A few days after the events of the Andalusian Grand Prix, with time to let what happened in Jerez to sink in, there was a lot that missed in my Sunday race notes. If you want to know about Yamaha's high hopes and deep concerns, Rossi's podium return, the Ducatis, KTMs, and what it might mean for Brno and Austria, go back and read that first. Here's what I missed the first time around.
Yesterday, media monolith Motorsport.com reported that Michelin had advised the MotoGP teams to use the Sunday morning warm up to scrub in a new tire to use in the race. Scrubbing in is an old technique, originally recommended as a way to remove the chemical film which can remain on the surface of a new tire as it is removed from the mold – something which Michelin says is no longer needed, as modern tires don't have that surface film let by the mold.
This, however, is something different. The aim of scrubbing these tires in is different. Teams were advised that their riders should do an out lap, a fast lap, and then an in lap, then wait before putting the tires back in the warmers. The goal here is to raise the internal temperature of the tires to operating temperature, then let them cool, precipitating a chemical change inside the tire. Putting them back on the tire warmers then stops that change.
The change would then give the tires better heat resistance, a key factor in the searing conditions at the second race at Jerez. Track temperatures during the first race were in the low to mid 50s°C. Temperatures in the second race were in the very high 50s°C, reaching as high as 61°C on some parts of the track during the race.
Though it is hard to prove a correlation between this tire trick and success, it is worth noting who did this and who didn't. Six riders scrubbed in a tire to use in the race. Of those six, three ended up on the podium, as it was only the Yamaha and Suzuki riders who put used tires on on the grid. When Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, and Valentino Rossi all end up on the podium with scrubbed in tires, it makes you wonder.
Also worth noting here that it was the corner speed bikes that used this trick, the Suzukis and the Yamahas. Carrying corner speed places a lot of load on the tires, which can raise temperatures. Having a more heat resistant tire, with just as much grip but more durability, can make a big difference at the end of a race.
The counter argument is that the high number of crashes may have distorted the real picture of how successful this technique is. If Pecco Bagnaia's engine doesn't let go, and Jack Miller doesn't crash, the podium might have been more of a mixed picture.
Is this something which the teams will do at Brno and Austria? It will most likely depend on the temperatures seen at those races. At the first race at Jerez, in slightly lower temperatures, nobody attempted the tire scrub trick. But this could be a factor to keep an eye on.
If Marc Márquez' abortive attempt to ride at Jerez was the biggest story out of the Honda camp on Sunday, it overshadowed some relatively good news further down the grid. Takaaki Nakagami topped off a very solid weekend with his best ever result in MotoGP, crossing the line in fourth.
The success was due in no small part to Nakagami studying the way Marc Márquez rides, and with the help of HRC technical lead Takeo Yokoyama, putting that into practice. "I tried to change the style, tried to the same as Márquez-style, but it's not easy. This is the first time for the race, but it looks to be working well and now I understand for the bike, hope to manage the Michelin tire because these two races with the special conditions are not easy. Maybe this was the most difficult race for the conditions. But finally we managed and for the future it was a really important race."
Nakagami had been chasing the Yamahas, but could not quite catch them. "The conditions were so difficult in the race today. I think less grip than last weekend, but our lap time is faster than last weekend." The difference was significant: the LCR Honda rider was over 16.5 second quicker over race distance in the second race at Jerez than he had been in the first. He was by far the most improved rider at the Andalusian race.
It hadn't been easy though. "Of course I struggle a lot, all the race, to find the find grip," Nakagami said. "But I think it's not only me, because I followed Viñales also struggled a lot, made many mistakes and almost crashed from losing the front. But at the end I'm not the same Viñales. Viñales I think changed the style and he found something and he picked up the lap time. At the end he was a little bit faster than me and overtook Valentino."
Under the radar
The second most improved rider at Jerez? Alex Márquez. Of the nine riders who completed both races – that, in itself, a sign of the toll the races in the sweltering conditions at Jerez had taken – the younger Márquez brother was second behind Nakagami in bettering his time. The Repsol Honda rider was over nine seconds faster than the week before, and finished eight seconds closer to the winner of both races, Fabio Quartararo. In comparison, Quartararo and Viñales could only take a little more than second off their times in the first race.
