Jack Miller

How close do you like it? MotoGP’s tightest racing yet

The fighting at the front has been ferocious this season; is Phillip Island about to serve up another classic encounter?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’ve become accustomed to tight tussles in MotoGP in recent times; just look at the Australian Grands Prix of 2015 and 2017, two Phillip Island classics that routinely get mentioned in the ‘best races of all-time’ conversation. But season 2018 is re-writing the definition of ‘close racing’, with three races decided by less than one second, and another seven by less than three seconds. Why, and how?

Of all of the great racing we’ve seen in 2018, it’s the one where the winner (Marc Marquez) had a relatively comfortable margin of 2.269secs that belongs in that ‘best races of all-time’ conversation, when the Spaniard saluted at Assen in the Netherlands in June. Marquez flashed across the line first in a Grand Prix where the top eight made more than 100 overtakes – no mis-print – between them, and where the gap between Marquez in first and the final points-scoring rider (his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa in 15th) was just 16.043secs, the closest top 15 in nearly 900 premier-class world championship races.

Marquez may be running away with this year’s championship – he’s finished 12 of 14 races on the podium and is one of two riders to have completed every race – but if the title chase hasn’t been close, the races themselves almost always have been.

The season started with a top-shelf stoush in Qatar, where Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso got the better of Marquez in a last-lap battle – again – when he took the chequered flag 0.027secs ahead of his 2017 title rival, with third-placed Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) just seven-tenths of a second behind his compatriot for the race win. The most recent race in Thailand had a top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales and Rossi) split by just 1.564secs at the flag, Marquez winning by 0.115secs. In between we’ve had last-lap thrillers in the Czech Republic and Austria, pack battles for the victory in Argentina and Aragon, and very few runaway wins – Jorge Lorenzo’s 6.730-second victory in Italy for Ducati is the year’s biggest margin, and one of only two victories by five seconds or more.

Why? Rossi, when asked after the Assen race that left riders, spectators and pundits breathless through its sheer intensity, told esteemed British publication Motorsport Magazine how the sport has changed since his first Dutch TT in MotoGP, which came back in 2000.

“This [narrow time gaps] is one of the biggest difference to then,” he said after qualifying third in a top 10 covered by half a second.

“Compared to 15 years ago the level of professionalism has increased a lot. Now the teams and especially the riders try to work on all the small details, so you try to learn and you try to understand, corner by corner, braking by braking. Fifteen years ago it was more romantic, you know; you rode your bike and you got your feeling.”

If hours spent trawling through telemetry searching for that extra edge in performance has brought the field closer together, then fans are all the better for it. For every race that’s won (or lost) by managing tyre life in order to be able to fight hard at the finish like Thailand (where track temperatures of 54 degrees would have melted the rubber had the riders gone at 100 per cent for all 26 laps), there’s a counter like Assen, where the front group raced like it was the last lap for every lap of the 41-minute duration.

Do the riders like it? Marquez was on a high after the Assen brawl. “It was a crazy race, full of adrenaline – this feeling is one of the reasons we do this sport,” he beamed. “We were a wild bunch, everyone fighting against everyone; I think all of us made contact with somebody else at some point. We had to attack and defend, attack and defend. We had so many big moments … it was crazy!”

If 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that crazy-close racing has become almost a given in MotoGP. Are the two Phillip Island thrillers of 2015 and 2017 about to become a trilogy at this year’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix? You’d be surprised if it didn’t.

Down to the wire: MotoGP’s closest finishes in 2018

Qatar: top three (Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi) separated by 0.797secs. Winning margin: 0.027secs.

Argentina: top two (Crutchlow, Zarco) separated by 0.251secs.

Assen: Marquez wins by 2.269secs. Closest top 15 in world championship history: 15th-placed Pedrosa was 16.043secs behind winner. More than 100 overtakes in the top eight.

Czech Republic: top three (Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Marquez) separated by 0.368secs. Winning margin: 0.178secs.

Austria: top three (Lorenzo, Marquez, Dovizioso) separated by 1.656secs. Winning margin: 0.130secs.

Aragon: top three (Marquez, Dovizioso, Iannone) separated by 1.259secs. Winning margin: 0.648secs.

Thailand: top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales, Rossi) separated by 1.564secs. Winning margin: 0.115secs.

This story was originally published on motogp.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.

