2018 Valencia Race Round Up: KTM Cleans Up, New Tires Make The Difference, Emotional Farewells, And A 2019 Testing Preview

It has been a strange and intense year in MotoGP, so it seems fitting that we should end the year with such a strange and intense weekend. Three races defined by the weather, by crashes, and by riders holding their nerve and playing their cards right. And at the end, an explosion of emotion. Exactly as it should have been.

There were no titles on the line on Sunday – no serious titles, though the riders vying for Independent Rider and the teams chasing the Team Championship may choose to disagree – but the emotional release on Sunday was as great, or perhaps even greater, than if all three championships had been decided. We had records broken in Moto3, a new factory on the podium in MotoGP, and a farewell to old friends in all three classes, as riders move up, move over, or move on.

The weather figured prominently, as you might expect. Moto3 and Moto2 got off lightly, the rain falling gently and consistently, keeping the track wet, but never to a truly dangerous degree. That did not stop riders from falling off, of course, and dictating the outcome of both races. Those crashes – two races, two riders crashing out of the lead – were just as emotional as the riders who went on to win.

In with the new, out with the old

First up, Moto3, and a day filled with irony. Tony Arbolino broke away early, with Marco Bezzecchi chasing him down. Then Bezzecchi went down, and stopped chasing, and Arbolino had a massive gap over Can Öncü, the young Turk who the FIM just rewrote the rulebook for again, just as they had for Fabio Quartararo before him. In the case of Quartararo, the FIM allowed the winner of the FIM CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship to compete in the FIM Moto3 World Championship before they had celebrated their 16th birthday. For Öncü, they made the same exception for the winner of the Red Bull Rookies.

It seems a little odd to make general rules for individual and very special cases, but with Quartararo about to move up to MotoGP at the tender age of 19, you could argue it wasn't a wrong decision. And given Öncü's performance at Valencia on the Red Bull KTM, those special rules seem entirely justified.

Arbolino's gap grew to a comfortable lead, the Italian maintaining a buffer of three seconds over Öncü. Then Arbolino threw it all away, crashing out of the lead and out of the race. He was emotionally annihilated, holding his helmeted head in his gloved hands for the best part of half an hour, from the moment he fell off the bike and realized he had thrown away the chance of his first win, and his first podium in Moto3.

The Young One

Öncü had no such problems. The Turkish wildcard opened the gap over Jorge Martin further each lap, barely making a single mistake. A sole fright on the last lap, the rear threatening to come round on him before relenting, but Öncü remained calm, and cruised home to take victory in his first ever Grand Prix race, becoming the youngest ever rider to win a Grand Prix in the process. Ironic, really, that Öncü should take that record from Scott Redding, on the day that Redding rode his final Grand Prix. He also became the first rider since Nobby Ueda in 1991 to win the first Grand Prix of his career.

Öncü has all the makings of a very special rider, but a note of caution is perhaps warranted. Sure, Öncü has won just about every category he has entered since he first started racing motorcycles aged 8, but precocious talent is not sufficient for success. Romano Fenati finished second in first Grand Prix, then won his second, but has failed to contain his temper sufficiently to succeed. Scott Redding became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner in 2009, but is out of the MotoGP paddock before his 26th birthday. On the other hand, Marc Márquez failed to score a single point in his first Grand Prix, while Valentino Rossi finished sixth, some 7 seconds behind the winner. At some point, probably at Qatar, Can Öncü will finish somewhere ordinary, and stop being Mr 100%. At that moment, we will get the measure of his character, and of his potential.

Throwing it all away

Next up, Moto2, and another race decided by a crash. At the midway point, Alex Márquez was leading comfortably from Miguel Oliveira, and had the race in hand. And then Alex Márquez crashed out, and Oliveira was on his own leading the race, and clear of the field. Two races, two victories for Red Bull KTM, and confirmation that Oliveira has the grit and consistency to persevere where Márquez tries to override the bike, and pays the price.

