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

It is also Ducati's main test track, where test rider Michele Pirro – also present this weekend as a wildcard – has worn a groove in the track. With nine Ducatis on track at Misano this weekend, they really do have a massive amount of data from here, and a lot of riders with the will to perform in front of Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali.

And it is Aprilia's test track too, Lorenzo Savadori doing his best to close in on Pirro's lap count around the circuit. It is the place where Maverick Viñales first swung a leg over the Aprilia RS-GP, and a place he returns to in shining form. And Aleix Espargaro has been strong all year, and with the RS-GP working the way it should, he is in with a real shout at the podium.

Is Fabio Quartararo concerned about all these Ducatis and Aprilias getting ready to gang up on him? Perhaps, but he isn't going to let it get to him. "My job this weekend is try to do my best. If I have Pecco, Aleix or eight Ducatis around me, for me it will be the same. I just need to finish as high as possible in the classification," he told the press conference.

Head down and grind

If you wanted a window into how Quartararo is managing to hold his own against the Ducati onslaught, it is encapsulated in those words. The Frenchman does not worry about things outside of his control – nine Ducatis on the grid, including so many riders who are very fast almost everywhere, and a couple of Aprilias thrown in for good measure. He assesses what he can do with the Yamaha M1, changing his riding style, or working with his team to find a way to get the best out of what is fundamentally an underpowered bike.

But the Yamaha is fast around the Misano circuit. Despite some hard acceleration from relatively low speed, Misano is a track where top speed doesn't count for too much. The bikes hit just over 300 km/h on the way into Curvone, the furiously fast right hander at the bottom end of the circuit, not a speed which will trouble the Yamaha. What's more, Tramonto, which leads onto the back straight, is the sort of corner where you can carry corner speed to get better drive onto the section leading into Curvone.

Other places – Misano, the final corner, Turn 6, Quercia – where you have to open the gas hard from low speed. That hard acceleration is heavy on fuel, meaning that the Ducatis have to turn down the power maps at Misano, another weapon removed from their armory. What's more, that acceleration can be compensated for with lower gearing, just as Quartararo did in Austria, to give himself a better chance to stay with the Ducatis.

At first glance, Quartararo may seem like Daniel entering the lion's den, seemingly hopelessly outnumbered by a greater foe. In reality, he is more like David, with enough tricks up his sleeve to outwit and defeat the onslaught that awaits him.

Team orders? No thanks!

Naturally, much of the talk ahead of this weekend is of team orders, of other Ducati riders helping Pecco Bagnaia to give him the best chance of winning, or at least taking as many points as possible from Quartararo and Espargaro, his rivals in the championship.

Team orders are always brought up in these cases, but as the Moto2 race in Austria two weeks ago demonstrated, team orders are something which exist almost entirely in the minds of the media, rather than motorcycle racers. Somkiat Chantra was shown "P2 OK" on his board as he chased Honda Team Asia teammate Ai Ogura, but interpreted that to mean "P1 BETTER", and attacked on the final lap. Only an outstanding piece of riding by Ogura to hold Chantra off through the final two corners settled the issue in Ogura's favor. The normally affable and helpful Honda Team Asia boss Hiroshi Aoyama was mysteriously hard to get hold of after the race, so the media went without an explanation.

Why does the MotoGP media always fall for the team orders canard? Mostly because they watch too much F1. That is an entirely different sport with different rules, different strategies, and very different priorities. But the fact that hydrocarbons are burned to propel vehicles as quickly as possible around a race track lulls journalists into making the erroneous comparison between the two.

A point or two

When asked about team orders, Johann Zarco tried to enlighten the journalists as gently as possible. "Good question!" he replied when asked if he and other Ducati riders would hand a win to Pecco Bagnaia if he ended up ahead of the Italian. "Gigi Dall’Igna said if you have the opportunity to get the victory, we will not take this opportunity from the rider, so go for it but be clever."

Ducati would not expect a rider to give up a podium or victory, but they hoped that riders might be willing to give up points in the positions that didn't really matter. "If in case of a race with Pecco you are fighting for fourth, fifth position, maybe out of the podium, it can be clever to give him a way to get a few more points," Zarco said. "But talking about the victory, Gigi said if you can take it, take it, because he knows how important a victory is, and he doesn't want to remove this feeling from all the riders."

Team orders are hard in motorcycle racing. Thankfully, there is no ship-to-shore radio communication, so team managers cannot scream instructions at riders. Dashboard communication is so restricted that team managers have to resort to obscure codes to try to persuade riders to move aside (cf. Mapping 8). And riders miss the messages on pit boards often enough to give them more than enough plausible deniability of not having read what the team was trying to convey.