Advertisements

Miller Time: Turning up the heat in Thailand

Jack Miller writes about his hottest MotoGP ride yet, and how he’s making use of a rare week in Australia between races.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Yes, I know, I’m late … This was supposed to be a wrap-up after the race in Thailand, and it is – it’s just a bit later than usual. My excuse: there’s been a bit on this week. I went from the race at Buriram on Sunday straight back home to Townsville and have been working on my place here pretty much ever since, doing up the house, building sheds and what not. It’s pretty rare to get some time at home in the season, so it’s been great to be here.

But back to Thailand. You saw the temperatures we had up there – the track temps were in the mid-to-high 50s at times – and it was pretty brutal, a really long and hot race. It felt worse than Malaysia to be honest, and Malaysia is usually as hot as it gets riding a MotoGP bike. The humidity was there like Malaysia, but Thailand was way hotter than Malaysia ever gets. One lap into any run we did on track, and you were sweating it up – leathers, helmet and a boiling hot bike isn’t any way to stay cool. Forty minutes of racing around there on Sunday took a lot out of all of us.

The race itself, having a Grand Prix in Thailand for the first time, was a winner in my eyes. The crowds were huge, more than 100,000 people on race day, and I was surprised as to how many Aussies were there, which I definitely appreciated. I guess it’s not all that far for Australians to go to, but I was wondering how big the crowd would be when you think the circuit is 400km or so from Bangkok. But the town nearby, Buriram, is a decent size and catered pretty good for the number of people who were there with hotels and all of that. So, definitely a good addition to the calendar, and the track facilities and everything around it were first-class. The track itself … it had its good and bad points. The first part of the lap was a bit dull really with the two long straights, but the back part, where it kind of funnels into a heap of corners that are coming at you one after the other, I enjoyed that part.

Finishing 10th, the same place I started from, was OK – let’s say a pass mark. I was one of only four of five of us riders who raced the medium front tyre, which was maybe a question-mark because of how hot it was. But in the end, it was the rear tyre that I had troubles with. I was up to eighth and only a couple of seconds off the front guys just after the halfway stage of the race, and things were looking good as I could stay with them. But I probably burned the rear tyre up too much too early, and I had to back right off in the last part of the race, the two left-handers at Turns 5 and 6 were pretty tricky with a worn tyre on the left side. I’d lose time there, gain it in other spots, lose it there the next lap … it was back and forth, back and forth. Frustrating, but I had to have a go.

We’ve got four races left now with Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Valencia, and I did pretty well at the last three of those last year after I missed Motegi when I broke my leg. I said at the start of the season that I wanted to finish top 10 in the championship, but (Alex) Rins is 10th and going well at the moment. He’s 28 points ahead of me, which is a lot. Tenth in Thailand got me up to 74 points, so the aim is 100 before the end of the season, which would be the best season I’ve had. Where that leaves me in the championship, we’ll see. I’ve got some good speed back the past two or three races and we’re leading into tracks that I like and have done well at, so I’m looking forward to getting to them on the Ducati for the first time.

Right, better get back to fixing up my place, there’s a lot to do before I head to Japan on Tuesday … I’ll speak to you next from there.

Cheers, Jack

Miller Time: Picking up the pace in Aragon

Jack Miller writes about a challenging race at Aragon, where he beat the heat and survived a late scare to score his best result in nine races.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Ninth at Aragon doesn’t sound like a lot – I mean, who comes into a race weekend saying ‘I really want to finish ninth’? – but considering how things have been for me lately, it’s pretty good. I’m not overly impressed, but it’ll do.

Why? It’s been a long while since I’ve scored that many points – Le Mans back when I came fourth in April if you can believe that – and I was only 16 seconds off the win and had my best-ever finish at Aragon, so that’s something. And also because that was no easy race with how hot it was here. It was over 30 degrees when the race started and the track was up to 45 degrees and climbing fast, and there was no way you could even consider anything other than the hardest front and rear tyre available, for our bike anyway. There was no other option. And even then, that gave me some dramas.

I just couldn’t seem to get the life out of the tyre at all today. I was eighth and starting to crawl back towards my teammate (Danilo) Petrucci with seven or eight laps to go, and then I had this feeling like the bike had jumped out of gear or something, because I had this huge vibration. I thought I’d delaminated the rear tyre on the left-hand side, so that was a bit of a panic because I thought I was probably going to have to retire or crash. I’d been riding with one eye on that because the whole race, from the first lap, the tyre light came on my dash warning me about the tyre consumption. I knew that wasn’t right because it was so early in the race, but you knew it was coming, and I just kept counting the laps down waiting for a drama. Seeing a tyre light every corner make it hard to keep calm, that’s for sure.

