Analysis

Barcelona MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Managing Tires, Honda Hinting At Espargaro's Future, And Silly Season Kicks Off

Mugello and Barcelona are widely regarded as very similar circuits. Both have a long, fast straight approached from a fast, sweeping corner. Both have long corners, where the ability to carry corner speed counts. There are differences too: Barcelona does not have as many left-right combination corners, where riders have to choose which corner to take perfectly and which corner to leave themselves open to attack.

But the biggest difference between Mugello and Barcelona is in the asphalt. Mugello is pretty tough on tires, mainly because of the high speeds involved. But Barcelona is a grueling assault on Michelin's race rubber, the circuit featuring the deadly combination of high speeds, long corners, an abrasive surface, and scorching track temperatures.

That makes the race a war of attrition. Do not push too early, or you burn up your tires and will struggle to reach the finish line. But be too gentle, and you risk losing touch with the leaders, and are left to hope they will use up their tires before the end of the race. It is a game of patience.

Hot and cold

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A Fourth Operation: Why Marc Marquez Had No Choice But To Get More Surgery On His Right Arm

Today, Thursday, is the day that Marc Marquez hopes the long nightmare of the last two years will start to end. The six-time MotoGP champion is to have an operation to straighten the humerus in his right arm. To straighten it, because the bone grew back twisted after three previous operations to fix the bone he broke in a massive crash at the first race in Jerez in 2020.

Most MotoGP fans know the story pretty much by heart now, but to recap. Marquez ran wide at Turn 5 during the first race of the pandemic-stricken series of 2020, at Jerez in July. He staged an incredible comeback, making from almost dead last all the way back up to third, and challenging for second, before his bike spat him off at Turn 3, then hit him as he tumbled through the gravel, breaking his right arm.

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Mugello MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Cream Of MotoGP, Why The Ducati Is Best, Mugello Makes Passing Possible, And The New Marc Marquez

Mugello is a real motorcycle racing track. And on Sunday, it served up a real motorcycle race. After close games of follow-my-leader at Jerez and Le Mans, we had battles, we had passing, we had riders attacking and counterattacking, lining people up to dive underneath, or sweeping out of the slipstream to dive under the rider ahead at Turn 1.

Does this mean MotoGP's overtaking problem has been fixed? Only if we hold an entire season's worth of racing at Mugello and Phillip Island (which doesn't sound like such a terrible idea, to be honest). But it offers hope that when conditions are right, we can see the kind of spectacle which we have come to expect from MotoGP.

Even the atmosphere was good. Sure, the crowd was much thinner on the ground than in previous years – roughly half of what you might expect, making the drive into the track smooth and easy – but they brought the smoke bombs, the passion, the cheering, helped in no small part by the fact that there was an all-Italian front row, and an Italian rider won the Italian Grand Prix on an Italian bike.

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Mugello MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marc Marquez' Long-Term Decision, The Meaninglessness of Rain Flags, And A Special Day for Italy

Saturday was a celebration of Italian motorcycling. First, there was the retirement ceremony for Valentino Rossi's race number, 46. A peculiar custom, but if we are going to indulge in it, then #46 is the number which deserves it most. The ceremony also raised the biggest cheers of the weekend so far, and created the kind of atmosphere we are used to at Mugello. For a few moments, the crowd felt a little less sparse.

That ceremony came on top of yesterday's proceedings which saw Max Biaggi inducted as a MotoGP Legend, Dorna's equivalent of a hall of fame. The Italian topped that off on Saturday evening by circulating on a soaking wet track on the Aprilia 250 he built his reputation on, and with which he won so many titles.

But the crowning glory of the Italian Grand Prix was a trio of Italian youngsters on the front row of the grid, on a trio of Italian bikes. All three in Italian teams, with both VR46 riders on the front row, on the day that #46 was retired. An Italian rookie taking pole in spectacular style. And to top it off, four Italians in the top five, and six Italian bikes in the top seven.

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Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: FP1 Brings Aero Updates, And Aprilia's Plans With RNF Racing

For anyone with a keen eye for detail, the first session of free practice on the Friday of a MotoGP event is always fascinating. FP1 is where riders will try new parts, or more experimental setup changes. Helpfully, those changes are almost always tested back to back with the standard setup, for the sake of comparison.

Even more useful is the fact that the first run of the day is done on the bike which the rider has been using so far this season, to give them a quick reminder of exactly how the bike feels and set a baseline. They then jump onto the second bike (using the same tires) with the altered setup or new parts. It makes spotting differences a good deal easier.

When those new parts are updates to the aerodynamics package, spotting differences becomes a piece of cake. Fortunately for people like me with poor eyesight and addled brains.

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Mugello MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Mugello Makes Passing Easier, And The Merits Of Banning Technology

If there has been one topic which has dominated MotoGP so far in 2022, it is the profound lack of overtaking in the first few races. The causes have been discussed ad nauseam – ride-height devices mean riders are braking later, loading the front more, aerodynamics are creating turbulence which makes following difficult and overheats the front tire – but there is another factor which has not been touched upon so often.

