The story of the 2016 MotoGP season revolves round one major factor: how riders and teams have adapted from Bridgestone’s front slick to Michelin’s front slick. Against all predictions, the man who has adapted best is Marc Marquez. And against all predictions, the man who has adapted worst is Jorge Lorenzo. Marc Marquez is crashing no more than he didn’t last year, while Jorge Lorenzo’s crash rate has increased five-fold.
Bridgestone’s front slick was an astonishing front tire. Riders talked of its servo effect: the harder they braked into corners, the more tire gripped because the extra load expanded its contact patch, delivering more grip. No one who used that tire has ridden anything like it
Michelin’s front is more like a normal front slick: if a rider overloads the tire into a corner, it will lose grip and he will likely crash. During first tests at the end of 2015 and at the start of 2016 there were far too many riders crashing going into corners. The complained of too little front grip and also of too much rear grip, which would multiply their front-end woes by causing the front to push mid-corner and then wash away. But now Michelin’s front is much improved, so much so that some riders say they can use the same corner-entry technique they used with the Birdgestone. Marc Marquez struggled at first, as everyone had expected. More than any other MotoGP bike, Honda’s RC213V was designed around the Bridgestone front tire, giving him a winning advantage into corners, so it seemed highly unlikely it would suit Michelin’s front. During winter testing Marc Marquez did indeed crash a lot, so he tried to smooth his aggressive riding technique to stress the tire less. This didn’t work either, so he went back to his wild style and used his chameleon-like abilities to adapt.
Now Marc Marquez rides the knife edge like a magician: loading and squishing the front tire more than anyone else but without overloading it. Perhaps, this is because his brick-wall braking style drives more temperature into the tire, so he makes it work better than anyone else does. Or, perhaps, it’s because he uses tons of rear brake, to pull some load off the front into corners. Or, perhaps, it’s a combination of both.
This is definitely a rider thing, not a motorcycle thing. On the other side of the Repsol Honda garage it’s all doom and gloom because featherweight Dani Pedrosa can’t get enough heat into either the front or rear, so his results have taken a dive and he’s crashing more than he’s ever done.
If you take a short walk up pit-lane and peer into the Movistar Yamaha pit, the mood will most probably depend on the weather.
Yamaha have adjusted the M1’s geometry and fitted stiffer fork springs to minimize the stress on the Michelin front. This setup works well on sunny days – Valentino Rossi’s wins at Jerez and Catalunya and Jorge Lorenzo’s victories at Le Mans and Mugello were all achieved on hot tracks – but when track temperature plunge, neither rider can get enough heat into the front tire, hence their disastrous showings at Assen and the Sachsenring.