Austria MotoGP Friday Round Up: Deceptive Times, A New Chicane, And Will Sprint Races Really Address MotoGP's Problems?

Every Friday of a MotoGP weekend, we say the same: it's only Friday, so you can't read much into the times. That is doubly so on a day like Friday at the Red Bull Ring, when the morning starts wet, dries out during FP1, and the riders and teams have a new chicane to learn to deal with. MotoGP basically had one dry practice session in which to try to figure out gearing for the new chicane, check how the setup needs to be modified to deal with the chicane without losing out at the rest of the track, and try to post a time quick enough to get through to Q2, because of the risk of rain again on Saturday morning. Checking the timesheets is not much better than reading tealeaves on days like these.

So the fact that Ducatis dominate the FP2 timesheets should be taken with a pinch of salt. Johann Zarco was fastest, with Ducatis taking the top three spots, and seven of the top eight provisional places in Q2. Fabio Quartararo is the only interloper in the top eight, while Maverick Viñales put the Aprilia RS-GP into ninth, and Brad Binder spared KTM's with the tenth fastest time.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. Fabio Quartararo is faster than he looks on paper. He was the only rider to do two 1'29 laps with a soft tire, and his pace with a medium tire is a couple of tenths better than pretty much everyone. Pecco Bagnaia, whose pace was strong in FP2, saw Quartararo as the biggest threat right now. "Fabio still is two or three tenths faster at this moment," the Ducati Lenovo rider said. "Today the pace was incredible and everyone was pushing because tomorrow maybe we have rain so it was easier to stay in the top ten."

Quietly quicker

Quartararo was pleased with his pace, but acutely aware of the Yamaha's weakness at the Red Bull Ring, and indeed, everywhere. "Well, the pace looks good, but we know that alone we always have good pace, but in the race it's changing all the time," the Frenchman told us. "The good thing is that at least we know that we have the speed. Rins was also going super fast. Strange that with the soft tire he couldn't improve, but yeah, I think our pace is great."

Quartararo brings up another point flying under the radar: the Suzukis are looking pretty quick. Alex Rins put his best time in on a medium tire in a race run, while Joan Mir had a lap canceled which would have put him into seventh place, and his race pace is right there with Pecco Bagnaia's. There is a lot going on that still needs to be shaken out.

There was, for example, a lot of coyness going on with respect to gearing for the new chicane. Riders are caught between first and second, with some more honest about it than others. Brad Binder didn't hesitate when asked which gear he was using. "First," the KTM rider said, before adding, "I need to use both, actually, to see which is better." Franco Morbidelli was a great deal more circumspect: "Some riders use first, some riders use second," the Monster Energy Yamaha said in an attempt to remain enigmatic.

The reason both first and second can work is because the gearing at the Red Bull Ring is very low. The bikes were not quite hitting 320 km/h on the old layout, where the speed trap was just before the old Turn 2. On the new layout, where top speeds are measured at the end of the front straight, they are not quite hitting 310 km/h. The bikes are geared low because they never rev out in sixth gear, and acceleration is more important than top speed.

2A and 2B get the thumbs up

Overall, the riders gave the new chicane a relatively positive reception. It was a big improvement in safety, though they were less enamored of the layout. Not so Jack Miller. "The new chicane is a nice addition to the track," the Australian said. "It’s completely blind heading in there, the braking zone. As you saw in FP1 a lot of guys running wide because it comes up on you really quickly. But now understanding and getting the feeling for it, it’s a lot of fun."

Brad Binder agreed. "Pretty cool," the Red Bull KTM rider said. "I think it adds an interesting new element to the track. It mixes it up a little bit, it makes the drive from Turn 1 to Turn 3 a lot more fun. It gives us something extra to do. I think it should be a fun race there."

Others, like Takaaki Nakagami, disliked the new chicane because it was so tight. There were a few concerns over the closeness of the wall at the left of the track, but overall, the improvement in safety was much appreciated. "The most important thing is to make the track safer," Luca Marini told us. "This is a good way. It’s not so fun. But we’ll have time to forget the old layout and go with this. In this situation it’s much more safe. That's the most important thing."