When that vibration came, lap 17 I think it was, I immediately dropped my pace back half a second or more into the 1 minute 50s which left me exposed to Valentino (Rossi) coming up from ninth, and he got me with less than two laps to go. I had nothing for him at that stage, I wanted to fight him but the tyres definitely didn’t. The last four laps, I had to roll off and basically nurse it home because I had zero tyre left. It’s pretty scary when you’re having vibrations on the straight and you’re convinced the tyre is chunking when you’re doing 320km/h …

When I got off the bike, the tyre looked fine as far as the chunking goes – there were no bits hacked out of it – but it was destroyed. Maybe the vibration came from the gearbox, we’re still not sure until we look into it a little bit more.

With all that going on and me wondering if I was going to still be on the bike when my race finished, it’s not too bad of a result. I got a bit unlucky with the start, because I got such a good one that I was close to (Jorge) Lorenzo when he went down after starting from pole, he had a big old highside and Petrucci and I had to sit up to avoid him and that cost me some spots. Probably could have easily run into him, or run into someone else that did. So, ninth is nobody’s idea of an awesome result, but it’s a start of something better, at least that’s how I’m looking at it.

I just needed to get some points going again, and these ones have been a while coming – I was fast at Silverstone and then we didn’t race with the weather, and then Misano was going pretty well until I screwed up and dropped it on the third lap. I got there eventually, so hopefully this is something to build on.

Thailand is up next, and it’s the first time for us all there to race after we did the test there before the season. The interest was crazy then, so it’ll be nuts once we get there for the race. It’s the first of the flyaways and that means Phillip Island is getting closer, and I get to spend some time at home soon which will be awesome. I had some strong results in this part of the championship last year, definitely in Australia and Malaysia, and the top 10 is still reachable for me this year, which was the aim coming in. We’ll try to keep this up in a couple of weeks’ time – we’ve started walking again, so we’ll pick the pace up from here …

Cheers, Jack

Miller Time: Not too low after Misano

Jack Miller writes about a ‘stupid’ mistake that proved costly at Misano, and why he still has plenty of optimism after a pointless but promising weekend.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Well, that was 24 hours of extremes, that’s for sure. It’s hard to have a lot of perspective and be all bigger picture after you’ve just screwed up and crashed out of a race where you’ve started on the front row, but I’m doing my best. It’s an hour or so since I got off the bike here at Misano and I’m not going to lie, I’m massively disappointed in myself. Completely my mistake. But I can’t get too low after this one, and there’s a lot of reasons for me to be optimistic. It wasn’t that long ago that being optimistic was the last thing I was thinking about.

I came 18th in Austria too in my last race before Sunday’s at Misano (we got rained out at Silverstone, remember), but there’s finishing 18th, and finishing 18th. Same result but they’re not the same thing, nowhere close. Austria, we were lost, I couldn’t make the tyres last, I’d qualified nowhere, it wasn’t a surprise. This one today was a bad surprise I didn’t want, but they’re not the same weekend. Here we had pace, it was consistent, I felt good, the bike was great and there was nothing fluky or lucky about qualifying on the front row … I just made a stupid mistake at the worst possible time.

There’s no sugar-coating what happened. The track was still pretty fresh and I was just trying to stay with the guys at the front after Andrea (Dovizioso) and Marc (Marquez) passed me in the first two laps. I knew they were coming, sure, and it was realistically going to be hard to me to keep those guys behind me for the whole race, even if I did manage to get them both in qualifying. But I was right there and we had a gap to the others behind. Fourth felt good, and felt like I could keep it.

I felt like I was losing a little bit too much in drive and speed, and I guess I was working the tyre too hard in the corner. And down she went – bottomed out in the middle of Turn 14, tucked the front, and that was that. There’d been a few warning signs leading up to it, but really, at that part of the race, we’re all having those warning signs, you’re just trying to react to them and catch them.

There’s ways to look at this. I’m crashing out of fourth position three laps into the race on a year-old bike, and the only riders ahead of me are two factory Ducatis and the championship leader. So you have to look at the positives. When I picked the bike up, it had no windscreen because it was smashed, and the handlebar was bent, and still my fastest lap of the race was only about a tenth (of a second) slower than (Valentino) Rossi with a bike that was clearly pretty damaged after a crash. I got back up, worked my arse off to catch the guys in front and pass some of them, so I don’t want to over-think the negatives.