Alex Márquez probably picks up the habit of overriding the bike from his brother Marc, when the pair clash on track while racing dirt track. But it is becoming ever more clear that Alex doesn't have the talent of his brother, which is the difference between always saving the bike, and losing it more often than not. Despite the best intentions of Emilio Alzamora, who has built the Marc VDS team around Alex Márquez since Michael Bartholémy was sacked as team boss, Márquez' results haven't substantially improved. He continues to fall short of expectations, while move on to glory.

Two for the price of one

Two down, one to go. Or at least that was the theory: in practice, the last MotoGP race of Dani Pedrosa (others also left, but may still return) turned out to be the penultimate race for the Spaniard, as the first race would be red flagged due to the conditions. Alex Rins had escaped at the beginning, with Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi trying to chase the Suzuki down. Behind the leaders, riders fell like flies as the traction control tried but ultimately failed to keep pace with the cold conditions and poor grip. Rider after rider either went down or got flicked off as conditions kept changing throughout.

The race had started with the rain gone and the sky clearing, the weather sufficient to persuade Marc Márquez to switch from the soft rear tires to the mediums, after he had been so fast on the harder rubber during FP3. But while conditions had stayed stable through Moto3 and Moto2, it turned fickle during the MotoGP race. The rain returned shortly after the start, growing heavier, and then a little lighter, before coming back with a vengeance. Enough, at the end, for Race Direction to red flag the race due to standing water starting to collect on the track.

But that was not before a whole gaggle of riders had gone down. Aleix Espargaro, then Jack Miller, then Tom Lüthi, Danilo Petrucci, Marc Márquez, Andrea Iannone, Franco Morbidelli, and Maverick Viñales. Though most were resigned to their fate, Jack Miller was furious, shouting at IRTA secretary Mike Trimby in pit lane that Race Direction should have stopped the race much earlier.

Safety first

"It was a joke," Miller said. "They should stopped the race a long time before. I am not giving myself and excuse or anything but for example Maverick crashed almost in a straight line. Listening from the box with the bikes going down the straight going up and down, up and down, and you could hear them coming. It was not normal and with the amount of water coming down, we pushed on Friday in the safety commission to say hey, with the two red flags in practice on Friday, we said if it gets bad put the red flag out. For me it was like they were trying to make three-quarters race distance."

Not everyone shared Miller's opinion with the same conviction. "One lap early may be better, but it's very difficult," Marc Márquez said. "It's difficult for me, I was riding just two laps before. When I was riding before I crashed, the lap before, I started to think, if it continues like this, in two or three laps they will stop the race. So I was thinking, just be on the bike, because if they stop the race I will change the tire. But I mean, when I crashed, it was still possible to ride. OK, it was dangerous, because there was some aquaplaning in some areas, but it was OK to ride."


Márquez may have been hoping to be on the bike when the red flag came out, but that was not how it worked out. His gamble on a medium wet tire didn't pay off, the conditions overcoming the grip at Turn 9, Márquez ending up being flicked off over the handlebars. He tried to protect his injured left shoulder as he slid through the gravel, but he couldn't avoid taking a hit to the shoulder as he fell.

The Repsol Honda rider took full responsibility after the race. "Today was maybe my biggest mistake of the season, because I chose the medium rear tire," Márquez said. "On the grid, all the team, Santi [Hernandez], Alberto [Puig] said to me, 'if it starts to rain, with the soft you are OK', but the problem was that in FP3 with the medium, I was riding in a very good way with not so much water on the track, and when we went out from the box today there was not so much water, and then in the last part of the grid procedure, it stopped raining. Then I said, 'put the medium on'."

"They put the medium on, but when we started the race, a big rain started, and it was so difficult because every time the rear temperature was going down and down, and then I crashed. Fortunately I'm OK physically, but it's true that I need to learn from my mistake, because today the decision was not a good one. I was the only one with the medium. But even like this I was there. So with the soft – on the warm up I felt good, during all the weekend, but sometimes I take the decision and it's the correct one, but today was my first big mistake of the season, but fortunately it's the last race."

He had known that choosing the medium rear was a gamble, and it was not a risk he would have taken if the championship was not already sewn up. "Today, what I needed was fighting for the championship," Márquez said. "If you're fighting for the championship, it is different. If I am fighting for the championship, I will choose the same option as the others. Why? Because then I know I have the same options and the same tools to chase the best result." With nothing left to lose, Márquez took more risk, even though it left him empty handed when that risk proved a bridge too far.

