Analysis

Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Sprint Races, Marquez Dumping Alzamora, And Whether Ducatis Will Dominate

To start off Saturday's notes from the Red Bull Ring, some housekeeping. Yesterday, the news leaked that MotoGP would be introducing sprint races from 2023, and we asked a lot of riders what they thought of the idea, without knowing exactly what the format would be. Because the news leaked, a press conference was held today, with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, current FIM president Jorge Viegas, and IRTA President Hervé Poncharal. That cleared up a lot of the details of the weekend.

The Cliff notes version is that a sprint race over half the full race distance is to be held at 3pm on the Saturday at every grand prix event in 2023. To accommodate the race, FP1 and FP2 will be the only practices that count for entry into Q2, FP3 on Saturday morning becomes what FP4 is now, a practice that is for bike setup only, and Q1 and Q2 will continue to set the grid for both races. The winner of the sprint race will receive 12 points, second place finisher 9 points, third 7 points, and then 1 point less for each place down to ninth.

Tire and engine allocations are to remain the same, as the actual distance covered on a race weekend will be almost identical. The idea is to improve the show without raising costs, to give fans more bang for their buck, without the teams having to spend more to put on the show.

Tip of the iceberg

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Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Deceptive Times, A New Chicane, And Will Sprint Races Really Address MotoGP's Problems?

Every Friday of a MotoGP weekend, we say the same: it's only Friday, so you can't read much into the times. That is doubly so on a day like Friday at the Red Bull Ring, when the morning starts wet, dries out during FP1, and the riders and teams have a new chicane to learn to deal with. MotoGP basically had one dry practice session in which to try to figure out gearing for the new chicane, check how the setup needs to be modified to deal with the chicane without losing out at the rest of the track, and try to post a time quick enough to get through to Q2, because of the risk of rain again on Saturday morning. Checking the timesheets is not much better than reading tealeaves on days like these.

So the fact that Ducatis dominate the FP2 timesheets should be taken with a pinch of salt. Johann Zarco was fastest, with Ducatis taking the top three spots, and seven of the top eight provisional places in Q2. Fabio Quartararo is the only interloper in the top eight, while Maverick Viñales put the Aprilia RS-GP into ninth, and Brad Binder spared KTM's with the tenth fastest time.

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Austria MotoGP Preview: Defanging Turn 3, Mastering The Red Bull Ring, And Waiting For Marc Marquez

There is a bittersweet irony to motorcycle racing. On the one hand, we want the racing to be as safe as it can possibly be. On the other, the element of risk, the thrill of watching a rider wrestle a motorcycle at very high speed on the edge of adhesion, teetering on the brink of disaster, is part of the appeal. Racing a motorcycle is difficult, and because the rider sits aboard the bike, in full view, it is obvious even to the most casual observer just how difficult it is.

Which brings me to the Red Bull Ring. The circuit at Spielberg is simple, and incredibly dangerous, because the bikes spend so much time either pulling hard in high gear, or braking hard into tight corners. To go fast, you have to be on the very limit with braking, and if you crash while braking at high speed, you either hit a wall, or get very close to it, or crash and take out other riders.

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Europe vs Japan: Why European Factories Are On The Rise And Japanese Manufacturers Are In Decline

For nearly half a century, Japanese motorcycles have dominated the premier class of motorcycle racing. Since Giacomo Agostini switched to Yamaha and beat his former teammate Phil Read on an MV Agusta in 1975, Japanese manufacturers have won every single rider championship bar one, Casey Stoner's 2007 title won with Ducati. Honda, Yamaha, and to a lesser extent, Suzuki, ruled grand prix racing with a rod of iron.

But that control has started to wane over the past few years. Since the return of 1000cc four strokes, European manufacturers have slowly started to assert themselves in MotoGP. Ducati started the shift after Gigi Dall'Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse, Andrea Iannone winning the first race for the Desmosedici in 2016, six years after Casey Stoner had departed the Italian factory, and their winning ways with him.

The following year, Andrea Dovizioso would win six races on the Desmosedici, and go on to challenge for the title every year through 2019. KTM were the next to succeed, getting on the podium for the first time in 2018, winning multiple races in 2020, and winning every year since then.

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Silverstone MotoGP Notes: Aerodynamics, Enea Bastianini, And Why Losing A Wing Doesn't Always End In Disaster

It is no secret that aerodynamics is a big deal in MotoGP. The winglets, aerodynamics packages, and various scoops, spoons, and other attachments aimed at modifying the behavior of the modern generation of MotoGP bikes have become increasingly important.

Aero has now reached the point where it is such a major part of bike setup that it is getting hard to change without needing a lot of work to balance out the rest of the behavior of the bike. As Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Brad Binder explained when asked about the two different versions of KTM's aero package he has available. "I think the most important thing is to really choose one and really stick with it. Because when you do play with the aero, it has such a massive impact that your whole setup really has to change completely. So it's not so simple to say, OK, one race we'll use them and one race we won't."

