple of 3rd-5th place finishes could take it to Valencia or even tip things out of his favor.

The main issue is aside from Lorenzo there aren't too many people who can take a bite out of Marquez' points. Dovi won at Qatar but has pretty much fallen off the map. Marquez should have won at Argentina. From then on it's either been him or Lorenzo on the top step.

Marquez's second half DNFs should be contextualized. In 2016 they only happened once the title was sealed, Philip Island and Sepang. Last year his DNF was mechanical. Nowadays, he keeps his blunders for the first half of the season. I guess this means they are more likely to happen before the bike is sorted. Mugello last time out being an exception.

Regardless, Lorenzo's hope depend on an incredible string of wins and Marquez having one or two good weekends.

Let's see. Lorenzo's two greatest jinx circuits are coming up, Assen and Sachsenring. His chances will be directly affected by whether he loses a lot to ground to Marquez these next GPs or makes up some ground.

>Let's see. Lorenzo's two greatest jinx circuits are coming up, Assen and Sachsenring. His chances will be directly affected by whether he loses a lot to ground to Marquez these next GPs or makes up some ground.<

I agree and will go a bit further... to me, and I'll say right up front, I'm a JLo fan and am hoping he's totally back on form and "one with the bike", as he was with the Yam. The next five races will tell if he's truly got the Duc to his liking or not ... Assen & Scahsenring are his "toughest" challenges, circuit wise... He does pretty well at Brno... and Austria should be no worries as the Ducs usually fly there... that leaves Silverstone... a track that he does fairly well on, for the most part... So that's 3 "good" circuits and two "bad" ones, to navigate... The kicker is, what will the weather be at each... and how will it influence him and his results...? Dry or fully wet, I thinks he's ok... Partially wet or damp/drying conditions will tell the tale... If he's confident and fast in marginal conditions and does well at the two "bad" circuits (which I'd say is fighting for wins at best and podiums at worst), then I'd say that he's truly "on it" and not just benefitting from being at "favorite" tracks that had outstanding weather conditions... If he stays "in that good moment" (verbage that he has used to define a "hot streak", if you will) through this stretch, then I think we can fairly safely conclude that he is back on top of his game and has helped turn the Duc into a true Championship contender...

It's a pity that things have come down the way they have, between JLo & Ducati's management... I loved the post race press conference yesterday... Seeing the three best riders, representing three different makes... all on the podium... it just makes the imagination dance at the possibilities of 19 races with those three, each one in their "good moment", battling it out next year...

Phillip Island - advantage Marquez (based on track record & Ducati past performances)

Thailand - advantage Marquez (based on 2018 pre-season testing)

Japan - Neutral (Jorge was strong here on a Yamaha, Marquez is strong here in front of Honda corporate)

Sepang - advantage Jorge (based on 2017 performance & 2018 pre-season testing)

Valencia - advantage Jorge (dominates this track when he's comfortable)

Going back further, its a constant back and forth;  Marquez will own the Sachsenring.  Ducati will own Austria.  Aragon and Misano? Toss-ups.

JLo's chances to Marc's on any particular track... I was pointing out that rather than declaring that JLo had everything covered with the Duc, based solely on two wins at tracks that he can be competative on in his sleep... and in pristine riding conditions, as most of the pundits have done, maybe we should wait and see what happens over a larger sample size of tracks, that are both "good" and "bad" tracks for him... and a variety of weather conditions...

Being a fan of his, I do know that he has to be "feeling it", confidenence wise and front end feel of the bike wise, to really shine through with his (sigh) "hammer time" riding results. I don't doubt his and the Ducati's ability to do that at favored tracks in dry conditions. I want to see it happen in less than ideal circumstances... If that happens, then, in my opinion, he has truly conquered the Duc and can make a serious run to possibly challenge Marc or more realistically, second place in the standings. Which would be a decent result, seeing as he had 16 points after three races... and was almost off the chart, standings wise.

