MotoGP: What impact will see from the 2020 Michelin tyres?
Track conditions are going to be the biggest talking point this weekend at Jerez. With a scorching sun the asphalt will be baked throughout the day. At Jerez this has always been an issue and during the traditional Spanish Grand Prix weekend,typically in early May, the conditions become very slick and greasy once the track temperature touches 45C. With expected temperatures of over 55C the riders, bikes and tyres are sure to have a serious workout.
The surface of a race track is a living, breathing organism. It changes and adapts based on the temperatures and the conditions. During the course of a day it will heat up in the morning and at this time of year take an age to cool down. For the MotoGP class there is an added challenge of adapting to the all-new Michelin rear tyre.
The French rubber has been adapted for this season in a bid to make it more user friendly for all bikes on the grid. Rear grip has been improved on the edge of the tyre and the biggest beneficiary of this should be Yamaha. For characteristics of an inline-four engine configurations in MotoGP means that Yamaha, and Suzuki, need to take long, sweeping lines and this has led to issues with the grip falling away as a race progresses for them. It now seems that this should be much improved for the likes of Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo.
“The track temperature is not the same as in May so that makes it even more difficult,” said Quartararo. “Because the temperature of the track was over 60 it’s not exactly the best conditions, but honestly I expected the drop to be much bigger than today.”
That the pole sitter from last year’s race at Jerez was surprised by the longevity of the tyre bodes well for the Frenchman. From when Michelin first returned to MotoGP as the control tyre supplier their stated goal was for the fastest laps of races to be set in the closing stages. They wanted to prove their longevity rather than their outright potential. It’s taken five years but now they may have put themselves into a position to achieve this goal.
For Vinales the goal has been to adapt the Yamaha to make it easier to race with Marc Marquez. The goal has been to allow the rider to be more aggressive and transition the Yamaha from being a bike dominated by carrying corner speed to one that is more adaptable. If Yamaha has made this step and can still take advantage of their corner speed with the new tyre the YZR-M1 should have huge potential this year.
“In Qatar we were working very hard on the braking,” said Vinales about the areas Yamaha are focused on improving. “I felt we have to improve on that area compared to Marc. Marc is quite good in braking. So I think we need to make another step on that area. I think it will be our main focus. We need to be strong on that area. I think we have good grip, good turning, the bike is working well, but still we need to improve on the brakes. So we will work on that area for sure.”
The new construction from Michelin was tested throughout last season and it’s not been without its detractors with the biggest issue being grip. Too much grip. With such a strong rear tyre when a rider cracks open the throttle it starts to push the bike on the exit of the corner and can over power the front tyre. This can mean that the front is over stressed and a crash becomes the result. This was an issue with Michelin when they first tested with MotoGP teams in 2015. At a Sepang Test that year almost every rider using their tyres crashed at Turn 6 as the front folded under acceleration. It’s not always about having as much grip as possible; it’s about having the right amount of grip available.
“We have more grip but it creates more problems, especially for our Honda,” commented Cal Crutchlow. “We’re so used to the bike sliding around the corner. Now we have more grip it pushes the front more than what we usually have. We need to try to break the grip a bit to make the bike steer a bit more.”
For the Honda, and other V4 machines, the goal of recent years has been to stop the bike aggressively on corner entry, minimise time on the edge of the tyre and stand it up to exit the corner aggressively. With a slower speed mid-corner they could do this perfectly with the old tyre. It’s a very different story with the new tyre. The same could be said for the Ducati too.
“It’s a big change,” said Danilo Petrucci. “It was a bigger surprise at the Sepang test. At Qatar we had a clearer idea with it. Here we were stopped for four months and like everyone I was scared about remembering all the things I have to to do to ride the bike again but we have a very good memory for how to ride this bike. This weekend is more difficult this weekend because we will start this race with no data to compare from the past because we have 20 degrees more on the ground compared to May. Today there was 60 degrees. I think it will be a surprise for everyone.”