The pace this weekend wasn’t a surprise in some ways because we were quick at Silverstone in the dry (when it actually was dry), and then we had a test just afterwards at Aragon where I did 88 laps, about three race distances in the one day, and we pushed all day and were quick. The track was pretty dirty too that day and we still did strong lap times, so that was a good sign for the next race in two weeks.

Misano, the whole weekend was strong – in the top 10 most sessions, obviously second on the grid – so this is a minor hiccup, and no more than that. It won’t take much to bounce back from this to continue the good pace for Aragon next, and then the races as we lead into Australia. We’ve got six races left and I’m massively determined to finish this year out strongly and get some good results for the team. On Sundays as well as Saturdays …

Cheers, Jack

Who’s winning the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Which two-wheel teammates rule the roost in their respective garages? We’ve crunched the numbers.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

MotoGP teammates come in all shapes and sizes; some who work well together, some who achieve results despite barely-concealed (or not concealed at all) disdain for the rider on the identical bike in the sister garage (buongiorno, Ducati), and some who know their place as the junior partner of a two-bike effort pairing machinery of varying ages and expectations. All valid, and all can work.

Eleven races into the 2018 season, which teammates have the internal bragging rights over one another? Which are the closest battles, and which would be called off early if they were a title fight? We’ve run the rule over all 12 squads (in teams’ championship order), excluded wildcards who come in for occasional races, and crunched the numbers. Here we go.

Repsol Honda Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Marc Marquez 9, Dani Pedrosa 2
Races head-to-head: Marquez 8, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (five times), Pedrosa 5th (twice)
Points: Marquez 201, Pedrosa 66
Podiums: Marquez 9, Pedrosa 0
Average grid position: Marquez 3.2, Pedrosa 9.82
Average race finish: Marquez 4.36, Pedrosa 7.75

Summary: Marc Marquez has had his way with the entire field this season as his 59-point championship lead – more than two races’ worth of points with eight Grands Prix remaining – attests, but the extent of his margin over Dani Pedrosa has been alarming all year. Pedrosa, who is heading into retirement at season’s end, hasn’t beaten his compatriot in a race both have finished yet, while in terms of average race finish, Marquez’s stats are skewed by the fact he remounted after crashing in Argentina and Italy and saw the chequered flag, but outside of the points. Lorenzo really is walking into the lions’ den next season as Pedrosa’s replacement …

Ducati Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Andrea Dovizioso 6, Jorge Lorenzo 5
Races head-to-head: Dovizioso 4, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (twice), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 129, Lorenzo 130
Podiums: Dovizioso 4, Lorenzo 4
Average grid position: Dovizioso 5.09, Lorenzo 5.64
Average race finish: Dovizioso 3.63, Lorenzo 5.55

Summary: Four races into the season, this was shaping up the same way as 2017 ended, with Andrea Dovizioso the undisputed top dog at Ducati while Jorge Lorenzo flailed around looking for answers. Remarkably, Dovizioso had a 40-point lead over Lorenzo after Spain; following the last race in Austria, Lorenzo’s third victory in the past six Grands Prix, the Spaniard now just leads his Italian teammate amid an atmosphere of simmering tension. Whatever happens here until Lorenzo leaves, it’ll be compelling.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Qualifying head-to-head: Valentino Rossi 5, Maverick Vinales 6
Races head-to-head (where both riders finished): Rossi 7, Vinales 3
Best result: Rossi 2nd, Vinales 2nd
Points: Rossi 142, Vinales 113
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 3
Average grid position: Rossi 6.91, Vinales 7.36
Average race finish: Rossi 5.18, Vinales 5.9

Summary: It’s been a difficult year for Yamaha, without a race win and with Valentino Rossi (second) and Maverick Vinales (fifth) only in the top five in the championship by virtue of their consistency. Rossi keeps pulling rabbits out of hats (a horrible 14th on the grid in Austria became a respectable sixth at the flag) in races, while Vinales keeps suffering from poor starts after middling qualifying efforts. Frustration is mounting, but at least Rossi’s comes from a position of internal superiority.