As far as the Austria race goes, with Honda upping their straight line top speed and not having many corners that require hard acceleration out of, I don't think that you can say that Ducati has any huge advantage there any longer.

I'm most interested in seeing his (JLo's) riding at Assen and Sachsenring, if he does well there, particularly Sachsenring, then I think that you could say that he and the Duc are truly an excellent combo because he would be doing it at a place that he has traditionally struggled at.

The other wild card in all this, race to race, is how well each rider/bike adapts to the tire allowance for the track. It's clear that Jorge has really struggled with the transition to the Michelins, even when he was on the Yamaha in 2016... Michelins first year... and ESPECIALLY in damp or wet conditions. He stated that the real edge he found the last two races was how to adapt or change his riding to use the tires without abusing them. Does that mean that he's finally gotten or is getting, his head wrapped around how ride with Michelins? If so, and if the Duc is as good under him as it seems and he has his swagger back... that can be a deadly combination...

My point was and is that I want to see it over more than two races before I give my "seal of approval" of Jorge and the Duc being "back" and all conquoring...

Post race press conference was great.  Finally a solid question put to the riders about friend and foe.  "Is like this" is 100% accurate and will likely never change.

It was most interesting to watch Vale as Lorenzo spoke.  Rossi appeared deep in concentration of what Lorenzo was saying, nodding accordingly with every sentence Jorge finished. 

This type of silent aknowledgement cannot be understated from two personalities with the history of these two.

Not to mention Vale's passive shoulder nudging after each other's sarcastic statements and jokes.

I truly believe the difficulties of riding for Ducati; dealing with Ducati; have bridged the relationship of these two in the purest form of respect.

Ride through the Ducati blame game yourself;Now only you, the rider is the culprit; so everyone starts to doubt you, your talent, your determination, and your trophy case full of World Championships.  Because the bike is good sometimes. 

That is like 2 soldiers that have been through the same war, knowing exactly what "the fog of war" truly means.

How can we talk about Domenicali in polite terms? Did he learn anything from the Stoner era, from his book?
I can't imagine a factory full of astonishing engineers not listening carefully to such a great rider as Lorenzo.
It would have been amazing to witness Lorenzo winning on the Ducati to the end of his career.

Silly season after all :-)

Will be interesting to see how Jorge at his best form and latest Ducati, a bike with so good electronics will react in mixed conditions. 

"When they interviewed me [for Italian TV] after the race at Mugello, I said nothing had been decided," Domenicali told Mela Chercoles. "Ten minutes later, he said that he had already decided. More patience was needed. It's a shame he did not have it."


Isn't he the one who started prematurely waffling on about his disproval of the way lorenzo has been going and possible dismissal if it doesn't work out?

If HE had the patience to just shut up and wait until AFTER Catalunya like they all orignally said before making decision then Jorge might not have heard indirectly that his seat could be lost for 2019. Obviously Jorge (out of possible desperation) had to find something.. 


Nice write up David. In depth but broad enough to show where the MotoGP circus is right now. Well done.

David, I've been listening to your podcasts with interest and wonder if/when the talk will change from Dovi's chances of the WC to Lorenzo's. Its been talked about so far this year in regards to Dovi's chances etc. However at the moment both factory Ducati riders are on the same points. 

Obviously if at Assen onwards JL has a shocker then this point may be mute, but at the moment the momentum seems to be at least shared if not swinging into JL's favor. I'm not talking in regards to Ducati's views, more where the WC is at the moment. 

Also, is this history repeating at Ducati? ie, not listening to riders.

Further to Honda, is the thought re signing of JL in your view to potentially make the bike more user friendly? Seems from some comments from Cal and others that MM masks the issues that the bike has.

from some of the riders.

