Valentino Rossi

Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: How The Dry Saved Fabio's Bacon, What's Irking Marc Marquez, And Why All The Crashes?

It was supposed to rain, so of course it didn't, proving that the weather on Italy's Adriatic coast is just as fickle as any other place in the world at the moment. Instead, it was hot and humid, with the threat of rain looming in the distance, providing a brief shower during qualifying for the Moto2 class, but leaving the rest of the sessions untouched.

The recent rains did leave their mark, however. The standing water left by the heavy showers of recent weeks had allowed midges, mosquitoes, and other insect life to breed copiously, and clouds of midges swarmed sections of the track. To the misfortune of Jack Miller, who had to come into the pits after getting one of the little mites in his eye.

"I did end up with one in my eye," he told the press conference after qualifying on the front row of the grid. "It was annoying for a couple of laps. It was strange. There were small tubes of them just randomly in random spots on the track. Even on my best lap in FP3, I had one flying around the inside of the helmet and it didn’t want to go away. I was trying to look past him a little bit."

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Aragon MotoGP Preview: Quartararo's Challenge, Hot Conditions, And Maverick Viñales' New Challenge

These past two pandemic-stricken season have been strange years for me as a journalist. Instead of heading to race tracks almost every weekend, I have been sat at home, staring at a computer screen to talk to riders. There have been ups and downs: on the plus side, we journalists get to talk to more riders than when we were at the track, because computers make it possible to switch from one rider to another with a couple of mouse clicks, rather than sprint through half the paddock from race truck to hospitality and back again. I no longer waste hours in trains, planes and cars, traveling from home to airport to hotel to race track. And it is easier to slip in a quick hour on the bicycle between FP1 and FP2, which has undoubtedly improved my fitness and prolonged my life.

But the downsides are major: it is no longer possible to knock on the door of a team manager to ask a quick question, or check some data with IRTA, or stop a crew chief or mechanic in passing to ask something technical. Casual conversations do not happen. I miss friends and colleagues, people I have worked with for years, through many ups and downs. And though I don't miss the travel, I do miss the scenery, and the locations.

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pole That Wasn't, A Reversal Of Fortunes, And Aprilia's Auto-Adjuster

In the dying minutes of the Q2 session for MotoGP, it looked like we were witnessing a miracle. Jorge Martin flashed through the second sector nearly a second and a half up on the best time at that point. If he kept up that pace, he would be on his way to destroying the Silverstone pole record held by Marc Marquez, set on the newly resurfaced track back in 2019. Martin looked to be on his way to being the first rider to break the 1'58 barrier and lap the track in the 1'57s.

He lost a little ground in the third and fourth sectors, but as he flashed across the line, he left the MotoGP world speechless: a time of 1'58.008, 0.160 faster than Marquez' record from 2019. More impressively, it was nearly nine tenths faster than the 1'58.889 which had put Pol Espargaro on provisional pole, before the Pramac Ducati rider had so thoroughly demolished his time.

Could it be true? We waited for Race Direction to cancel Martin's time, but it stood for a very long time, until well after the checkered flag had been waved. The lap was too fast, but with little time to check, we had to believe that Jorge Martin once again pulled something exceptional out of the bag.

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Replacing Maverick Viñales: Will The Engine Rules Allow Morbidelli Or Rossi To Move Up To The Factory Team?

Maverick Viñales' decision to leave Yamaha at the end of the 2021 season raised all sorts of questions. Who would take his place in the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team? Can Franco Morbidelli be bought out of his contract with the Petronas SRT team? And if Morbidelli goes to the factory team, who do Petronas take to replace Morbidelli?

Valentino Rossi added another layer of complexity to those questions at the Styria Grand Prix by announcing he would be retiring from MotoGP at the end of this year. Now, Yamaha had not one, but two seats to fill. Where would Yamaha find two riders ready to move up to MotoGP? Do Petronas look to the WorldSBK paddock, or at Moto2? Do they want young riders, or should they look at veterans like Jonathan Rea or Andrea Dovizioso?

The race that weekend saw the issues around Yamaha and Viñales multiply exponentially. Viñales' abuse of his Yamaha M1, holding the bike on the stop in fifth gear in frustration caused Yamaha to finally lose patience with the Spaniard. He was first suspended, then had his contract terminated with immediate effect, leaving Yamaha with a seat to fill for the remaining seven races of 2021.

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Lin Jarvis Interview: On Rossi Retiring, Working With Viñales, Yamaha's Revival, And The Future Of MotoGP

It has been a tumultuous first half of 2021 for Yamaha. With Fabio Quartararo comfortably leading the championship, Valentino Rossi announcing his retirement from MotoGP at the end of the season, and Maverick Viñales winning the first race and then dramatically splitting from Yamaha mid-season, there has been a lot going on.

