Single Track Mind: MotoGP 2013 Preview

March 8, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Rossi’s move back to Yamaha in 2013 was a “no lose” deal for
the Tuning Fork brand, for a number of reasons. But can The
Doctor return to his title-winning form?

The start of the MotoGP season is always a big thrill for me. It’s not so much the bikes and racing which cause the excitement but rather the concern at being tracked down to my lair in rural England and taken out by a MotoGP fan I have upset.

Still, I have followed the guidance of the wonderful survivalist chap whom I once met in Montana – for your information, he can “control intruders” with his sniper rifle (I think that this means kill in standard English) at over a mile and in the dark – and I have brought in stocks of food, plus a water purification kit and equipped myself with a range of powerful, pink BB guns sufficient to fight off any attack. So, be warned, if you come looking for me you might just be unlucky enough to get caught – and be subjected to torture by tea, cake and an infinite number of stories about the Golden Days of GP racing.

So, let the revels commence. There is only one act in the MotoGP show and this is MotoGP itself. Within the premier division only the top layer is of any interest. Dorna, the motorcycling media and hard-core junkie race fans can sing the praises of the CRT teams all they wish but in truth, there’s not a gnat’s eyelash of interest in riders finishing so far behind the winners that they might as well be in a separate race. No, the action, and interest, is in the top 10 places.

Here, as in many other parts of MotoGP, politics come into play – and sometimes in a quite poignant way too. At the top of the tree, and my tip for another World Championship, is Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard is extremely fast and is also gentle with his Yamaha. The YZR-M1/2013 is not the equal of the Hondas ridden by Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez – in particular the Honda’s seamless gearbox is worth a couple of tenths every lap – but the bike suits the super smooth Lorenzo and he epitomizes the racing adage: “To finish first, first you’ve got to finish…”

I really do get incredibly irritated with those so called experts who criticize Lorenzo for “not winning” enough. This is as asinine an assessment as it is possible to make. Lorenzo wins World Championships and that’s what he is paid to do. Whether he does this by finishing first or 15th is utterly irrelevant.

The one and only thing which counts is that his name is in the FIM Annuaire as Champion du Monde. Everything else means nothing – not pole positions, podiums, fastest laps, best PR man award or distributing gifts to old folks at Christmas. Yamaha has got a lot of money riding on him being World Champion and that’s what it expects him to deliver – and he will.

Now here’s the first bit of interesting politics. Mr. V. Rossi came to Yamaha in a truly “no lose” deal for the Japanese company. For a start, Vale had nowhere else to go. The Ducati would, and will, win any dog show at the minute and Valentino patently failed to master it.

Equally, the Yamaha is successful – not only in the hands of Jorge but also with Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow.

Rossi couldn’t get a ride with Honda, and wouldn’t be seen dead on a CRT bike, so came to Yamaha at a truly bargain price. The story is already written. If he wins it will be because of the wonder and glories of the Yamaha. If he loses, the answer will be that he is over the hill.

What is for certain is that the days of Jorge being #2 in the Yamaha team are well and truly over. The Yamaha MotoGP team is focused on Lorenzo, and Vale’s success will be a useful by-product – but nothing more.

MotoGP is a tough business. Just how tough is shown by the position in which Cal Crutchlow finds himself. The ultra-talented 27-year-old Englishman ought to have Rossi’s ride – but doesn’t. The fact that he is riding a Yamaha at all is because the factory threw some extra money to Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 team. Cal is so good that a satellite team ought not to be able to afford him.

However, Cal isn’t Vale and life in MotoGP is brutally hard – surprisingly so. Cal has Jorge’s bike from last year and some, limited, upgrades. In order to keep those upgrades, he has to go fast – but not too fast otherwise they will be taken from him, to make him slower. It would be no good having a satellite rider beat the #2 factory rider. Really, this is the situation.

Now we enter the world of the truly surreal. If, instead of going fast-but-not-too-fast Cal goes very, very, very, very fast and beats Rossi regularly he will become the de facto #3 factory rider and be promoted as support rider for Lorenzo whilst Vale is discreetly shunted down the line.

As I have said, every molecule of Yamaha’s effort is concentrated on getting the World Championship title for Lorenzo. But this rule is not written in stone. If Vale starts beating Jorge regularly – which he won’t – the script will be re-written again.

Will Crutchlow be a sensible, team player and ride just fast enough? Absolutely not.

When it was first announced that Cal was going to MotoGP, I won a $10 bet with MCUSA Boss of All Bosses, Ken Hutchison, because I rated Crutchlow so highly and Ken didn’t. To do well in MotoGP it’s not so much riding ability you need, because everyone in the class is a motorcycling deity, but rather the mental strength of a Shaolin fighting monk.

