Alex Rins

Barcelona MotoGP Thurday Round Up: A Changed Circuit, A Curious Crash, And A Strange Swap

Another week, another race track. We are a third of the way into the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, possibly, pandemic permitting), and things are starting to move fast. A third of the way now, and in three weeks' time, we will be at the halfway mark.

It is hard to overstate how important this part of the season is. Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, and Assen are the guts of the season, the foundations on which championships are built. By the time we pack up for the summer break – a long one this time, five weeks between Assen and Austria, with Sachsenring taking place before Assen instead of after, its usual slot – we should have a very good idea of who is in the driving seat for this year.

What makes the triumvirate of Mugello, Barcelona, and Assen key? They are fast, punishing tracks that test man and machine. They are riders' tracks, where a fast rider can make the difference, but they also need a bike to be set up well in pursuit of a good result. There are no shortcuts at those three circuits, no relying on one aspect of the machine to get you out of trouble.

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Mugello Subscriber Notes: To Race Or Not To Race, And Quartararo, Rins, And Marquez

It is hard to sit down after a MotoGP weekend to write about the racing after a young rider has lost their lives. I have had to do it four times now, and it doesn't get any easier. It merely raises the uncomfortable questions we all know surround motorcycle racing: how do you enjoy a sport which is fundamentally dangerous? A sport in which a mistake risks not just injury, but death?

I have no ready answer to this question. It remains as uncomfortable now as it did the first time I had to address it, after Shoya Tomizawa's tragic accident at Misano in 2010. I feel just as ambiguous about it now as I did eleven years ago. It remains as clear as mud.

If anything, the manner of Jason Dupasquier's passing made the situation even more complicated. The Swiss rider fell right at the end of the Q2 session for Moto3, and was struck by following riders. The minimum combined weight for rider and bike for Moto3 is 152kg. The physics of speed differential and minimum weight meant Dupasquier sustained massive injuries in the incident.

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Mugello Friday Round Up: On The Relative Sensation Of Speed, New Parts Making The Difference, And Two Slow Riders

The only thing missing was the crowds. It was good to be back at Mugello, the most glorious jewel in the MotoGP calendar. Like all jewels, Mugello comes with sharp edges that need handling with care, and it took rookies and regulars alike some time to get used to the sheer speed at which they blasted down the straight.

Brad Binder had been impressed. "This morning was my first time ever at Mugello on the GP bike so it took me a while to find my feet and figure out where to go because it’s a bit different to how I remember it in Moto2; the straight is quite a bit quicker!" the South African said, with a fine sense for understatement. "Turn 1 is a lot more on the limit to find a good marker."

Contrary to expectations, Johann Zarco's top speed record of 362.4 km/h set at Qatar was not broken, the Frenchman's temporary Pramac teammate Michele Pirro managing a paltry 357.6 km/h in FP2. It may not have been faster than the top speed at Qatar, but it certainly feels a lot faster.

"At the first corner, when we arrive at 350 km/h in Qatar, I would say it's not normal, but it's fast," Fabio Quartararo explained. "If you compare to Mugello, when you arrive at the first corner, it looks like you are 450 km/h. Everything is going so fast, you see the wall on the left is so fast."

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Mugello Thursday Round Up: The Peril And Power Of Motorcycle Racing, Set In The Tuscan Hills

There is nowhere that encapsulates the essence of motorcycle racing like Mugello. The track snakes along the sides of the Tuscan valley in which it sits, echoing the country roads and mountain passes where racing first started, shortly after enough motorcycles had been made for riders to challenge each other to tests of skill and bravery.

That is precisely what Mugello is: a test of skill and bravery, of rider and machine, of guts and brains. Calculating risk is everything, both from the technical and human perspective. Manufacturers want to build a bike that will go as fast as possible, but it has to stay in one piece as the engine races past the limiter as the rear wheel lifts over the crest at the end of Mugello's 360 km/h straight. Riders need to hold the throttle pinned over the crest, yet balance the bike on the rear brake to ensure the front is in contact with the asphalt when they slam on the brakes at the most terrifying and invigorating section of track on the calendar.

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Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: How To Win A Flag-To-Flag Race

It was inevitable really. The weather over the first two days of the Le Mans Grand Prix had been chaotic, so why would Sunday be any different? The skies were predictably unpredictable, the weather managing to provide different conditions for all three Grand Prix classes, in itself quite an achievement. We kicked the day off with a wet Moto3 race, the rain stopping early on to allow the Moto2 race to be dry. And to round things off, MotoGP started dry, then the drops of rain that started falling on lap 3 turned into a downpour on lap 4, triggering the first flag-to-flag race in MotoGP since Brno in 2017.

Chaos was unleashed, and a new Prince of Chaos crowned, the former prince brutally dethroned, betrayed by the conditions, and by the lack of strength in his right arm. Such is chaos, and such is the way of a flag-to-flag race. It was fascinating and terrifying to watch, and like all flag-to-flag races, immediately raised a host of questions over rules and safety. And reminded us once again that leads are meaningless early in the race. It's about the full 27 laps.