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Difference 3 Weeks Makes In Summer, Winning Races As Slowly As Possible, And Quick Thoughts On The Championship

In the week or so before a MotoGP race, crew chiefs and engineers pull up the data from the last race at that circuit and start work on a plan for the weekend. They then compare that to the tire allocation Michelin are bringing to the race, and try to get a jump on the game of figuring out which tires are going to work best. Motorcycle racing is a puzzle composed of many parts, and with just four sessions of free practice (three of which are partially lost to the pursuit of a direct passage to Q2), any pieces you can put in place beforehand can give you a jump on your rivals.

So crew chiefs and engineers pore over data, examine how tires performed, and decide what is likely to work and what probably won't. They make tentative choices about possible race tires, and draw up plans for practice accordingly: an attempt at a long run in FP2, a long run in FP4, and the option to revisit those choices during warm up on Sunday.

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Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Highsides, Mental Strength, And Lap Records

Time, tide, and race day wait for no one, to paraphrase an old adage. Trite as it may seem, that can become incredibly visceral in a sport like MotoGP. Qualifying happens at 14:35 local time on Saturday, unless the climate or conditions intervene. Sunday is race day, and the flag drops whether you are there or not.

Mostly, we just gloss over this, disregarding how much pressure it puts on teams and riders. But then something like Aleix Espargaro's crash in FP4 happens, and you are confronted with just how harsh the life of an elite athlete can be.

Espargaro suffered a huge highside at Farm, Turn 12 in the early moments of FP4. The Aprilia rider was on his second flying lap after leaving the pits with a brand new hard rear slick when the rear slid, then bit and flicked him into the sky. He landed as badly as you might expect from such a highside, his body slamming into the tarmac, saved from worse injury by the airbag, which inflated with enough power to force the zip on his leathers open.

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Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Testing Long Laps, Long Exhausts, And Ducati's Stegasaurus Tail

We say every Friday of a MotoGP weekend that it's "only Friday". Riders and teams are testing new parts, looking for a base setup, and getting a feel for the track. It being "only Friday" is even more true at Silverstone, as the riders are having to get back up to speed after five weeks off the bike. Muscles only a MotoGP bike tests have weakened a little, and are being pushed to the limit again.

Silverstone is a tricky track to return to racing at, which complicates matters. It's long, fast, flowing, and challenging, and if you miss your braking marker, you lose a lot of time. "It's a very demanding track to be precise," Pol Espargaro explained. "There are many places where the speed is very high, so as soon as you brake a little bit later, which means taking the lever one tenth later, it translates to being very wide in a fast corner and then losing a lot of time."

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MotoGP 2022 - The Story So Far Heading Into Silverstone

With the summer break over, MotoGP is set to resume at Silverstone. Was a five-week break a long time? "It was short!" Pol Espargaro insisted. He would say that, though, having ended the first half of the season with a cracked rib and a couple of disastrous weekends. "I think it was the first time I enjoyed a break so much, because I was mentally and physically quite injured, and I needed to stop, to take a deep breath."

The rest of the field were not quite as emphatic as Espargaro, but they all said that having a proper break, rather than just three weeks instead of two between races, made a difference. They returned refreshed, motivated, and genuinely keen to get back on a MotoGP bike.

So how did we get here? A five-week summer break means a quick recap is in order. The first half of the 2022 MotoGP season is a story of development: a lack of it, too much of it, and of mistiming it all.

After the Sepang test, MotoGP headed to Mandalika, where what was tested was how quickly riding 24 MotoGP bikes around a filthy track could remove a layer of filth and grime that had built up due to ongoing construction at the track. Unfortunately, the bikes were quickly found to be removing the aggregate from the track surface along with the dirt, the riders covered in bruises as bikes ahead of them. The track committed to resurfacing in the five weeks between the test and the race.

Testing missed

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Ducati's MotoE Launch - The Role Of Racing As A Tool Of R&D, And Why The V21L Is A Real Race Bike

In many ways, Ducati's MotoE project is the opposite of all the electric motorcycle projects which have gone before. Up until very recently, conventional motorcycle manufacturers have mostly stayed well away from electric motorcycles, preferring to wait and see how the technology, and the political and legislative framework in which this all takes place, will play out. Exceptions have been few and far between: beyond electric scooters, KTM have the Freeride, an electric enduro machine, and Honda worked with Mugen on their bike which dominated the TT Zero race on the Isle of Man.

That has left the field open for a host of new companies, which have operated with varying success. Silicon Valley produced a large swathe of start ups, mostly run by motorcycle enthusiasts from the area's electric vehicle and technology industries, and funded with VC money. A few others, such as Energica, are engineering start ups producing electric vehicles and based in areas with strong automotive industry links. Small companies with limited manufacturing and engineering facilities which relied on widely available components and techniques for a large part of their bikes.

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