Alma Pramac Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Danilo Petrucci 10, Jack Miller 1
Races head-to-head: Petrucci 6, Miller 2
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 105, Miller 61
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Average grid position: Petrucci 7, Miller 12.36
Average race finish: Petrucci 6.3, Miller 9.67

Summary: The 2018 iteration of the Ducati is a far superior beast than its predecessor, which goes some way towards explaining the gap between Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, each rider enjoying their best seasons yet while riding totally different bikes. It took a remarkable pole in Argentina for Miller to deny Petrucci a Saturday clean-sweep, while the Italian can always be counted upon to bring the bike home in races, with the occasional outlier podium. Miller’s season has been one of two inconsistent halves; after 49 points in the first five races, he’s managed just 12 in the six since.

Team Suzuki Ecstar

Qualifying head-to-head: Andrea Iannone 7, Alex Rins 4
Races head-to-head: Iannone 2, Rins 3
Best result: Rins 2nd, Iannone 3rd (twice)
Points: Iannone 84, Rins 66
Podiums: Iannone 2, Rins 2
Average grid position: Iannone 7.09, Rins 9.36
Average race finish: Rins 6.5, Iannone 8.3

Summary: With Andrea Iannone off to Aprilia next year, Suzuki will be buoyed by the fact teammate Alex Rins has been the faster of the pair this season … when he can actually stay on the bike. No rider has as many non-finishes as Rins’ five, meaning a strike rate of two podiums in six finishes isn’t too shabby. Iannone can blow hot and cold – as is his custom – and this will be one to watch for the rest of the year before Joan Mir comes in from Moto2 to partner Rins.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Qualifying head-to-head: Johann Zarco 11, Hafizh Syahrin 0
Races head-to-head: Zarco 8, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 104, Syahrin 24
Podiums: Zarco 2, Syahrin 0
Average grid position: Zarco 5.6, Syahrin 16.73
Average race finish: Zarco 6.8, Syahrin 13.56

Summary: Jonas Folger’s illness-induced late withdrawal from the 2018 grid saw Hafizh Syahrin drafted in hastily as the German’s replacement, and Johann Zarco has predictably ruled this garage as the Malaysian gets his MotoGP feet wet. Zarco was electrifying early in the season before his results flattened following a fall at home in France, while Syahrin has been making gradual and commendable improvement, strides that saw him rewarded with a contract for next year in June as Tech 3 prepares to switch to KTM machinery.

LCR Honda

Qualifying head-to-head: Cal Crutchlow 11, Takaaki Nakagami 0
Races head-to-head: Crutchlow 7, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 12th
Points: Crutchlow 103, Nakagami 11
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Average grid position: Crutchlow 6.77, Nakagami 17.09
Average race finish: Crutchlow 6.33, Nakagami 15.56

Summary: Armed with a factory Honda, Cal Crutchlow is well on track for his best MotoGP season in five years, and a win at a chaotic race in Argentina was fitting reward for the searing speed he’s shown in most races. Takaaki Nakagami was never supposed to match his teammate on inferior machinery and hasn’t, but Crutchlow has said the Japanese rider’s rookie season has been more impressive than his own debut campaign back in 2011.

Angel Nieto Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Alvaro Bautista 8, Karel Abraham 3
Races head-to-head: Bautista 7, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th, Abraham 13th
Points: Bautista 57, Abraham 4
Average grid position: Bautista 16.91, Abraham 21.18
Average race finish: Bautista 10.3, Abraham 17.5

Summary: As the Spanish team prepares to step back to Moto2 for next year and vacate its grid spot in the premier class, Alvaro Bautista’s future remains murky, while Karel Abraham and his significant funding looks like heading to the Reale Avintia Ducati effort further down the grid. Bautista has conjured six-straight top-10 results from Italy to Austria, but it appears the 33-year-old’s ninth MotoGP season will be his last, irrespective of the thrashing he’s administering to his teammate.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Pol Espargaro 5, Bradley Smith 5
Races head-to-head: Espargaro 5, Smith 0
Best result: Espargaro 11th (five times), Smith 10th
Points: Espargaro 32, Smith 15
Average grid position: Espargaro 17.6, Smith 17.36
Average race finish: Espargaro 11.43, Smith 14.5

Summary: It’s been an injury-ravaged campaign for KTM’s factory outfit, with Pol Espargaro’s nasty crash in Sunday warm-up at Brno ruling him out of the Czech Republic and Austrian GPs with a fractured left collarbone and other injuries besides. When he’s been upright, Espargaro has been consistent – so much so that he’s finished 11th five times in nine races. Bradley Smith has the best individual finish of the pair (10th in Germany), but in the races, Espargaro has generally held sway.