Vinales reminds me so much of Cole Trickle in "Days of Thunder", he rides like the devil is chasing him but has absolutely no ability to analyse or communicate what the issue is when he's not fast.  But I can't help feeling this also applies to his own performance: he talks about the bike not turning with a heavy tank, different starting strategy's yada yada but it it was his own poor start that had hime going from 4th to 10th before the first corner.  That is his to own, nothing to do with the bike.

Similar story for Lorenzo really, complaining that Ducati hadn't provided the tank support he needed....what, he's allergic to foam and duct tape?  It would be the work of minutes to rough something out and prove his point.  But it's easier to make it someone elses problem than think about what you can do yourself.

...with the prime suspects being Bibendum, Greasy Jack Dunlop, and King Sol (the one in the sky, not the one who sat on the French Throne and who suffered perceived slights, insults...or unenthusiastic applause...almost as badly as Jorge. Almost).

Marc is the now the personification of the calm, calculating one. And I suspect he has been for quite some time.

Jorge is the happy one. It was genuinely nice to see Jorge smile a bit. It was especially nice to see Jorge and Vale engage each other without resorting to miles of razor wire and belt-fed weapons. It was a little sad to see the unspoken "this one...not so much" directed at MM. Perhaps Vale and Jorge (and the rest of the grid, and all of us gossips) should go buy a fresh pack of  Hanlon's Razors: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity". I feel that Marc's litany of transgressions has always had youthful stupidity (which is very often a tonic, not a poison) as it's main theme, not evil. But villainy is so much more interesting a subject than stupidity that I expect the whippings will continue until morale improves.

Dovi is now making significant errors which, at least in my (reliably suspect) opinion are compounded by looking in the rear view mirror, not the track in front of him. You cannot alter the past, at least at this exalted level, by trying to eat the elephant with one bite. Take small bites, Andrea, and chew them thoroughly. There are no 50 point swings in a MotoGP race weekend. And his crew needs to help with some real-time analysis. Looking at the first series of lap times, it was achingly apparent that Dovi was not going to catch Marc, but probably had Vale well covered. A simple dashboard message saying "3rd OK" may have prevented Dovi chasing false hopes into the nearest convenient gravel trap. Risk without reward is indeed a fool's errand.

I will say this about Vale: The man doesn't leave much on his plate these days, does he? He has consistently delivered the best results this year that could be rationally obtained. If he were on a winning bike, we would all be rapturous of the skill and judgment of this Antediluvian Hero. But a distant 2nd in the championship is not even on the same page as 1st, or "mostly" 1st (a close second).

Note: Illuminating comments by Vale regarding the care and feeding of a "soft" compound during a race. Well, illuminating if you bring your own torch and a vivid imagination. Vale's comments seem to be saying that the danger zone of using the soft compounds was in the first 5-7 laps, not the last 5-7 laps of the race. This would appear to possibly be an effect of the race staring on the skin of a Moto2 pudding, but finishing on mostly MotoGP Bibendum residue. The actual danger may be in excessively sliding/spinning the softer compound early, and thereby putting the compound into its thermal red-zone, from which there is apparently little recovery possible until the Moto2 surface is scrubbed away and replaced by the Michelin generated surface. I seem to recall that in his darkest Ducati nightmares, Jorge had identified this issue, and we would see him fade back (sometimes drastically after a competitive start) until the track surface changed, at which point he would radically drop his lap times. We also see this with Vinales (see below). And riders who excessively over spin/slide a soft Michelin race tire early appear to have no chance at all of later reconciliation, as their compounds are well and truly cooked in the first segment (see Iannone). But wont the medium-to-hard compounds slide/spin as well in the opening segment? Absolutely, but they may not be thermally stressed as a result, as the native DNA of those compounds is designed for the higher temperatures involved. So this is the world turned upside down: With a soft tire, you may need to ride very smoothly indeed to preserve its' properties through the first 5-7 laps, after which you will have a friend to the end. With the harder compounds, you may need to go like a demon early (certainly MM does), and then ride around a compound that is too hard for conditions when the track changes form Greasy Jack Dunlop to Bon Ami Bibendum in the second half. I am certainly not 100% convinced of this, but I am convinced that it is something that should be watched and analyzed. 

