Analysis

Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Weather As A Wildcard, And The Return Of The Marc

There are two types of tires in MotoGP: wet tires for the rain, and slicks for the dry. The real world is not quite so binary, of course: the weather, and therefore the track, can be bone dry or having standing water on it, and anything in between. Damp patches. A thin sheen of water. A drying racing line. Cold but dry. Soaking, but very warm.

There may only be two types of tires in MotoGP, but that is enough to cover pretty much every kind of condition. Slicks are perfect in the dry and the soft wets are fantastic when there is water on the track, but the medium wets work well on a damp track, a drying track, and even on a track with next to no water on them. (True story: Michelin started off calling them hard wets, but then the teams and the riders were too scared to use them, and never fitted them. Michelin renamed them "medium", and hey presto, the riders were raring to give them a go. So much of motorcycle racing takes place between the ears.)

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Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Changing Conditions, Bagnaia's Rough Start, Viñales Velocity, And Making Sense Of The Fan Survey

Coming into the weekend, the weather was one of the biggest worries for the MotoGP paddock. At the start of the week, it seemed like we might be looking at a complete washout. The forecast has cleared up notably since then, but the weather still had a major effect on the start of the Misano Grand Prix. Heavy rain on Wednesday and Thursday left the track very green, and difficult to negotiate in the morning.

"This morning it was slick. FP1 especially, the first couple of runs it was really greasy," Brad Binder said on Friday afternoon. But a day of good weather and a very busy schedule – in addition to the three grand prix classes, there is also MotoE and the FIM Junior GP World Championship, or CEV Moto3 championship as was – meant conditions were much better in the afternoon. "In FP2 it was like another circuit. It's crazy how quickly the track can change, I didn't expect it," Binder said.

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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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