Does WorldSBK Need A Minimum Combined Bike/Rider Weight?

Last week, the debate over the role of rider weight was reignited by a post on Instagram by BMW WorldSBK rider Scott Redding, comparing his own weight to that of Aruba.it Ducati's Alvaro Bautista, and asking whether there needs to be a minimum combined rider/bike weight in WorldSBK. To back up his claim, he posted some video clips and sector analysis from the San Juan Villicum circuit in Argentina. "I just think it should be as fair as possible for all of the riders," Redding wrote.

Though the sentiment is admirable, the thing about motorcycle racing is it is fundamentally unfair. Somebody else's bike will always be better than yours. Some other rider will be lighter, stronger, have it easier than you in one way or another. That is of little comfort to those racing in a particular class at a specific event, but it remains true nonetheless.

The way this has traditionally been dealt with is through what is usually called "the package". The combination of bike, team, and rider is different for each competitor, and rule makers have attempted to create space in each class to allow riders and teams to find multiple ways to be competitive.

Horses for courses

That does mean that each class requires a different set of specifications, depending on the philosophical starting point for that class. There are combined weight rules in Moto3 (152kg), Moto2 (217kg), and World Supersport (between 239kg and 244kg, depending on the bike). The reason for having a minimum combined weight in those classes comes down to a single, simple factor: in one way or another, the bikes in those classes are restricted from producing enough power to overcome the difference in combined weight.

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MotoGP Unlimited Launch: Harsh Criticism For A Series Which Deserved Better

It was a day we had been looking forward to for a long time: March 14th was the day that MotoGP Unlimited was to be launched on Amazon Prime. The series was due to be available in 170 different territories around the world.

As midnight passed in Europe, social media lit up with responses to the series. And unfortunately, those responses were very far from positive. Not because of the content of the documentary series, but because of the editorial decisions apparently made by Amazon Prime. In the UK and US, the only version available was the dubbed version, where actors have voiced over everyone speaking in their own language. In Australia, India, and some Southeast Asian countries, MotoGP Unlimited was not available at all.

The problems reported seem to be a result of decisions taken by Amazon, rather than either Dorna or The MEDIAPRO Studio, the producers of the show. But the process by which these decisions were made is very hard to fathom.

MotoGP Limited

In most territories, particularly in most European countries, the series is offered with a range of choices. In my own case (based in The Netherlands, and with an Amazon account with an address here), I have a choice of the original audio – where each of the participants speaks their own language, with English subtitles – or a number of different dubbed languages: English with audio description (where all speakers are dubbed in English and the action is described, for the visually impaired), Spanish, Italian, French, and German. In addition, there are multiple options for subtitles.

However, for anyone based in the UK or the US, those options do not appear, according to reports from people in those countries. There, the only option is the English dubbed version, and the choice of subtitles.

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Opinion: Motorcycle Racing Is Dangerous, And There Are No Easy Answers

There has been a lot of death this year in motorcycle racing. At Mugello, Jason Dupasquier crashed and was hit by another rider during qualifying for the Moto3 race, and died in the early hours of the following morning. At Aragon, during the European Talent Cup race held at a round of the FIM CEV championship, Hugo Millán crashed during the race and was hit by another bike, dying as a result of his injuries. And yesterday, during the WorldSSP300 race at Jerez, Dean Berta Viñales crashed at Turn 2 and was hit by another rider, dying in hospital a few hours later. Dupasquier was 19, Millán was 14, Viñales 15.

The deaths – three teenagers in the space of less than four months – led to a great deal of introspection in the racing world, and concerns over what should be done to prevent this from happening again. A lot of people had a lot of ideas, but the thing that strikes me about these deaths is that, as good as some ideas might be, there are no easy answers.

Motorcycle racing is dangerous. This is a truism, but it is not often we get a reminder of just how dangerous it is. Sometimes, reality likes to rub our noses in it.

The one thing that all three fatalities have in common is that the riders who crashed were hit by bikes that were following them. Though an enormous amount of work has been done to make circuits safer, this is the one type of accident for which there are no simple solutions. A motorcycle traveling at speed contains an enormous amount of energy, more than a human body can absorb and survive.

This is true even at relatively low speeds. Dean Berta Viñales crashed on the exit of Turn 2 at Jerez, one of the slowest corners on the circuit. According to data from Brembo published before the weekend, WorldSBK riders brake to 65 km/h for Turn 2, meaning that Berta was hit by another bike probably traveling at less than 80 km/h.

