Analysis

Styria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Meaningless Practice, Holeshot Devices, Track Limits, And The Curious Case Of The KTM Rider Announcement

It has been a fascinating day of thrilling action at the Red Bull Ring. Records have been broken, riders have pushed the limits of their bikes, and the fans – back in full force at last – have added some of the atmosphere that has been missing during the long Covid-19 pandemic. There was elation and heartbreak, a sensational pole in MotoGP, and above all, glorious Austrian summer weather.

Yet it all lacked a sense that it stood outside reality, had no bearing on the actual racing, nothing to do with MotoGP. Perhaps that is the illusion of a return to racing after such a long summer break, the longest in recent history. But more likely, it is because while the fans lapped up the action under the sunshine, we all knew that whatever happened on Saturday is likely to be undone by the weather gods on Sunday. If it rains tomorrow – and it almost certainly will, though the question of when, how heavily, and for how long is completely uncertain – then what happened on track today will be forgotten. On Sunday, it all starts from scratch again.

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Styria MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Wasted Day, Yamaha's Problems In Mixed Conditions, And Filling Empty MotoGP Seats

In an ideal world, MotoGP teams can use practice to prepare for the race on Sunday. Test tires in FP1, make setup changes in FP2, finalize the setting in FP3 and FP4, then into qualifying to be ready for the race. In an ideal world, conditions are comparable enough through all practice sessions on Friday and Saturday to find the optimal setup choices for Sunday.

But we don't live in an ideal world, of course. Temperature differences and changing conditions leave a lot to a mixture of experience and guesswork. Even then, as long as you have dry weather, you can get pretty close.

That is not the case this weekend in Spielberg, however. FP1 saw excellent conditions: warm, dry sunny. Not too hot, and temperatures not far off optimum for the tires. But rain started in the afternoon, and FP2 was wet, with a drying line as the session went on. Data collected in the morning would be useful for a dry race. Data in the afternoon is contingent on the amount of rain that falls in the case of a wet race, which looks a racing certainty.

Ready for anything?

A wet race would render the data collected on Saturday pretty much irrelevant as well. Saturday in Spielberg looks set very fair, bright, sunny and warm. But the forecast for Sunday is the worst of all worlds: thunderstorms, with a chance of heavy rain.

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Styria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Rossi's Retirement, Charisma, Safety, Race Lessons, And Slow Healing

It was an odd day today. The moment we heard that there would be an extra press conference to be held by Valentino Rossi, the work of a journalist goes into overdrive. Preparing a story for if he announced his retirement, worrying whether to write an alternative story, for if he had announced he would be switching to Ducati and racing in his own team, putting out feelers to see what people thought the announcement would be. Weighing rumors that he would be doing one thing or another.

The most remarkable thing about today's announcement was that nobody knew which way it was going to go. Normally, decisions of such import leak out; there were rumors that Jorge Lorenzo was going to retire for weeks before hand, Casey Stoner's retirement had been credibly reported at least three weeks before the announcement, and Dani Pedrosa's retirement had been telegraphed for a long time.

Even Rossi's decision to drop long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess had been leaked to the press a week beforehand. (And in truth, the leak probably forced Rossi's hand, and into making an announcement before the Valencia race, instead of after it. Rossi got his revenge later, however, planting a false story with the same journalist a year or so later.)

Loose lips sink ships

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Styria MotoGP Preview: Danger And Opportunity In The Austrian Alps

If it's scenery you're after, the Red Bull Ring, or Spielberg, or Zeltweg – choose your favorite name for the Austrian circuit – is hard to beat. Mugello maybe? The Italian track sits in a valley, rather than being set up against the lower slopes of a mountain, but Spielberg wins on the mountain backdrop behind it.

Phillip Island, perhaps? The Bass Strait makes for a stunning setting, but is it more dramatic than the Austrian Alps which frame the Red Bull Ring? The weather will change just as quickly as both, storms brewing in the mountains as rapidly as they are blown in off the Southern Ocean at Phillip Island. One minute the sun is shining, the next the heavens have opened.

In Spielberg, that can be a problem. The track is dangerous at the best of times, but a downpour at the track makes braking into Turn 1 a lottery. In previous years, the rubber left by cars at the first corner turned it into an ice rink when it rained. The circuit has addressed that in recent years by scrubbing out the rubber left by the cars in the braking zone. But concerns remain.

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It's Race Week - What To Expect After MotoGP's Long Summer Break

It's race week again. For both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, with the World Superbike series also making its debut at a new track, the Autodrom Most in the northwest corner of Czechia 55 km south of Dresden and 75km northwest of Prague, and which looks on paper to offer a nice, varied array of corners and challenges.

But WorldSBK at Most (be ready to be drowned in a tidal wave of superlative-based puns) comes after just a single weekend away, the production-based series having raced at Assen two weeks ago. MotoGP is back after its longest summer hiatus in recent memory, a whole five-week absence from racing.

Not that riders have been sitting on sun loungers working on their tans for all that period. Certainly, the first ten days or so were dedicated to taking a proper break, relaxing and getting away from it all. But since then, they have all been hard at work once again, training, riding bicycles and motorcycles, on circuits, on dirt track, at MX tracks.