"Nowadays with the problems that we have, that the front is heating and to stop the bike is hard with the wings and everything, the tracks where you have to stop and go, it's quite difficult to overtake in the braking area, you know?" Joan Mir said on Thursday. Tracks like Le Mans, or Austin, or even Jerez, with tight corners where you can sit in the slipstream and try to outbrake the rider ahead pose a problem.

"This track is completely the opposite," Mir pointed out. "You don't have to be good in the braking, you have to be good on corner speed, to find the flow, to get a good line, that's so important in this track, and that's why this track is good for overtakes, and for the show."

Flow = show

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Mugello MotoGP Preview: Will Fans Turn Up For A Glorious Spectacle In A Stunning Setting?

In a way, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello may prove to be the very first post MotoGP round of the post-Rossi era. As a motorcycle racing venue, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello has everything going for it. The setting is stunning, nestling in a valley in the hills of Tuscany. The location is outstanding, a little more than an hour away from one of the greatest Renaissance cities in the world, stuffed to the gunnels with outstanding architecture and the finest art on the planet. The food is outstanding, as is the wine.

Then there's the race track. Together with Phillip Island, the last of the great motorcycling circuits where MotoGP bikes have the room to stretch their legs, yet where a rider can still make all the difference. The circuit rolls and flows around the valley, following the natural contours of the landscape.

It has a bit of everything: hard braking into Turn 1 after the fastest straight on the calendar, the approach on a crest where the bikes almost take flight. It has left-right and right-left combinations which offer opportunities to make a pass, but also lay yourself open to counterattack. It has high-speed kinks and fast uphill and downhill corners. And it has long, fast, flowing turns where carrying corner speed is crucial, and where the brave can truly make the difference.

No rest for the wickedly fast

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Why There Are No Quick Fixes To MotoGP's Dearth Of Overtaking

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you will have heard the criticism of MotoGP. Though the field is close, it has become harder and harder to overtake the riders in front. The Le Mans race was a case in point: the 27-lap race featured only a handful of overtakes, most of which were made possible only by a mistake by the rider ahead.

The problem was brought into stark relief by last weekend's WorldSBK races at Estoril. Alvaro Bautista, Jonathan Rea, and Toprak Razgatlioglu put on a dazzling display of passing in all three races on Saturday and Sunday, finding ways to jam their bikes ahead of each other into the first corner, the fourth corner, the Parabolica Interior, and the tight, awkward uphill chicane. They produced three glorious races.

The spectacle of Rea, Razgatlioglu, and Bautista knocking spots off one another reinforced that the problem is indeed down to the technological point at which MotoGP finds itself. With limited aerodynamics and no ride-height devices, the WorldSBK trio found no problem diving out of the slipstream and outbraking each other.

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Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Wrong Ducati Winning, Contract Revolt Brewing, And Why Can't Riders Overtake?

The rain held off, despite a brief shower which caused mayhem during the Moto3 race and meant the first race of the day had to be severely shortened and restarted (TV is king, and only absolute disaster can be allowed to move the start of the MotoGP race from its sacred 2pm CET slot), and so we got the dry MotoGP race we deserved. No descent into chaos and confusion, no randomized results based on gambles, smart or otherwise, or appetite for risk.

In fact, chaos is fast becoming a thing of the past in MotoGP. The first few races seemed like an absolute lottery, for one reason or another. In the first three races of 2022, there were 9 different riders on the podium, with nobody seemingly capable of getting on the podium a second time. At round 4, in Austin, we saw the first podium repeats, with Enea Bastianini and Alex Rins on the box once again, and Jack Miller making it 10 different riders on the podium in 4 races.

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Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Qualifying Surprises, Evaluating Aleix, And Retiring Numbers

The MotoGP riders are hoping that Le Mans doesn't turn into another Portimão. In Portugal, they spent two days perfecting their wet setup, only to find themselves racing in the dry with next to no time on a dry track, outside of morning warm up. At Le Mans, it could well be the opposite. Two days of practice in near-perfect conditions, only for the race to be held in the rain. Or not, the forecast changes every time you look at it.

The weather isn't the only thing capable of surprising. All through FP3 and FP4, a very clear pattern emerged. The reigning world champion had come to his home grand prix with a plan, and vengeance in his heart. Still smarting from finishing second in Jerez, Fabio Quartararo is intent on stamping his authority on the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

The Frenchman's rhythm in free practice was fearsome. 1'31.7s with used tires in FP3, 1'31.6s with used tires in FP4. Not single laps either, but effortlessly stringing together runs of lap after lap. The only riders who came close to that kind of pace were Alex Rins and Aleix Espargaro, but they didn't have the consistency which Quartararo was displaying.

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