Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Old Rivalries Rekindled, Why Yamaha Is Fast, And The Value Of Dani Pedrosa To KTM

A race track is a large place. 4+ kilometers of asphalt, 15 meters wide. A MotoGP bike is a small thing, under 2 meters long from nose to tip, and 60 centimeters wide. The bikes should get lost in the vast expanse of asphalt on track. Yet somehow, these tiny vehicles always seem to run across each other on track.

The riders are to blame, of course. There are advantages to be gained from following other riders around. In Moto3, a slipstream is vital to gaining extra speed. In MotoGP, using a rider ahead as a target allows you to judge your braking points better and gives that extra bit of motivation which is worth a tenth or two. And a tenth or two can mean starting a row ahead of where you would otherwise.

When bikes meet on the track, it always sparks resentment. The rider in front is annoyed at being followed, and will slow down to try to force the other rider in front. The rider behind gets annoyed by the antics of the person they are trying to follow. In the best case, it is all soon forgotten. In the worst case, well, it involves Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi and a small war breaks out in the Italian and Spanish press, and a much bigger war breaks out among the fans.

Old rivalries

That happened in Q2 at Misano. Marc Márquez left the pits on his third run at qualifying, after having pitted early from his second run. He came out of the pits just as Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi rounded the final corner and hit the front straight. As Márquez was still getting up to speed, he moved aside to let Dovizioso and Rossi pass, before tucking in behind them. And that's when the trouble started.

Naturally, Márquez and Dovizioso have different versions of events. And both versions are highly subjective, and reveal more about the rider than what actually happened.

"I went out from the box on my last run and you can check, I was completely alone," Marc Márquez incorrectly insisted. "Then when I arrived at the back straight Valentino was waiting or riding very slow and then I just stopped behind him because of course I was in front of him in the timesheets and my intention was non to push until my last lap."

"We started the last lap, I put some gap between us. Then when we went out from Turn Six he touched the green so his lap was canceled. Then I saw he was riding fast, but not super fast. Then I had the chance to overtake on the back straight," Márquez continued.

"It's true that then in the fast corner I touched the green, but I only saw on the TV after because on the bike I didn't realize," Márquez said. "So I kept pushing, but then we arrived at Turn 14 I just go in and I saw one bike black and yellow arriving very fast inside with a speed that was impossible to turn the corner. Lucky for me I was able to avoid the crash, this was a good reaction, and the second reaction with my hand I want to be clear that it was not to say 'sorry' it was just to say 'what's going on here?' because I didn't understand."

Astute readers will note that Márquez insists that Rossi must have known his lap was canceled because he exceeded track limits, while simultaneously insisting that he had no idea he had exceeded track limits at Turn 11. Rossi was off the kerb and on the green standing at Turn 6, his tires a couple of centimeters at the edge of the kerb. At Turn 11, Márquez was 5cm or more out onto the green.

Márquez later emphasized once again that Rossi had exceeded track limits. He had gesticulated at Rossi because he did not believe this was an innocent action by the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. "It was an aggressive reaction because I didn't expect but anyway I didn’t expect also because his lap was canceled because on the exit of Turn 6 – and this is important – he touched the green."

The other side

Valentino Rossi used the excuse that he and Márquez had been summoned to the FIM Stewards to keep his media debrief short, and avoid getting into too much detail. "About the problem with Márquez, I was on my hot lap," Rossi said. "I was pushing 100% and he overtook me in the fast corner, in Turn 11, and already he made me lose a lot of time, but in overtaking me he went on the green, so I tried to stay more inside and tried to overtake him back in the hairpin, but I arrived wide, so... in the end we lost all the chance to improve the lap time."

Like Márquez, Rossi pleaded innocence of the offense of exceeding track limits. "I exited from Turn 6, we always exit on the wire, and I didn't know if I touched the green, sincerely. I was pushing, and I think that I was not on the green. So I was on my hot lap, because it was my last chance. I saw later on the paper that I touched the green."