On Saturday of the Styria Grand Prix, the first race at the Red Bull Ring, I spoke to Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing, about how their season has gone so far. We spoke about Valentino Rossi's retirement, and the impact he has had at and for Yamaha, and we talked about how Yamaha made the M1 more competitive after a difficult 2020.

We also talked about Maverick Viñales, though this was before the Spaniard's bizarre Styria race, in which a pit lane start and electrical gremlins saw him become so frustrated he took it out on his Yamaha M1, holding the bike on the stop in fifth gear rather than changing up. That led to a suspension and eventual split, but Jarvis' views on Viñales prior to these events are still instructive.

That discussion led Jarvis to explain their approach to finding a replacement for Viñales in the factory team, and what happens next at Petronas Yamaha. And finally, Jarvis gives his view of how the MSMA has come together to get through the pandemic, and how that affects MotoGP going forward.

Q: I didn't want to make this interview about Valentino Rossi, but it’s really hard not to start on about it just because of the importance of it. When did you find out he was going to retire?

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Austria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Record-Breaking Pole, 7-Day Déjà Vu, Hard Fronts, And Viñales' Future

The thing about back-to-back races is that everyone gets faster. Or at least, that's the idea. With an extra weekend of data under their belts, the teams should have a pretty good idea about the ideal setting for the bike at a track, and returning to a circuit where they had raced a week before, the riders should be able to navigate every corner, bump, and braking zone with their eyes closed.

The track should be better too. With a weekend of motorcycle rubber on the track to replace the residue left by cars, there is more grip for the riders to exploit. The stars should all be aligned for everyone to be faster the second time around.

As it turns out, that is only partially true. Johann Zarco raised expectations in FP1, smashing the pole record set by Jorge Martin the previous week by over a tenth of a second. In FP3, both Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo dived under Martin's previous record as well, though they were still a ways behind Zarco's time. So in qualifying, surely Zarco's record would fall, and half the grid or more would be into the 1'22s?

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Official: Petronas Ends Sponsorship Of SRT Team, New Structure To Be Created

Petronas are to end their sponsorship of the Sepang Racing Team at the end of 2021. The news had been reported for a couple of days, but this morning, an official press release came from the Sepang International Circuit announcing the news officially.

Petronas had been title sponsor to the team since 2018, when they only had teams in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. The next year, they increased the  budget to allow them to expand into MotoGP. Three seasons later, they are pulling out of sponsorship once again.

The consequences of this have yet to be announced. The team is set to make an official announcement at Silverstone, in two weeks time. But the team is expected to be reducing their presence in the MotoGP paddock to just the MotoGP team, closing their Moto2 and Moto3 teams.

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Austria MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Spielberg's Bad Vibes, A stiffer Front Tire, And Closer Second Races

The Red Bull Ring has faced much criticism in the six years since MotoGP started going back there, mostly about the safety of the riders on track. But one thing that gets overlooked is the circuit's propensity for generating drama off track. In 2020, we had Andrea Dovizioso announcing he would not be racing with Ducati again in 2021. In 2019, we had the drama with Johann Zarco splitting with KTM, with additional drama around Jack Miller possibly losing a place to Jorge Lorenzo, who would return to Ducati to take Miller's place at Pramac.

The year before, Yamaha had held a press conference in which management and engineers officially apologized to factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales for building a dog-slow bike that left them 11th and 14th on the grid. Spielberg was the place where Romano Fenati got into an altercation with the Sky VR46 Moto2 team, and was sacked in 2016.

So much discord and division. Perhaps the circuit is built on a conjunction of ley lines, or perhaps the Spielberg track was built on an ancient cemetery where the contemporaries of Ötzi were buried. Or perhaps the middle of a MotoGP season is when tensions generally reach boiling point. The latter explanation is the most likely, perhaps, though a good deal less entertaining.

Bouncing off the limiter

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Styria MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Meaningless Practice, Holeshot Devices, Track Limits, And The Curious Case Of The KTM Rider Announcement

It has been a fascinating day of thrilling action at the Red Bull Ring. Records have been broken, riders have pushed the limits of their bikes, and the fans – back in full force at last – have added some of the atmosphere that has been missing during the long Covid-19 pandemic. There was elation and heartbreak, a sensational pole in MotoGP, and above all, glorious Austrian summer weather.

Yet it all lacked a sense that it stood outside reality, had no bearing on the actual racing, nothing to do with MotoGP. Perhaps that is the illusion of a return to racing after such a long summer break, the longest in recent history. But more likely, it is because while the fans lapped up the action under the sunshine, we all knew that whatever happened on Saturday is likely to be undone by the weather gods on Sunday. If it rains tomorrow – and it almost certainly will, though the question of when, how heavily, and for how long is completely uncertain – then what happened on track today will be forgotten. On Sunday, it all starts from scratch again.

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