What's more, motorcycle racing is a far more individual sport than car racing has become. Once the team leaves the grid for the start of the warm up lap, the riders are on their own. Teams can ask nicely, they can beg and plead, but there is a 90% chance their pleas will go unheeded. And motorcycle racing is all the better for that.

Farewell to the champ

What motorcycle racing is not necessarily better at is rider management. At Misano, Remy Gardner had the opportunity to discuss his reaction to finding out there was no place for him in the Tech3 team next year. The reigning Moto2 champion – a title won with the Red Bull KTM Ajo team – was given less than a season to prove himself in MotoGP. And was unceremoniously dumped, despite having consistently finished ahead of his teammate, Raul Fernandez. (Fernandez was also on his way out, it seems, KTM having also decided to drop the 2021 Moto2 runner up from its line up for next year).

He had been told on Saturday in Austria, Gardner told the media. "I wasn't expecting it to be honest. I've always given 100% and unfortunately I don't think it was good enough for the standard." The reason KTM gave to Gardner for disposing of his services? "They said I was not professional enough."

They did not expand on this, Gardner said, leaving him very much in the dark as to the reasons. "No idea. I don't know. I felt like I always gave my 100% for them, you know. My intention was to stay here and give my best and honestly, yeah, they've broken my heart and… I felt like maybe there's not an appreciation for the world championship I brought them as well. I mean, I was just giving my best all the time and I guess it wasn't good enough."

Dazed and confused

Gardner said he was mystified by the decision. "100%," he replied to the question of whether he was puzzled by this. "I think it hasn't been a disaster, if I'm honest with you. I mean if you have a look at the times and everything and how close I am to the factory guys, usually. It’s still my first year you know! It's Miguel's fourth year in MotoGP. So I honestly think it was not bad and honestly it was positive vibes from them. But yeah, we got to Austria and it’s basically ‘you're out’."

Things had looked very different two weeks previously at the British Grand Prix. "The feeling was and the impression was OK, yeah we’ll continue. At Silverstone it was like, yeah, we should continue and in Austria we’ll get it done," Gardner said.

Being informed so late left Gardner in a very tough spot in terms of finding another ride. "You know, they told me extremely late. They've really done, screwed me over here, to be honest, for finding a seat for next year. So it's left me in a bit of a crappy position."

Learning new tech?

Raul Fernandez had an interesting theory as to why he hadn't been able to get on with the KTM RC16, where Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira had adapted much better. "I tried to analyze, but the problem is that I don't have many years experience with this bike," Fernandez said.

By contrast, Binder and Oliveira had spent several seasons on KTM's steel trellis chassis in Moto2 before moving up to MotoGP. "They did the Moto2 school with KTM, in our case, we didn't do that. Maybe for that reason they can start in another position. Maybe I didn't have the opportunity in Moto2 to work with KTM and maybe for that, during the season it was a little bit difficult for me," Fernandez said.

When Aleix Espargaro was asked about Remy Gardner's situation, he replied with exasperation. "I feel very bad for Remy. I have no explanation in his case. I don't understand why they treat him like this. He was not that bad this year. He won the title last year. He didn't have the best bike this year. So what do they expect from him, to win races? I don't understand," the Aprilia rider told the press conference.

Espargaro's sadness was in part because he understood just how hard it is as a rookie. "It's very difficult to arrive in MotoGP, and to show big potential. Everybody's really fast, there are a lot of competitive bikes, so the question mark is what were they expecting from him? I mean if they were expecting from him after winning the Moto2 title to finish in top five in the world championship, they can fire him, that's for sure. But you cannot expect this. So it's sad, really."

Gardner's comment that he was told he was "not professional enough" is familiar. There have been rumors inside the paddock that KTM did not hold the Australian in particularly high regard. His feedback was not said to be of MotoGP quality, and that he hadn't been receptive to criticism. It is hard to get statements like this on the record, but the fact that there was a buzz about it in the gossip circles suggests there was something askew in the relationship.

Baby out with the bathwater

KTM are taking a risk in dumping Gardner as unceremoniously as they appear to have done, however. Gardner and Fernandez finished first and second in Moto2 in 2021, and were moved up to MotoGP for 2022. With both riders dropped after less than a season to prove themselves, that is evidence that KTM have very limited patience with riders.

That may persuade riders, and managers of riders, to look to alternatives to KTM, not just in MotoGP, but through their entire talent chain. The Red Bull/KTM combination was seen as the ideal path to MotoGP, from Red Bull Rookies to FIM Junior championship, through Moto3 and MotoGP. But if KTM give the impression that riders have less than a year to prove themselves once they get to MotoGP, top talent might prefer to look for alternative routes to MotoGP.