Cal has an inner strength which makes forged titanium look like warm Jell-O. This is why he will race Vale and this is why he will slide up the inside of the nine-time World Champion and punt him into the gravel if he deems this necessary and, I should add, fair.

Will Cal be promoted to the #3 Yamaha factory rider, albeit still in Tech 3 colors? It’s such a big demand that I can’t make up my mind – but it’s not impossible.

In some ways, Honda has a bigger problem than Yamaha. For sure, they have the best bike in the RC213V. They also have two blisteringly fast riders in Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez. However, for my money Pedrosa is flawed goods. Yes, he is fantastically gifted but you have to remember that he has always been the second choice for Honda. If Stoner had taken Honda’s modest little offer of $15 million to race then Pedrosa would have been riding whatever Stoner decided he would receive: that’s another MotoGP fact.

Marc Márquez is everything which Pedrosa isn’t. To bowdlerize Napoleon’s adage regarding successful generals: “Give me a lucky rider every time over a clever or fast one.” The ill omen gremlins sit heavily on Dani’s body armor whilst Lady Luck brings a bevy of beaming ladies to ride with Marc.

Additionally, Marc is everything Dani isn’t. He is funny, charming, smiles all the time, is reckless on track and has giant cojones as a racer. As a bonus, he is physically attractive and a PR person’s dream. If he starts beating Dani, he will be soon become Honda’s #1 rider.

But, and this is the giant caveat, he is in his first season of MotoGP and Honda is asking a huge amount from him if it envisages him winning a World Championship as distinct from a GP here and there. Still, the Honda team will expect to be World Champions at the end of the season. And, if Honda is not, look out for Cal Crutchlow in orange and white leathers next year – and Dani taking a big pay check for riding a CRT bike.

And now we move on to a tragedy which would have warmed Shakespeare’s heart: Ducati. The pictures of Andrea Dovizioso after the first Sepang test said it all: he was heartbroken. Currently, none of the Ducatis, factory or satellite, are anything but a joke and even the huge sum of Ducati money Andrea has in his bank account isn’t enough to bring a smile to his face.

Of the Ducati riders only the stoic Nicky Hayden remains ever cheerful and ever optimistic and didn’t look as if he wanted to escape to a Himalayan monastery for the whole of 2013.

Is this the galactic problem it seems? I tend to think not. Audi are now in the saddle of Ducati and they know a lot about racing. Next to nothing about motorcycles, or motorcycle racing, admittedly, but an awful lot about car sport.

I feel confident that you will see a brand new, twin spar – or maybe even trellis frame – Ducati by May. Either that or some really trick monocoque design lifted straight from car racing.

Dorna will bend every rule in the book, and then some more which we don’t even know about, to make sure that Ducati are competitive by mid-season. Forget all the nonsense about not changing engines, weight, fuel consumption or anything else including the color of the umbrella girls’ uniforms. Dorna needs Ducati challenging for the podium and nothing will stand in its way to help achieve this end. MotoGP is a cynical business.

Expect to see Dovizioso and Hayden battling for the top five positions somewhere around Assen.

As for the satellite teams, there are some fast riders and very competent teams. The pick for me is Stefan Bradl and LCR Honda. This bike is much less satellite than a lot of other satellite machines and the young German is a seriously class act. If Pedrosa is side-lined by injury, and Márquez isn’t setting the world on fire as I think he will, then expect to see a lot of top tier factory bits heading towards the LCR garage.

As for the CRT teams they were, are and will be a joke. CRT advocates can put whatever spin they wish on CRT bikes – close racing, technical innovation, beautiful paint work, smiling mechanics with nice teeth, best decals or whatever. It’s all completely and utterly irrelevant. Ambling round two seconds off the pace is still a joke.

The only time when CRT bikes will work is when every bike in the class runs under the same rules – something I expect in the very near future.

At this point, Jorge et al will be a second a lap faster than Randy de Puniet and the CRT bikes and the competition will be sensible.

Of these dire motorcycles, the best will be the very ones I predicted to do well last year: the factory Aprilias run by Aspar. However, the Abrams’ family has got some nice kit this year so expect their Aprilia to do well too. Are these bikes CRT machines in the sense that they were originally conceived? Absolutely not. They are the factory Aprilias which were banned from World Superbike. That’s why they do so well.

As for the rest, I would be just as competitive riding our G.50 – and I would finish more races.

Yes, some CRT rider will have a brilliant ride in one GP and all the CRT advocates will be claiming that the concept works. But choosing slicks in the middle of a blizzard, when the rest of the field is on full wets, only works if the Gods of racing want a laugh and decide to dry the track out mid race with a heat wave. It proves nothing except that sometimes losers can get lucky – a fact of which I am reminded every time I look at our trophy shelf!

Do let me know what you think about the forthcoming season. Only a month to go now and I just can’t wait to get my fix. It’s going to be brilliant!