The FIM Stewards heard both parties, examined the footage, and decided the incident was not worthy of further investigation or punishment to either or both of the parties involved. I presume that the Stewards gave them both a withering look, told them to grow up, and sent them on their way with a warning not to do it again.

The truth is out there

What really happened? It's clear that Marc Márquez exited the pits on his own, not necessarily looking for a tow. But the footage, and the live tracking screen showing the position of the riders on the track clearly show that Márquez came out in front of Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi. Márquez let Dovizioso and Rossi pass, then latched onto the tail of Rossi. Rossi noticed, and slowed up, not wanting to give Márquez a tow.

Things went downhill from there. Rossi tried to force Márquez to pass, Márquez bided his time hoping to force Rossi into chasing a fast lap, a tactic which has worked previously. But Rossi had already set a lap which had him in fifth at that point, and so Márquez' leverage was less. It all got ill tempered from there, neither rider willing to give an inch.

The real problem is that as large as a race track is, it is not large enough to contain the egos of the rider currently regarded as the greatest of all time, and the rider who is in the process of stealing that title away from him. There is real antipathy between the two over a series of incidents, starting in 2015 in Argentina, and repeated at regular intervals over the years.

Battle of egos

Valentino Rossi would never do anything to help Marc Márquez go faster unless he felt he had absolutely no choice because of his own circumstances. Márquez, in turn, is at the height of his powers, and is regularly using his status to intimidate everyone on track, to show them who is boss in the hope of beating them in their heads before having to beat them with his speed.

Neither rider was willing to give an inch, and both were willing to take absurd risks in order to make a point. The Stewards got the decision right. No punishment is necessary in this instance, as both riders were so busy focusing on each other that they made mistakes on the track which would have seen any fast lap set canceled. It was exactly the sort of childish, puerile spat which you would expect from a clash of egos on this scale. And it will happen again and again until the two are no longer racing together.

The consensus in the press room was that the clash was deeply entertaining, but that it overshadowed the fantastic spectacle ahead of them. Indeed, the clash probably happened precisely because the spectacle was ahead of Márquez, rather than behind him. The Honda, like the Ducati, is struggling at Misano, punished by the lack of grip at the track. So Márquez can't use the strong points of the RC213V – the power of the bike and its ability to accelerate – to dominate as he has done at other tracks. If he wishes to dominate, he has to play his hand in a more calculated way. And that means using riders ahead of him as a target.

Corner speed rules when grip is low

Why are the Hondas and Ducatis struggling? The very low grip of the track, caused by it being microblasted to remove the rubber and open up fractures in the stones in the asphalt to assist drainage, means that bikes which can carry corner speed can go faster around the track. If you are smooth with the throttle and braking, and not create sudden stresses, then you can go faster than if you are aggressive and try to get the power down too quickly, or brake too suddenly.

The Honda is a bike which relies on its acceleration out of turns, and its braking into turns, and while it can also carry corner speed, there is some risk involved in that. The Yamaha has to be ridden very smoothly, and that smoothness rewards its riders with a way to extract the maximum grip for a track which barely has any.

That is why there are two Yamahas on the front row, Maverick Viñales taking pole and Fabio Quartararo ending up third. But the two Yamahas are not just fast over a single lap, their pace is also fearsome. Viñales did a lap of 1'33.367 on a tire with 14 laps, or just over half race distance on it, while did a 1'33.8 on a tire of similar vintage. Marc Márquez showed similar pace, though his fastest times came on a tire with fewer laps on it.

It wasn't just Viñales and Quartararo. Petronas Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli was fourth fastest, while Valentino Rossi was sixth quickest in FP4, a sign that the Yamaha suits the track. Alex Rins looked very good too, setting the fifth fastest time in the final free practice session. "In FP4 with nine laps in the tires, we did an incredible good pace," the Suzuki Ecstar rider said. "It's true that the other riders were with new tires, so it's difficult to compare."

