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GP Week : Issue 120
Valentino Rossi’s post-race debriefs generally play to packed houses. At Silverstone, after a weekend when he was left explaining why he was running at the back with the rookies, his post- race meeting was attended by only two English-speaking journalists. “So this is the crowd you get for sixth place,” he joked. The thing was, everybody was baffled by his weekend in Britain. That included the rider, and his team. Not for years (“When the Yamaha M1 was bad in 2007,” according to Valentino) had anyone seen anything like this. It was his first time at the track, having missed the first race here while injured last year. But this little drawback would usually be fixed in the first free practice, after which Rossi and the guys under Jerry Burgess would steadily make things better. This time, they were at sixes and sevens. “We have two problems,” he said. “One is that Honda and Yamaha are faster than us. The other is that my team- mate was faster than me all weekend. The other side of the garage worked better than us.” Of the two, it is the second that is most surprising, and the most worr ying. Questions are now being asked outside the pit about the fitness of the Ducati, and its heretical minimal carbon-fibre chassis. The same questions will be exercising Ducati. The company ’s race depar tment has a lot to prove, and if they can’t prove it with Valentino helping, the world at large will assume their problems are insoluble. The bike is certainly proving harder than Rossi and his guys anticipated. “It does not help me understand the track” said Valentino. Then in the race, “I didn’t have enough grips to get the tyres warm enough to work properly.” How long will this problem last? How much more of this will Valentino put up with? Or should the question be turned around the other way? The superiority of Honda’s RC212V is becoming crushing. The world’s largest motorcycle factory hasn’t had to make any changes to the machine that came out at the start of the year. But none of the rivals have shown any ability to step up to the mark. Rossi described the latest and last iteration of the hitherto only intermittently successful V4 better than anyone: “ This year, it is like a Yamaha M1, but with 20 more horsepower.” As the man who developed the M1 into last year’s supreme bike, he could pay no higher compliment. Stoner is of course riding it superbly. Looking at his three race wins on the Ducati last year, and comparing that with his dominance this year, gives as clear a comment on the nature of the Duke as Rossi’s on the Honda. He still talks, in Press conferences and briefings, of issues with stability and handling, but one feels it is mainly out of politeness to his so-far flummoxed rivals. Or more likely in the nature of a threat: “If you think we’re good now, just wait until we get better.” Nobody knows how much it has cost HRC to turn their duckling into a swan, but the seamless-change new gearbox is an indication of how thoroughly they have approached the problem. One gets the feeling that Yamaha and Ducati have almost given up on this year (Suzuki already had). All the talk in those quarters is of how development of next year’s 1000cc machine is taking up a lot of race-department resources. The brighter sparks even suggest that Honda’s superiority now in turn implies that HRC are not putting enough of their much larger resources into next year’s machine. I don’t think they would be wise to count on that. Honda’s ‘gone’ When Rossi hiccups, racing shivers MOTOGP Silverstone >>