Reale Avintia Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Tito Rabat 11, Xavier Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 17th (twice)
Points: Rabat 35, Simeon 0
Average grid position: Rabat 12.1, Simeon 23.1
Average race finish: Rabat 11.63, Simeon 19.13

Summary: It took eight world championship seasons in his 28 years for Xavier Simeon to make it to the premier class, but the Belgian’s stay looks set to be a short one with Abraham likely to take his ride for 2019, and with Tito Rabat beating him in every on-track session that has mattered. The gap between these two in qualifying is the biggest on the grid.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Qualifying head-to-head: Aleix Espargaro 11, Scott Redding 0
Races head-to-head: Espargaro 4, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 9th, Redding 12th (twice)
Points: Espargaro 17, Redding 12
Average grid position: Espargaro 15.1, Redding 20.55
Average race finish: Espargaro 13.83, Redding 15.63

Summary: Scott Redding’s season-long frustration with the Aprilia exploded in Austria, the Briton commenting that “you cannot make a piece of s**t shine” after starting and finishing in 20th place. Redding is on the outer for next year as Aprilia brings in Iannone from Suzuki, while the man who’ll be retained, Aleix Espargaro, has comfortably been the best rider for a team that has endured more non-finishes (seven) than any other.

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Qualifying head-to-head: Franco Morbidelli 8, Thomas Luthi 1
Races head-to-head: Morbidelli 6, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 9th, Luthi 16th (three times)
Points: Morbidelli 22, Luthi 0
Average grid position: Morbidelli 16.22, Luthi 20.55
Average race finish: Morbidelli 14.44, Luthi 17.75

Summary: Franco Morbidelli is off to the new Malaysia-sponsored SIC Yamaha outfit for next year, while Marc VDS teammate Thomas Luthi will step back to Moto2 with the Dynavolt Intact squad. What will become of their team for this year in 2019? That’s still uncertain, but in their time together on the big bikes, it’s been all Morbidelli, even accounting for the two races he missed after fracturing his left hand in an Assen practice fall. Luthi has come agonisingly close to the points, but only he and Simeon haven’t cracked the top 15 so far.

Miller Time: Banking points in Brno

Jack Miller writes about a “strange” race in the Czech Republic, where he survived tyre woes and some midfield mayhem to stay inside the top 10 in the MotoGP championship.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It’s pretty hard to feel lonely after a MotoGP race, but that’s how Sunday was for me at Brno. I was only 16 or so seconds off the win – not great, but we’ve been further back before – but was in the middle of a big gap from the guys just inside the top 10, and then the rest of us fighting for the points that were left. Some of that was explainable, and some of it was a bit of an unknown at the moment.

One bit that made sense was the first lap, or more specifically what happened to me three corners into it. I got caught up in the crash on the first lap because of where I started (I’ll get back to that), and (Stefan) Bradl, Bradley (Smith) and Maverick (Vinales) all went down, and I had to get myself out of the firing line. After that? For me, not a lot happened.

The race at the front was pretty intense, but mine was just, I don’t know, strange. I got past (Hafizh) Syahrin and (Franco) Morbidelli quickly enough, and I went past (Alvaro) Bautista, and he was on the soft tyre, which I figured wasn’t the right one to be on as it had been so hot here all weekend. Doing 21 laps around here made me think the hard tyre was the only way to go, but after about six laps or so I was dropping four-tenths (of a second) a lap, and there was no way to push harder and actually stay on. Bautista came back past me on the softs and just left me, it was like he had an extra gear which was pretty impressive. Definitely didn’t see that coming.

By the end, the bike was giving me a strange feeling in a straight line, not even the corners, so we just needed to get it home really, and then analyse why that happened with the rear tyre. We had much better pace in the practices than that, so I’m pretty disappointed on that side. But I was happy to finish again, and while 12th doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually better than I’ve gone here on a MotoGP bike before, so that’s a positive. Bank some decent points, keep the bike straight, keep myself out of trouble, and get to somewhere that better suits me and the Ducati.

The tyre thing is a mystery at the minute, so that one’s out of my hands. But I could have avoided the first-lap stuff if I’d qualified better, and that’s completely on me. I had a lap going in Q1 on Saturday that would have definitely put me in Q2 but I crashed at Turn 9, completely my fault, and I ended up in 17th on the grid, as bad as it’s been all year for me.

Back there off the start, you’re kind of asking for trouble, and there’s more of a chance you’re ending up in someone else’s drama. That happened to me in Germany when I fell right to the back of the pack after very neatly getting taken out. At least it wasn’t that bad here, but it was something I could have done without. Nobody to blame but me for that one. You start the race on the back foot, and that’s what happens. Getting to the points and staying inside the top 10 in the championship when you start that far back was a pretty good save, really.

