Wilko Zellenberg – about modern MotoGP: it’s time for lifelong pilots of the same brand

Wilko Zellenberg - about modern MotoGP: it's time for lifelong pilots of the same brand 1

The former Grand Prix racer from the Netherlands Wilko Zellenberg has been a “Yamaha man” for many years: he works as a manager in different teams of the company at the will of the “party”. He managed the garage of Jorge Lorenzo and took with him and his chief mechanic Ramon Forcada all 3 titles in MotoGP, and then was transferred to steer the new satellite Petronas SRT, now he is in RNF.

Zellenberg is confident that Franco Morbidelli will follow Andrea Dovizioso to the end of his MotoGP career, and it will be extremely difficult for Marc Marquez to return to the top level in 2023. What is the reason? Their worldview is outdated, as is their style!

Wilko Zellenberg - about modern MotoGP: it's time for lifelong pilots of the same brand 3
2020: Franco Morbidelli is the vice-champion of MotoGP!

MotoGP is changing faster than it seems, and than the paddock is used to. This is evolution and a change in the principles of driving as an inevitable “evil” that you need to survive and overcome in yourself. Those riders who are used to classic driving will never be able to fight for the podium again: they simply do not have time to retrain, and new employers do not intend to make concessions, handing out time-outs right and left.

Zellenberg believes that the examples of Dovizioso and Morbidelli, with whom he happened to work at RNF, are eloquent confirmation of this: if in 2020 Franco and Dovi won races, but one single change in technology immediately made them outsiders – in 2022 they close the points zone or are outside the TOP 15 on a regular basis.

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The key reason is a radical change in the design of the Michelin Power Slick rear tire frame. Pilots with extensive experience, accustomed to traditional driving, did not have time to retrain in a year. And Dovizioso had even less time, about 7 months.

Jorge Lorenzo found himself in the same situation when he switched to Ducati – he didn’t have enough time to retrain! Ducati thought it would take him half a year… but no

“In 2020, Michelin changed the frame of the rear tire, and now the holder in a strong tilt is different from what it was in the past. First, the holder has become more. But there was a side effect that affected all Yamaha pilots: since most of the time on the lap you drive in a tilt, due to strong friction, the temperature of the tire is constantly increasing. Franco and Andrea use the traditional style for the Yamaha M1 – large tilt angles to get high speed on a turn. That’s why they’re so fast in long arcs! And they would have won, but the design motorcycle was designed for different use of the rear wheel. Franco and Andrea use the natural dynamics of the motorcycle, push their bike less than other pilots, but face the fact that the rear wheel ceases to provide confidence – and in fact, they slow down.”

“Franco spent the whole season trying to change his approach to wheel loading, and now he is starting to succeed. But the effect is still not too strong to talk about real progress. Dovi has already realized that he just doesn’t have time.”

Wilko Zellenberg - about modern MotoGP: it's time for lifelong pilots of the same brand 5
MotoGP-2022 – British GP – British Grand Prix

What is the strength of Quarararo?

“The paradox of the situation is that Fabio manages to get a higher speed when passing arcs and turns without overheating the tires. An important point: he rides with a smaller angle of inclination, changing the weight distribution – he often and actively moves around the motorcycle, creating a load at different points. Italians drive “classically” – smoothly: they brake sharply, enter the turn, slowing down with the rear brake. Fabio brakes only in front then release the lever completely and only then rolls around the bend. It has a consistently higher speed at the entrance and on the arc – by 2-3 km / h than the rest. It’s a matter of the talent and feeling of the motorcycle, but also the height: Fabio is a tall guy, he uses his size to provide a better grip on the rear wheel without overhanging.”

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Franco Morbidelli could not repeat the Quarararo style, although he tried to adopt it for 3 months: “He said that it was impossible to drive twenty-five laps in a row like this! He can drive a circle behind Fabio, exactly repeating his movements, but no more: this is not his driving style, it does not match his physique and physical fitness. The Frenchman has learned a lot over the years, today he is the perfect combination with the M1. It seems to me that he just started right away, then only polishing his skills.”

Wilko Zellenberg - about modern MotoGP: it's time for lifelong pilots of the same brand 7
MotoGP-2022 – British GP – British Grand Prix

Dovizioso should have stayed with Ducati and tried to adapt to new trends, says Zellenberg. But Andrea preferred a “sabbatical”, which finally undermined his position: the 9 months that Dovizioso was absent from the active struggle did not allow him to get used to Yamaha in a “new way”. He came and started trying to drive as he did in 2012. It didn’t work. But his experience with Ducati helped him roll into Aprilia quickly! It was a chance, but Andrea did not consider the prospects of cooperation with the Italian plant. Those who manage to drive their prototypes now will work with them for as long as finances and conditions allow.

“It seems to me that now it is simply impossible to transfer to a bike from another manufacturer. They have become too different in detail and conceptually. If you have a good sense of one prototype and a style that more or less suits him, it’s better to put in the effort and retrain in something without radically changing the style. Fabio was able to learn to ride a Yamaha in a year because he had no other experience. That’s why Marc Marquez definitely does not plan to change the manufacturer in the next couple of years: he will try to change himself and the bike so that everything comes into balance. Everyone who goes to another manufacturer today is at great risk – this is a chance to lose their career in the short term. But not everyone is Marc Marquez with millions of guaranteed fees in his pocket to make an all-or-nothing bet for the sake of a very likely nothing,” Zellenberg believes.

What’s all this about? The fact that in 2023 Michelin, in order to satisfy Dorna’s ambitions, will have to radically change the design of the front tire as well. To make the rubber work better, both in sprint races and in long Grands Prix. We live in a time of constant change…