Pol pulls it off

The big story, though, was Pol Esparagaro's front row start. The Spaniard pushed his Red Bull KTM RC16 to a blistering lap, that at the time looked like it might be good enough for pole, It was the KTM's best qualifying result and the second time a KTM has been on the front row of the grid, the previous time coming at Brno with Johann Zarco.

Espargaro was rendered almost speechless with emotion after his extraordinary result, like most of his crew. The joy in the KTM garage knew no bounds, reward for the long hours, days, and months of toil finally paying off.

The test here two weeks ago had helped, he explained. "I would say that first of all we are working huge, and sometimes you have your rewards. But especially with being here in the test. Normally when we go to tracks we don't ride them from one year to the other during all the season. It means that we are changing the bike quite often because we keep improving every single race. We don’t know the bike when we go to those places, especially the electronics, because we are improving a lot. We are better on brakes. We are fast on the straight, more corner speed. We need to change it all. We start, we can say from zero."

Dani Pedrosa, Ace Tester

That was different at a track where they have tested recently, Espargaro said. "If we have two days testing, and this year we have Dani Pedrosa that is helping so much us. With those two days testing, we can more or less prepare the weekend and then we have more info. When we have problems we know more or less how to improve them. Already this info that we have, we got through this test helps us a lot. It’s what these big factories feel when they go in a track that we haven't been to for one year."

As a test rider, Pedrosa had helped move the bike in the right direction during the test. "In the test we had a lot of problems with the front wheel," Espargaro explained. "I think most of the guys, even look like Ducati now they are struggling a lot with that part. It’s part of the bike that I always try to take so much carefully because it’s what I use to be fast just on the brake. Where I recover, where I gain time, and in the test I had a lot of problems so we were working a lot with Dani."

Espargaro expanded on what Pedrosa, an experienced veteran, had brought to KTM's development program. He had been surprised at just how much Pedrosa had been able to contribute, Espargaro said. "Dani is taking this situation very seriously, more than I ever expected, honestly," the Spaniard told the press conference. "When he retired from Honda, Dani was quite burned out with this MotoGP world. Then for me it was difficult to trust that he wold give the 100% of his performance with another bike, a little bit worse than the Honda."

Those fears proved to be unfounded. "But he jumped into the bike and you cannot believe how seriously he is taking this project. He went into the factory to put everyone straight. He is doing everything with a lot of effort, but not just that. Dani is a very small rider. The weight is not so big. He needs a lot from the bike. He needs that the bike does a lot of work because he cannot handle with his weight. So he work a lot on the style. He work a lot on the electronics."

In search of perfection

It was in analyzing failure the Pedrosa shines, Espargaro explained. "When something is going wrong, he wants to know why that is going wrong and who makes this stuff may going wrong. So he wants to go very deep. I was talking this morning with Pit Beirer. He’s very sometimes angry guy because he wants everything perfect, and if everything is not perfect... For sure he has a hammer to make his point to the engineers. So when he goes out and someone is not perfect… Honestly he’s very precise and he likes everything well done."

Proof of the KTM's progress is Johann Zarco's qualifying position, the Frenchman setting the eight best time, though he will start in eleventh, after being handed a three-place grid penalty for the crash in which he took out Miguel Oliveira in Silverstone. Zarco has made a big step forward, both in race pace and in a single lap.

Where has the improvement come from? The KTM is a little bit easier to handle, thanks to recent testing work, but a large part must surely also be down to Zarco. With the pressure of worrying about what he will do next year gone, he is much freer in his mind, and that takes the pressure off actually riding. And less pressure means more speed.

Zarco drew a parallel with Miguel Oliveira, the Portuguese rider who has been outstanding in his first year in MotoGP, and who came to MotoGP without any preconceptions. "Miguel has showed that knowing nothing about MotoGP and having a free mind to learn, he could adapt even better than me to the KTM," Zarco said. "He is doing a very good job. I have nothing to lose so I want to enjoy myself and catch what I can from the bike. I still think we will have a limit and that is not my way to ride. I got satisfaction today but it was a good job over one lap and when you want a championship then you need many laps across all the tracks of the world."

