2023 MotoGP Calendar
The 2023 MotoGP Calendar:
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The 2023 MotoGP Calendar:
Diego Gubellini talking to Fabio Quartararo on the grid at the Red Bull Ring in Austria
Fabio Quartararo missed out on the 2022 MotoGP title by a handful of points. The advantage Pecco Bagnaia had going into the final round was too great to overcome at Valencia. Given the lack of horsepower the 2022 Yamaha M1 had, it was impressive that Quartararo took the championship down to the final race.
Quartararo's feat was down in no small part to his crew chief, Diego Gubellini. The Italian, who was paired with the Frenchman in what was then the Petronas Yamaha satellite squad and moved up to the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team with him, helped Quartararo extract every ounce of performance from the M1.
I spoke to Gubellini on the Thursday before the final race, looking back at the 2022 season and how he and Quartararo worked to get the best out of the Yamaha M1. He talked about his role as crew chief, maximizing the speed of the Yamaha, and his role in the development of the 2023 machine.
For the past few years, Ducati have been the manufacturer pioneering the direction of development in MotoGP. Ducati will come up with a new idea, which the other manufacturers will hastily copy, with a greater or lesser degree of success. Holeshot devices, ride-height devices, winglets. The latest example of this are the tail fins, the four winglets sticking up from the tail of the Desmosedici, which have suddenly also sprouted from the tail of the Honda RC213V and the Yamaha M1.
(As an aside, what do these tail winglets do? Riders report they give better stability, especially under braking. They are too tall to be purely vortex generators – which would reduce drag by smoothing the boundary layer of air on the tail. A possible explanation is that they are directing the airflow coming off the rider, the least aerodynamic part of the motorcycle. But they could also be helping to keep the tail of the bike straight under braking once the load disappears from the rear wheel and shifts to the front. But I digress.)
Over the next week or so, I will be taking a deep dive into what I saw at the test, with the help of photos from Niki Kovács and having talked a few things over with Peter Bom. But examining all of the photos and thinking about what I saw has been an intensive affair, as I tried to figure out what was going on.
But we'll start off with Honda. For a lot of reasons. Not just because Marc Marquez expressed disappointment at what HRC had brought to the test, but also because two new riders switched to Honda, including the 2020 MotoGP champion Joan Mir and the winner of the Valencia MotoGP race Alex Rins.
I gave my first impressions from the test on Tuesday evening after the test, but the trouble with working quickly is that you don't notice what you have missed. There are so many small changes that you don't really have time to absorb them all. And sometimes, there are so many eye-catching changes that you miss out on other big changes, which is certainly the case with Honda.
Suzuki's MotoGP activities finally came to an end with the Valencia GP, the final round of the 2022 season. Since the bombshell news of Suzuki Motor Corporation's decision to withdraw at the end of the season hit the world this May, every venue and every racetrack has become a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all the team members of Team SUZUKI ECSTAR. On Thursday afternoon, before Team SUZUKI ECSTAR's final race at the Circuit de Valencia Ricardo Tormo, we spoke with Shinichi Sahara, the project leader who has been leading the team for twenty years.
In the second part of this two-part interview, Sahara-san discusses how Suzuki's decision to withdraw at the end of 2022 compares with 2011, when Suzuki paused participation in the premier class. He talks about what will happen to the team at the end of the season, the chances of a return, and the joy of Alex Rins' victories at Phillip Island and Valencia.
Q: Your withdrawal is inevitably compared to that of 2011, but in 2011, it was an announcement of “suspension of activities".
Shinichi Sahara: In that sense, it is different from this time. Although it was a suspension, returning to the racing was very tough. And after returning, it needs a lot of effort to become competitive and fight at the top level. Therefore, even at that time, we did everything to persuade them not to suspend racing activities. In that sense, this is the second time we have worked like this. Although there are some similarities, suspension and withdrawal are different things. Anyway, I think once is enough for this experience!
2022 has been a strange year for Yamaha. It started off on the wrong foot, when the Japanese factory was forced to give up on the more powerful engine they had intended to race this season and run a revised version of the 2021 engine (which, thanks to the Covid-19 engine freeze, was basically the 2020 engine) for this year.
Despite the obvious lack of engine performance, by the time MotoGP reached the summer break after Assen, Fabio Quartararo had a comfortable lead in the championship, sitting ahead of Aleix Espargaro by 21 points, and the man billed as his main title rival for 2022, Pecco Bagnaia, by 66 points.
Elsewhere, there were signs of trouble. While Quartararo was winning races and leading the championship, his Monster Energy Yamaha Franco Morbidelli was struggling just to score points. Over at the RNF team, Andrea Dovizioso jumped on a Yamaha only to find he had spent too long on a Ducati to be able to figure out how to ride it, and retired again after Misano. Darryn Binder had a big hill to climb going straight to MotoGP from Moto3, and found himself crashing along the way. And after the summer break, RNF announced they would be switching to Aprilia for the 2023 season.
Going into the final MotoGP race of the year at Valencia, we were all expecting Ducati to dominate. After all, they had utterly dominated the 2022 season. Ducati had won 12 of the 19 races so far (7 by Pecco Bagnaia), had at least one rider on the podium for 25 consecutive races, taken 15 pole positions, and had at least one rider on the front row for 39 races. In 2021, Ducati had locked out both the front row of the grid, and the podium at at Valencia.
After qualifying, Ducati had increased their pole tally to 16 in 2022 and extended their streak of consecutive front row starts to 40. Jorge Martin started from pole, and Jack Miller qualified third. But that something had changed was clear from the rest of the grid. Marc Marquez was second on the Repsol Honda – a fit Marquez can use his genius to pull a fast lap out of the bag, but the Honda is in no shape to sustain that over race distance – while the second row consisted of Fabio Quartararo on the Yamaha, Alex Rins on the Suzuki, and Maverick Viñales on the Aprilia. Valencia was not looking like being a Ducati whitewash (redwash?) again.
It has been a long year. 20 races is not 5% more than 19 races, that much is clear from the drawn faces in the paddock. The kind of intensity required to operate on a grand prix weekend means that the additional effort required for each race Dorna adds increases exponentially. We get through each weekend clinging on by the skin of our teeth, and that skin gets thinner every weekend.
Which is a roundabout way of saying I am way behind on a lot of things, including additional notes from a fascinating final race of the year. And that weekend was topped off by one of the most interesting and important tests of the year, where factories had a mountain of new stuff to test.
That needs a deep dive to examine properly, with photos to accompany and explain what we are seeing. But before that, a few brief notes on what I saw, and what it might mean.
Luca Marini goes into the winter break as the fastest man in MotoGP, topping the one-day Valencia MotoGP test. The Mooney VR46 rider ended the day with a 1'30.032, four tenths shy of Jorge Martin's pole on Sunday. The Italian was two tenths faster than Maverick Viñales on the Aprilia, who was a few thousandths faster than Marini's Mooney VR46 teammate Marco Bezzecchi.
Miguel Oliveira impressed on the RNF Aprilia, ending the day as fourth and feeling very comfortable, according to team manager Wilco Zeelenberg, while Aleix Espargaro was fifth quickest.