Analysis

Misano MotoGP Thursday Preview: A Yamaha In Ducati's Den, Why Team Orders Are Nonsense, And KTM's Troubling Attitude To Talent

With seven races left in the 2022 MotoGP season, we are approaching the final stretch. There are 175 points left to play for, and Fabio Quartararo has a lead of 32 points over Aleix Espargaro. That means that Espargaro still has his fate in his own hands: he can become 2022 MotoGP champion by the simple expedient of winning every MotoGP race left, and if Quartararo finishes second in all seven races, the Aprilia rider would take his first championship by a slim margin of 3 points.

Pecco Bagnaia has to rely on the help of others if he is to become champion. The Italian is 44 points behind Quartararo, which means he will need someone to get in between himself and Quartararo on more than one occasion.

So it's a good job MotoGP is at Misano this weekend. For Bagnaia, this is very much his home track, the Italian riding here regularly as part of the VR46 Academy on road bikes. And Bagnaia has help on his side: Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi are also VR46 Academy riders, and Ducati stablemates. (Franco Morbidelli, the fourth VR46 rider, will not be helping Bagnaia. But then, given his form this year, he is unlikely to be in a situation to help his Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Fabio Quartararo.)

Like the back of their hands

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Honda's Depths Of Despair - Why HRC Is So Far Behind, And How It Can Catch Up Again

In case you were wondering how things have been going at Honda, after 13 races Marc Marquez is currently the best-placed HRC rider in the 2022 MotoGP championship. Marc Marquez is in 15th place, with 60 points, Takaaki Nakagami is 16th, with 45 points, Pol Espargaro 17th, with 42 points, and Alex Marquez 18th, with 29 points. After the next race at Misano, the 14th race of 2022, Marc Marquez is still likely to be the best placed Honda rider.

And to refresh your memory, that is the same Marc Marquez who raced the season opener at Qatar, then highsided himself to the moon in Indonesia, and missed that race and Argentina, then competed from Portimão through to Mugello, where he revealed that the humerus in his right arm had healed with a 30° rotation in it, and he had to have a fourth (and almost certainly last, whichever way it turns out) operation on the arm to straighten it out before he can compete again.

So not only has Marc Marquez missed 7 of the 13 grand prix this year, but in the ones he did compete in, he was effectively riding with one arm. And yet he is still top Honda.

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Austria MotoGP Subscriber Notes: On Tires Front And Rear, How To Win A Championship, And Silly Season Nearing Its End

Does MotoGP need something like sprint races to pack out otherwise empty grandstands? It depends on which you ask that question. On the evidence of Silverstone, where just 41,000 people turned up on Sunday, you would say yes, we need a change. Judge by the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, where 92,000 – pretty much a packed house – turned up on a gray and overcast day, when it looked like it could rain at any moment, and you would say that MotoGP is doing OK.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend talking to a variety of people about the way the sprint races will (or may) affect each MotoGP weekend, and so will save that subject for an in-depth look later in the week. But first, a few quick notes on the Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg, which featured a demonstration of the pointlessness of team orders in Moto2, a further settling out of the order in MotoGP, and saw the end of the 2023 silly season start to approach.

No such thing as team orders

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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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