Electronics shenanigans

Maverick Viñales was equally frank about shouldering the blame. His crash was simply the result of pushing too hard, though the need to push quite so hard was as a result of a problem with the electronics. "I was pushing, I was giving my best but when I reacted, I was already over the handlebar," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. "But anyway, I’m quite happy because I got a problem with the electronics and looks like there was no anti-wheelie, the traction control was working and not working, so the first six laps was like a nightmare for me."

It was as if the bike could not make up its mind whether it was at full lean or not, Viñales explained. There was no power in one gear, then full power in the next, and hard to know what was going on. "For example, second gear was okay but as soon as I shift to third there was no power, and then I shift to fourth and it was all power, very unstable and completely on the wheelie."

It took a while for Viñales to figure out how to deal with the problem, but once he did, he started to close back in on race leader Alex Rins. "Everyone was overtaking me on the straight because the bike there was without power, zero power, so I was losing a lot, like one second every lap," he explained. "Then I start to think what I can do, so I was like, no full gas all the track, and was just half gas to try to at least not to get the wheelie and have the bike not stop. When I understood that, I started to ride faster and faster and faster, I just think the crash is a consequence of that. I needed to push so much to recover all I lost on the straights but it was nice to feel strong on wet. Because the races I go on wet it was really bad, I could never ride, but today I could ride the bike."

It had been a very instructive experience, despite the crash, Viñales explained. He had understood that he needed to adapt his riding style much more when conditions changed. "For example, in the wet, I always try to make a lot of the lap time on the brakes," the Spaniard told us. "Sometimes, you cannot do it all on the brakes, you have to be smoother, so I need to improve to adapt myself to the track conditions sometimes. This also happened to me in the dry, so to adapt myself to different conditions will be my target next year as well."

Rinse and repeat

Though Alex Rins had pulled a gap at the start of the race, his advantage dwindled as the rain became heavier. Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, and Maverick Viñales all closed in, the two Yamahas markedly quicker than the Suzuki and Ducati. "Valentino and me, we were catching Alex and Dovi a lot," Viñales said. "I just think if we didn’t crash and they didn’t stop the race, we could be first and second."

Viñales crashing out left Rossi to chase Rins and Dovizioso on his own, but the Italian did not quite get close enough before the red flag. Dovizioso had closed on Rins and then passed him as the water on the track grew too much, and after he had got past the Suzuki, he put his hand in the air to signal to Race Direction that the water was too much. Race Direction agreed, and stopped the race.

After the race had been red flagged, we had another short break, and then pit lane opened again. As the first race had not got to two-thirds distance, and the rain had largely relented, we embarked on a much shorter race – 14 laps, as 13 had already been run – with a slightly ravaged field. Sixteen riders lined up, the grid slashed by a third after eight riders had crashed out during the first part of the race, grid position determined by the order in which they crossed the line on the lap before the red flag was shown.

Alex Rins repeated his lightning start, but Andrea Dovizioso was not about to be caught out a second time. The Italian chased Rins through the opening lap, before unleashing the beast down the front straight, powering the Ducati Desmosedici GP18 past the Suzuki GSX-RR on the way into Turn 1. This time around, Dovizioso had the situation under control, and having saved an extra set of soft wets, had the pace to pull away at the front. The factory Ducati rider would not be caught, and cruised home comfortably to his fourth win of the season, and Ducati's seventh.

Dovi saves

In the press conference, Dovizioso explained that the extra set of tires saved had been the key to victory. "The reason we won is because we made the right decision this morning to not use the new tire in the warm up," the Italian said. "So we had two tires for the race. I was able to put the new tires on the rear for the second race. Also, we did some changes on the setup, because Valentino was much faster in the braking and entry in the first race, and the reason I couldn’t be strong like him was the rear. So, we did something to be able to brake a bit harder. If we were able to improve the grip on the rear on the braking, it was better with the low quantity of water or high quantity of water. We were confident about that. In the worst case, we weren’t worried to have a bad setup. The worst case was very similar, but at the end it was a bit better."

