How to be MotoGP king of Spin City


How do you find grip at MotoGP’s greasiest racetrack? Is there a magic trick? Do the bikes have a special no-grip button? And is it the job of the engineers or the riders to find grip?

Pecco Bagnaia leads train of riders through corner at 2024 MotoGP Catalan GP

Sunday’s Catalan freight train: winner Bagnaia leads Acosta, Binder, Martin and Espargaró. Acosta crashed out, Binder ran out of front grip and slumped to eight


Catalunya is MotoGP’s greasiest racetrack – the crash stats tell you all you need to know – 22 riders and 21 crashes over the weekend.

“It’s very critical. The safety here is very low – you can crash without doing anything. It’s like riding flat track – at Turns 3 and 4 you control slides like you’re on the dirt.”

That was Catalan GP winner Pecco Bagnaia, whose days and days of riding sideways around Valentino Rossi’s motor ranch in Tavullia paid off big time on Sunday. But not so much in Saturday’s sprint, when he lost the front attacking the steep downhill Turn 5, which claimed seven MotoGP victims over the weekend.

Catalunya is double trouble: first, very little grip, second, no warning when you tip over the precipice and into the abyss.

And that’s exactly what happened in the sprint, when Raul Fernández and Brad Binder crashed out of the lead, putting Bagnaia in front, until he followed them into the gravel.

Many fans believe that Bagnaia is a meek-mannered young man who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but inside he’s as red-blooded as any top bike racer, especially when he’s mad. A couple of years ago he started demolishing the Ducati garage after a costly crash and on Sunday the highlight of his victory lap was giving a big Vaffanculo! (look it up), also known as ‘the Italian salute’, to Turn 5.

Bagnaia’s third GP victory from the first six rounds was a masterpiece, because his sprint crash would’ve made many lesser racers gun-shy: ‘Okay, this place has got me once, this time I’ll just make sure I get some points’.

Also, the race was mighty fast, thanks to Michelin’s new-for-2024 tyre compounds, with the lap record destroyed by seven tenths of a second. And of course it was another Ducati podium lockout, for the third GP in a row.

MotoGP podium at 2024 Catalan GP

This appears to be the look of MotoGP 2024, Martin, Bagnaia and Márquez filled the podium for the second consecutive race and are now the main title fighters


Bagnaia’s Sunday strategy was perfect and he topped it off by taking the lead from world championship leader Jorge Martin at Turn 5, his first – and very brave! – Vaffanculo! to the corner. Most crucial for Bagnaia and everyone else was tyre management. No grip means more wheelspin, which means more tyre wear, so Bagnaia’s victory was more than anything thanks to perfect throttle control.

Three of Bagnaia’s biggest rivals explained how they play with the throttle in search of traction to get them out of Catalunya’s corners as fast as possible without spinning and overheating the rear tyre.

“It’s always shocking to come here because the grip is so low,” said Aleix Espargaró, who announced his retirement on Thursday, took pole position and sprint victory on Saturday and just missed beating Marc Márquez to the podium on Sunday.

“The way you accelerate here is completely different to other tracks. You have to be super-patient and wait, wait, wait and understand when you have rear traction, because if you rush with the throttle, even by one metre, you get wheelspin and you will never recover traction.”

Traction control is no use, because once you trigger the TC it closes the throttle butterflies, so you lose acceleration. The trick is never to enter the TC zone but to use your right wrist to modulate the throttle to find grip and reduce tyre wear.

“It’s very complicated – it’s a technique you need to understand really well,” said Sunday’s runner-up and championship leader Martin, who also uses his extreme hang-off style to find grip. “You need to work a lot with your position on the bike, not only on the seat but also with your shoulders, always trying to get that grip.

“Sometimes you open the throttle, slide a bit, close again, get grip, slide, get grip, slide. I like and enjoy this because you are using your skills instead of just going full gas and the bike doing everything. I feel that here the rider makes the difference, so it’s nice to play and understand how to become a better rider.”