Race day surprises?

What can we expect tomorrow? Well first of all the entire pack has to get through the first couple of corners, always a treacherous point at Misano. The tires have quite a large drop in performance, and so tire choice will be key. Both medium and soft rears will work during the race, though the softs will give more grip on the edge, medium more grip from the traction area of the tire. Tire choice will condition what a rider is capable of.

The Yamahas look strong – four in the top six is not to be sneezed at, and Quartararo and Viñales look like a cut above the rest. Andrea Dovizioso's assessment was as follows "I think Maverick, Quartararo, and Marc have something more. But also Morbidelli, Valentino, and Rins are very very close, and we are there with them." There could be a few surprises come race day at Misano.

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"It’s not a method; it’s a thought. When you wake up in the morning, you have to decide how you want to see things. The mental strength consists in choosing the positive thought. That it is usually not the easiest way. It’s easier to find an excuse or thinking that there is nothing more to do."

- Dani Pedrosa

Rossi's anger at Marquez is greater than his desire to be the top Yamaha.

I swear it looked like Rossi taking Marquez out wide at Sepang during the end of their scuffle in Q2. Marquez, the King of Feel when it comes to what motorcycle tires are doing at speed on asphault, wants us to believe he doesn't know the difference between the rumble strips on curbs and the flat green runoff area. Didn't he tilt his head down eyeballing the situation when he ran off? These guys should be called the GEOATs (greatest egos of all time). The race track looked like a playground today. Yes it was entertaining. And yes they acted like jerks. Should be fun when the lights go out tomorrow. Hope nobody gets hurt.

There are many types of low grip. At Misano, the bikes can't get any drive and can't brake hard, so being smooth allows you to carry more corner speed with less grip. At other low-grip tracks, it may still be possible to get some kind of acceleration, or brake hard, and then you can make up what you lose in corners. 

Like everything else in motorcycle racing, it's complicated. There are no easy answers. And that's why I love it.

Marc seems to have a new hobby...pulling the wings off flies. His Q session strategy has moved way past clever and now appears firmly rooted as disrespectful to his competitors. Of course, he has every right to trail another rider to use them as a marker, and nothing in the rules say you cannot pass another rider in the Q session. But Marc might benefit from the following thought: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

The Italian site GPOne has a quick analysis of both rider's lap times before and during the...well...unpleasantness. Vale was just off his quickest pace in Sectors 1 & 2, but not by a lot. Marc was WFO in sectors 1 & 2 and was certainly quicker than Vale. Whether Rossi knew his lap was going to be binned by Race Direction or if he only knew that he was not going to improve, he backed off a bit in Sector 3. Not a lot, he certainly didn't park his M1 and have a quick picnic on the racing line. But it appeared to me that his intention was spoon some sauce from his cooked goose onto Marc's gander. If Vale wasn't going to improve his grid spot, then neither was his Spanish shadow. And Rossi has every bit as much right to not go berserk for the rest of a lap as Marquez does to be planted in his exhaust pipe. So Marc passed him.

And anywhere else that might have been a hard (and probably unnecessary, see below) racing move. But to pass Vale on the last lap of a Q session at Misano was beyond hard, it was dumb. Marc may as well have taped a sign to the back of Vale's leathers that read "Paracarro on Board". So it was "dumb" as in that's not the thing to do to a nine time world champion in front of his home crowd. And if, God forbid, Marc had taken Vale out with that move, things would have exploded in unimaginable ugliness. And I am not talking about a trip to the Headmasters office after school, but of true mob violence. Far too many race fans have taken the Marc vs. Vale thing way too far since 2015. But being wrong doesn't mean it would not have ended with violence from the mob. In fact, being wrong almost guarantees it would.

