The first race in Europe is in the books, and we are halfway back to normality. Unlike Qatar, at Portimão the riding was all done in daylight, meaning the wild variation of track temperatures was far more limited. The weekend was held in more consistent conditions, at a more agreeable time, in a more congenial location.
More importantly, the grid was complete once again. After an absence of eight months, Marc Márquez finally lined up on a MotoGP grid again. And finished a MotoGP race, for the first time since Valencia 2019. None of this was a given, after the long and difficult road to recovery he faced. Three operations, a bone infection, and endless hours of physical therapy paved the long, hard road back for Marc Márquez. It was a journey without a fixed duration or a sure destination. To line up on the grid, and to cross the finish line 25 laps later, was a victory all of its own.
But the return of Márquez still marks only the halfway mark of a return to normality. We will take a bigger step once MotoGP hits Jerez. Because we will, after a year of out-of-sequence races, be back at a circuit at its customary time of year. Marc Márquez will be lining up on the grid having proved to himself that he can start and finish a MotoGP race. And we will be back at a track where the teams and factories are drowning in data, having hundreds of thousands of testing, practice, and race kilometers at the circuit.
The only thing that will be missing (in all probability) is the fans. That is still some way off. But they, too, could make a return before the year is out.
But before that, the second ever MotoGP event at Portimão left plenty of food for thought. The first signs of a pattern are starting to emerge from the season, the changes made over the winter beginning to have an effect. But a few distortions remain, which will only be cleared up on more familiar terrain, in more familiar circumstances.
These notes have been split into two parts. In the first part, we touch on the following:
- Track, temperature, and tires – why Portimão still wasn't a complete picture
- Binder's hard charge, and riding around problems
- Fabio Quartararo and the most important 14cm in racing
In part 2, we will cover Marc Marquez' remarkable return, the Aprilia, Joan Mir's podium, Pecco Bagnaia's speed, and whether Yamaha is now the bike to beat.
But first, conditions. The MotoGP teams and factories faced two separate but related problems at Portimão. Firstly, they were back in Portugal at a very different time of year, where much higher temperatures, both ambient, thanks to the change of season, and track, thanks to the sun being higher in the sky so far past the equinox, robbed the data from last November of much of its usefulness. They didn't have to start again from scratch, but with track temperatures 13ºC higher during the race than last year, it meant grip levels were very different.
Then there were the tires. Last year, Michelin had brought a choice of two different hard tires, front and rear, for the inaugural race at Portimão. This year they dropped one of those hard choices, opting to keep the asymmetric front and asymmetric rear. That, Michelin reasoned, should provide a better match to the increased temperatures at the circuit.
The trouble was, the symmetric hard front was the tire most riders had used in the race last year. It offered the support needed for braking, with enough grip to last the race and manage the conditions. The asymmetric front should be better in theory, offering more grip on the left and more durability on the right. But that comes at a price, with riders complaining of the feel of tire, and especially of the transition from one rubber to the other. For bikes that just needed grip from the front, like the Yamaha and the Ducati, the medium front was fine. For the Honda and KTM, which are designed to make up time on the brakes and so stress the front more, they are caught between a rock and a hard place: the medium is too soft and prone to overheating; the asymmetric hard is too difficult to get to work.
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