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Opinion: It Isn't Kawasaki Who Should Be In MotoGP

Jonathan Rea on the WorldSBK Kawasaki ZX10-RR

Why don’t Kawasaki race in MotoGP? It’s a question asked almost as frequently as why doesn’t Jonathan Rea switch to MotoGP? The simple answer is money. For a fraction of the money Kawasaki spent to finish at the back of a MotoGP field they’ve been able to dominate the Superbike World Championship for the best part of ten years.

Six titles in a row and 123 victories since 2011 versus five podiums in six years. The cost of investment in their Superbike project is a fraction of what they spent in MotoGP but their results are enough for them to sell the ZX10-RR as the all conquering Superbike on the planet. It’s a marketing dream compared to the nightmare of trying to sell being a MotoGP backmarker.

Since Rea signed for Kawasaki in 2015 he has won 81 races and six titles as a Kawasaki rider. Aprilia started their MotoGP programme the same year. Who’s had better value for money? There’s only one winner in that discussion.

Teamwork makes the dream work

For a generation Kawasaki has found a partner team. At one point Paul Bird’s squad ran the Kawasaki programme in WorldSBK, with limited success, but since 2012 it has been the Provec Racing operation run by Guim Roda, and the results speak for themselves. First Tom Sykes and presently Rea have dominated to such a degree that the role of Provec is undervalued.

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Opinion: Should Riders Be Stopped? On Injuries, The Racer Mentality, And Macho Culture

Marc Marquez at the Andalusia round of MotoGP at Jerez, Photo Cormac Ryan-Meenan

Any fool could see that Marc Márquez coming back to race at the second race in Jerez, after breaking his arm in the first race, was a bad idea. The fact that he has had to have a second operation to replace the plate in his arm merely confirms this.

But MotoGP racers are no ordinary fools, of course. Like all elite athletes, they are driven to extraordinary lengths to compete, taking extraordinary risks, pushing their bodies and minds to the limits of their abilities, and all too often, beyond. They do not consider whether something might be a bad idea or not.

For a MotoGP rider, the short term is the next practice session, the medium term is the race on Sunday, the long term is the championship standing at the end of the season. Anything beyond that is not relevant to the job at hand, which is to try to win races and titles.

That blinkered focus means that they are, as a rule, incapable of taking sensible decisions about their health, in either the short or the long term. But it is precisely that same blinkered focus which has brought them to where they are, racing at the very highest levels of the world championship. The ability to exclude anything that doesn't directly involve racing from their minds and devote all of their mental and physical energy to racing is what makes them so successful.

The decisions of MotoGP racers are foolish in the long term, but when viewed from the warped perspective of an elite athlete, they have an internal logic and consistency which makes sense to them. As I said, MotoGP racers are no ordinary fools...

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Welcome To The Multiverse, Or When Will Racing Start Again?

Humans have a deep-seated need for certainty. Though the human experience runs the full gamut from an excess of spontaneity to rigid and unbending routine, a need for some kind of certainty, some handholds to grasp on to as we make our way through the world. Motorcycle racing fans, as humans, are no different.

So it is unsurprising that people – fans, journalists, team managers, mechanics, etc – have responded to every piece of news about the COVID-19 outbreak by making more or less bold predictions about when racing might resume. The latest news – that Germany has extended its ban on large-scale events until August 31st, meaning that the MotoGP round at the Sachsenring set for June 21st, and the WorldSBK round at Oschersleben, due to take place on the weekend of August 2nd will both have to be either rescheduled or canceled – has been no different. Everyone seems keen to make bold predictions of exactly what will happen next.

If there is a lesson to be taken from all of this, from the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and all of the repercussions, surprising and unsurprising, it has had around the world, it is that bold predictions rarely last beyond a few hours. The pandemic has exposed the massive complexity of the modern world, and how tightly all of it is intertwined. Decisions and events have huge and unsuspected knock-on effects which echo around the world.

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Opinion: When Will We Go Racing Again? Nobody Knows

When we will be able to go racing? That's the question everybody wants an answer to, as MotoGP and WorldSBK rounds are canceled seemingly every week. The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has cast a pall over the world that not even motorcycle racing can escape. This week, MotoGP was canceled at Mugello and Barcelona. Last week, it was MotoGP at Le Mans, the week before that, Jerez MotoGP and Assen WorldSBK. Each race is canceled as it heaves into view on the calendar.

So when will we be able to go racing again? I don't know. You don't know. The truth is, nobody knows, not even Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta or FIM president Jorge Viegas. Because it is out of their hands. Organizing a world championship motorcycle race is complicated, and requires large numbers of people and equipment to cross multiple national borders using various modes of transport.

