Analysis

Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Record-Breaking Pole, 7-Day Déjà Vu, Hard Fronts, And Viñales' Future

The thing about back-to-back races is that everyone gets faster. Or at least, that's the idea. With an extra weekend of data under their belts, the teams should have a pretty good idea about the ideal setting for the bike at a track, and returning to a circuit where they had raced a week before, the riders should be able to navigate every corner, bump, and braking zone with their eyes closed.

The track should be better too. With a weekend of motorcycle rubber on the track to replace the residue left by cars, there is more grip for the riders to exploit. The stars should all be aligned for everyone to be faster the second time around.

As it turns out, that is only partially true. Johann Zarco raised expectations in FP1, smashing the pole record set by Jorge Martin the previous week by over a tenth of a second. In FP3, both Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo dived under Martin's previous record as well, though they were still a ways behind Zarco's time. So in qualifying, surely Zarco's record would fall, and half the grid or more would be into the 1'22s?

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Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rain Wrecks Plans, Riding Wet And Dry, Helping Marquez' Shoulder, And The Binder Brothers

We know that the weather in the mountains is changeable, but Friday at the Red Bull Ring took the cake. A bright, sunny morning, with ideal conditions for riding – so ideal that Johann Zarco sliced another tenth of a second off the outright lap record in FP1 – and in the last ten minutes or so of FP2 for the Moto3 class, a few drops of rain, and then lightning, and a hailstorm in 30°C heat. The MotoGP riders went out on a soaking track, but by the time the session finished, it was almost dry.

Iker Lecuona seized his opportunity. The Tech3 KTM rider had been quick enough on wets, but at the end of FP2, he swapped to slicks, and banged in a time nearly 3.4 seconds faster than anyone else had managed. Jack Miller was the only other rider to stick a set of slicks in at the end, though he was not chasing a time, but trying to understand how the medium slicks would work on a track which was still quite wet.

"I just went out on the mediums to understand how they work in quite a lot of water on the track," Miller explained. "Because it's quite stop-start here, you're putting a lot of weight on both the front and the rear tyre, and the medium definitely feels better. So I just wanted to understand how quickly I could get them up to temperature and working, and they worked pretty good."

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Austria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Spielberg's Bad Vibes, A stiffer Front Tire, And Closer Second Races

The Red Bull Ring has faced much criticism in the six years since MotoGP started going back there, mostly about the safety of the riders on track. But one thing that gets overlooked is the circuit's propensity for generating drama off track. In 2020, we had Andrea Dovizioso announcing he would not be racing with Ducati again in 2021. In 2019, we had the drama with Johann Zarco splitting with KTM, with additional drama around Jack Miller possibly losing a place to Jorge Lorenzo, who would return to Ducati to take Miller's place at Pramac.

The year before, Yamaha had held a press conference in which management and engineers officially apologized to factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales for building a dog-slow bike that left them 11th and 14th on the grid. Spielberg was the place where Romano Fenati got into an altercation with the Sky VR46 Moto2 team, and was sacked in 2016.

So much discord and division. Perhaps the circuit is built on a conjunction of ley lines, or perhaps the Spielberg track was built on an ancient cemetery where the contemporaries of Ötzi were buried. Or perhaps the middle of a MotoGP season is when tensions generally reach boiling point. The latter explanation is the most likely, perhaps, though a good deal less entertaining.

Bouncing off the limiter

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Styria Moto2 & Moto3 Review: Neil Morrison On Bezzecchi's Return, Gardner's Woes, Ogura's Rise, And KTM Distractions

As ever Moto2 and Moto3 threw up a plenty of intrigue at the Styrian Grand Prix with one name putting his name back in the championship fight, while another cemented his place at the top. Here, we dive into some of the more pressing matters in both classes.

Bezz is back

It’s still a stretch. But Marco Bezzecchi put himself back into championship contention with his first win of the season on Sunday. The 22-year old shrugged off speculation surrounding his future by producing his strongest weekend for some time. This has always been a strong track for Bezzecchi’s braking abilities, with the Italian scoring wins here in 2018 (Moto3) and 2020 (Moto2). In the race, his speed through Turns 1 and 3 was crucial, and key to him recovering from a shaky early spell to reel in, then pounce on, Remy Gardner.

For much of this season, Bezzecchi has either struggled to qualify well, or manage tyre wear to live with the Red Bull Ajo team-mates. But he overcame both here, backing up his searing free practice pace by qualifying third on Saturday. Then, as he dropped from first to third in the early laps, he paid careful attention to the riding styles of Gardner and Aron Canet to make his way back to the front.

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Styria MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Randomness Of Restarts, Another Rookie Sensation, The Power Of Podiums, And Maverick's Electronics Woes Explained

Weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. Usually when people say that, they mean it as a bad thing, but it isn't necessarily so. Unpredictability swings in all possible directions, and means that just because something is likely to happen, it doesn't mean that it will. It was supposed to rain all day on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring. It did, overnight, and in the morning. Then it dried out, and we had a drying Moto3 race followed by dry Moto2 and MotoGP races.

Two MotoGP races, in fact. A very short two-and-a-half lap race, interrupted by a fiery crash and long delay, and then a completely new race – if a race is interrupted before the leader crosses the line at the end of lap 3, the race is restarted as if the first attempt had never happened, with everyone allowed to race and the same grid as set by qualifying – which was shortened by one lap, from 28 to 27 laps.

The red flag shook up the field, creating winners and losers, some riders getting a chance to correct earlier mistakes, others finding themselves struggling in the second race. There is a small element of random chance in every MotoGP race – a good thing, or else the outcome would always be entirely predictable – and the cards fall a different way each time the lights go out.

We'll keep the red flag flying here

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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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