Who says racing lacks humour? Dorna has a way of addressing any such perception. Each year at Brno, after the summer break, it lays on a very subtle exercise in comedy, a show for connoisseurs of understated wit.
It is the ‘group technical briefing’, where each MotoGP manufacturer sends a delegate to face probing questions. As if any one of them is going to voluntarily reveal technical secrets, let alone when sitting alongside all of his rivals.
The Japanese companies have long been famous for secrecy beyond the call of duty, often achieved by pretending incomprehension. But Ducati has taken it to new heights, with special screens hiding their bikes from sight in the pit box – in case somebody might spy something important if they so much as take a wheel off.
Thus the conference is hilarious in concept. It is even funnier in execution, as an international symposium of pretending to answer questions without actually saying anything.
Yamaha’s guy, Kouji Tsuya, evoked sentimental memories of old-school Japanese disinformation. His command of English (I think it was English) became for the occasion so personalised that understanding was almost impossible.
It took repetitive and painstaking analysis of the recording to unravel his opinion that the reason Yamaha
had not won in over a year was because “our bike is not at a level to win.” I am confident this obfuscation was deliberate, and that his communication skills are much sharper when required, for contract negotiations, for example. Yamaha’s secrets were
safe in his hands.
Suzuki’s big chief Shinichi Sahara also became uncharacteristically tongue-tied, in the face of any meaningful questions thrown his way.
Honda’s tech director Takeo Yokoyama displayed the contrasting modern side of Japanese reticence. Eloquent and unafraid to reveal a sense of humour, he had ways of saying absolutely nothing, with style. It had the same effect.
From Aprilia, Romano Albesiano gave a perfect demonstration of the art of circumlocution: simultaneously articulate but secretive. If motorcycle racing ever palls, he has a career waiting in the murky world of Italian politics.
KTM is from Austria, and tech director Sebastian Risse was suitably more straightforward. Asked about their impending reverse-crank engine, he looked me in the eye and disclosed that he was not able to confirm anything whatsoever about specifications, past experience or future plans.
Well, thanks for that, Seb. Makes you wonder why he came. Or any of us. But there was a refreshing streak of honesty, too. Talking about the letter and the application of the new and clearly ineffective aerodynamic rules, he said that if any of the delegates had been shown photographs of some of the current bikes when these supposedly more-restrictive regulations were framed last year, “we would have said they were not within the rules.”
Aerodynamics? Step forward goatee-bearded Ducati Corse mastermind Gigi Dall’Igna, wizard of the winglets, the doctor of downforce. Dall’Igna is increasingly miffed at the restrictions, and his weary first response to questions was: “I think we’ve talked too much about aerodynamics. It’s difficult to say more.” Well, Gigi, you started it.
In fact, his railing against ever-changing rules was hard to disagree with, but his assertion that Michele Pirro’s horrible high-speed crash at Mugello “with proper aerodynamics would not have happened” was slightly disingenuous.
Pirro was thrown over the bars at more than 320km/h after a big wobble had spread his brake pads; his panicky second handful locked the front wheel. There is some merit in Dall’Igna’s assertion: the wobble might not have happened if the front was properly anchored by the wind. But since the team had sent their test rider out using the fairing option without even the restricted wings of 2018, it rings a bit hollow.
In any case, Dall’Igna makes the mistake that racing is about engineering and valuable research. Wrong. It’s about comedy.
By Gordon Ritchie