"Well, the target was this, to be more close to the front," Alex Márquez told us. "Like you said, my race was 9 seconds faster than last week, so this is already something so positive. We saw clearly in FP4 that we did a good step. Like I said, last weekend we were focused especially on riding style and trying not to change the setup too much. This weekend we did a small change in the setup and we improved it a lot. So now we have margin to improve."
Unfortunately for Alex Márquez, while he is in the Repsol Honda team, the shadow of his brother will continue to hang over him. That is the nature of being in the same team as arguably the most talented motorcycle racer of all time. But look past that, and there is reason for optimism. The younger Márquez is doing what he did in the lower classes, grinding away at getting faster, building solid progress, steadily improving. Not spectacular, but impressive nonetheless. And proving that he deserves a seat in MotoGP, though you can argue in which team he would be better suited. LCR Honda may be getting a good deal for 2021.
Suzuki's Joan Mir made it four out of the top five riders who used the tire scrubbing trick. Mir equaled his best performance in MotoGP, matching his fifth place at Phillip Island last year. But he was cautious about claiming any success, however. "Happy to finish the race," Mir said. "It's what I needed because I didn't want to go home without a good result. I'm conscious that two riders broke their engines in front of us, so it's not a full fifth position, but anyway I'm happy."
Why did two riders retiring with technical problems matter? Mir was brutally honest in his assessment of his own pace. "I think that if you crash like last week for me, it's your fault and you are pushing too much. You have to slow down. This is how I see it," the Suzuki rider said. "But if you broke the engine it's bad luck. If you are fast and consistent but then you have a problem with the bike. So these two positions – they were in front of us, I don’t know if at the end there would be a problem pushing so much with the tires going down in the last laps. But in this case, they were in front of us."
It had been tough, though, especially in the heat. "I was really, really exhausted. Physically it was so hard, probably the worst one ever," Mir said. "And I was managing the distance with Nakagami and the podium and seeing both Yamahas, catching them a little each lap, so it was good. But then when I was 0.5 behind them I started to have more problems with the front and was not able to do more. Probably if I was alone I could be able to improve my lap times by far. But in the air behind the others I was quite on the limit. Good information that we have at the end so next year."
Hype meets reality
After all the preseason optimism, the racing has not brought what Aprilia had hoped for in 2020. Despite the fact that the bike is a big step forward, it still has a crucial weakness. It is down on power in acceleration, and they are paying for that on corner exit. Unless they can get in front of the Ducatis and Hondas, they struggle, Aleix Espargaro explained. That forced him to push more, and as a result, ended up in the gravel.
"Not much to say," a dejected Aleix Espargaro told us after the race. "Feeling very disappointed with the crash. I'm very sorry for the team, because yesterday, with my guys, we had a small problem and we finished at close to 1am. Today I was aiming to do a good race for them, but I don't know. I did a good start, but I feel that I am over the limit with this bike trying to follow the Ducatis and Suzuki. I was at the same pace. I did nothing strange, but obviously to be with them I have to ride more close to the limit than them. And I paid."
He was having to push in the corners to make up for what he was losing on the exit, Espargaro explained. "With the track slippery like this,you have to stop the bike more, and then accelerate. I don't have the power to do that, so I have to rush a little bit more in the corner and I lost the front. Once again, I'm very sorry, I never crashed in two consecutive races in MotoGP, so I'm very disappointed. But today I felt that there was not much to do."
The frustration was that he felt he could have been faster overall. "Sincerely, I know it's stupid to say it like that, but I felt that if there was nobody in front of me I could ride at 1'39.0 every single lap," Espargaro said. "I felt good. The bike was good. I overtook Dovizioso once and Petrucci once, but as soon as we pick up the bike, within 55 meters, they overtake me again. So it was frustrating. But because the mistake last week, I decided to just stay behind the Ducatis, I was lapping at a very similar pace from them. Very very relaxed. But I lost the front."
"Again, I cannot do the riding style," the Spaniard emphasized. "I cannot stop the bike and use all of the power, because I don't have it. So I have to rush a little bit more on the brakes and make a little bit more corner speed. And in days like that, you pay this."
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