Freedom of movement

A couple of examples: For the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team to get to the first MotoGP race which has not been canceled, at the Sachsenring in Germany, they need to drive trucks from Gerno di Lesmo, near Milan in Italy, through either Switzerland or Austria and up through Germany to Hohenstein-Ernstthal, where the Sachsenring is.

There is a mixture of nationalities among the drivers of those trucks, making just getting to the trucks a complicated affair. One driver, for example, is a Dutchman living in Norway. His journey would involve flying from central Norway to Milan, then driving up from Milan to the Sachsenring. On his return to Norway, he would face a 14-day quarantine before being allowed to go home.

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Marc Marquez: Six Titles In Seven Seasons - Where Does He Go From Here?

What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place. Márquez' record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez' sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.

The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire. It was Rossi's third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.

To find other parallels, you have to go back further in time. In 1997, Mick Doohan won 12 races out of 15, finishing second in two more and not finishing in the last race of the year, his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island. Before that, there was Freddie Spencer, who won 7 races in 1985, finishing second in 3 more, crashing in Assen and choosing to skip the final race in Misano. To find greater dominance, you would have to go even further back, to the days of Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta, who either won or retired in every race he started in during the period from 1968 to 1971.

Closer than ever

Márquez' 2019 season stands above all of those, however, for the sheer level of competitiveness of the current era. When Agostini was racing, the MV was in a league of its own, the Italian regularly lapping the rest of the field. In 1985, Spencer's only real opposition came from Eddie Lawson, and from his own successful attempt to secure the 500cc and 250cc titles in the same season.

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Marc Marquez' Ever Increasing Salary: A Good Problem To Have?

Marc Márquez is the highest paid MotoGP rider in the world. His salary is rumored to be in the region of €15 million a year, and while the numbers bandied about for rider salaries can be wildly inaccurate, there is evidence to suggest this is not far off the mark, if you will excuse the pun. HRC is said to give riders an automatic €2 million a year raise for winning the championship, so Márquez' five MotoGP titles in theory add up to a tidy €10 million since he entered the premier class. And that is on top of the base salary he stated out with, and any extra wages he may have negotiated for himself.

He is worth every penny of that to HRC. Without Márquez, Honda's championship trophy cabinet would have been conspicuously bare. In the five seasons in which Márquez won the MotoGP title, the second-placed Honda rider finished third, fourth, sixth, fourth, and seventh respectively. For a factory which regards itself as the pinnacle of motorcycling, not winning championships is not an option. The dry spell between Nicky Hayden's 2006 title and Casey Stoner's in 2011 is still a painful memory for Honda.


So HRC know they have to keep Marc Márquez. And not just keep him, but prevent him from moving to the competition. Ducati have shown an interest in Márquez, and after the abortive attempt with Valentino Rossi, and the only-successful-once-it-was-too-late attempt with Jorge Lorenzo, the Italian factory may be ready to take a third run at throwing a lot of money at a superstar in an attempt to finally win the title which has eluded them so far.

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Opinion: Doing The Right Thing - The Different Trajectories Of Johann Zarco And Jorge Lorenzo

What are you to do if you find yourself stuck on a bike you know you can't ride? On a bike which you are convinced is trying to hurt you, and which you keep falling of every time you try to push? The obvious answer is you try to leave as soon as possible. But that simple answer hides a host of factors which make leaving not as easy as it looks. The cases of Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco illustrate that very well.

First of all, why would a rider want to leave a factory ride? The pay is good, rarely less than seven figures. Riders have a chance to shape the bike and point development in a direction which suits them. They are treated, if not like royalty, then at least like nobility: transport is arranged and rearranged pretty much at their whim, picked up at their front doors before a race and deposited there again afterward. The pressure is high, but in a factory team, they do everything they can to take the strain and let their riders concentrate on riding.

That is little consolation when the going gets really tough. When you are struggling to get inside the top ten, despite giving your all to try to make the bike go faster. When you are crashing at twice, three times your normal rate. When factories are slow to bring updates to the bike. Or even worse, when they bring boxes and boxes of new parts, and none of those parts make much of a difference to your results.

Gravel rash on repeat

How tough can it get? In 2009, while Valentino Rossi was riding a Yamaha, he crashed 4 times during the season, the same number of times he had fallen the year before. In 2010, he crashed 5 times, though one of those crashes was enough to break his leg and take him out of competing for four races. In 2011, the year he switched to Ducati, he crashed 12 times. When you are not used to falling, that can put a real dent in your confidence. What's more, he scored just a single podium that year, compared to ten, including two wins, the year before.

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