Alex Rins was in more trouble in the restarted race than he had been in the first one. Once Dovizioso was past, Valentino Rossi was not far behind. It took the Italian a while, but he finally got past the Suzuki just before the halfway mark. Rins may have been a relatively easy target, but Dovizioso proved a much more difficult objective. The Factory Ducati rider was simply too fast for Rossi to catch, try as he might. Second place was the most he could hope for.

In the end, he would be denied even that. On lap 10 of the second race, the rear let go as he touched the throttle on his way through Turn 12. He crashed out, just as he had in the last race at Sepang. And just as he had in Malaysia, he remounted, his sense of honor, and the chase for points, dictating that he at least attempt to finish.

The nearly man

Rossi was distraught, but also somewhat optimistic after the race. "It’s a great, great shame," the Italian said. "I’m so sorry. We needed this podium. I needed this podium, but also Yamaha, also the team. It’s from Sachsenring that we don’t achieve that." Rossi took responsibility for the crash, but he also didn't quite understand why it happened. "I did a mistake, but also looking at the data and we don’t understand very well what’s happened. It’s true that it was very similar to Malaysia: I lose the rear when I opened the throttle. In the last laps we had to keep more attention for the tires because I had too much degradation. I don’t expect. I’m very, very, very sorry."

"Anyway it remained a good Sunday," Rossi continued. "I was competitive. So in the last two races of the season I don’t take any results but I was fighting for the victory. This is a great, great feeling. When you fight for the victory it’s something very positive. The other positive thing is that I finished third in the championship – the first Yamaha. I think I deserved it because I always fight all the season, also when the situation was very difficult. It was not easy because Maverick started from pole. I started from 16th. So it’s the other positive thing of the day."

Those latter comments are a harbinger of things to come, with the battle lines over the development direction of the Yamaha being drawn up race by race. Maverick Viñales wants more weight on the back of the bike, to give him the drive and help him with braking into the corner. The much taller Valentino Rossi wants to keep weight off the rear of the bike, as he fears too much weight at the rear will increase tire wear, and reduce performance at the end of the race. Two riders, two directions, one argument which needs to be settled.

The next step is a big step

Rossi's crash raised Alex Rins back up to second, giving him his fifth podium of the season, and Suzuki their ninth, making it their best year since 2007, the difference being a Chris Vermeulen win in the pouring rain at Le Mans. It was Suzuki's fourth podium in a row, a feat last achieved back in 1994.

Rins was impressed by just how strong the Suzuki had been in the second half of the year, since they received a new, more powerful engine at the race in Assen. "We did an incredible second part of the season," the Spaniard said. "We gave a lot of information to Suzuki for helping to develop the bike. Already in Japan is our test rider, Sylvain Guintoli. He tried different chassis, different engine with a little bit more power."

Does this run make the Suzuki a contender for the championship in 2019? Rins was cautious. "I think is too early to think on the target for the next year. First of all, I want to get my first victory in a MotoGP with Suzuki. This I think is our main target, then what happens in the end… For sure Suzuki are pushing a lot. We are pushing a lot to have the perfect bike for win the championship. I think we need to still work a little bit more on the bike, on me, a little bit everybody, but we are on the good way for sure."

Orange Crush

Rossi's crash may have been a blessing for Alex Rins, it was a positive godsend for Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard was already in line to score KTM's best result in MotoGP when he was sitting in fourth, vastly improving on the ninth place he had obtained in Brno and Phillip Island. But the disappearance of Rossi elevated him onto the podium, the first one for KTM, making them the fifth manufacturer to score a podium in 2018.

It is hard to overstate just how big a difference that made to the factory. Not just to Pol Espargaro, getting just desserts for the hard work that he and his teammate Bradley Smith have put into the bike. But it also broke a psychological barrier for everyone in the orange and blue garage, triggering an explosion of emotion in the packed pit box, and on pit wall. I don't think I have ever seen so many grown men weeping as when Pol Espargaro crossed the line to finish third.