Marc Marquez alongside Aleix Espargaro in 2024 MotoGP Catalan GP

Márquez, who started from the fifth row, and Espargaró battle for Sunday’s final place on the podium. Espargaró missed out by five hundredths of a second


Catalunya is clockwise, so the right side of both tyres get the biggest hammering. Riders know very well from their feeling and from their chats with their crew chief and data guys which corners burn the tyres the most.

“In Turns 3, 4, 9, 12, 13 and 14 [all right-handers] it’s quite easy to overheat the tyres,” said rookie Pedro Acosta, who led the race, set the fastest lap and was chasing leader Martin when he slid off at Turn Ten, the track’s other downhill left accident black spot. “So I was staying close to Jorge by using Turns 5, 7 and 10 [all lefts] and it was working.”

Up to a point.

There really isn’t much that engineers can do to help the riders find grip at Catalunya. They can fine-tune the torque delivery map in the electronics, so the power is super-gentle at the first touch of the throttle, and they can reduce the suspension’s rebound damping, so the tyres track the asphalt better. But that’s about it

“When you pick up the bike and use a lot of throttle you put a lot of power into the rear tyre, so the spin starts and then it never stops,” said Espargaró’s crew chief Antonio Jiminez. “Aleix starts to open the throttle more smoothly, with lean angle, then he picks up the bike slowly, so he carries the traction very well.

“He manages Turn 3 [the long right after the first esses] and Turn 4 [the 180-degree right] very well, because if you overheat the tyre in 3 then you burn it in 4, so he keeps a consistent tyre temperature in 3, 4, 9, 12, 13 and 14.”

“This is related to the rider and to engine character – it’s throttle management, from the first touch.”

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Acosta’s crew chief Paul Trevathan agrees that finding grip here it’s the rider’s responsibility more than the engineer’s.

“The rider is the biggest help,” he said. “This track must be horrible to ride – you could see in the sprint race that everyone was static on the bike, scared of crashing. This track is one of the worst for overheating the tyres – the front too, because it’s under a lot of load here.

“We ask the rider to manage the rear tyre himself because if you have too much TC then the bike will only have the performance that the engineers put into it.

“You don’t want to load the tyres too fast, because if you do that you push the tyres away and you’re f**ked.

“In the race the front tyre becomes more of a problem, so you can’t steer the bike with the front, so then you ask more of the rear tyre and then you’re in the shit! It’s a vicious, vicious circle.

“There are so many tricks – it’s how you place yourself at the beginning of the race, how you bring the tyres in, how you manage them and having the capacity to say, ‘Don’t push yet’. We saw in the sprint that Martin didn’t bring in his tyres slowly enough at the start, which is the key, so he destroyed them.”

Pedro Acosta in 2024 MotoGP Catalan GP

Acosta may have crashed out of Sunday’s race but he was happy with his weekend – directly into Q2, sprint podium and a new lap record

Red Bull

And that was a major part of Bagnaia’s Sunday victory strategy: restraining himself from battling too much with Martin and Acosta in the first half of the race, babying his tyres to save the best for last.

“Jorge and Pecco were pushing a lot,” said the reigning champ. “I tried to follow them but I felt it was a bit too much for my tyres, so I waited a bit more and after ten laps I started to gain Jorge’s speed.

“It wasn’t easy because managing the rear tyre was good, but the front tyre was also dropping. In the last part of race I was able to be constant and fast in corner entries – that was the difference between me and Jorge. It was important for me to pass him in corner 5 – I was just praying not to lose the front.”

Bagnaia’s lightning-fast corner entry and high corner speed don’t only gain him time in those areas, they also mean he can be less aggressive with the first touch of the throttle, because he’s carrying more speed than his rivals exiting the corners.

Pecco Bagnaia celebrates victory in 2024 MotoGP Catalan GP in pitlane with crew

Sunday’s victory – in super-slippery conditions and after crashing out of the lead in the sprint – were hugely important for Bagnaia


Meanwhile Martin’s primary skill is the exits, but this time it wasn’t enough.