Vale's retaliation was also dumb, but I understand his reaction to being Paracarro'd at Misano. But that doesn't make it right either, and the retaliation could have also brought them both down, which would have led to the same tragic results mentioned previously. Things get a bit hurried once the black flag gets hoisted and the barricades are overthrown, so mobs don't really take the time to sort out exactly who clotted whom. And all Marc had to do was to have dropped back another second behind Vale during the previous lap and none of this nonsense happens. So please, Marc, leave the flies alone, you are better than that. 

There is certainly ample blame for both parties, and there are no heroes...or innocent victims. But if the pair of them are the sportsmanship equivalent of lepers this weekend, then perhaps Vale can claim he is the leper with the most fingers. Seems like meager compensation. Cheers.

PS - Turns 1&2 should be interesting in MotoGP, as Dovi and his holeshot device are alongside Marc on Row 2 and Dovi gets off the line like a stabbed rat. And on top of that nobody on the front row seems to have more than a fleeting consideration for self preservation. That track may not be nearly big enough for all of them to have a go, but I will hope that it is and we have a race where all the players are there at the end.

PPS - Moto2 appears to also be heading for perilous waters. Misano's surface is apparently somewhere in the twilight zone, where the more rubber that gets laid down the slippier it gets. And no rubber is slippier than Moto2 rubber. Whoever has designs on the Moto2 podium had better have a good plan to stay upright for the last ten laps, when I fear the surface will resemble a hockey rink more than a race track. Hope I am wrong about this also,

For small scraps (i'm talking about food) to create such excitement about the 'rivalry', i can only hope it means the beast has been starving and may finally wither away....fat chance !

Tip of the hat to Dani and throw it in the air for Pol. Not bad for a second rate rider (i read somewhere).

If Rossi genuinely thought he had been hard done by from Marquez overtaking him (cleanly I might add), then I would surmise that his initial response in the media debrief would have been VERY different.  He would have been far more upset as he has been in the past.

Both would have known they hit green…. But Rossi’s overtake was bollocks.  Rossi knew he would send Marquez wide or possibly collide, where as Marquez’s pass (whilst at a scary place on the race track was clean).
Its just a shame that the Rossi fans are so blind to any infraction from their hero.....

Both knew they hit the green but presumably both hoped that they'd get away with it. MM either misjudged the gap he required to VR (likely) or deliberately passed to hold him up (less likely), VR either made a deliberately dodgy pass to get revenge (likely) or missjudged it (less likely). We'll never know the facts, but being a VR fan does not make you any blinder than being a fan of any other rider - please don't confuse fans with the many trolls on each side fishing for a reaction. 

I agree with David - this is all pumped up by their respective egos and it is a waste of everybody's time - but interesting/exciting all the same.

The thing that struck me, and why I'm bothering to comment, is the place and speed at which MM overtook in the first 'instance'. It was at a phenominally fast (read dangerous) section of the track - hardly a place you have time to swivel anything to look at where you are - your eyes and mind are mainly 200m ahead, you processed this bit way back. You are relatively comfortable though, so you have head space for the other stuff that does or might happen. These guys have a lot of trust in their competitors and understand their skill level. Rossi knew that wasn't a 'sensible' place to overtake and neither would you, unless you had other 'needs'. Quartararo made no attempt there in the race - make of that what you will. What followed was entirely predictable, not to say planned.... Neither are Joe Trackday, or Weekend, and knew exactly what went on. 

Professional sport has may facets. Psychology is a key part. I was thinking during the races (and had more or less forgotten this incident) that we are getting into rugby tackling theory and practice here. What I mean by that is that the old 'rubbing is racing' mantra (which I support), like most things in MotoGP, is getting stretched to the absolute limit, and maybe beyond. It's no longer nudging and scraping, it's barging. And that might get painful.

I once thought that the 'fuss' over FQ was a bit premature and he was 'just' a rookie. His performance was exemplary and his composure under this sort of pressure beyond his years. Which I'm looking forward to.

MM will never fill Rossi's boots because whatever his race results say he will never be as popular. Rossi is probaly irreplaceable and undethronable (if that's a word). FB might be good enough to help fill the void.