AustrianGP: Flying Without Winglets

MotoGP has been great this year. Austria wasn’t great, though. Austria was the best race of the year so far, one of the best in living memory and an immediate classic. Absolutely stunning. So good, there aren’t that many words capable of explaining how good it was. Just watch it. It’s one for the history books.

On paper, the winner of the Austrian GP isn’t a surprise. But with no winglets, a lot of changes since last year and the up-and-down nature of this season, it’s still a bit of a surprise – because it went to script, for the winner at least. Much like Marquez winning in Germany “as expected”, Dovizioso’s name was penciled in next to Austria. But it wasn’t quite like 2016.

- #43 Jack Miller - E.G 0,0 MarcVDS - #25 Viniales - Red Bull Ring - AustrianGP - 2017 -

The difference for Ducati without winglets was particularly marked at the Red Bull Ring. The new aero fairing debuted by Lorenzo in Brno goes some way – according to both riders – to clawing back some of that ground. But it also necessitates more compromise, and top speed suffers. That’s why Dovizioso deserves every bit of applause for walking away with the win, because it was by no means won with an advantage. Aside from the fact that he joined a very exclusive club of names as someone to have beat Marquez in a last lap duel – so exclusive that the two other members of that club have 14 world titles between them – he also did so where there was no David and no Goliath.

Marquez was the most interesting and in some ways most ominous of the weekend. Last year, having not tested at the venue beforehand, it was an uphill struggle and there were two Ducatis and two Yamahas ahead of him across the line. This year, Repsol Honda used the Brno test last Monday to almost exclusively prepare for the Red Bull Ring – concentrating on acceleration – and really made it count. Their weak point throughout 2016, Marquez said on Saturday in the Press Conference they were no longer losing on acceleration – and backed up by pole position and some good race pace, it was hard to argue. But what was their compromise? With Ducati having to sacrifice top speed, what did Marquez have to give away?

Chiefly, the compromise came between braking and acceleration. But, Marquez says, the compromise is ok. The rear slides, but it’s ok. Why? Because he’s getting that “sweet feeling” back on the bike. The feeling that largely eluded him last year. The feeling that, when on full power, saw him win ten in a row…

That was ominous. But there’s obviously no need to panic just yet – he got beaten. Right?

- Red Bull Ring - Moto3 - AustrianGP - 2017 -

Behind the duel, Pedrosa completed the podium with great pace and a perfectly judged ride through the field, and Lorenzo came home in fourth after leading 11 laps and finishing the race the closest to the winner he has yet managed at Ducati. A good job from both but it begs the question – where were the Yamahas?

The first one, somewhat embarrassingly for the factory team, was Johann Zarco in fifth. Again. With Viñales in sixth, and Rossi in seventh. So what happened?

Last year, Yamaha were the closest challengers to Ducati. Rossi split them in qualifying and Lorenzo completed the podium. On Sunday, both Viñales and Rossi made big mistakes and lost ground – but then seemed to fail to make that ground back up at all.

Pedrosa, who followed them for a while but early in the race, said that for him they were still better getting out of the corners. Marquez maybe completed the puzzle a little when the podium finishers were asked about Zarco once again coming home top Yamaha: “They put in new tyres and they’re there.” After that, they just couldn’t seem to make it work.

- #21 Franco Morbidelli - E.G 0,0 MarcVDS - #73 Alex Marquez - Moto2 Double Podium - AustrianGP - Red Bull Ring - 2017 -

Which you could say is strange, when Zarco on last year’s bike can smoke a soft compound tyre for twenty laps and largely hold onto his position. But ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ – as explained by Dovizioso – don’t mean what they used to with these tyres. They’re simply different compounds that react in different ways. One step, just different compounds. And a huge, complicated puzzle for engineers and riders to unravel ahead of race day.

It could be looking up, though – because the next race day is Silverstone. Viñales’ glorious return to the scene of his first win. Maybe? If the weather is dry, the British GP could definitely be a classic – and with some different lead roles at the front. That’s to say that Yamaha should be back – their problem becoming increasingly that Ducati and Honda never went away.

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