Steve Parrish writes for Silverstone, giving us the lowdown on everything MotoGP as we near the start of the 2014 season.
So what have us armchair experts deduced from the MotoGP winter tests…
We have had two in Malaysia and the final tyre test for the factory teams in Phillip Island, Australia, plus the Qatar test for the non-factory riders. There is no doubt in my mind that since Marc Márquez managed to break his leg on his dirt bike training just after Sepang, the rest have been given a chance to catch up. The problem being - the bench mark was absent! The stand out rider for me has been Aleix Espargaro on the open-class M1 Yamaha, and to be quite honest I could not really understand why Yamaha were pulling out all the stops to get his younger brother Pol, when Aleix had already mastered a MotoGP bike by embarrassing some of the factory riders last year on his ART Aprilia.
I am pretty excited about the open-class electronics that seemingly are improving every time out, especially since Ducati have divulged their factory data to the Dorna development team. They have clearly looked at all the options and decided to go down the route they used to win the Championship in 2007: speed and more speed. I am aware that top speed will not often win a race, but if you can blast someone down the straights it makes it very awkward for the nimble bike i.e. Yamaha to ride round in the corner. The factory Ducati with 24 litres of fuel will be a rocket ship - Cal Crutchlow is going to need a downforce spoiler in the arse of his leathers at Mugello!
Jorge Lorenzo has not enjoyed the new range of Bridgestone tyres that were delivered for the second test in Malaysia; with his incredible lean angle the stiffer construction seemed to affect him more than most. However, he is smart enough and got it sorted. Everything is so finite now with the chassis spec that even a slight change in the tyre throws everyone into a tail spin, causing the chassis engineers to trawl through the data to find the answer. That’s why it was so simple in the days of open tyre rules, when you could just make another tyre to suit the chassis.
So what about the Doctor…it’s often been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but someone has! I was really disappointed with the way Jeremy Burgess was fired; it seemed so undignified and could have been handled in a far more diplomatic manner. It will be interesting to see if the new era pays dividends.
Back to new tricks, has anyone noticed how Valentino Rossi - the rider most other riders tried to emulate - has now got his elbow on the ground aka Marc Márquez. A wise man - if you can’t beat them, join them! Vale is still a very fast and cunning rider, probably the smartest, but not the fastest. At 35 years old, second only to Colin Edwards in age, and with more money than he knows what to do with, I doubt he will beat the youngsters - who are still learning that a MotoGP bike can seriously damage your health! I believe he can still win some races, but I will be astonished if there is another MotoGP Championship in the mercurial Italian. I hope for his millions of fans - me included - he could round it out with 10 titles, however I still think he will miss the pragmatism of the creative maestro Jeremy Burgess when the chips are down.
Dani Pedrosa is still a massive talent, but I think he will only win a championship when Alpinestars makes him a set of leathers with an airbag that sends him skyward and gently lowers him down with a parachute. He is like a whippet, fast but very fragile.
That brings me nicely onto Cal Crutchlow, who is like a bulldog crossed with a Jack Russell, and a tenacious fighter. He received a lot of stick by signing for Ducati, just taking the money it was said, but I would say it was a smart move. Had he stayed with Tech 3 Yamaha and with a good tailwind, fourth in the Championship would be a realistic and good result. But who remembers fourth? At least with a Ducati factory bike he has a chance to develop something to suit his style, and if it doesn’t work he will have a few millions in the bank. It’s a short career, believe me.Bradley Smith has a big year ahead of him, mainly due to the fact that his team-mate is a formidable opponent, but with Brad’s work ethic it will make for some great team rivalry. Bradley really impressed me last year and I hope he does again this year. It was unfortunate for his team-mate Pol Espargaro to snap his collar bone at the end of the final test, but young bones fix quickly and I don’t imagine it will impede him.
As for Scott Redding, he is like a sponge absorbing new information every time he gets on the bike, and he has so much natural talent. Unfortunately, it looks like the production open-class Honda is a bit of a slug. I am sure they will be busy trying to address it, but it does look like Yamaha have got the best customer package at this time.
So that’s where we are with less than two weeks to go. For me, the interesting part is who will be the first factory bike to run out of fuel - five percent less gas this year will cause some issues.
Gentlemen start your engines, (efficiently)!
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