The new layout was not without its risks, however. Would it improve the racing, Marini was asked? "We’ll see Sunday," the Mooney VR46 rider told us. "It can be, not dangerous, but more risky for the riders. It's a very good overtaking hotspot. If you look for contact, maybe not voluntarily, but try to release the brake, the other rider can lose a lot of time, go on the gravel and maybe his race is a disaster after that. I’m worried about this, if a crazy guy behind wants to make an aggressive overtake, this can make a big disadvantage to another rider. Apart from this it’s good."

Sprinting into the future?

There was a great deal less unanimity on the proposal to introduce sprint races. According to Uri Puigdemont of the Motorsport Network (story reproduced across the many outlets that sprawling network owns), MotoGP wants to introduce sprint races, roughly half-distance races, probably to be run on Saturdays, on every grand prix weekend. The proposal was to be discussed at Friday's Grand Prix Commission meeting, but the leaking of the news has forced Dorna to call a press conference for Saturday morning.

The biggest surprise is that Dorna did not first consult the teams or the riders. After discussing it with the factories, they intended to submit the idea to the GPC for approval, bypassing the riders altogether.

This was what rankled most with the MotoGP riders. "It’s still not official," Pol Espargaro said, summing up how a lot of riders felt. "The riders, we don’t know. We haven’t talked about that in the Safety Commission. I thought they’d tell us in the Safety Commission. The Safety Commission is where we talk about these things. Maybe they’ll tell us without asking. I’d like to hear this before we realize from the press that we’re going to race twice next year. It wouldn’t be bad if they asked us."

Split opinion

The riders were split on whether the concept of a sprint race, either on Saturday or on Sunday, was a good idea or not. There were those who were open to try a sprint race. "Massive fan of it," Jack Miller joked. "Another chance for a bonus!"

More seriously, the Australian could see no objections to the idea. "Why not try? They’ve tried everything else. Why not try to switch it up?" Sprint races would allow the riders to go all out, and not have to worry about fuel or tires, Miller said. "I think a Sprint race will throw a good element into it where it's all or nothing. Half points. I mean it makes you want to risk more I guess as a rider. Not have to worry about tires don't have to worry about fuel or anything like that or even physical condition. Because a lot of these races you're kind of limiting yourself, you can't push to your absolute max the whole time."

Joan Mir was another rider who was mostly positive. "Well, at the end, I think for the show it will be better, this is a fact," the Suzuki rider said. "More races means that on Saturday there's also some entertainment, more than the qualifying. At the end, I enjoy racing, I enjoy making overtakes and everything, more than free practice. So for me, there's not a big problem with this. Just we have to try to understand if it's good or not."

Making it through the year

For Pecco Bagnaia, his main concern was the physical demands being placed on the riders. At some tracks, a second race of half distance was not much to worry about, but at a track like the Circuit of The Americas, it would be very tough indeed. "In a place like Austin, the normal race is already so demanding mentally and physically. Two races there will be so long and difficult," the Ducati rider said.

Bagnaia was one of the riders to point out that the MotoGP schedule was already much more demanding than the WorldSBK calendar, where they already have three races on a weekend. In 2022, WorldSBK will have 39 races in total, 3 races on every on of the 13 weekends. If MotoGP were to have a sprint race at every grand prix in 2022, they would have 40 races.

"Every year adding more and more races is mentally and physically more difficult," Bagnaia pointed out. "Maybe it is too much. Maybe we can ask to reduce. It is a bit strange to start from zero with another schedule, for me."

The resistance

There was also a sizable contingent of riders who were dead set against sprint races. "I think it's stupid," said reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo. "I don't know why we do something on Saturday."

Pol Espargaro was equally vehement. "The idea is we take double risk doing the same job with the same money," the Repsol Honda rider said. "We race twice per weekend and racing means more risk because you’re closer to the guys. you want to overtake the guy in front. This is more risky. I know Superbike is doing that but these bikes are heavier, faster and for sure it’s more dangerous to race with these bikes. If you asked me if I like, I’d say no. If it’s better for the show, we’ll see if we do. It’s double work and double risk."

Aleix Espargaro raised another issue. "Full respect to Superbike but this is not Superbike. MotoGP has a lot of electronics, a lot of aerodynamics, a lot of things, a lot of engineers. To arrive to a good setting is very difficult," the Aprilia rider said. "Now with the system – FP1, 2 and 3, then it is already a qualifying and is very difficult sometimes if it rains – like here – to have a good setting. If they now reduce our time and we have to race on Saturday I think it is difficult."