Vinales still seems mystified by the simple fact that a racetrack coated with Dunlop Moto2 Rubber early on a hot afternoon (at the start of the race) is nothing at all like the same track earlier in the week...which was bereft of the Greasy Jack Dunlop treatment. I will posit another theory: Maverick improves during the race as much from the gradual depletion of the Moto2 rubber (which is eventually scrubbed away and replaced by Michelin rubber) as the popular "the poor lad is just befuddled by a full fuel tank" theory currently buzzing about. Today's test was another classic example of Yamaha's most fragile asset chasing solutions on a track surface he will never see when the green flag drops. I love the results these Teams get on a Monday after a race, where they have a clean race surface coated by naught but compatible rubber...and then are lost when Greasy Jack sneaks back into the pantry two weeks later. Sigh. Well some are confused, the Teams doing all the winning seem to have a far better understanding of what matters...and when it matters.

Zarco...if you wondered what it would have been like racing for Suzuki, now you know. Except it is not Suzuki 2018 that you are experiencing, but Suzuki 1999-2001, where they were literally epoxying crankcases back together to keep Hamamatsu Flyers running. There will be no upgrades or new parts until you start wearing your spiffy orange pajamas for KTM. Be thankful that you are still getting new tires, and not an allotment of Hafizh' used ones you were forced to scrounge out of the dumpster. Better times are coming, and in the mean time take some comfort from the fact that epoxied engine cases did win quite a few races for two years (and one WC). For all the usual paddock drama about Zarco post Le Mans, I think the truth of its is closer to this: The satellite Yamaha you roll onto the grid at Losail will be identical to the one you roll onto the grid at Circuit Ricardo Tomo many months later, right down to the stickers. To stand still in MotoGP means going backwards very quickly, and be assured you are a development Paracarro for the rest of this year. But all of this Johann already knows, which is why I continue to respect Zarco's dedication and intelligence; he has openly acknowledged that he would really like to have a look at Vale's data, to see how il Maestro is currently dealing with the Yamaha enigma. Don't hold you breath, Mon Ami, even if I do think that Yamaha would gain as much from Zarco's take on Rossi's data as Tech Trois would.

Nice result for Cal, who may have learned why monkeys rarely let go of the branch they are currently holding before securely grasping the aspirational one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with just being the best Cal Crutchlow on the grid, as your many supporters would readily attest.

Pramac: Danilo...be more like Jack. Jack, be more like Danilo.

I wish Scott Redding the best of luck wherever he winds up, and I was fully prepared to say something nice about his 12th place Sunday...except it required 12 DNF's by his competitors to achieve that result. I do hope he gets a better hand dealt him in whatever class he is competing in next year, but MotoGP is not his future.

Then again, we saw two resurrections Sunday that would have made Lazarus sit up and take notice: Fabio Quartararo's effort this weekend was stunning, and a great moment for anyone who delights in seeing a short history of very bad decisions overcome. The reason I hope this continues is, for my part, purely a selfish one: When he is on, Fabio is one of those rare bright lights that flash "genius". He can be one of the few that you can spot on the track without even knowing his bike's color or number.  The other attempted rebirth was equally extraordinary, except Nicolò Bulega has about the same luck as Wile E. Coyote when it comes to avoiding general mayhem. Brilliant ride all for naught by getting binned in the end (through no fault of his own). I hope things turn around and he can parlay some future success into a ride on an adult-sized motorcycle. He is 5'11", he can't take anymore weight off of his lanky frame and still have a shadow, and I have quit trying to figure out if I should be betting on the Monkey or the Coconut when he climbs aboard a Moto3 bike. OK, a haircut might help shed a few kilo's, but since that is the promised outcome of his next victory, I hope to see him in a barber's chair sooner rather than later. Cheers.