That third place was a miraculous recovery for the Spaniard. He had crashed out of the first race after running in third at one point, rejoining way down the field in sixteenth, then fighting his way through a thinning field to cross the line in eighth when the red flag was shown. Like Dovizioso, he had the benefit of a set of new tires, and used them to good effect at the start. Though he could not match the pace of Dovizioso, Rins, and Rossi at the front, he was faster than anyone behind him.

"In the second race, I had new tires. Maybe I should continue with the medium front because I was struggling with the brakes and in the first race I was really good on the brakes," Espargaro explained. "But they were new, they were safe. After the crash to build up my confidence, this was difficult. I just pushed. Valentino, as Dovi said, was super fast, unbelievably fast. He just left and I just stayed in that position, just safe. Then someone started to catch me. I fought with Dani and finally finished in that third position. After everything we went though this year it’s unbelievable for me and for all my team, my wife, all the crew around me. It’s just as I said in the beginning, unreal."

Stupid humans

It was an emotional moment for an emotional young man, a rider who always wears his heart on his sleeve. Even more emotional, perhaps, than when he won his Moto2 championship in 2013. "In Moto2 and in 125 I was winning and in the podium and constantly there. Humans, we are so stupid that we get used to these good things when it happens" Espargaro philosophized. "Then when I was world champion, you enjoy it so much. It’s amazing, but because you’ve been winning and you touch it many times, it’s emotional but not as much as what we did today. What we did today was so difficult and we’ve been so many times trying and with this new bike, with new KTM, it was so unreal that it makes super emotional. I think it was more emotional than winning a world championship even just a third place. It’s been amazing."

Espargaro emphasized that it was a reward for all the hard work which KTM have put into the project since they came to MotoGP. He had seen Can Öncü win the Moto3 race on a Red Bull KTM, then Miguel Oliveira win in Moto2 on the Red Bull KTM. The pressure was on Espargaro, with Spanish TV commentator Ernest Riveras suggesting that he could add to KTM's impressive run of results on Sunday.

"I heard Ernest Riveras saying that I had some chance to do this, 'Let’s see if Pol can square the circle.' I was there saying, no, man. It’s not going to happen." Espargaro said. "Finally we did it. Just super happy with this result for KTM. They deserve it. You don’t know how much effort they are putting and the effort and investment and money on that project, and finally for them to finish the year in that position. We are trying to be as fast as the dirt guys in MX, who are winning everything in all the categories, but with the road bikers we are a little bit behind. Just happy that we show also we have some power."

I spoke briefly to Sebastian Risse, head of KTM's MotoGP project directly after the race, and Risse was absolutely clear that it was Espargaro who deserved the credit, rather than the bike. The conditions had helped level the playing field, but it was Pol Espargaro who had taken advantage.

A very human sport

Emotions were rampant up and down the pit lane after the race. It was most intense in the Red Bull KTM garage of course, after a weekend of astonishing success. There was emotion when Bradley Smith arrived back in the pits after his last race for the factory, where he received a genuine hero's welcome. Despite his crash, there was emotion in the Angel Nieto Team garage with Alvaro Bautista, after his final race with the team with which he won the 125cc championship and came close to winning the 250cc title. Dani Pedrosa received a warm and emotional welcome back in the pits as he finished his last ever MotoGP race.

After the race, emotions continued, with Bradley Smith being given a warm send off by the KTM team before he spoke to the press. Dani Pedrosa was given a round of applause at the end of his media debrief, and showered with words of gratitude for a great career. When Jorge Lorenzo turned up to do his media debrief, he was met not just by journalists, but also bye his entire crew, who gave him a standing ovation as a sign of their appreciation, a compliment Lorenzo naturally returned. On Sunday night, there were other little ceremonies around the paddock, Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal luring some of the Yamaha staff into the team's hospitality to thank them for the 19 years they had been working together.

Up and down the paddock, the pattern was repeated, a reminder that despite the fierce competition between the teams and factories, there is also a great deal of mutual respect. Riders, engineers, team members move between teams and factories, build friendships and relationships, share their highs and lows, both personal and professional. They share garages, hotel rooms, hire cars, long-haul flights, and endless hours of waiting around at airports. They share meals, nights out, and long days and nights of hard work getting ready for racing, away from their families and loved ones. It is an exciting, fulfilling life, but not easy, and friendships and personal relationships mean a lot. Motorcycle racing may be a technical sport revolving around carbon and titanium, hardware and software, but at the heart of this endeavor are people. It is the people who truly make the sport.