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Assen Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Raul Fernandez' Future, Augusto Fernandez' Revival, And Pedro Acosta's Hospital Bed Ride

TT Circuit Assen produced two excellent contests in the Moto2 and 3 classes. Yet the biggest story of the weekend related to the future of one certain star…

Fernandez – will he stay or go?

Never mind Maverick Viñales. Raul Fernandez was the talk of the paddock once again after news from reliable outlets confirmed he will join current team-mate Remy Gardner in Tech 3 KTM next year in MotoGP.

Not just that; Fernandez produced another performance that demonstrated this year’s title fight will be far from a one-horse race. A day on from becoming the first rider to score four pole positions in their rookie Moto2 campaign since a certain Marc Marquez in 2011, the 20-year old produced a fightback that would have gained even the eight-time champion’s approval.

Here he displayed the composure to recover from a second lap mistake at turn seven that saw him drop to ninth. All appeared lost for the Spaniard as the Marc VDS Kalex team-mates of Sam Lowes and Augusto Fernandez, and championship leader Remy Gardner made up an exciting three-way fight for the lead, 1.7s ahead. Then Fernandez went to work. He made short work of four riders ahead to join the leaders on lap 13. And not one of them had an answer for him as he pulled clear in the closing laps to win by just over a second.

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Assen MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Why Fabio Is Fast, Marquez Is Back, And What Joan Mir Needs Most

Though Maverick Viñales dominated the headlines at Assen – both on and off the track – there was a race to talk about too. For a deep dive into Viñales' situation, see the first part of my Assen review. But let's talk about the race, shall we?

Though Fabio Quartararo won the race comfortably, that is far from the whole story. How and why Quartararo won, how he got past Pecco Bagnaia, why Maverick Viñales couldn't catch his teammate, Johann Zarco's stealthy title campaign, Pecco Bagnaia's defensive masterclass, Joan Mir's strength and shortcoming, and Valentino Rossi's imminent and inevitable retirement decision. All this and more is worth talking about.

But let's start with the winner. Fabio Quartararo came into the race as joint favorite with his teammate, Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha riders had dominated practice, Viñales and Quartararo three or four tenths faster than anyone else, and Viñales holding a slight advantage in race pace.

Made for Yamaha

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Maverick Viñales' Wild, Weird Weekend, And How The Past Shapes The Future

I was supposed to have an interview with Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis this weekend, arranged well beforehand. That ended up not happening, unsurprisingly. Lin Jarvis had more important things to deal with than answering my questions. And my list of questions seemed a good deal less relevant this weekend than they had a few days earlier.

For this weekend was all about Maverick Viñales. Whether he, or we, wanted it to be or not. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider (but not for long) arrived at Assen after finishing dead last at the Sachsenring, topped both sessions of free practice on Friday, had an explosive meeting with Yamaha on Friday evening, secured pole with a blistering lap on Saturday, then found a way to only finish second on Sunday, well behind his teammate Fabio Quartararo. Oh yes, and there were the reports that he had signed for Aprilia for 2021 on Saturday night as well.

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Assen MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Viñales' Bombshell Aprilia Move, A Wide Open Rider Market, And Who Can Stop The Yamahas?

Saturday at Assen only deepened the enigma that is Maverick Viñales. After being fastest in both sessions of practice on Friday, the Monster Energy Yamaha man added FP3 to his belt in the morning, then finished second in FP4. That result was a little deceptive, however: he started FP4 on a used soft tire with 15 laps, nearly two thirds race distance, on it, and put nearly race distance on it, ending with a couple of 1'33.7s. For context, the race lap record at Assen is 1'33.617, set by Marc Márquez on lap 4 of the 2015 race. Viñales' second run was on a new medium tire, assessing tire choice for the race.

Seven days ago, Viñales was just twelfth fastest in FP4, and qualified in 21st. The contrast could not be greater with Assen. Here, he qualified on pole position, smashing the lap record and becoming the second rider to lap the Circuit van Drenthe in under 1'32, after teammate Fabio Quartararo posted a 1'31.922 in his first run during Q2. Both Monster Energy Yamaha riders ended with laps of 1'31.8, Quartararo posting three 1'31s to Viñales' two. But it was Viñales who was the quickest of the pair, taking pole with 1'31.814.

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Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Mystery Of Maverick, Marquez Speaks Out, And Gerloff Learns The Ropes

Eventful. That was the best way to describe the first day of practice at Assen. The riders got a chance to sample the new asphalt, and they also got a chance to sample typical Assen summer weather: cool and dry in the morning, sprinkles of rain in the afternoon, followed by a downpour harsh enough to soak the track and allow a few laps in full wet conditions. Not ideal for working on bike setup, especially if your name is Garrett Gerloff, and you have been drafted in to replace Franco Morbidelli, who spent the morning having surgery on his meniscus and ACL, and faces an 8-week period of rehab. That would mean a return after the two races in Austria. But more of Gerloff later.

The verdict on the new asphalt was unanimously positive. "The grip is fantastic," Jack Miller echoing the thoughts of almost everyone. "I mean, Moto3 was close to the lap record. We’re already going really fast, from the beginning this morning. The way the tires are working with the asphalt seems to be really good. The tires are not really dropping off. We were all doing our best lap times at the end of FP1 with the same tires, which generally doesn’t really happen."

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