Analysis

Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Three-Way Battle Against Grip

On Friday, things looked pretty clear. Aleix Espargaro would walk away from his rivals at Barcelona, using the ability of the Aprilia to find grip where there is none – and at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the grip is absolutely terrible – to cruise to his second victory of the season, and of his MotoGP career.

On Saturday, things had changed. We are still on for a race of attrition, a desperate battle to keep your tires in good shape for as long as possible in the hope of wearing down your rivals. Or rather, convincing your rivals to wear down their tires, by pushing a fraction too hard, cracking the throttle a fraction too aggressively, spinning the rear just a tiny amount more than is absolutely necessary. This track eats tires, so the trick is to get your rivals to feed the circuit first.

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Barcelona MotoGP Notes From Pit Lane

A few thoughts on things I saw walking up and down pit lane.

First, it is clear that teams are worried about tire temperature. The factory Ducatis, the factory Yamahas, and even Andrea Dovizioso were using the silver wheels, using special paint to dissipate heat more effectively.

Aprilia appear to have the most sorted motorcycle, judging by the parts and tools in the garage. Where other teams and factories have shocks, fork springs, and even swingarm linkages (Suzuki) lying in the garage, Aprilia are just changing tires. That is ominous for the rest of the grid.

As one of the factory KTM riders left pit lane, a caught a glimpse behind the bottom of the fairing. It looked like they have a lot of hydraulics there, which are most likely used to control the ride-height device. Locating it under the bike is ideal in terms of weight distribution.

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Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: How To Go Fast When There Is No Grip, And Why Aprilia are Favorites

Normally after the first day of practice for a MotoGP race, everyone says, "it's only Friday, you can't read too much into the times". But not here. At Barcelona, everyone is asking how they can stop the Aprilias. Aleix Espargaro was fastest on a soft tire and in race trim, and Maverick Viñales was quick over a single lap – his weakness so far with Aprilia - and managed a respectable race pace. If one or both qualify well on Saturday, nobody will see which way they went.

The gap over the rest is impressive. Aleix Espargaro was three tenth faster than his Aprilia teammate, while Viñales was two tenths quicker than Enea Bastianini in third. And that was with Viñales feeling he hadn't get everything possible out of the soft tire he put in at the end of FP2. "When I put the soft, the jump was huge so I didn’t take enough profit of the soft. The difference was very big," the Spaniard told us.

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Barcelona MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Managing Tires, Honda Hinting At Espargaro's Future, And Silly Season Kicks Off

Mugello and Barcelona are widely regarded as very similar circuits. Both have a long, fast straight approached from a fast, sweeping corner. Both have long corners, where the ability to carry corner speed counts. There are differences too: Barcelona does not have as many left-right combination corners, where riders have to choose which corner to take perfectly and which corner to leave themselves open to attack.

But the biggest difference between Mugello and Barcelona is in the asphalt. Mugello is pretty tough on tires, mainly because of the high speeds involved. But Barcelona is a grueling assault on Michelin's race rubber, the circuit featuring the deadly combination of high speeds, long corners, an abrasive surface, and scorching track temperatures.

That makes the race a war of attrition. Do not push too early, or you burn up your tires and will struggle to reach the finish line. But be too gentle, and you risk losing touch with the leaders, and are left to hope they will use up their tires before the end of the race. It is a game of patience.

Hot and cold

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A Fourth Operation: Why Marc Marquez Had No Choice But To Get More Surgery On His Right Arm

Today, Thursday, is the day that Marc Marquez hopes the long nightmare of the last two years will start to end. The six-time MotoGP champion is to have an operation to straighten the humerus in his right arm. To straighten it, because the bone grew back twisted after three previous operations to fix the bone he broke in a massive crash at the first race in Jerez in 2020.

Most MotoGP fans know the story pretty much by heart now, but to recap. Marquez ran wide at Turn 5 during the first race of the pandemic-stricken series of 2020, at Jerez in July. He staged an incredible comeback, making from almost dead last all the way back up to third, and challenging for second, before his bike spat him off at Turn 3, then hit him as he tumbled through the gravel, breaking his right arm.

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Mugello MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Cream Of MotoGP, Why The Ducati Is Best, Mugello Makes Passing Possible, And The New Marc Marquez

Mugello is a real motorcycle racing track. And on Sunday, it served up a real motorcycle race. After close games of follow-my-leader at Jerez and Le Mans, we had battles, we had passing, we had riders attacking and counterattacking, lining people up to dive underneath, or sweeping out of the slipstream to dive under the rider ahead at Turn 1.