Currently, one of Red Bull KTM's biggest selling points in the lower classes is the possibility of signing a contract with an option to move up to MotoGP. But while KTM's Moto3 and Moto2 teams, in the hands of Ajo and Tech3, are outstanding programs and a chance to win a championship, managers may try to wriggle out of the MotoGP tie-in and sign up with other, more patient manufacturers for the transition to the premier class.

Immediate speed is rare

It takes time to adapt to MotoGP usually. The top three in the championship are proof that each rider has their own path to success. Fabio Quartararo was challenging for podiums within a couple of races in MotoGP, scoring his first podium in just his seventh race, and his first win in his second year. Pecco Bagnaia suffered through a difficult rookie season with Ducati, scoring his first podium in his second year and only truly turning into a title candidate in his third season.

Aleix Espargaro's journey to success is even longer. His first full year in MotoGP was 2010, but it took until 2014 to score his first podium. It took him until 2021 to bag his second podium, and his first win, and transformation into a candidate for the championship, only this year, at the age of 33.

Patience is a virtue. One that KTM, in their rush to succeed, are yet to learn. They may yet succeed despite their impatience. But in the meantime, they are probably scaring off young talent, and making their job more difficult than necessary.


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Source: 
year: 
2022
round_number: 
14

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Comments

I don’t expect a great deal from MotoGP team managers in general - even the successful ones are pretty terrible at rider psychology, for a start, and many are far too impatient for unachievable results. This is some fairly exceptional asshattery though. Poor Remy. It is definitely not him who has been unprofessional.

Seems that Suzuki, first with Davide Brivio and now Livio Suppo, is the only team with a clue about people management.

My regard for KTM has definitely lowered with this whole situation. It previously seemed that they had more patience, with Pol and Miguel, as they were developing the bike. Their willingness to let Zarco walk away one season into his contract, and go to another bike, was impressive. Pit Beirer has always seemed quite honest and straightforward in interviews and I've enjoyed hearing him.

I can't speak to Gardner's professionalism (though the podcast pointed out his less-than-nice Le Mans comments), but that can be worked on. Being defensive and resistant to critique may be a bigger issue, I don't know. But it certainly doesn't seem they gave him enough time to correct his issues. Sad that the reigning Moto2 champ is already out of a ride, especially for as long as he had to grind to get to where he is.

Highly recommended 

5 mins w Quarty today - GREAT interview

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KRACljuKCXE

"Track by track" w Pecco (who will win Sunday)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nXgb9oSRDeE

Suzuki pops up a backmarker sub for Mir. Too bad.

TUESDAY we get to see some very important shite. First look at the 2023 Honda for instance, and it may be piloted by The Marc. My mind is drawn to Tues.

SO, Crutchlow is in at RNF Yamaha for the rest of the season. Interesting! I look fwd. But the Euro Test Team is what we ought to be interested in eh? Is the 2023 motor out on Tues? 

I will be watching for a fast Bastiannini this wknd. Note, it has been raining today at Misano...we may have mixed conditions as a wrench in the gears. 

Seems to me that KTM is the unprofessional one. . . . and its time to change their slogan.

Surely they could have informed both Petrucci and Gardner of their situations and intentions before letting it be known to the media. Irrespective of the actual basis of KTM's decisions regarding those riders, the way KTM communicated it was unscrupulous. My understanding is that Raul wanted out, which he got along with verbose accolodes from Herve'.

Here is a solution....... release him for the rest of this year and allow him to go and fill in Dovi's spot on the Yamaha.  That way Yamaha get another look at a younger rider that could potentially gel well with there bike..... What a joke to release a Moto2 Champ after less that a year.  Sure Maybe Remy could be a bit better diplomatically, but surely being a champion is worth more than this?  Or is it only if you have a spanish passport............  Alex Marquez hasnt done anything and is still there.   Pol too.... Aleix, how he stayed in the class without results for so long without results is staggering.... Mav, many "unprofessional" moments to lose a seat.... Rins, often delivers below expectations.  So many Spanish champs from the bottom classes that keep their rides.....  If Dorna want more spectators to turn up to the races, maybe stop keeping so many Spanish riders......