I spoke to veteran crew chief Ramon Forcada to get the perspective of a crew chief. He told me that it depended on the format of the rest of the weekend, as the teams already have so little time for setup. The riders have to spend time chasing a spot in Q2 during Free Practice sessions, 1 through 3, and FP4 is the only time they have to actually work on setup. If MotoGP were to lose FP4, then there would be almost no time to set up the bike. Converting one or two of the practices to sessions which don't count toward Q2 might help alleviate that problem.

Calling the shots

Two questions arise from the news of sprint races. Firstly, why weren't the riders consulted ahead of time? The answer to that is perhaps rather simple: for the same reason that Dorna doesn't consult with riders before signing a contract to go race at a new circuit. The format of the weekend is part of the sporting regulations, which is agreed in the Grand Prix Commission between Dorna, the FIM, the teams joined in IRTA, and the MSMA representing the factories.

Dorna make decisions for the format of the weekend based on commercial considerations, then try to persuade IRTA, the FIM, and the MSMA to go along with it. The riders have simply to choose whether to go along with the new format, or to seek employment elsewhere. Dorna are the organ grinders in this scenario, the riders the performing monkeys. The riders only option is to appeal to the crowds, and ask whether they are not entertained.

The bigger question is whether sprint races actually solve the problem at hand. It feels like a little bit of a knee-jerk response to falling attendance numbers at some tracks, and declining TV figures in certain markets. After two years of working around the constraints imposed by the pandemic, Dorna are looking to recoup some of the losses they made.

Fans want stories

Will sprint races on Saturday help address that? The ever thoughtful Luca Marini had a useful perspective on that. "For the show, there is more show. If they want to do this it’s OK." The real solution was by focusing more on the riders, and helping to raise their profiles, and give fans someone to care about, Marini said. "For me it’s also important to give a good window to the riders, bring back the good characters of the riders, to speak more with them. There are many riders with really strong personality and this make the best show, like in the past. We need duels, two, three riders with different manufacturers fighting for the title and every race – not one more race."

The show element was an essential part of every sport, Marini pointed out. "Every sport is like this. Everyone looks for more fans, more money. We need work and if the grandstands are empty everyone goes home."

But what was needed was a battle between distinct characters, Marini insisted. "We need to invent something new to bring this sport back to the golden years like when Vale [Rossi], Jorge [Lorenzo], [Marc] Marquez, [Casey] Stoner… in that period MotoGP was a good show. Because of these big personalities."

The problem MotoGP faced in its present moment is that the sport is right in the middle of a generational shift, with the old guard gone and the new riders still so young that they had yet to have made an impression on the consciousness of fans. "They were maybe the best riders in the history, but we are good riders and some of us will be some of the best in history, but most of us are really young."

Narrative matters

Marini pointed to the example of World Superbikes as a formula where a clash of bikes, of characters, of personalities, was leading to a huge growth in popularity. " This year I think Superbike is really interesting because there are three manufacturers with really strong riders fighting for the victory every race," Marini said.

It wasn't the race weekend format that mattered, but the riders involved. "It's not just because they make Race 1, the Superpole race and Race 2. It's not interesting because of this. It’s interesting because there are those riders. It’s a story. If you want to be part of Ducati fans, or Kawasaki fans or Yamaha fans you have your idol and can keep pushing every race."

Marini also pointed out that though there was plenty of media buzz around WorldSBK, but race attendance was still relatively poor. "In Superbike the grandstands are empty which is a pity because for me this year it’s very interesting."

There are a lot of reasons why MotoGP has seemed to have lost its way, but Marini is right to point to the role characters play. The loss of Valentino Rossi to retirement and Marc Marquez for the best part of two years to an arm injury has been a massive blow. Those who are left are relative unknowns, though Fabio Quartararo is chipping away at megastardom. That is where Dorna could really make a difference, by finding a way to present personalities, to give the fans a reason to care, a rider to root for, and a rider to root against.

If it was easy, of course, they would have done it already. All I can say is that I am glad I am not in charge.


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Source: 
year: 
2022
round_number: 
13

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Comments

Well, Pecco tried to assert himself as a “bad boy” character over the break, but that kinda fizzled. 