Ducati’s performance during Wednesday’s test day was a shock to many with Andrea Dovizioso, second in the World Championship for each of the last three years, down the order in 16th position. In fact it was Jack Miller’s Pramac Ducati that was the leading Bologna machine. The Australian looks very much at ease with the GP20 in Spain and he sounded confident about his chances this weekend.
“The new tyre isn’t bad,” said the one time premier class race winner. “I did the whole session this morning on the medium rear and the softest front we have. That combination really worked well, my last lap on them was a 38 something. The track was really clean, they washed it for rubber and that normally makes them really hard on tyres. I was able to do decent lap times at the end. We had a little fire with the fairing, the exhaust heated up and it started getting the fairing hot, so we lost some time and then we ran out of time when we swapped tyres. We can now focus on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
While Ducati will be chasing their performances of the past this year KTM and Aprilia are in a very different position. They’re trying to catch up. The Austrian machine is an interesting bike to watch this year. With their trellis framed RC16 we’ve seen them welding metal onto their frame in the past to try and improve feel and chassis stiffness. With the new tyre it may become more important to remove stiffness and make the frame flex more to generate the grip from the Michelin tyre. With an inexperienced rider line-up it’s possible that KTM could benefit from riders such as Brad Binder not having a memory bank to recall upon.
“It was toasty hot out there,” joked Binder following the test. “This morning it was pretty normal and I felt pretty good and in the afternoon I did a fifteen lap run and it was definitely really physical and hard on the body. It’s tough and coming from Moto2 it’s a massive step and to have this heat on top of things is something I need to get used to.
“The tyres are new for everyone else but I haven’t really ridden too many of them before! I actually feel really good. The soft has a lot of durability which was quite surprising; I did my fastest lap on a 21-lap rear tyre. That was good. The medium – which I suspect will be the race tyre – was not too different. Maybe there is a little bit less grip but what I found was that it was pushing me more in the braking zones.”
With Dani Pedrosa testing behind the scenes, KTM have concessions due to their performances in recent seasons, the rate of improvement for the bike has been significant over the last twelve months. Now with the new tyre it will be intriguing to see how they adapt. Pol Espargaro certainly will be motivated to get the most from it and push that bike to the front of the field.
The same can be said for Aprilia. With a brand new bike the Noale based manufacturer is finally looking capable of having sustained potential in the premier class. It’s been a miserable five years for the team but finally they are making progress and talking about potential rather than problems. With the new tyre levelling the playing field somewhat it could be a good time for the RS-GP.
“I felt good during the test,” said lead rider Aleix Espargaro. “Even though I was not super fast for one flying lap we were strong enough to fight at the top. I think we still have something in the pocket. We can make good corner speed in the middle of the corner. The new tyre allows you to keep the lean angle for longer. For 20 laps on I could do every lap in 38s even though it was a track temperature of 60 degrees. To be able to do a race in this pace would be great.”
For Bradley Smith, Aprilia’s test rider last year, the opportunity to replace Andrea Iannone is a chance to get back on the MotoGP grid and put himself in the shop window again. Getting the most from the tyre will be crucial for this and adapting to the changing conditions from morning to afternoon is something that he is focusing on.
“The tyres are struggling,” said Smith when asked about the conditions. “If you watched anything in FP2, especially the first run, there was a lot of mistakes from guys who went out with the same feeling they had in the morning, and got caught out. We won’t know until Sunday, because that’s when you have to go the full 24 laps with no stops, but let’s say with the 8-lap run I was able to do, we can kind of calculate the general trend, and we are within our tolerances at the moment.”
The tolerances for Suzuki seem to have met. Joan Mir raved about his potential following the test with Suzuki, another inline-four machine that carries corner speed, having very consistent pace.
“We could race with the soft tyre,” said Mir. “I did a lot of laps and my times were still consistent. At the end of the morning we didn’t use a new tyre because I wanted to keep understanding the older tyre. We need to work with the medium to understand it and allow us to give the maximum with it. These are the toughest conditions for me because the temperature is so extreme at this time of year.”
It’s always extreme in MotoGP with riders and manufacturers working to their absolute limit but now it looks as though the field will be operating with a tyre that should be more balanced towards different types of motorcycles. With a control tyre you can’t ask for anything more than that.