PS - Thanks for the great write up, David, as the latest MotoGP race was not the most dramatic material to work from, but as usual you provided great insight and made it all work. Usually I will find myself looking at a replay of the prior race to fill in the "off" Sundays, but I have no real desire to see this one again. Ever. I expect "nunc est bibendum" will have to suffice instead next weekend, which if nothing else should reduce the excessive monkey references considerably. 

PPS - Almost forgot about Dani. Drove like a man with a fresh mission, didn't he? Well...maybe he has one. My favorite German Gossip Source, Speeedweek.com, is reporting the following (but understand, as much as I love and respect all the good folks at Speedweek.com, there are times when their reporting philosophy seems to be: "Sometimes wrong...but never in doubt").

  • The Marc VDS Team is dead as Julius Caesar as a 2019 MotoGP effort. DORNA will pocket the two rider slots and hold them for a few years for VR46, as well as pocketing the 5-6 million euros they were subsidizing Marc VDS with. It is expected that Marc VDS will continue as a viable race team in the smaller classes.
  • The Angel Nieto Team will step aside in MotoGP and their slots will become the property of the new Petronas/Sepang Circuit backed efforts. I expect Jorge Martinez collected a decent payday for bowing out, but since half of Spain seems to be under indictment (for reasons that may never be made clear) there may be some future legal rainclouds on his horizon as-well, and nothing ensures equal justice in the eyes of the law like ready access to vastly unequal wealth. I hope that this is not the case for the Four-Time World Champion (as a rider) now turned Team owner, but as the old adage says "choose your friends, don't let them choose you". Bautista, Luthi, and Abraham are out in the cold, with or without ready access to vast wealth.
  • The new Petronas/Sepang Circuit Team, while collecting the gid slots from Aspar, are stocking their shelves exclusively with the soon to be redundant Marc VDS crew and equipment. Something about nicer transporters and hospitality facilities (one can only hope that all of this was communicated to Mr. van der Straten in French this time, so he is not wandering about the paddock wondering where the hell all of his stuff went. Again). The expected riders are Morbidelli (who appears to have a contract with Marc van der Straten, not Marc VDS) and Dani Pedrosa. But we shall see. Because the final bit of the puzzle is the Do-Re-Mi. Is the Petronas/Sepang Circuit offer cash on the barrelhead, or another all too familiar racing promise to "gladly pay you next Tuesday for a hamburger today"? Dani isn't riding next year as a hobby, and as much as Yamaha wants this to happen, they are not giving satellite bikes away as a new form of Malaysian charity, especially the four additional 2019 spec M1's that would seem necessary to obtain the services of riders like Pedrosa and Morbidelli. But if the Malaysian investors dig deep, and Dorna kicks in as well, this should be doable. But this is still a big undertaking with a lot of pieces to move around the chessboard, a pile of contracts that need to be approved (in 4 or 5 languages), a bunch of hiring and firing decisions made, and all of that required before anyone in Iwata sends an order for "four more" to the race department. And Yamaha has about 10 days to make that call or there will simply be no additional 2019 spec M1's available.
  • So the grid shrinks from 24 contracted riders to 22 next year, and DORNA's response to that seems to be a roaring "meh". 22 are evidently plenty, and hopefully this will also provide a great many more opportunities for Wildcard entries. So with the improvement in the overall quality of riders and bikes for 2019-2020, no worries about simply keeping two empty grid slots reserved for VR46 until 2021.
  • Dorna solves the ongoing liability of two very weak teams in 2019 (well, they are now, whether self-inflicted or as victims of an unjust fate) with this very complicated solution by mashing the salvageable bits of both into one very strong team.

I really hope this happens for Morbidelli and Dani, as I think both get on with the M1 like Lucifer with hot coals. But until it is all signed, sealed, and delivered, we are still just talking about how to cook the rabbits we haven't caught yet.