I’m not a fan of the sprint race idea. I like the Superpole races only because there are such good battles in SBK, but even those I could happily do without. There’s plenty of content in each series’ weekend. 

 

My buddy begs me to get a WSBK subscription, but I barely have time to watch all the MotoGP sessions. Never mind moto 2 or 3. More races and classes dilutes.

Highly recommend getting the WSBK subscription. The racing is fantastic, other than the incredibly irritating commentator (can’t remember his name, not the Scottish guy). Toprak is a very frustrating guy to watch as he just block passes on the brakes and messes Rea or Bautista up. He has zero personality but the racing is great to watch. Rea is so bloody stubborn and determined (massive respect to him) and Bautista weighs 100lbs so he rockets away on every straight. 

As to sprint races in MotoGP my question is why? Keep the focus on Sunday’s spectacle. If anything go to a solo lap qualifying format. That would resolve the issue in MotoGP and Moto3 of people looking to or a tow. Funny how it doesn’t seem to be an issue in Moto2. 

As a Canuck I highly recommend the MotoGP subscription as well. We’ll with the price and my 93 year old dad enjoys it as well! 

I think I know what you mean and yes, that commentator can be pretty irritating, but let’s give him a bit of slack to learn the job. If you look at all the comments below, it took Simon Crafar a while to become liked and I suspect the same will happen here. One thing I’ve noticed this year is that he’s stopped trying to show how incredibly knowledgeable he is (which you’d expect from a former champion) and started trying to make the race itself more exciting - so he’s getting there.

I do stream both series. Also F1. I will say they are both entertaining to me , however WSBK does have some characters …TopRak, the fearless , Alvaro Bautista , the lil’ puppy chipping at your heels , Johnny Rea , the fighter and Scott Redding -the cry baby who always gets in his feelings when TopRak buzzes him like a fighter jet …..🤷🏿‍♂️

I think there's some kerbing on the right-hand-side of the track missing between 1 and 2a. We've seen Moto3 boys go onto the grass even before the new layout, and all classes are hugging the right side more than ever this year it seems.

I think if they want the characters back they should stop policing every aspect of the riders' character. What they wear. What they say. What gestures they can make with their middle fingers. There's a warm happy feeling whenever two rivals are all lovey but these days there's a lower limit of acting professionally....all the time. No more fighting in the stairwell. Possibly a reaction to the fall out of 2015 which did get all too ridiculous but I bet a lot of people became interested in MotoGP because of it. I don't think it can be manufactured, that would induce vomit. Maybe just need to step back a little. However, seeing how much grief Vinales got for ragging his motor last year maybe we now live in a world were riders need to be squeaky. I wonder if Dorna are the straightjacket or is it social media ?

I wasn't a fan of Simon Crafar when he started reporting from the pits. Hard to understand, stumbled, awkward, didn't get a lot out of his interview subjects. Fast forward to FP2 today and, honestly, I was blown away. Again. He is so good. Describing the difference a few mm of wheelbase makes, how he felt about Remy being odd man out at GasGas, and that amazing sequence where the camera was over Marc's shoulder looking at Pol in the box, and he interpreted Pol's hand movements to say that he had trouble with the rear on corner entry. Five years ago I motorcycled through Invercargill to worship my favorite Kiwi, but Simon has just moved past that guy on my list.

I wasn't a fan of the Superpole race in WSBK, but now I am. Dorna has turned FP3, and FP2 if the forecast isn't perfect, into qualifying for qualifying. So why not make it a real race? Sometimes I do get sick of the "win at the slowest pace possible" tire mgmt races--I would love to see an all-out battle between those who can get around the track fastest, tire degradation be damned. Bring on the sprints I say.

Agree completely with what you said about Simon Crafar. He was awful in the first year, been brilliant ever since. Today he's talking about noticing a difference of a cm in the headstock angle of bikes? Christ! And you're also right that he seems to have a real grasp of how the riders are reacting and feeling. He's a superb addition to the broadcasting.

As for Superpole, I'm a bit ambivalent. But I agree that now with FP1, 2,3 basically being qually sessions, a change wouldn't do any harm. I'm not keen on the Saturday race for these guys, but make the first three sessions just testing, and maybe the 4th for pre-qually?

I liked Simon right from the start. He may have seemed awkward then, but he seemed to know his stuff better than any other pit lane reporter I'd previously seen. And he has since grown comfortable in his role, and we have become comfortable with him.

