Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin previewing the final round of the year at Valencia:
For the fourth time in twelve years, Valencia will play host to a MotoGP title showdown. On Sunday, Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez will slug it out for who gets to call themselves the 2017 MotoGP champion. If you want a detailed breakdown of who has to finish where to wrap up the championship, you can read our separate story here. But it boils down to two simple premises: If Andrea Dovizioso doesn't win the race, the title belongs to Márquez, but Márquez can put it out of reach of Dovizioso by finishing eleventh or better.
If you are staging a championship showdown, the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste, near Valencia, is a fine venue to choose. Set in a natural bowl, the circuit owners have managed to snake 4km of asphalt into a confined space. The upside to that is that spectators can see just about every part of the track from whichever stand they sit in. The furthest point of the track is at most a kilometer away, no matter where you sit.
Cramming so much track into such a tight space has obvious consequences. There are a lot of tight corners in Valencia: of the fourteen turns the circuit has, three are first gear corners, six more are second gear corners, while half of them are tighter than 90°. The compact space into which the track is crammed, combined with the long front straight create a lot of complications for tire manufacturers.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's race in Sepang:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after a thrilling race in Phillip Island:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after Sunday's race at Aragon:
When you lose the first day of a MotoGP weekend to rain, the remainder of practice becomes incredibly hectic. FP3, especially, becomes insane. Teams and riders are trying to force 90 minutes of practice into half an hour, and then throw soft tires at the last 15 minutes in an attempt to avoid Q1.
Unfortunately, the constraints of temporal physics make it impossible to put the best part of race distance on the different compounds of tires, try different bike balance and electronics settings to measure their effectiveness, try to follow a rival or two to figure out where you are stronger and weaker than they are, and finally throw a couple of soft tires at a quick lap, all in just a single session of free practice. Sure, there's another 30 minutes of FP4 to try to figure things out, but usually, that is where you are trying to nail down the fine details, not evaluate radically different bike setups.
So on Saturday evening, when riders are asked what their strategy is and which tire they will be racing, there is a lot of shrugging of shoulders. Andrea Dovizioso was a case in point at Aragon. "Still we don’t know," he said. "Still there is a lot of work to do about setup and also the decision of the tires, because we didn’t really have time to work on them. The temperature was so cold in FP3, and in the afternoon the temperature change a lot. In the morning you can’t work on the tires. We have only 30 minutes in the afternoon to try and understand something. I think for everybody, the decision is not clear. Still we have to study a lot of data and take a decision about the tires and the set-up. Maybe all three are an option but I don’t know."
I, along with almost every photographer and a good part of the journalists present at Aragon, made my way down to the pit lane on Friday morning, to watch Valentino Rossi's first exit on the Yamaha M1 since breaking his leg in an enduro accident. It was overcast but dry, and there was a real sense of anticipation as Rossi limped to his bike, swung his leg awkwardly over it, then exited the garage smoothly and headed off down pit lane.
Before he and the rest of the MotoGP field had reached the exit of pit lane, the rain had started to fall. Not hard enough to leave the track properly wet, but enough rain to make using slicks impossible. FP1 was a wash. Fastest man Marc Márquez was 13 seconds off lap record pace.
The track dried out again during the lunch break, but once again, just as the MotoGP riders were about to head out, the rain started to fall. They found the track in FP2 much as they had left it in FP1: too wet for slicks, not really wet enough for a proper wet test. And with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be dry and sunny, any data collected was of very little use indeed.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's rain-sodden race at Misano:
Powerful win for Marquez at wet Misano to take back the Championship lead
Does the absence of Valentino Rossi from the Misano race make much difference? It is too early to tell. Certainly the media center feels a little more empty, but this is a trend which has been underway for a while. Print media has less money to spend, and non-specialist media is increasingly choosing not to report from the race track, taking their information from publicly available sources such as the ever-expanding TV coverage.
Specialist print media and websites are also suffering, though their very rationale depends on being at the track, and so they have little choice. So maybe a more empty press room is a sign that Italian newspapers have decided against sending a correspondent because Valentino Rossi is not racing. Alternatively, it could just be a sign of a more general decline in media presence.
The paddock feels pretty busy, but then it was only Thursday, and the real frenzy doesn't start until the bikes hit the track. We won't really know how badly Rossi absence affects the Misano race until the flag drops on Sunday, and official figures and empty spots on grandstands tell the true tale.