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Analysis

The transparency needed from Michelin as the MotoGP title battle reaches its end

OPINION: While the stopwatch legitimises Michelin tyres' performance, the MotoGP supplier would do well to be transparent and refute those who claim that defective units will be the deciding factor in this championship following the dramas of the Qatar Grand Prix.

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing

Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Most of the riders in the premier class avoid openly criticising the French brand. They say that each of their denunciations will sooner or later be followed by a warning that will be more or less severe, depending on the harshness of their words. Last Sunday in Qatar, Jorge Martin did not mince his words when pinning the blame on the reason for him struggling to 10th in the grand prix while title rival Francesco Bagnaia was second.

"I was a second and a half slower today because of a tyre that didn't work. It was a shame. I think the level of tyres needs to go up a lot. It can't be that the MotoGP world championship is decided by a compound that doesn't work," said Martin, who went as far as to say that he felt his chance of winning the championship had been "stolen".

FEATURE: 10 things we learned from the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix

After the penultimate round of the year, Bagnaia has a 21-point cushion over the Spaniard, and he can be in contention for the title as early as next Saturday in Valencia, provided he wins the sprint race and the Pramac rider does not finish in the top two. Aleix Espargaro, another of those who usually doesn't mix his words, was of the same opinion: "I don't want to speak ill of anyone, but the quality of the tyres is not up to the level of the championship."

In fact, even Bagnaia himself came to say that he understood Martin's anger, given that he had gone through a very similar situation the day before, in the sprint, in which he finished fifth while the Pramac rider took his eighth half-distance race win of the season.

"The problem I had [on Saturday] was not with the bike, so for the race we didn't change anything. It was very strange. What happened to me [in the sprint] happened [on Sunday] to Jorge," agreed Bagnaia, who in a single day went from struggling because "nothing was working" on his Desmosedici to dominating most of the long race, with the only opposition coming from a resurgent Fabio Di Giannantonio looking to secure his future in MotoGP beyond this weekend.

At the end of the grand prix, Piero Taramasso, Michelin's top manager for the championship, was keen to point out that Enea Bastianini was able to set a new fastest lap record at Losail on the last lap: "That shows the consistency of the performance of Michelin tyres," he said.

Regarding Martin's complaints, the Italian preferred not to comment until he has the data from the tests that will be carried out.

Michelin boss Piero Taramasso says the investigation into Martin's tyre is ongoing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Michelin boss Piero Taramasso says the investigation into Martin's tyre is ongoing

"We are analysing the information. What we can say at the moment is that his tyre went straight here, after manufacture. It had neither been pre-heated nor used before the race," said Taramasso, who was referring to a practice used by Michelin, when the schedule concentrates several events in consecutive weeks. This practice is based on reusing tyres that have been previously delivered to the teams, which they have placed in the heaters but which have not been fitted to the bikes, and which on Sunday have been returned to the manufacturer.

Marc Marquez, who has been in this business for a long time, managed to say the same thing as Martin, Espargaro and Bagnaia, but being far more diplomatic in the process.

"I think that what happens is that the tyres work too well. And when one comes out that is a little bit worse, it's very noticeable. That's the problem. If they were all a little bit worse, we wouldn't notice it," said the Honda rider, referring to the multitude of records that have been broken since Michelin became the sole supplier to the championship in 2016, replacing Bridgestone.

"Even they [Michelin] don't understand why it happens, but it happens. I'm not saying it's on purpose, and I hope it wasn't on purpose. I would like this not to happen to anyone" Jorge Martin

The latter made its debut in MotoGP in 2002, and in 2009 became the sole supplier after the Clermont-Ferrand-based company decided to leave the series, only to return seven years later. Since then, the French company has been the sole supplier of fastest laps at all circuits on the current calendar except Argentina, which has been in the hands of Marquez since 2014 on Bridgestones.

While the records are very commendable achievements, episodes like the latest one at Losail are likely to seriously damage the credibility of not only of Michelin, but also of the championship. Especially if we take into account that the two title contenders have the same reading of the situation. It's bad luck that Bagnaia got a tyre on Saturday that didn't work as expected, and that the same thing happened to Martin the next day.

"Any other part of the bike from an external supplier, for example, the suspension, you can take it apart and see what happens. The only thing we know about the tyres is that they are black, hard and round, and that they have a sticker with a code on it that you have to believe," an engineer from one of the MotoGP teams told Autosport.

This authoritative voice stresses that riders are more likely to receive one of those tyres that could be defined as faulty than under the previous supplier.

Martin feels Michelin

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Martin feels Michelin "stole" his title hopes with its faulty tyre

"Michelin's response when a team complains is that there can be a slight variation in the conditions that exist when the compound is manufactured. And that, although they take safety measures - the first 10 units are scrapped - the performance of one and the other may be different. The performance of one and the other may vary only slightly," says the source.

Hurt by what happened on track, Martin was happy to consider himself a victim of one of those tyres not working properly. "Even they [Michelin] don't understand why it happens, but it happens. I'm not saying it's on purpose, and I hope it wasn't on purpose. I would like this not to happen to anyone," said the Spaniard.

At this point, it seems clear that the best strategy Michelin can adopt to avoid being seen as a judge in the title battle is through an exercise in transparency that should be visible before the season ends this week. Basically, to avoid any kind of suspicion regarding the process of awarding the compounds - which is done every Thursday - is completely anonymous and with the presence of one representative per constructor.

As MotoGP title battle reaches its end, Michelin must adopt a campaign of transparency to avoid being seen as the deciders

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

As MotoGP title battle reaches its end, Michelin must adopt a campaign of transparency to avoid being seen as the deciders

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