2019 starts here

On Monday, the new season started, with some trucks leaving, other trucks having sponsor stickers removed, and new trucks coming in to join the fray. Veteran riders swapping teams were introduced to their new mechanics and engineers, while the rookies coming into the class were shown round the trucks and the garages with a look of wide-eyed amazement, forced to pinch themselves to convince themselves it wasn't a dream.

On Tuesday morning, testing will start in earnest, with much to admire. In the Repsol Honda garage, all eyes will be on Jorge Lorenzo as he makes his debut with the third manufacturer of his career. But that is not really where the action is: firstly, because Lorenzo is still recovering from surgery on his wrist, and so will not be operating at full strength. More importantly, though, because Marc Márquez will be focusing on directing development of the 2019 bike, a task he takes very seriously indeed.

So seriously that a high-level meeting was needed before the Spaniard's media debrief, causing the entire thing to be delayed. It had been preceded by an agitated meeting between Honda team manager Alberto Puig, Márquez' crew chief Santi Hernandez, and his personal manager Emilio Alzamora. Concerns were aired about Márquez fitness, and how his shoulder would hold up under testing.

Márquez dismissed any such concerns when he spoke to the media, though reading between the lines it is obvious he is still struggling with injury. "We were planning already the tests on Tuesday and Wednesday," he said when asked about the meeting with Puig, Alzamora and Hernandez. "I'm one of the riders, I like to ride during all the day, but here in Valencia and Jerez, it's very important to test, but I need to be precise, not many laps. Of course my physical condition is not 100%. So not many laps, just try to try a few things, and that's it."

What will Honda have? Perhaps a refinement of the engine, but there will be no major updates, Honda focusing on changes to the chassis to make the bike easier to handle.

Young blood

At Ducati, the arrival of Danilo Petrucci will not affect testing much, as Petrucci is moving up from the same role with the Pramac Ducati team, and on the same bike. Ducati have a lot of things to test, but will be working through a program of refinements here and in Jerez to assess what to develop and get ready for the Sepang test next year.

In Pramac, Jack Miller gets his hand on the latest iteration of the Ducati, while his new teammate Pecco Bagnaia makes his debut in MotoGP. Bagnaia already rode a Ducati as a reward for winning a race for the Aspar team – now Angel Nieto Team. The young Italian looked very good on the bike even back then, and is an interesting prospect for the future.

At Yamaha, Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi have a new engine to test, the latest iteration of a new engine first tested at Aragon. Viñales was very positive about that engine, Rossi much less so, but getting the engine right is going to be crucial. They need power, but also a smoother power delivery, which should help conserve the tire in the latter stages of the race.

From outcast to favorite son

Tech3 makes way for the Petronas SRT team in the Yamaha family, Wilco Zeelenberg taking the helm of the team to which Franco Morbidelli and rookie Fabio Quartararo belong. Quartararo has shown flashes of brilliance, and the guiding hand of Zeelenberg should help him achieve greatness. Informed observers will be watching Morbidelli closely to see the difference between the Honda and the Yamaha, and whether the Italian can make a big step forward on the M1, which is much easier to ride than the RC213V. It will be nice to be on new and undamaged equipment, as Morbidelli has raced the last few races on a Honda with a big dent in the front of the frame.

Another Marc VDS refugee is making the step up to MotoGP. Joan Mir joins Alex Rins at Suzuki, where the pair will be testing a new engine which test rider Sylvain Guintoli has already given the seal of approval. More power should be on tap, which will help Alex Rins, while Mir settles in to the new category. Mir escapes the clutches of Emilio Alzamora at Marc VDS, who took over the running of the team when Michael Bartholémy was sacked, and who has built the team entirely around Alex Márquez.

The man Mir replaces makes his way to Aprilia, Andrea Iannone lining up alongside Aleix Espargaro. Aprilia have a lot of work to do after going in entirely the wrong direction with the RS-GP in 2018, which is one of the reasons they will also be welcoming Bradley Smith as a test rider.