I’m sure there are a good few mutterers who, like me, manage teams of people. Speaking for myself, it is always difficult to reliably recruit the ‘right’ person. Sometimes, maybe 1 in 5, it all looks great during recruitment but within a few months you know this is going to be heavy going. In my industry you have to live with it - it’s incredibly difficult to dismiss someone, even if they are truly awful at the job. But if there is even a hint of an opportunity to manage them out after a few months I seize that with both hands, because it is much, much better for both parties to part ways early than late. This is how I read the situation at KTM. They have assessed that neither rider is very likely to bring them a championship and each has some attitudinal issues that KTM doesn’t need. Why take the risk that they will never mature when there is a queue as long as your arm in Moto2? The ‘right person’ in this scenario is probably someone who fully recognises that the job isn’t about them, it’s about the team and the bike. Telling the team that their bike is sh%t week after week is not a great path to travel. Everyone seems happy enough to see Fernandez get the chop but as a dispassionate observer, I see Remy bad-mouthing KTM now, as well as earlier in the season, and I’m thinking “that’s why”.

I understand what you say. A perfect team is a difficult and rare gem, impossible to reach in reality. It's not so much about finding people who fit to a rigid pattern more finding people who are willing to bend. That includes all, the pattern bends too. It's not the same as finding people who are willing to bend to the will of those already inside the team.

KTM are showing some really crap form. What happened to Mike Leitner ? I read somewhere that it was not clear when Mike found out he was being replaced as team manager. Sounds familiar. He was replaced after a disappointing season ? If 2021 was disappointing then the vomit and blood must be in full flow now. Well, at least they have one win so far, in the rain, when the rider really counts...oh. The entire universe knew the tyre screwed the KTM in 2021. In a season with limited testing and limited changes allowed, their first post concessions season, the problem was set for the year...yet bye bye Mike. Petrucci found out his services were no longer required from the live TV feed. Lecuona knew it was coming but it was officially announced alongside Petrucci's new lack of contract. KTM has 6 MotoGP wins, 2 for Brad and 4 for Oliveira. First they gave Brad the factory seat instead of promoting Oliveira up from the Tech3 squad and then they wanted to move him back to the Tech3 squad. On both occasions it was OK because the equipment and support would be there...which begs the question, if there is no difference then why the slight ? Oh sorry, I forgot, it's a factory team...it is a KTM, however it's also a GasGas, so it's the GasGas factory team. Sometimes you can't make this stuff up, how apt a name, GasGas. The disrespect shown to Petrucci, Lecuona and Herve came as a result of Raul. I'm not sure what the truth is exactly but I've heard that Raul wished to stay another year in Moto2, Yamaha were showing some interest, KTM promoted him up to MotoGP in an attempt to...not sure what. It made no sense. Unless KTM produced a miracle Raul was never going to have much fun. It wasn't likely to produce results for KTM, it wasn't likely to change Raul's mind about his future. It was some variation of dog meets telephone pole. They've now left Remy in a difficult position. If the 'why' of it is bad-mouthing, are we talking about why they replaced him ? Or are we talking about why they've apparently left him in such an awful position ? If Remy is to be believed, KTM were telling him they wanted to continue even the day they later told him otherwise.

....and everybody thought Zarco had lost his mind.

Well stated, and I couldn't agree more.

At the beginning of this season KTM admitted (to a degree anyway) their structure was flawed, shook things up a bit, and...performed even worse. Just like HRC, I think there is some hubris deep in their dna that says that they have conquered the world their way before (Dakar, MX, etc.), and they're not going to bend no matter what. Just plug in another rider and throw away the old one.

I made a bit of a rant being very unprofessional.

I think they were doing just fine. I think it has now morphed into something entirely different. The team hasn't taken a wrong turn. The team has transmuted into something else entirely. It's now a 'vision'.

I have to confess I'd forgotten a lot of the recent history, and that KTM do seem to have a pretty poor way of doing these things, but that's slightly different to whether they have some justification or are exercising good judgement in getting rid of riders. Look at it this way - if by some miracle they win a title within the next two or three years, it's likely that many will say they were true to themselves all the way, did it their way, wouldn't bend to peer pressure and have been proved right. 

Personally I wouldn't want to work for them, but I'm not one of dozens of riders in Moto2 who are desperate for a shot at the big time. I have no idea if Remy was a bit of a nightmare behind the scenes or Raul a complete princess, but as it's a very foolish company that sacks great talent on a whim, I'll give KTM the benefit of the doubt and assume they do feel they have good reason. I very much doubt this will hurt them within the paddock - seats are at a premium and there'll be takers for almost anything, under almost any conditions you care to imagine, for the next few years.

Totally agree. Impossible to know the specifics of the specifics. As an collection of specific examples it does make me think. However, you're absolutely right. If they win with their current path then it is simple, they are right, maybe not nice, maybe we'd like that they hugged more riders but the objective of the sport is to win, end of.

