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Why are modern MotoGP riders so inconsistent? – Motor Sport

by Oct 27, 2022Blog0 comments

Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaró, Marc Márquez (out injured for six races), Johann Zarco and others have had very up and down 2022s
Dorna Sports
Top MotoGP riders are more inconsistent now than they’ve been ever before.
This understandably confuses a lot of fans and can make MotoGP impossible to understand: how can the same rider and motorcycle finish second one weekend and tenth the next? Was the rider just not bothered the second time out, so he decided to have a lazy Sunday? Did his engineers decide to take the weekend off and drink beers in the hotel bar?
There has to be a reason, so is it because today’s MotoGP riders are lazy, unfocused and too busy spending their millions on fast cars and swimming pools?
The results of recent seasons suggest that might be the case.
In 2020 Joan Mir won the MotoGP title by scoring just 48% of the available points. Fabio Quartararo won last year’s crown with 62% of the points. Now Pecco Bagnaia is on the verge of winning this year’s championship, having scored 54% of the points from the first 19 races. This puts them all near the bottom of average points scores since the first world championship in 1949.
Compare these numbers to MotoGP kings of recent decades: Wayne Rainey won the 1990 title scoring 85% of the points, Mick Doohan took the 1997 crown on 90%, Valentino Rossi the 2003 championship on 89%, Casey Stoner the 2011 title on 82%, Jorge Lorenzo the 2015 crown on 73% and Marc Márquez the 2019 championship on 88% (the greatest premier-class campaign of all time, by the way, with spec tyres and electronics).
So surely today’s MotoGP winners must be a bit useless by comparison? Of course not. The exact opposite, in fact.
The fact is that Dorna’s machine-equalising technical regulations (from 81mm bore limits to spec tyres and unified electronics software) makes all the bikes perform pretty much the same. And the depth of talent and professionalism of all the riders has never been greater, so there are more riders capable of doing the lap times required to fight for the podium.
The start at Sepang on Sunday. Twice this year the top ten finishers have been separated by just five seconds
Dorna Sports
All this conspires to make the racing closer than it’s ever been. The two closest top-15 finishes in seven decades of premier-class racing were both achieved this year, in Qatar and Australia, where the entire top ten flashed past the chequered flag separated by five seconds. And MotoGP’s ten closest top-15 finishes have all been recorded since 2018!
Twenty-five years ago the 1997 Australian GP at Phillip Island had the top ten finishers separated by 36.8 seconds, a difference of 1.36 seconds per lap between the winner and the rider in tenth.
This year’s Phillip Island top ten was covered by 5.9 seconds, a lap-time difference of 0.22 seconds between winner Álex Rins and tenth-placed Brad Binder.
MotoGP’s minimum tyre pressure rules will be enforced for the first time in 2023, which will have a huge effect on the racing. For a start, top engineers believe there will be less overtaking and more crashes
Of course, the fact that the racing is closer than ever means that if riders and engineers don’t get absolutely everything out of their bikes and tyres on Sunday afternoon they will end up nowhere.
If the correlation between rider talent and technique, tyre allocation, track layout and grip, temperature and weather, machine character and settings are an nth of a degree out then the rider who was on the podium last weekend will struggle to get inside the top ten next time out. The tiniest difference in performance, one or two tenths of a second – less than the blink of an eye – is all it takes to destroy a rider’s race.
Grand Prix racing didn’t use to be like this. If Alex Crivillé, who won the 1997 Australian GP, had been 0.22 seconds per lap slower he still would’ve finished a very comfortable third, 22 seconds ahead of the next rider home. Two Sundays ago that drop in performance would’ve put him way out of the championship points in 19th.
Such crazy-close racing has other consequences. Riders must risk everything on every lap if they want to be in the hunt for the podium, which inevitably means more crashes. Bagnaia is the perfect case in point here – he’s crashed out of five races this year and he’s leading the championship. No one’s ever done that before and it’s another sign of the times.
Miller celebrates victory in Japan. At other races this year he’s struggled to get inside the points
“It’s just the level of it, everyone is riding on such a highly strung level,” says factory Ducati rider Jack Miller, who has finished on the podium seven times so far this year and finished outside the top ten on four occasions. “To bring the amount of speed you need into each weekend to be competitive makes it a bit more difficult to be as consistent as maybe you were in the past, when you couldn’t be in the title fight if you had more than one DNF.