It’s a busy week this week, because we’re back out on track at Brno on Monday for a test day, and then straight to Austria for the race next weekend. For the test, we don’t have any new parts to try, we’re working only on new tyres, and we’re not throwing new things at the bike because we’re back out in four days for practice at the Red Bull Ring. That’s much more of a Ducati track than Brno is, Red Bull Ring is basically three long straights out of slower corners, so that should suit me and the bike, and Ducati has some success there in the last few years. So I’ll be expecting a lot more from next Sunday than what this one gave me, that’s for sure.

I’ll speak to you from Austria next week.

Cheers, Jack

The MotoGP 2018 mid-term report

Which MotoGP rider is dux of this year’s class? Who gets extra detention or has to write lines? Who deserves a gold star for encouragement? It’s time to name names …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Disclaimer, before we start: it’s hard to come up with a MotoGP mid-season review that lands smack-bang in the middle of the 2018 season, with the 50 per cent point coming halfway around the 11th racing lap of the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic on Sunday August 5. So you’ll have to forgive us as we go a few laps early on what has become an annual tradition – the half-term grades for the good and great of two wheels this season. And in a season like 2018, there’s plenty of material to pore through.

We’ve had insanely close races (Qatar and Assen, the latter instantly – and appropriately – hailed as one of the greatest Grands Prix of all time), the customary annual Marc Marquez masterclasses in Austin and Germany, the absurdity of the start of the race in Argentina (hello to all Jack Miller fans), and the frankly bizarre sight of Jorge Lorenzo, who was nowhere early in the season, winning back-to-back races on a Ducati at Mugello and Catalunya, the latter reprising memories of his most dominant Yamaha days where he broke the spirit of his rivals with one devastatingly metronomic lap after another.

Nine races down, 10 to go – so near-enough to halfway. Who has stood out, for the right and wrong reasons? Who has exceeded expectations, and who has fallen short? Who needs to finish the second semester of the year strongly? And who might be getting extra detention if the travelling MotoGP paddock was a school classroom?

Here’s our take on who has earned what so far.

Dux of the class

He’s become a regular in this spot, so perhaps the better way to make a case for Marc Marquez is to give you time to think who should be here in his place. (Waiting). See, told you. His wins have gone from utterly dominant (COTA) to calculatingly brilliant (when he broke up the pursuing pack with two spectacular laps to end one of the bigger brawls for a win the sport has ever seen at Assen), but it’s two races he hasn’t won that show why, barring something unforeseen, he’s likely to become a five-time MotoGP champion in his first six seasons by the time November rolls around. One was his controversial ride in Argentina, where he was in a different league in practice before a sketchy track caught him out in qualifying, and then his race … well, that, and the contact with several riders (particularly Valentino Rossi) that sparked a war of words wasn’t his finest moment, but one that showed the pace he has over the rest when he’s pushing as hard as he can. The other was Barcelona, when he realised he couldn’t safely keep up with a blistering Lorenzo and settled for second when Andrea Dovizioso, who looked to be his primary title rival at the time, crashed out early in the race. There’ll be the odd race like Mugello, when he fell (and didn’t manage to save a slide for once) and couldn’t get back into the points, but his rivals are going to need a lot more of those if they’re to deny the Spaniard a high five at (or perhaps before) Valencia.

Honourable mentions: One for Lorenzo, for his Mugello/Catalunya double after being basically invisible on a red bike for a year and a bit beforehand. Watching such consistent excellence in a sport with so many variables lap by lap is mesmerising when it happens. And another for Johann Zarco, who (before his home GP in France) looked the Yamaha rider most likely to snap the manufacturer’s losing run (more of which later) with a series of searing performances.

Others have had flashes in a year where 10 different riders have already made the podium, but nobody has been as fast for as long as Marquez has this year, and it isn’t close.

Encouragement award

Rossi deserves a reward ribbon here for his persistence, hauling a bike that isn’t at race-winning pace into podium contention time and time again with (typically) canny racecraft and decisive overtaking that overcomes his (alas, also typically) underwhelming qualifying efforts; he had a dramatic pole at home at Mugello and was on the front row at Assen, but he’s often having to fight recovery missions from the third row or further back.