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Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The First Big Crash, The Safety Conundrum, And Finding A Way To Stop Fabio

Saturday was a tough day at the office for the Grand Prix paddock. Conditions were treacherous precisely because they were so deceptive. The sun was shining, and if you measured the asphalt temperature in the sun, it looked pretty good. But there was a cold wind blowing across the track which would cool tires and catch you unawares.

Which is precisely what it did, riders crashing in droves in all three classes on Saturday. There were 27 fallers on Saturday, more than any other Saturday at Jerez in the past five years. And with 41 crashes, we have already surpassed the total of 40 over three days at last year's Andalusia round, or Jerez 2, at the circuit. And only one crash behind the grand total at the Spanish round the week before.

Why are so many riders crashing? "It’s true that today the asphalt is quite hot. It’s quite okay, but the wind is quite cool," Joan Mir said on Saturday afternoon. "So probably these are not the best conditions. Normally the cool wind cools the tires a bit, and then the track is not really, really hot. So it means that maybe for the medium tires it’s a bit on the limit."

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Portimao MotoGP Sunday Subscriber Notes Part 1: Tires, Temperature, Crashes, Temperament, And Mr Invincible

The first race in Europe is in the books, and we are halfway back to normality. Unlike Qatar, at Portimão the riding was all done in daylight, meaning the wild variation of track temperatures was far more limited. The weekend was held in more consistent conditions, at a more agreeable time, in a more congenial location.

More importantly, the grid was complete once again. After an absence of eight months, Marc Márquez finally lined up on a MotoGP grid again. And finished a MotoGP race, for the first time since Valencia 2019. None of this was a given, after the long and difficult road to recovery he faced. Three operations, a bone infection, and endless hours of physical therapy paved the long, hard road back for Marc Márquez. It was a journey without a fixed duration or a sure destination. To line up on the grid, and to cross the finish line 25 laps later, was a victory all of its own.

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Portimao MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Yellow Flags, Track Limits, Fast Frenchmen, And Rider Intimidation

The idea behind setting the grid in Grand Prix racing is simple: after two 15 minute sessions, the rider who sets the fastest lap gets to start from pole position, the other riders ranked in order of their best lap times. Of course, the fact that qualifying is split into two sessions to prevent people using tows to artificially boost their starting positions (more on that later) is already a distortion, as the quickest riders left in Q1 have sometimes posted faster times than those who made it through to Q2.

Sometimes, though, the rules intervene to create an egregious breach of the idea that the rider on pole is the quickest rider on the grid. Riders have laps taken away from them for all sorts of reasons, and the grid is set by those who adhered most strictly to the rules. As Race Direction gets ever more technology at its disposal to help assess infractions of the rules, the breaches it finds look more and more petty and mean-spirited, no matter the intention of the regulations. And sometimes, the choices made by track designers, on where to put the marshal posts and flag stations, can make adhering to the rules nigh on impossible.

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Portimao MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marc Marquez Returns At Full Force, And Some Riders With Hidden Pace

It was hardly ideal circumstances to make a return to the toughest class in motorcycle racing after more than eight months without riding a bike. Overnight rain left the track covered in damp patches, making the surface treacherous and unpredictable. But that didn't deter Marc Márquez: though he wasn't the first out of the pits in FP1, he was on track soon enough. And he was fast soon enough too, ending the morning session as third quickest, just a quarter of a second slower than Maverick Viñales.

Drawing conclusions from times which are 2.5 seconds off the race lap record and 3.5 seconds off the best pole time is a little premature. But Márquez was fast again in FP2, in much drier and consistent conditions. In the second session, Pecco Bagnaia's best lap was just a hundredth off Miguel Oliveira's race record, and Marc Márquez was within half a second of Bagnaia, ending his first day back on a MotoGP in sixth position, and having booked a provisional spot in Q2. Mission very much accomplished for the Repsol Honda rider.

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Crunching The Numbers: How Likely Is Marc Marquez To Win The 2021 MotoGP Title?

Can Marc Márquez win the championship this year? Has he left his return too late to catch up? How fast will he be on his return to MotoGP at Portimão? The answer to all of these burning questions is "we don't know", but that doesn't stop us from asking them. And from trying to make our best guess at what might have happened by the end of the year.

The best place to start to answer these questions is the past. We don't know how Marc Márquez will perform in the future, but we do know what he has done in the past. And by examining his past results, we can extrapolate in the hope of getting a glimpse of the future.

You also need something to compare Márquez' performance against. So I have taken the points scored by Marc Márquez in every season he has competed in MotoGP – 2013-2019, as crashing out of one race in 2020 is not particularly instructive – and calculated the average points per race, and what that would work out to if he were to score that average over the 17 races which (provisionally, at least) remain of the 2021 season. Points have been averaged for each of his seven seasons in MotoGP, as well as over his entire career.

Comparisons

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