Maybe she is too hot for her own good. Don't forget Stephane Mertens on the Ducati 888 superbike at P.I. in 1992

Aprilia have flaming hot bikes to, remember Colin Edwards on the Cube 990 back in the early noughties 2002 or 2003

Was it a hare rather than a rabbit at Mugello.

Great stuff Jinx, thanks a ton!

Especially appreciate the well considered and entertaining info re the SIC/Petronas situation. Poor Morbidelli must not be sleeping well of late. I can see Dani willing to get on a 2018 Yamaha. Yes he is obviously struggling with separating from Honda as he is as much of a "company man" as we have seen in a long while. But the well is also a tad bitter with his estranged father figure swimming in it. You can see Dani' s curiosity about getting on a Yamaha, how can he not be curious? But the Red Bull link over at KTM may be a factor as well. The bike though, less so. We won't have to wait too long. Lots happening quickly.

Yamaha. Will they put even just ONE more full fat factory bike out there in a Jr Team?! Jeez Louise we have been banging on this for a long time. Perhaps with Pedrosa, Petronas money, paltry development progress, and potential promise they finally proceed prudently.

Keep them coming friend

particularly like your point on Vinales and the tires...He keeps saying he can't turn the bike yet the Yamaha is/was the best turning bike on the grid.

He can't accelerate, but 2 years ago, the Yamaha had the best out of the corner acceleration of them all.


I wish this myth about top level competitors not being capable of being friends would die. Jorge and Vale aren’t friends because they never were friends. In any other context they still wouldn’t be friends. Who knows exactly what makes some people click and other people not, but they obviously don’t click.  Not because they’re fierce rivals, but because they just have incompatible personalities.  How many aquantainces do most of us have, and how many of those do we actually consider friends? Not many. Jorge and Vale are work aquantainces, no different than the ones most of us have. 

I was never a world champion (or even close) but I was a high performance collegiate athlete fighting for spots on national teams. Most of my competitors were aquantainces, but a couple were friends because we shared common interests outside of sport and more generally just somehow ‘clicked’.  We’d fight for the last spot on a team, and sometimes one of us would make it and the other wouldn’t. It made no difference to our genuine friendship.

I have 3 sisters who were all Olympic athletes, who had fierce rivalries with mostly aquantainces but also a few friends.  The status of their relationships had nothing to do with how directly they were competing against them, it had to do with whether or not they were genuinely compatable as friends.  I don’t believe the MotoGP paddock to be any different. For some reason we seem to want every rider to be bitter enemies or great friends (I guess because the extremes make for better story telling) but the truth is they’re mostly aquantances because they’re human just like the rest of us.


Can you shed any illumination on the Jorge/Ducati splilt? It seems, beyond comprehension, that Ducati hasn't learned a smidgeon from the Rossi era. Dovi's had years adjusting to this bike, but they give Jorge 12 months and then start talking 'your out'?  Was Ducati actually slow in making certain changes to the bike that Jorge wanted? Ducati's been waiting, for the second coming of Stoner, and now, when it seems the sun is rising..... 

Hindsight came fast and hard. Surprising sudden swell of form and fit for Jorge and the DucatI.

I saw Jorge looming just before the Mugello weekend, and it was a bloom of potential only. In real time did you call it differently? It was an odd duck that saw Lorenzo staying and it being good for anyone.


With each weekend that passes, I'm more and more convinced whatever issues MV has with the bike are between his ears.  Rossi's making it work...he has criticism, but makes it work.  Zarco, despite falling back as of late, certainly has made the bike work.  MV's just...in his own way, perhaps.  

What on earth happened during the start?  That onboard footage from his bike was hard to watch...like...in that awkward, I'm embarrassed for you, kind of way.  (as I sit on my couch, judging, with a keyboard...I know).  Still...he should grab the business card of Dovi's shrink...