Thursday news from Jerez

Thursday at Jerez was a day dominated by memories of last lap battles. Whether it was last laps dices between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau or Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo at the Spanish everyone was interested in recanting tales of past Jerez races…but one last lap battle took centre stage with Rossi and Marquez continuously quizzed about their Argentine fight.

With both title rivals remaining tight lipped and refusing to be drawn on the topic both offered platitudes to the other but it was hard not to draw a conclusion that their rivalry has changed their relationship and while it has not reached toxic levels yet a championship battle could easily shift that equilibrium.

When asked about the crash in Argentina Rossi shrugged off the incident again by saying that the slight differences between the chassis meant that he may have taken a different line to what Marquez expected.

“For me it was the first time that we were together,” said Rossi. “Maybe in that change of direction the Honda and Yamaha did a slightly different line. We were very close and when I changed direction we touched each other and unfortunately Marc crashed.”

It’s easy for Rossi to dismiss the incident however, as the race winner the crash didn’t cost him anything, but with Marquez continuously pressed about the crash the Spaniard was more once again forced to justify his decision to push hard for the win even though Rossi had been so much faster in the second half of the race and bridged a five second gap to Marquez.

“That was there in Argentina and here is another race and it is not necessary to talk about it…It was what you saw on the camera,” said Marquez. “It was a change of direction and when Valentino changed I didn’t expect and then I was unlucky to touch the front wheel, but sometimes this happens in races. It was the last two laps, you push 100 percent. But it was only that.  On that change of direction also maybe the Yamaha does a different line there compared to the Honda. But I understand. I think he understands also.

” I always have the same style. Step-by-step I understand a little bit more that sometimes it is better to take 20 points. But my style is always to give 100%. What happened in Argentina, happened, but I think it was not a mistake. Just something that happens sometimes in races and this time I was unlucky.

“I don’t think we need to change the strategy because these three races, okay we are 30 points behind, but we were at a very good level. The feeling is really good with the bike. We were fighting for the victory. Qatar I did the mistake, but in Argentina I was fighting there. So we will not change nothing. The same mentality. Keep focus and give my 100% every lap.”

When Rossi was asked about why the situation with Marquez was different to his rivalries in the past the nine times world champion said that it was a different story with Marquez compared to in the past. Having matured  since his early years in MotoGP that’s certainly possible but it will only be over the course of the season that we fully understand if the relationship is now fractured.

“Every story was a little bit different, with Biaggi sincerely we never had a great relationship, so more or less it remained the same! With Sete we were good friends, but our relationship became a lot more difficult after Qatar [2004] because I think he played a dirty game. I had to start from last position, I crashed, I had a problem also with my finger and I lost a lot of points. So from that moment it was a little bit more difficult but now with Sete we are friends again.

“When you race together for sure it is difficult to say that you are good friends, but you can have a good relationship. Now more or less between everybody it is like this. On the track everybody tries the maximum to try to arrive in front, but have always respect and a good relationship outside. So I think we will continue like this.”

The differences between the Honda and the Yamaha in Argentina was that Rossi was the only rider able to make the harder compound Bridgestone tyre work. This meant that he was able to push all the way to the flag. Having opened a 30 point lead over Marquez in the championship the Spaniard faces a crucial race weekend and even with only three races finished the title battle is already delicately poised however Marquez doesn’t see it that way:

“I don’t feel the pressure. In Qatar I had much more pressure than now, it’s just three races and still 15 races remain. Of course you would like to be 30 points in front, not behind, but in 2013 after six races I was also 30 points behind. The championship is still really long.”

His title hopes aren’t the only things delicate for Marquez however, his broken finger is far more delicate. Having had a crash while motocrossing and seeing a friend run over his hand Marquez admitted that he was lucky to avoid a more serious injury than a fractured left little finger.

“It was a very small crash, but one friend was behind me and he passed over my hand,” said Marquez. “I was lucky that it was only the finger [broken] because when a bike passes over your hand it can be more. The operation put the finger more or less straight because it was – when I took off the glove I could already see that it was broken because the finger was [sideways]. But Dr Mir did a really good job, because I broke the finger at 2 o’clock and at 6 o’clock it was already fixed.”

Racing with a fractured finger is something that racers take as an occupational hazard and while it makes things uncomfortable for a rider it’s not something that would make them consider sitting on the sidelines. When asked about the extent of his injury Marquez said that it will lead to some discomfort but that suffering through this weekend is his only option.

“Sure to put the hand inside the glove is disturbing me and it can be [a problem] for braking and acceleration. But until I try it on the bike I don’t know. Of course it will be painful because the operation was only on Saturday evening. We will suffer more than in other races, but racing here in Jerez in front of the fans I have [extra] motivation which can help me.”