Does this mean MotoGP's overtaking problem has been fixed? Only if we hold an entire season's worth of racing at Mugello and Phillip Island (which doesn't sound like such a terrible idea, to be honest). But it offers hope that when conditions are right, we can see the kind of spectacle which we have come to expect from MotoGP.

Even the atmosphere was good. Sure, the crowd was much thinner on the ground than in previous years – roughly half of what you might expect, making the drive into the track smooth and easy – but they brought the smoke bombs, the passion, the cheering, helped in no small part by the fact that there was an all-Italian front row, and an Italian rider won the Italian Grand Prix on an Italian bike.

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Mugello MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marc Marquez' Long-Term Decision, The Meaninglessness of Rain Flags, And A Special Day for Italy

Saturday was a celebration of Italian motorcycling. First, there was the retirement ceremony for Valentino Rossi's race number, 46. A peculiar custom, but if we are going to indulge in it, then #46 is the number which deserves it most. The ceremony also raised the biggest cheers of the weekend so far, and created the kind of atmosphere we are used to at Mugello. For a few moments, the crowd felt a little less sparse.

That ceremony came on top of yesterday's proceedings which saw Max Biaggi inducted as a MotoGP Legend, Dorna's equivalent of a hall of fame. The Italian topped that off on Saturday evening by circulating on a soaking wet track on the Aprilia 250 he built his reputation on, and with which he won so many titles.

But the crowning glory of the Italian Grand Prix was a trio of Italian youngsters on the front row of the grid, on a trio of Italian bikes. All three in Italian teams, with both VR46 riders on the front row, on the day that #46 was retired. An Italian rookie taking pole in spectacular style. And to top it off, four Italians in the top five, and six Italian bikes in the top seven.

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Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: FP1 Brings Aero Updates, And Aprilia's Plans With RNF Racing

For anyone with a keen eye for detail, the first session of free practice on the Friday of a MotoGP event is always fascinating. FP1 is where riders will try new parts, or more experimental setup changes. Helpfully, those changes are almost always tested back to back with the standard setup, for the sake of comparison.

Even more useful is the fact that the first run of the day is done on the bike which the rider has been using so far this season, to give them a quick reminder of exactly how the bike feels and set a baseline. They then jump onto the second bike (using the same tires) with the altered setup or new parts. It makes spotting differences a good deal easier.

When those new parts are updates to the aerodynamics package, spotting differences becomes a piece of cake. Fortunately for people like me with poor eyesight and addled brains.

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Mugello MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Mugello Makes Passing Easier, And The Merits Of Banning Technology

If there has been one topic which has dominated MotoGP so far in 2022, it is the profound lack of overtaking in the first few races. The causes have been discussed ad nauseam – ride-height devices mean riders are braking later, loading the front more, aerodynamics are creating turbulence which makes following difficult and overheats the front tire – but there is another factor which has not been touched upon so often.

"Nowadays with the problems that we have, that the front is heating and to stop the bike is hard with the wings and everything, the tracks where you have to stop and go, it's quite difficult to overtake in the braking area, you know?" Joan Mir said on Thursday. Tracks like Le Mans, or Austin, or even Jerez, with tight corners where you can sit in the slipstream and try to outbrake the rider ahead pose a problem.

"This track is completely the opposite," Mir pointed out. "You don't have to be good in the braking, you have to be good on corner speed, to find the flow, to get a good line, that's so important in this track, and that's why this track is good for overtakes, and for the show."

Flow = show

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Mugello MotoGP Preview: Will Fans Turn Up For A Glorious Spectacle In A Stunning Setting?

In a way, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello may prove to be the very first post MotoGP round of the post-Rossi era. As a motorcycle racing venue, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello has everything going for it. The setting is stunning, nestling in a valley in the hills of Tuscany. The location is outstanding, a little more than an hour away from one of the greatest Renaissance cities in the world, stuffed to the gunnels with outstanding architecture and the finest art on the planet. The food is outstanding, as is the wine.

Then there's the race track. Together with Phillip Island, the last of the great motorcycling circuits where MotoGP bikes have the room to stretch their legs, yet where a rider can still make all the difference. The circuit rolls and flows around the valley, following the natural contours of the landscape.

It has a bit of everything: hard braking into Turn 1 after the fastest straight on the calendar, the approach on a crest where the bikes almost take flight. It has left-right and right-left combinations which offer opportunities to make a pass, but also lay yourself open to counterattack. It has high-speed kinks and fast uphill and downhill corners. And it has long, fast, flowing turns where carrying corner speed is crucial, and where the brave can truly make the difference.

No rest for the wickedly fast

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