“The amount of good bikes and riders that are out there – if you have a bad day now you’re struggling to get points. At Mugello and Barcelona I had shit weekends, but I wasn’t that far off and I was fighting for two or three points. Whereas in the past when you had a bad weekend you were fourth or fifth, so you’d go into the next one and the bike would be back on [so] you wouldn’t have to override yourself. Nowadays you’ve got to really override yourself and that’s causing some inconsistency. So everything’s part of it: the level of the bikes, the level of the riders, the level of the championship and the number of races.”
“Maybe the younger riders thought that when the king is away the dogs will play”
Paul Trevathan, crew chief to KTM factory rider Miguel Oliveira, agrees and has own thoughts on the situation. First about Márquez’s absence from the front of the championship since he broke an arm at the first race of 2020.
“I think Marc had such a mental gain on everyone when he was dominating that the other guys almost thought they were racing for second,” he says. “The guy could do what he wanted. Then when he got hurt there was a new young generation coming in, who hadn’t been beaten up by him as much as the boys before, so maybe they thought that when the king is away the dogs will play. So they got better in their minds and all of sudden they had chances of winning and when you win you just get more and more confidence and it’s a snowball. There was no real leader in the class, so everyone was having a crack at it.”
Bagnaia slides off at Sachsenring, his fourth crash from the first ten races
This has happened before. The 1999 and 2000 seasons were two of the closest in history because injury had forced Doohan to stop racing and Rossi was still getting up to speed on a 500.
“The second thing is the way we’ve developed the bikes, with the spec ECU and the single-tyre rules,” Trevathan adds. “Now we’ve all got a lot better at understanding the tyres and taking each concept as far as we can with that tyre. So you steal points. Other times we turn up at a race and things just don’t work and there’s no way that we’ve been able to turn it around. Yamaha has had those weekends, so has Ducati, so has everyone, where it’s nearly impossible.
The world never stops changing and motorcycling’s elite with it. Riders and motorcycles come and go. Empires rise and crumble. And sometimes ancient empires arise from the dust. MotoGP seems…
“It’s a case of tyre allocation and a combination of everything. I think it got even more like this when the new rear casing came out [Michelin’s new rear slick, which arrived in 2020]. Now there’s a lot more grip available and the compounds got softer, which some riders could handle and others couldn’t, like Valentino. The guys like him that needed a stiff casing, a solid feeling at the rear of the bike, not this squishy, big contact-patch thing, were in handcuffs, so they were finished.
“This changed things and then we changed the bikes a lot to get the most out of this tyre and because we’re all building up our experience we are all getting a lot better at it. So I think everyone is maximising everything out of the bike now and it’s brought everyone down to a level playing field.
“Before there was a tyre drop-off during races, while now it’s just a balls-out race from start to finish, as long as your tyres are working. Sure, you’ve got to manage different things. With a soft compound you’ve got to manage some bike movement, whereas with a hard compound you’ve got to manage the grip at the start of the race. But there’s not the big crossover point we had in the old days, when somebody would set up his bike to be stronger at the end of the race, like when [Andrea] Dovizioso was good with Márquez.
Trevathan, to the left of Oliveira’s father, who is holding a drinks bottle, celebrates victory in Thailand.
Red Bull
“You remember the days of the ‘aliens’ [Rossi, Lorenzo, Márquez and so on]… If they had a bad day they were fourth or fifth, now you’re 15th. This is the reality. It’s also the way the boys are riding, how they’ve changed their styles and they’re all pure athletes and fully committed.
“I think the class has never been so stacked with talent. The will to win from the manufacturers and the riders has brought us into this era – it’s just a consequence of all that stuff.
“It can be really frustrating – you have a good race and you think, ‘What did we do different?’. Everyone is trying to drag everything out of the bike, but it’s milliseconds that make the difference now.
“Also, if the bike doesn’t work in FP1 you’re already on the back foot, because in FP2 you’ve got to throw in a soft tyre, so you’re qualifying already. Then FP3 is qualifying, then it’s Q1 and/or Q2, so you really need a package that is going to be in the ballpark when you turn up at a track. This helps a lot.
“It’s the same in races. Your rider runs wide and he drops five places and maybe he gets back a couple. But you can’t really catch up because there’s no slouches out there anymore.”
So, to sum up: any fans complaining about MotoGP riders being a bit useless because they can’t bring home big points hauls, week in, week out, don’t know what they’re talking about
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