It is a common complaint among MotoGP riders after the race on Sunday afternoon: the track never has the grip which the riders found on previous days during practice and qualifying. The riders are quick to point the finger of blame at Moto2. The spectacle of 33 Moto2 machines sliding around on fat tires lays down a layer of rubber which adversely affects grip during the MotoGP race.
Andrea Dovizioso was the latest rider to add to a growing litany of complaints. After finish sixth at Mugello, the Ducati rider told the media that the rubber laid down by Moto2 made it hard to obtain the same level of grip as they found during practice. 'Everybody complains about that,' Dovizioso said, 'the rubber from Moto2 makes the grip less'. Because free practice and qualifying for Moto2 always takes place after MotoGP, but the Moto2 race happens before the premier class, it meant that track conditions were different.
Dovizioso was open to suggestions of reversing the order of practice for the Moto3 and Moto2 classes, with Moto2 preceding MotoGP and Moto3 following, rather than the other way round, Moto3 practice taking place ahead of MotoGP, and Moto2 going last. The idea behind this would be to have MotoGP practicing in the same conditions as the race, once Moto2 have left their layer of rubber on the track. 'It would be an interesting test if Moto2 and Moto3 would swap,' Dovizioso said. It is a suggestion which Jorge Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg has also made on a number of occasions, the Dutchman have complained of differing grip conditions repeatedly for several years now.
But are MotoGP's grip problems really caused by having to race after Moto2? Or are there other factors at play, which are not being taken into account? To get an expert opinion, we asked legendary Tech 3 crew chief Guy Coulon. As crew chief for Tech 3's MotoGP and Moto2 riders, Coulon has experience and understanding of both classes, and how set up for the bikes changes over the three days of practice.
Coulon is not convinced that Moto2 is what is causing the different grip conditions for the MotoGP race. 'Grip for the Moto2 race [at Mugello] was also less,' Coulon said. Having extra rubber on the track could be a contributing factor, but there were many other factors to be taken into consideration. As ground temperature goes up, so grip comes down, Coulon explained, with temperatures usually different on Sunday than preceding days. 'Riders were already complaining about the grip during the short practice session [FP4] on Saturday afternoon,' he said.
There is another, less intuitive reason why riders don't experience the same levels of grip on Sunday, according to Coulon. During practice, riders spend most of their time on their own, working on a perfect lap. During the race, that is simply not possible. 'In the race, the riders are following, so they can't ride their own style,' Coulon told us. During the race, riders are concentrated on the other bikes around them, rather than on themselves. They are looking for places to pass those ahead of them, defend against those behind them, or are following the lines of the riders in front. That is a crucial difference, forcing riders to ride differently, and meaning that they spend a lot of their time taking different lines during practice. The feeling of grip is different because they are riding differently, Coulon believes.
The most convincing argument for Coulon, however, is the feeling of the track during the tests. If the rubber laid down by Moto2 is a problem for grip, why does a track always have more grip during a test after the race. 'Why was there more grip on Monday morning after the Jerez race?' Coulon wondered rhetorically. The track has a layer of rubber from all three races, which in theory should mean it has even less grip. And yet riders usually say they have more grip on Monday than they have had all weekend. If rubber was a problem, then tests on Mondays should be worse, not better.