By Peter McLaren

A quick look at when each rider set their fastest race laps were distributed during the 2004 MotoGP season contains some interesting figures.

The lower picture (click to enlarge) shows the full list of fastest lap data which Crash.net has compiled from all fourteen dry races of last season - meaning that Jerez and Mugello were not included. Only dry races were used since rain pace can be as much dictated by the weather as the rider/machine.

The values are all in percent, so 50 means that a rider set their fastest lap halfway through a race, 100 means it was set on the last lap of the race etc. Only riders that were classified as finishing a particular race were included for that race.

Where a rider didn't finish #### appears instead of a percentage. Lapped riders had their percentage calculated over the number of laps they completed by the finish, rather than the intended full race distance.

A summary of the results, ranked firstly by rider and then by circuit, can be seen below:

Average location of fastest race lap in 2004 - by rider:

1. Norick Abe Yamaha (M) 49% (10)
2. Sete Gibernau Honda (M) 45.9% (12)
3. Michel Fabrizio Harris WCM (D) 45.5% (6)
4. Shinya Nakano Kawasaki (B) 40.2% (12)
5. Max Biaggi Honda (M) 42.0% (12)
6. Alex Barros Honda (M) 37.4% (11)
7. Loris Capirossi Ducati (M) 37.3% (11)
8. Neil Hodgson Ducati (M) 34.1% (11)
9. Troy Bayliss Ducati (M) 33.4% (7)
10. Shane Byrne Aprilia (M) 32.8% (6)
11. Colin Edwards Honda (M) 32.7% (13)
12. Makoto Tamada Honda (B) 32.1% (13)
13. Ruben Xaus Ducati (M) 31.4% (11)
14. Chris Burns Harris WCM (D) 31.1% (4)
15. Valentino Rossi Yamaha (M) 30.7% (12)
16. John Hopkins Suzuki (B) 30.0% (9)
17. Nicky Hayden Honda (M) 26.0% (10)
18. Alex Hofmann Kawasaki (B) 25.7% (11)
19. Jeremy McWilliams Aprilia (M) 24.0% (12)
20. Kenny Roberts Suzuki (B) 23.0% (9)
21. Kurtis Roberts Proton KR (D) 21.8% (2)
22. Carlos Checa Yamaha (M) 19.9% (12)
23. Nobuatsu Aoki Proton KR (D) 19.2% (11)
24. Marco Melandri Yamaha (M) 17.6% (7)
25. James Ellison Harris WCM (D) 14.2% (5)

Key:
M = Michelin, B = Bridgestone, D = Dunlop.
(10) = Number of races finished (14 max).

Average location of fastest race lap in 2004 - by circuit:

1. Qatar - 57.4%
2. Welkom - 46.9%
3. Assen - 46.4%
4. Le Mans - 41.8%
5. Sachsenring - 34.4%
6. Donington Park - 32.4%
7. Sepang - 32.2%
8. Phillip Island - 29.6%
9. Valencia - 27.1%
10. Brno - 28.7%
11. Catalunya - 22.3%
12. Estoril - 19.7%
13. Motegi - 18.7%
14. Rio - 14.6%

Main points:

* The last rider to peak, on average, during a 2004 GP was Tech 3 Yamaha's Norick Abe, who would set his best race lap at 49% race distance.

* The earliest rider to peak was Harris WCM's James Ellison, at an average of 14.2% race distance.

* The race track which saw the earliest fastest laps was Rio, where the riders set their best lap at an average of 14.6% race distance. Motegi was next with 18.7%.

* The race track which saw the latest average fastest laps was Qatar, where the riders set their best lap at an average of 57.4% race distance, perhaps indicating that the tyre companies took a conservative approach to the new dessert venue.

* The only rider to set his fastest lap on the last lap of a race was Max Biaggi at Welkom (while he was chasing Valentino Rossi for victory).

* The earliest fastest race lap seen last season was set by Rossi at the French Grand Prix, in which he peaked at just 7.1% distance.

* The average 2004 fastest lap location, calculated by using all of the fastest laps from all the riders throughout the season, was at 31% race distance.

However, due to not every rider finishing every event, the season average data is not totally accurate because it doesn't always compare like with like. In most cases the difference is negligible but, for example, Kurtis Roberts' season average is over just two events, while Colin Edwards' season average was calculated over 13 making a significant difference if those two riders are being compared.

To partially correct this and take a closer look at the top three riders in the 2004 championship - Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi (in blue on table) - a separate season average was calculated using only the nine dry races, which all three of those riders finished.

The results were as follows:

Rossi, Gibernau and Biaggi - location of average fastest lap at same GPs:

1. Sete Gibernau Honda (M) 48.8% (9)
2. Max Biaggi Honda (M) 41% (9)
3. Valentino Rossi Yamaha (M) 34.2% (9)

Fastest lap breakdown - early, middle and late race distance:

1. Sete Gibernau: Under 25% = 2, 25-75% = 4, Over 75% = 3
2. Max Biaggi: Under 25% = 5, 25-75% = 2, Over 75% = 2
3. Valentino Rossi: Under 25% = 5, 25-75% = 3, Over 75% = 1

This shows that Rossi, on average, peaked earliest of the trio at the events in question - probably a sign of his confidence on a heavier fuel load and his renowned tactic of trying to break the competition early, but perhaps also an indication that his Yamaha's performance tailed away sooner - while Biaggi, and to a greater extent Gibernau, took longer to find pace.

However, although Max's average fastest lap position over those nine races was earlier than Sete - and five of the nine races saw Biaggi peak at under 25% race distance - looking at the season as a whole the Roman was the only rider in the field to have set more than one of his fastest laps in the last 5% of a race.

Biaggi had three to his credit - at Welkom (100%), Le Mans (96.4%) and Qatar (95.5%) - which goes against the often used criticism that Biaggi isn't fast enough on old tyres. It probably also reflects his extreme level of fitness and mental motivation.

For comparison, both Rossi and Gibernau only set one fastest lap at beyond 90% race distance in the 14 events examined, and that was on the same lap (94.7% race distance) at Assen as they battled each other for victory.

In general, if the two Honda riders could keep in touch with Rossi during the early stages of a 2004 race, the #46 could expect to come under heavy pressure from them as mid-distance approached - and Gibernau was three times more likely than Rossi, from the nine races examined, to be at his fastest in the final quarter of a race.

We'll find out this Sunday in Jerez if that pattern will continue in 2005...