Scott Redding will have a new chassis this weekend with the Marc VDS rider receiving the same upgrades that Cal Cructhlow had from Texas. Redding will have a new fuel tank and seat that will look to offer more consistency for him and the hope is that it will help him to build more front end confidence.

“Argentina was a bit like Texas, as we had the speed but we still need to find a few things with the bike that work for me and work consistently,” said Redding. “We will receive updated chassis parts in Jerez, so this should help us make the next step, but we also return to Europe with more experience of the bike and a clear direction in which to go in with regards to set up. The priority is to improve my feeling from the front, to give me more confidence. We’ve made a lot of progress in this area since the start of the season and we just need to continue in the same way. The goal for Jerez is simply to carry on improving and to try and close the gap to the guys at the front.”

 In Texas HRC vice-president Shuhei Nakamoto told MCN that the plan was that Redding would receive the upgrades in Jerez and having struggled in Argentina the boost could be key for Redding as he returns to Europe after an inconsistent adventure in the Americas.

His pace in Texas was hugely impressive and while Argentina was a struggle there’s been plenty of positives for Marc VDS as the crew learn how to get the most from the package. One area that Redding admitted that needed improvement was in how he used the electronics package so it will be very interesting to see how he progresses with that this weekend.

The complexity of the electronics package on a factory machine is very different to the Open software that Redding used in the past with the ability to tailor the bike to each corner and use more mapping options.

Redding isn’t the only rider that needs more time with the electronics package to get the most from his bike. Ducati’s Andrea Iannone has enjoyed a superb start to the campaign with a podium and front row starts but the Italian commented that the one thing that he needs to understand better is the electronics.

“It’s difficult at this moment because for me I’m improving my work with my team, especially the electronics, because in the race I have a lot of difficulties with this area,” said Iannone. “In Argentina I had a big problem because I wasn’t sure about what power was available with the map and I didn’t have confidence. For me this is what I’m focused on working with my team and I’m sure that this will improve. It’s important for me to not have to think about the electronics in the race and to focus on how I ride in the race and not have to make a lot of changes to the mapping.”

This weekend in Jerez however the Ducati could be a very competitive package with Iannone telling the media in Jerez that the agility of the GP15 could offer a real opportunity for Ducati to have another strong result. While he wouldn’t be drawn into saying that this weekend could offer Ducati the chance to win their first GP since 2010 it’s clear that soon the red bikes should be on the top step of the podium.

Having stood on the rostrum in Argentina Cal Crutchlow returned to Europe in high spirits and ready to fight at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix. A repeat podium may be asking too much for this weekend but the Englishman rode fantastically in Argentina and carrying forward that momentum will be key at the start of the European season.

“It’s been three strange races such in the LCR Honda team,” said Crutchlow. “We had a not too bad Qatar, a bad Texas and a really good Argentina. So it’s nice to come back to Europe finally and get into a good routine of one weekend, one weekend off. I’m looking forward to them. I think it suits me a little bit better.

“I enjoy being in Europe more than travelling away I think we can definitely do a good job again and hopefully improve our package and speed again. Because we definitely need to improve and learn to ride the bike a little bit better, especially in a few different stages of the race. So I’m looking forward to hopefully learning that this weekend and having a good race here.”

Crutchlow has two top five finishes at Jerez and being able to consolidate his Argentine result with a top five would leave him well placed for the start of the European season.

Jerez is one of the toughest tracks on the calendar to set a bike up for. The challenge is exacerbated by the changes in track temperature that take place at the Spanish venue. Last year the conditions were such that riders felt that they were riding around on ice with the greasy track surface sapping confidence from riders.

When the conditions get that like that the advantage swings towards the Honda riders with Bradley Smith saying that once the track gets greasy the Honda and Ducati riders are able to search for grip better than the Yamaha because the YZR-M1 relies on the grip from the track surface to a much greater degree to allow riders to generate their high mid-corner speeds.

Smith did admit however that the Yamaha is evolving now and it means that riders can now adapt to this trait much easier. Whereas in the past there was only one way to ride the Yamaha fast now, as shown by Rossi’s successes, you can be more aggressive with the bike and look to stand it on the fat part of the tyre much quicker.

“Although Jerez is fast and flowing, there are a lot of places here where you can go to maximum angle then pick it up quite quickly so Hondas don’t seem to be affected as much as we are,” said Smith. “There are five ways to ride a Honda and let’s say two to ride a Yamaha. And before Valentino’s resurgence, there was one. They are slowly allowing us to play a little bit more and figure out a little bit more how to ride these bikes, rather than Jorge’s style. Because they realize at the moment it’s not working. Which is why I think I am going a little bit better this year than in the past. The bike is changing and they are allowing us to change things. We have more rein to find our own way.”

Steve English

By Steve English