Danilo Petrucci is worthy of a mention here as well, the Italian nabbing a podium at Le Mans and nabbing a factory Ducati seat for next year after Lorenzo’s shock defection to Honda to be Marquez’s teammate in 2018.

His Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Miller gets kudos too, finishing the first five Grands Prix of the year in the top 10, taking a big-balls pole with the lap of his life in Argentina, and riding an immaculate race in France, where fourth was arguably his most convincing big-bike result yet (even more so than his win at Assen 2016, as he conceded himself).

Elsewhere, Alex Rins has been fast when he’s stayed on the bike long enough; in the first nine GPs of the year, the Spaniard had two podiums (second at Assen and third in Argentina) and a fifth place in Italy, but five race-ending crashes. And Rins’ compatriot Tito Rabat has nearly scored as many points already (30) as he has in his best MotoGP full season (35 last year), turning his career trajectory around on a satellite Ducati after leaving Marc VDS Honda behind at the end of ‘17.

Could do better

Maverick Vinales was expected, along with Dovizioso, to be Marquez’s main roadblock to the title this season, but the Spaniard has been up and down in temperament as well as results, a pole in Austin (after Marquez was penalised) and just three podiums in the first nine races seeing him sit third in the title chase through persistence more than any real pace, and with his frustration mounting by the race. Rossi has done marginally better on the same equipment, but perception is everything – and the sight of Vinales getting swamped in the early laps of races on cold tyres and with a full fuel tank has been depressingly common in 2018.

Dovizioso winds up here too, if only for the strange way his season has shaken out – so, so consistent when he challenged Marquez for the title all the way to the line last year, he’s already crashed out three times in 2018 to make his chance of the crown the longest of long shots by the halfway mark.

Dovi’s compatriot, Andrea Iannone, completes our trio here, the Suzuki man showing why he should be pictured under ‘mercurial’ in the dictionary given how hot (back-to-back podiums in Austin and Jerez) and cold he can blow. In his sixth season (and his last one with Ducati before moving to Aprilia for next year), he’s nothing if not consistently inconsistent …

Needs a strong second semester

Vinales, for his own state of mind and Yamaha’s future given Rossi, 40 next February, won’t be (dare we contemplate) around forever. Dovizioso, who simply can’t afford to be out-scored by Lorenzo before the Spaniard splits for Honda, particularly as he had a 40-point lead over his teammate after four races. Miller, who will be hoping to rekindle the form from his first five races as he prepares to step up to become his team’s leader next year when Petrucci moves up and Moto2 front-runner Pecco Bagnaia moves in. And Alvaro Bautista, the Spanish veteran who sits 13th in the championship, who must prove his worth if he’s to be picked up by anyone for 2019 after the Angel Nieto Ducati satellite entry sold its grid slots to the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, to be run by the Sepang International Circuit. Which brings us to …

Extra detention

Dani Pedrosa’s body of work over a 13-year stint in the premier class didn’t deserve to end up like this, nor in this category. The Spaniard announced ahead of the German GP that 2018 would be his last lap, finally putting an end to persistent rumours that he’d switch to the aforementioned Malaysian-backed Yamaha project after spending his entire career riding for Honda. Once he puts a full stop on his career in Valencia, he’ll surely be remembered as the best rider never to have won a premier-class world title, and you wouldn’t bet against him riding with more freedom than he’s had so far this year and snaring another win before he leaves, extending his remarkable run of at least one victory in all of his MotoGP campaigns.

It’s testament to the esteem Pedrosa is held in that we’d even contemplate another victory after how underwhelming 2018 has been to date; on the same bike as the championship leader, remember, Pedrosa has a best result of fifth, has missed Q2 twice and is 116 points behind Marquez. Ten different riders have made the podium this season, yet nine races in, the 32-year-old isn’t one of them. Pedrosa’s legacy remains intact no matter what happens from here, but this isn’t the end we envisaged for one of the sport’s front-runners for over a decade.

Loyalty to Honda could have been one reason for Pedrosa not finishing his career on a Yamaha, but Yamaha’s wretched recent record could have been another, which is why they’ve also ended up in our mid-season naughty corner. Yamaha’s last win came when Rossi saluted at Assen last year, 19 races ago, and the most recent round at the Sachsenring represented an unwanted record for the manufacturer, as the drought became its biggest ever (Yamaha previously went 18 races without a win between Malaysia 2002 and South Africa 2004, Rossi’s first race with the marque). Three riders in the top five of the standings is one thing, but entirely another when they have zero wins between them …