Former 500cc Grand Prix rider Randy Mamola told me at Valencia that Yamaha engineers have gone to Tech 3 satellite rider Cal Crutchlow and said, “Look, here’s what Jorge Lorenzo is doing. This is how it must be done: less braking, smoother, higher corner speed. You must do the same.”
“No, no,” he replied. “I can’t ride like that for more than a lap or two. It’s not my natural style.”
Ben Spies came under the same pressure to “ride like Jorge.”
Meanwhile, Crutchlow’s teammate, Andrea Dovizioso, has adapted Lorenzo’s style and is successful with it.
But, Mamola argues, this is not just the opinion of the Yamaha engineers; this is how you are forced to ride by the tires themselves. Casey Stoner said basically the same to me earlier this year: While his own natural style, and that of his Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, is dirt-track-related, that style cannot work with the present Bridgestone tire, which “has the same traction from edge to center.”
Mamola’s view is, if MotoGP requires a single tire manufacturer, let Bridgestone build a tire for Ducati, a tire for Yamaha and so on. Don’t force all the makers to adapt their machines to a single tire.
He described Ducati’s new twin-beam chassis as “the same size as a Moto3 chassis,” adding that the Ducati would never be able to get around the circuit like a Honda because the shape and size of its engine are not the same as Honda’s.”
Mamola seemed to be saying that the present conditions of racing have imposed a narrow, single design. By Honda’s willingness to build, in Mamola’s words, “10 chassis this year,” they have got closest to that single optimum.
This would also seem to say that a spec engine is the best hope for a competitive future.
To extend the riding styles discussion a bit, consider spring rates: Where additional factors do not dictate otherwise, maximum grip comes from low spring rates that best allow the tires to follow the pavement contour. As spring and damping rates are increased, the bike becomes more like a rigid frame, being kicked up off the pavement by bumps and losing grip by being out of contact.
Examples of men who favored low spring rates are Freddie Spencer and Luca Cadalora, both of whom employed a corner-speed style. Spencer did so because the Honda NS500 Triple was underpowered and because the NSR500 Fours he rode next had high horsepower but lacked the torque for competitive acceleration. Cadalora stayed with the corner-speed style that was natural to 250 riders.
What “other factors” lead some riders to use stiffer suspension? Stiff springing is required to support very hard braking and other sudden loadings of the chassis. Stiff springing also makes it easier to break traction if sliding is an essential part of your style. Crutchlow and Spies are not naturally disposed to use soft springing, which favors that quality everyone talks about but no one defines: smoothness. This is often said to be the essence of Lorenzo’s style. Smoothness is just how you adapt yourself to using the soft springing essential to the side grip that permits very high corner speed. You brake smoothly and you transition smoothly because your suspension is not stiff enough to let you do otherwise.