An ambitious project

KTM, the factory Bradley Smith is leaving, welcomes Dani Pedrosa as a test rider, but unlike Smith at Aprilia, Pedrosa will not be riding the bike at Valencia, but will make his debut at Sepang. But KTM have plenty on their plate at Valencia, with Johann Zarco joining Pol Espargaro in the factory team, and Tech3 moving to the KTM fold. Hafizh Syahrin stays put with Tech3, but will be on a KTM, while Miguel Oliveira stays with KTM, but moves up to the Tech3 team.

Pol Espargaro spoke extensively about the difference the new setup will make for KTM in the press conference on Sunday. The amount of development work which had gone on, and the number new parts he had had to test, had made him jealous of Andrea Dovizioso and the well-sorted Ducati Desmosedici, he said. "I was in the press conference in Aragon sharing the table with Dovi and they asked Dovi, I don’t remember exactly what they asked to him, but he answered, 'Yeah, we’ve been changing quite a lot of things on the bike, and now we keep the bike we know for a few races and then we start to be fast,' if I’m right. This reminds me how many times we changed the whole bike. The engine, the chassis, the swing arm during race weekends. In racing life, these are crazy changes to do in a race weekend. But we needed to do that. I’m not against that, I asked for that. This also makes your life harder and difficult."

All the changes to come would make things much easier, Espargaro said. "This thing that we are going to have next year, Johann and Dani and all the Tech3 team, is going to help us so much, because on the test we are not going to be alone. The Tech3 team is going to have the same spec bike as us because we have no different bike to give to them. They are going to use the same bike, same spec. We are going to have the same info. They are going to test the same things as us. This is going to make us improve double or triple than what we are improving now. We all are looking for that, and we’ll see what’s going to happen."

There is a great deal to look forward to on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a week later at the next test in Jerez. 2019 has already started for MotoGP. So wish one another a Happy New MotoGP Year, and pay attention.

Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.


Back to top


There have been 52* GP125/Moto3 champions, but only 4 (Read, Crivillé, Rossi, and Márquez) have won premier class championships, so obviously we should not proclaim him the GOAT of the future just yet.  And the prospects are even more remote for winners of the CEV Junior World Championship and/or Red Bull Rookies, as some of them have failed to make an impression in (or even get a chance at) Moto3.

*However, Dovizioso and Viñales have at least some realistic potential to win a MotoGP championship, and it is too early to judge Binder, Mir, and Martin, so 4 of 47 or 4 of 49 could be considered more representative.

What a great commentary for the end of the season. Thanks David for all the work and effort you put in this. Looking forward to 2019, I'm curious to see how will Bagnaia and Morbidelli perform, if Rossi will have a better weapon to fight for wins, and if KTM will do better than Aprilia despite the vast budget difference. In the end however, Dovi will win the 2019 MotoGP crown.

If Öncü is the talent we hope he could be and Dorna continues it’s recent record of ‘backing the right horse’ more often than not, then this mythical 20th and final slot doesn’t need to wait for a Scandinavian round, it just needs to resurrect the thriller in Istanbul. Please...

David and team, thank you for this and all the rest, superb. I now count down the days to the Christmas festivities (that’s what I tell my wife, what I mean is until the new copy of Motocourse arrives...)


will be there. Vinales is chuffed with the new engine in interview on Spanish media. Says the bike turns and stops better, holds the angle and the engine braking is fantastic.

Fascinating to hear MM's words describing why he chose to go with the medium wet tire when everyone else was using the soft wet tire.  Always trying to maximize his experience (and results) even when injured and with the title sewn up.

Great to see KTM on the MotoGP podium.  There's a new Super Duke parked around the corner from me that I ogle when I make the turn (alas, on 4-wheels this time of year.)  I hope this manufacturer's continued racing success pushes their retail sales, too.

This form of first-person reporting is exceptional reading: A season of very engaging reporting, interviews, behind-the-scenes looks, press releases, photographs and much more.  I learn a lot from reader comemnts posted here, too.

Thank you David, Zara, Mat & Team!