“Maybe I pushed too much,” he said. “Even though I was saving the tyre it wasn’t enough. As soon as Pecco overtook me I tried to follow him but I’d destroyed my rear tyre.”

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Nevertheless Martin left Catalunya with a slightly bigger point lead over Bagnaia than he’d taken from Le Mans – up one point to 39.

Of course, both Catalunya races could’ve been very different if Marc Márquez hadn’t had another disastrous qualifying – he missed Q2 in France and again on Saturday, putting him on the fifth row of the grid once again. A strange situation from a man who’s scored 65 MotoGP pole positions.

His problem is new tyres – he can’t extract full performance until they’ve done two or three laps, by which time they are past their maximum. The issue is that this year’s rear slick has so much grip that it allows riders to get on the throttle harder, which then pushes the front, causing understeer, so the bike runs wide. That issue disappears once the rear is a few laps old. Obviously, other riders and teams have found ways around the problem, but not Márquez.

“We have to find the balance between a good race pace and good qualifying,” said his crew chief Frankie Carchedi. “We’re still working a lot on the race because we gave GP23 data but not Marc’s.

“It’s also the format. At the start of FP1 the track is shit, so you use a shit tyre and it’s only the last twenty minutes of that session that’s any good. Then on Friday afternoon you have to go banzai [to get into Q2] and we’re not ready, simple as that.”

Marc Marquez celebrates podium finish with crew at 2024 MotoGP Catalan GP

Márquez has scored four podiums from four fifth-row starts at the last two GPs, making something like fifty race overtakes. He needs to improve his qualifying performances

Red Bull

Márquez’s four races at Le Mans and Catalunya were miracles – three seconds and a third from 13th and 14th on the grid isn’t supposed to be possible now. That’s 45 positions made up in four races, with more than fifty overtakes!

“But I’m not proud,” said Márquez. “Because if you make a comeback like that it’s coming from a mistake.”

Márquez was one of only a few to choose the soft rear on Sunday, because he needed extra grip for the first half of the race to fight his way through the pack. But how did he manage to make the oft last 24 laps?

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“I looked at Pecco’s data from yesterday!” he grinned. “He had better tyre consumption in the sprint and when you have a faster rider you copy him and that’s it. One of my weak points is long right corners [of which Catalunya has plenty], because I use a lot of lean angle. I got used to riding like this with the Honda and it’s difficult to change, so I try to understand the riding styles of Jorge and Pecco and copy the best of them. They have been with Ducati for four years and six years, so they ride the bike in a perfect way. At every racetrack I’m learning something.”

He’s not the only one.

At Jerez, where Bagnaia won the GP race, beating Márquez by a fraction, he had learned from the six-times MotoGP champ’s data.

“Marc was gaining two tenths in the Turn Seven and Eight lefts at Jerez, so I tried to understand what he was doing and used that in Sunday’s race. I try to find positives from all the riders.”

It’s no coincidence that the Catalunya podium was the same as at Le Mans and that these three are now pulling away in the championship race.

“The perfect racer – who’s fast everywhere – doesn’t exist” Jorge Martin

Yes, it’s a one-make championship once again – because neither Aprilia or KTM have winning speed at every track – but what a fascinating three-way fight, because all three are spying on each other’s data, learning from each other, pushing each other and getting better and faster every weekend.

“The perfect racer – who’s fast everywhere – doesn’t exist,” added Martin. “It’s amazing to watch the three of us. I can see Pecco is stronger in braking, Marc is stronger in entry and I’m faster on the exit.

“The key to our performance is that we have the others’ data, so when we struggle we can learn. On one side it’s really good but it’s also a pity, because when you make some distance they can catch you. It’s interesting and a big challenge to have us on the same brand. And it’s really nice because you learn.”

Mugello next – expect fireworks.