Brad Binder

Crunching The Numbers: Predicting Race Outcomes - Which Session Matters Most?

It is no secret that FP4 is my favorite part of a MotoGP weekend. Every Saturday afternoon I watch the live timing carefully for signs of which MotoGP rider has the best race pace, usually pinging comments back and forth with Neil Morrison over WhatsApp. Once the results PDF is published, I pore over the Analysis timesheets, showing times and sector times for each lap, as well as which tires were used, and how fresh or used they were.

Based on that information, plus the outcome of qualifying, listening to what riders have to say and discussing the day with others, I try to make as informed a guess as possible of what might happen in the race. I try to estimate who looks to have the best race pace, based on lap times set in longer runs on very used tires. And if a rider hasn't used older tires – switching between two different rear tires, for example – I try to estimate whether their pace on used tires drops off more than the times in FP4 show.

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Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Hot Tarmac, The Sad Loss Of Suzuki, Electronic Oddness, And Frustration For Aprilia And Honda

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.

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Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Aprilia's Dream Ends, Morbidelli vs Espargaro, Arm Pump For Mir, And Spinning KTMs

While most of the focus from Sunday's race at Sepang was on the battle at the front – understandably, as the championship (nearly) got settled – there was plenty to learn from events further down the field as well.

The battle at the front left only Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo standing in the battle for the championship. Enea Bastianini may have finished second, but Bagnaia's victory put the Gresini Ducati rider out of contention.

Sepang also saw the end of the dream for Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia as well. A tenth place finish (eleventh crossing the line, but given a place after his clash with Franco Morbidelli, more of which anon) put him 46 points behind Bagnaia, and out of reach of the MotoGP championship.

End of a dream

"I'm very disappointed today. I'm very sad," Espargaro said after the race. But he was proud of everything he and Aprilia have achieved this year. "I'm very proud of everybody in Aprilia, of myself, of my teammate of everybody in Noale. What we did this year is amazing, historic, it will be forever. It will last for ever."

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Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Tows, Bumps, And Championships

There is a cliché about sports events having a "pressure cooker atmosphere", but in the case of the Sepang MotoGP race, it is almost literally true. A combination of withering heat, completely saturated humidity, and incredible pressure is cooking up an explosive climax to the MotoGP championship.

With a championship on the line, the pressure is plain to see. In the previous 18 races, Pecco Bagnaia had just 12 crashes. On Saturday, he added another two to that tally. Fabio Quartararo has had six crashes in the 18 races before this weekend, and added another during FP4, fracturing a finger in his left hand in the process. Likewise Aleix Espargaro, who has added another two crashes this weekend, taking his total to 13. For the record, the current crash leader is Darryn Binder, with 22.

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Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rain Ruining Plans, The Dangers Of A Wet Q1, And Aprilia Coming Up Short

The weather in the tropics is always a gamble. At some places, you can set your clock by the rains during monsoon season. If it's 3:45pm, you're about to get soaked. At others, you only know that at some point during the afternoon, a lot of rain is going to fall. It might rain at 1pm. Or it might rain at 5pm. But of one thing you can be certain: a hard rain is gonna fall, and it will flood the track.

Friday at Sepang the rain came shortly after 2:15pm, less than a quarter of the way through the Moto2 FP2 session. Light at first, then more heavily, then a torrent of water from the heavens, forcing a red flag, and a delay of an hour.

It caught everyone by surprise. The forecast had been for dry weather through the afternoon, and teams had made their plans accordingly. That meant that in FP1, a lot of riders didn't bother putting in a set of soft tires to chase a fast lap, expecting to improve in the afternoon.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Secret To Great Racing, How To Win A Tire Conservation Race, And The Power Of Leadership

If there is one thing which is bound to rile up the fans and get them complaining, it is the prospect of a race which requires the riders to carefully manage their tires. "Let them race!" people cry. "It should be a test of who goes fastest, not who can save their tires!" The clamor invariably ends up with a single, indignant demand: "Bring back the tire wars!"

If you needed proof of the wrongness of that opinion, you need only look at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island. In a race where tire preservation was paramount, we saw countless passing maneuvers throughout the race, a pass for the win on the last lap, and the first seven riders finishing within a second of one another. Yes, you read that right. The top seven were within one second. 0.884, actually.

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Measuring Progress: How Much Faster Did MotoGP Bikes Get In The Past Three Years?

After an absence of three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MotoGP is returning to the circuits in Asia and Australia. A lot has happened in those three years in terms of motorcycle development; there has been a sea change in the way that bikes are controlled, as ride-height devices have been introduced to aid acceleration and braking, and engineers have gotten a better understanding of aerodynamics, sufficient to start gaining in the corner, as well as on entry and exit.

When MotoGP raced in Argentina for the first time since 2019 earlier this year, Aleix Espargaro's winning time of 41:36.198 was more than 7.5 seconds faster than the 41:43.688 Marc Marquez took to win in 2019. Argentina, however, is not a great basis for comparison, as the track sees very little use in between races, and the condition of the surface can change a lot.

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Motegi MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Magic Miller, Why Ducati Can't Win A Championship, And Marquez Up To Speed Again

It has been three long years since MotoGP last embarked on its Pacific tour, the flyway races in Asia and Australia which form the crescendo which build toward the season finale, and invariably decide the MotoGP championship. So the Motegi race, first of four overseas rounds, provided both a solid benchmark for the progress made over the last two and a half seasons, and gave us a foretaste of what is to come.

Motegi also changed the complexion of the championship. The importance of each race ramps up exponentially, as there are fewer and fewer points available. Closing gaps in the championship gets harder each race, the penalties for mistakes harsher, the rewards for success richer. Motegi mattered more than Aragon, and next Sunday, Buriram will matter even more than Motegi.

What we saw in Japan was a masterful display of riding, Jack Miller rising head and shoulders above the rest. We saw two Ducatis on the podium, though both of them the 'wrong' Ducatis in terms of the championship. We saw Marc Marquez complete a MotoGP race without pain for the first time since 2019 (and frankly, probably for much longer than that), and give a taste of what he is still capable of.

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