I’ll third the comments on Simon Crafar. He was horrendous in his first year but he’s gotten into his stride now and really grown on me. Give him more air time!! What I would like though is if the camera followed him on the grid rather than them being separated. 

I believe the camera doesn't follow Simon as parts of the feed you see are done for a worldwide broadcast, so that other language commentators can broadcast onto the same video stream. Kind of a generic broadcast version, vs a tailor made broadcast some outfits will do where you have presenters on screen or on grid

Fully agree about Carfar. He has really grown into his role. I love his technical insights. He shows a lot of respect in the way he speaks about people and also gives a rider's point of view. And he can be humble too. He comes across as a good guy.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the paddock
Around you has grown
And accept it that soon
You'll need a more Yens loaned
If your laptime to you is worth savin'
And you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'

Come Japanese brass
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin'
Will soon shake your tuning fork
And rattle your Repsol
For the times they are a-changin'

Come Yamaha, come Honda
Put wrench in your hand
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Ducati and Aprilia
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'

 

(Bob wrote this about when the Japanese arrived and took over from the Euro bikes. And now the shoe is back on the other foot...The Marc got his skittle busted. Quarty the Alien is going to get beat by Pecco the Astronaut. Red route Sunday? Maverick in there?)

Looks like everyone is more or less on the same page regarding Simon. Those first few races had me scratching my head but it all became clear once he settled into his role and shook off the nerves.

His insights, quirks and humble persona are so good for the sport and nobody else even comes close. He's a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and Dad jokes, and I can only imagine how many casuals now tune in on the regular because he blew their mind and made the rabbit hole of GP racing complexity both accessible and entertaining.

Bravo, Simon. Bravo. 

Aug 20th, me birthday.

12:32am, the Scottish lass reached the checkered flag.

Top Independent Satellite child hey, I'll take it. Aprilia...

Aprilia has certainly done it the hard sweaty way. And, had very good fortune.

The "CRT" era had one single blossom. FTR? Not unless you are a lawyer. One Aprilia left mortal orbit with an RSV4 based dominator of the Claiming Rules Teams yrs. I rode a nice one right around that time, and the motor had quite a visceral impact. It was a ZX-6 sort of platform, wrapped around the most beautiful V-4 one could hope to wrap one's thighs around.

Aleix Espargaro was the strong rider that pushed it midpack. And here he is, long laying Rioja of fresher oak, a short list of 4 riders as "legitimate title contender."

The 

How can you be in Australia and ne in Oregob, and both posting here at the very same time...

 

Go to bed mate! Think of Doohan's hips if you must

Nothing inherently wrong with sprint races, but if they start handing out win stats and championship points, they will be fundamentally changing the grand prix championship. If they do follow through with points, I doubt forcing people to watch on Saturdays will bring a windfall. It's already difficult enough to keep up with the racing. On-demand is the only way. Maybe that's what Dorna is really hoping for. Squeeze the TV people and race tracks for a bit more money, and force people towards motogp.com because they need on demand. It might only lead to a new torrent apocalypse for MotoGP. People can't pay what they don't have. Crazy thing is that content theft would be a much better outcome for Dorna than if people just stopped watching.

Anyway, with this announcement, the GPC is taking on a new identity. It's like a drunk (Dorna) being married to a crack-addict (MSMA), but instead of encouraging each other to seek rehab, they are enabling each other's abuse. Dorna is diluting an already diluted brand to finance the obscene, pointless spending of the MSMA, who are stealing the sport from the riders, which further dilutes the brand. Fun times. Maybe we've reached the post-substance era of consumerism. Just look at the performance of some NFT's. NFT's are literally nothing, but people are pay huge sums. No reason to believe consumers will reject another substance-less motorsport?

Giacomo Agostini, 223 starts, 122 wins, 159 podiums, 9 poles, 117 fastest laps, 1577 points.

His career was over 15 season which included 183 rounds I think, he missed a lot of them though.

1970: 12 round championship, Ago won 19 of them.

Mike The Bike Hailwood: 1966, 12 round championship, Mike started 27 races and managed to win 19 of them. Five times in his career he managed 3 race wins in one weekend and 11 times he managed two wins in a weekend...I think.

Better still, he was twice a double champion but of course Ago managed that 5 times.

Classic stats.