Jorge Lorenzo was one of five riders, all on Ducatis, who went full soft—Michelin-speak for the tires with the allegedly highest available grip—on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Of those five, only Lorenzo and Álvaro Bautista finished the race inside the top 10.

Lorenzo not only finished, he won—his third victory this season in 11 starts. MotoGP championship point leader and pole-sitter Marc Márquez was right in Lorenzo’s wheel tracks, crossing the line 0.130 second behind the flying 31-year-old Mallorcan.

After the race, Lorenzo called his tire choice a “great decision,” but how did he make the soft option survive 28 laps on an abrasive, predominantly right-turning track that was 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer at the start of the race than at any other time during the weekend?

“I needed to manage it a lot in the first 10 laps,” he said. “This management at the beginning was enough to keep the life of the tire and wait for my moment.” From lap 4 through lap 17, Lorenzo’s pace varied by no more than 0.305 second. That’s precision.

For those who think the Ducati's top speed must have been the difference, think again. Lorenzo posted his highest number of the weekend, 192.6 mph, during Free Practice 1. Márquez was able to coax 195 mph from his Honda during the race.

“I needed to manage a lot to not overheat the tire because it was very hot,” Lorenzo said. “Some parts of the tire were very soft.” He also credited overnight study of Sector 3, with its double left, where he was struggling on Saturday to match Márquez’s pace.

“I was losing almost two-tenths there compared to Marc and [Andrea Dovizioso],” Lorenzo said. “I made a big improvement watching videos, trying to understand which position of my body I need to change to be faster in that sector. It really worked.”

Red Bull Ring
Michelin’s full range of slicks were used during Sunday’s MotoGP race at the Red Bull Ring. The 23 machines that started the 28-lap event were fitted with a mix of the six available front and rear soft, medium, and hard options.Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

What is the current definition of a soft tire? According to Piero Taramasso, Two-Wheel Manager for Michelin Motorsport, the latest offering is new this year and constructed using a compound developed during winter testing. "The soft is like gelatin," he explained. "You feel the extra grip because it is moving.

“Lorenzo and Johann Zarco are smooth and gentle with the bike. If the setting is good, they can extract the extra grip of the soft. If it moves too much, you can go to the medium. The medium has lower grip but it’s supposed to be more consistent.

“If the medium still moves, you can go to the hard, which is supposed to give you more stability. Aggressive riders like Márquez and Cal Crutchlow can use the hard. When the bike is stable, they feel more comfortable and can push more.

“The medium works very well. It was the same medium we had [a week ago] in Brno. That tire is our reference. We bring it to every track. The window for it to work is from 15 to 45 degrees Celsius [59 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit].”

Michelin hauls three front and rear slicks—also known as specification A, B, and C—to every round of the series. Part of a broader family of tires to cover 19 circuits, they can be identified at a glance by a colored band on the sidewall: white (soft), black (medium), and yellow (hard).

Each rider receives 22 tires per weekend: 10 fronts (up to five of each specification) and 12 rears (maximum of six soft, five medium, and four hard). An additional soft rear is available to the two riders who participate in both Q1 and Q2 qualifying sessions.

Marc Márquez’s Honda
This is the hard-compound rear tire fitted to Marc Márquez’s Honda for the 28-lap race. “I think we made the right choice to choose the specifications we have now,” Michelin’s Piero Taramasso said. “They can cover a very large window of temperature and weather.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

On Sunday, Márquez opted for a medium front and a hard rear. “I was in between the medium and hard,” he said, “but then I say, ‘Okay, I will choose the safe option for me because I know that the hard should arrive better in the end of the race.’

“My strategy was to push from the beginning to make a small group for the last laps with one Ducati in the end. Jorge used the soft tire because he needed to follow me. He managed the tire really well. He deserves this victory.”

Michelin
Referring specifically to the allocation available at the Red Bull Ring, Taramasso said, “The medium we have now was the soft from last year. It’s the standard; it’s supposed to work for everybody. The hard is the same hard as last year.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Last year's winner, Andrea Dovizioso, who finished third Sunday with medium front and rear slicks, knew he wouldn't be a factor in the final outcome. "I used too much of the rear tire to try to overtake Jorge," he admitted. "I had to slow down too early—10 laps from the end.

“We did a good qualifying with the medium. Today was hotter. We thought it was a good choice. I’m not the kind of rider who says the problem was the tire and that’s it. I don’t know how much it was the choice of the tire or how much I used the tire to try to overtake Jorge.

Cal Crutchlow
Cal Crutchlow finished a lonely fourth, second Honda, in Austria. His choice of hard front and medium rear slicks meant that all six compounds were fitted in various combinations to the first four bikes, which, according to Michelin, is rare.Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

“If you have the speed and if you have a chance, it’s always good to save at the beginning and push at the end. With Michelin, you have to manage. You can push from the beginning, but in one part of the race, you have to save the tires a little bit.”

Dovizioso didn’t win the race, but he did set a new lap record, 1:24.277. And Lorenzo’s winning overall time—39 minutes, 40.688 seconds—lopped two and a half seconds from the previous best, set by Dovizioso in 2017. In the round and black department, that’s progress.