On the flip side, Aprilia sure is impressing. I have to pinch myself...APRILIA?!

2nd best bike on the grid. 2nd Team launching. They look to have an excellent and rather diverse bunch of riders. 

Everything I hoped Suzuki would do, Black is. And well. 

Interesting that the Italian marque has 3 Spanish riders, and (like Suzuki) no major sponsor. 

Remaining open minded that R.Fernandez could excel on it. He is really young. There is a fire in his chest. I don't have to like him personally.

Aprilia is an oddball of an outfit. The more I look the more I like.

ONLY concern? RNF is getting 2022 bikes, and isn't the strong solid Team that we saw in Aqua. 

Raz is an underdog. I will be cheering for Oliveira. On this bike we get to see more of what he is made of. 

Yes, that's the bottom line. I think there is a bit of a dichotomy within the paddock - you've got Honda and Yamaha, who for decades have been able to take the pick of the litter and nurture them where necessary because they simply are or where the best of the best. For nurture, read 'be nice, be patient, give them whatever they ask for', and incidentally, I think both factories will remain able to do this for some time to come, despite all our schadenfreude-ish mutterings. Then you have the others. To get to the top step they need to filter out the outstandingly brilliant from the merely exceptional and for all of them, but especially Ducati, that clock is tick-tick-ticking, with a lot of impatient execs looking on from the wings. They are all looking for that special one who can shave a tenth or two per lap on their bike, because that's all it needs, to be just a smidgeon faster. Oddly, and to their great credit, Aprilia seem to have adopted a strategy of kindness and patience - forza aprilia, I truly hope it pays off! But Ducati have shat on just about anyone who stood still long enough and, in doing so, are edging closer and closer to the holy grail*, Suzuki has utterly dumped on a whole crew and thrown in the towel, and KTM have gone a bit further than Ducati by 'swapping out' without delay. All because no-one cares or even remembers who came second.

*I don't think Pecco is 'the one' though I might change that view by the end of the season or next year. For that matter I don't think Fabio is the bees knees either, more the case that by some stroke of luck this bike and tyre configuration suits him. It could be completely different with another combo. Even though I'm not a great fan of the great barger, if MM comes back at full strength next year I think there will be a lot of re-assessment of who's stellar and who's not.

I wonder if Wayne and Remy spoke about this? I can imagine Wayne, a former world champion would have an interesting perpective on this. Would he tell Remy to value himself and not sugar coat his comments to KTM? There are so many young riders and riders families who make horrendous sacrifices and put them selves in awful situations just to secure rides. I can see Wayne saying, "if the bike is no good, tell them. If they don't fix it, don't compromise yourself to keep the ride." I hope Remy gets a paid ride somewhere good, but if he doesn't he should be proud of his performance this season even if KTM isn't.

Be cool to see him in WSBK!

Assunming that the fellow mutterers live all across the globe, i would call myself a close neighbor to KTM (living within 50 km from their HQ). So there are maybe some patriotic vibes but most of the time i respected their approach to MotoGP to go with differing technical solutions - where applicable. But i have to admit the whole KTM brass gives a rather poor performance of how to run such a top level racing operation. Dumping Leitner last year and hire Ducati brainpower seemingly didn't work out in the intended way. Maybe it will work in mid- or even longer terms, as they are still try to hire Ducati people ( e.g. going for Bastianinis crewchief)and even Jack can be seen as an Ducati asset. But to be clear they handled the whole rider situation like shit, maybe Raul - i refer to him as the "Schlaucherl" - was a sure thing to leave, but i'm not sure if it serves him well with other manufacturers that he showed such low commitment in racing the Tech3 KTM (it's just my personal impression...). I'm not sure what happened to Remy, but at some point i got the impression that the situation with Remy's management and KTM's brass was more about "comparing c*cks" than cutting a deal. The loss of Oliveira saddens me the most and i have no clear idea why, or is it just about Binder outperforming him on any occasion but one this year.

Seeing Oilveira and the "schlaucherl" at RNF makes me remember that most manufacturers struggled in the first year after going from concessions to regular status, so i'm a bit curious about what happens with Aprilia in 2023...

Remy Gardner's sacking by KTM is nothing more than GasGas insisting on a 100% Spanish rider lineup for their sponsorship money (after all, there is no new technology on these bikes, they're simply rebadged RC16s).

Remy's supposedly unprofessional behaviour is merely an excuse to pander to the whims of another big money Spanish MotoGP sponsor...