‘Dovi and Johann have a very similar mind’ - click here to read Guy Coulon's comparison between Zarco and former rider Andrea Dovizioso.

Crash.net:
I think Johann has caught everyone off-guard with his speed this year. How would you assess 2017?

Guy Coulon:
We could see in Japan, at Phillip Island and Sepang, in different weather conditions. Finally we got three first rows. A pole position in Motegi, third in Phillip Island and second at Sepang. It was good consistency at the top level. Also the race results were quite good. With one podium in Sepang and very close to the podium in Phillip Island. We did a good race at Motegi. He spent nearly the full race in fourth position. We had some tyre problem at the end so finally I think he finished eighth, but as the first Yamaha. From the beginning of the season we could feel this progression, step-by-step.

Midseason it was maybe more difficult because, as you know, during the summer we had very difficult weather conditions. For example, in Aragon, it’s a difficult track for a beginner. We never tested at Aragon with him and on Friday we had rain and rain in the two first sessions. He was third in the morning and third in the afternoon, so it was quite good. Then on Saturday it was dry. At the end of FP3 you must be in the top ten to go into Q2. Q1 is difficult to manage. On Saturday morning you have to run about five laps in each run to understand everything before putting fresh tyres in to manage a top ten position. For a beginner it’s very short. It is a problem we had sometimes this summer. We lost time because we had some bad conditions.

But we can feel in any kind of condition we were competitive. Finally, for the last three races with also some different weather conditions, we can manage better this situation. That means that he is still improving.

Crash.net:
Johann is known for possessing a remarkably smooth style. Did you always think he would be suited to the M1?

Guy Coulon:
You know, we are never sure and it was difficult to expect such good results because his target was not only to be the best rookie. He is not only the best rookie but the best independent team rider. That means in front of him is only riders in the factory teams and there is only five. But we can understand. We had some tests here after the last GP last year. The gap was quite short with pole position. It was quite a good thing already. Then we had some different winter tests. Sepang was also interesting. Phillip Island was much more difficult with a bigger gap and he doesn’t like this track so much. He never had a good result there in Moto2. That’s why it was interesting when we came back for the race to understand if he could manage a better result. And he could. So this was an important moment. After we had the Qatar test. I think it was a key point. We had three days. The first days, we could fix some points. The last day of testing before the race week, we were able to put everything together. From this time he could manage the bike quite well and understand the lap time was coming. He was much more confident. We then had race week. He did race week and a good start to the race – six laps leading. Then I believe he understood and we understood too that we could fight at the top – maybe not every race, but he had a chance to be a top MotoGP rider. That’s it.

Crash.net:
Can you tell us a little about his working methods?

Guy Coulon:
He is very clear when he explains his bike’s feelings. We prepare a plan before each session. It depends on the track. Mainly we decide on three runs or two runs, because some tracks with longer lap times we like better with less runs. We decide in advance, ‘This amount of runs.’ After we change bikes and try something different for the second run. He respects this plan. Even if the bike is not perfect, he keeps going to the end of run to understand if it is a comfortable problem. Even with this feeling which is not so perfect, he can get a lap time. If we decided for seven laps, he does seven laps. And for the run after, if we decide for five laps, he goes for fives laps. And in the last run, if we decide for four laps he goes for four laps. This is quite important because some riders you ask for seven laps. After two laps they come back, stop and [say] ‘I don’t like it!’ [I think] ‘You don’t like it after two laps, yes. But maybe after four laps you can understand whether your tyre life is better, or whether your lap time is coming better.’ Finally we never know. We had a very similar situation with Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso] in 2012. Dovi and Johann have a very similar kind of mind.

Crash.net:
In that they both follow your instructions to the full?

Guy Coulon:
He respects the plan that we decided before. I believe it is the right way.

Crash.net:
I was surprised listening to Johann speak at the preseason test in Qatar. Jonas was faster than him, but Johann insisted he was happy for his team-mate. He was seeking out the positives from a possibly negative situation. It’s quite unusual to hear riders to talk in such terms.

Guy Coulon:
About this point, he’s a bit different. he also has very good experience with Moto2. He knew from Moto2, and he told me, ‘Sometimes I feel that other riders are faster than me but my understanding was to control them from the beginning of the race. If they pass me, I’ll try and pass them back immediately. And I’ll try to control them. At the end of the race, I’ll try to push and to beat them.’ He knows that if you cannot control faster riders at the beginning of the race, you cannot control them at the end. So you need to understand that and to manage this situation. It’s quite easy to say! And another thing to do it properly.

Crash.net:
We’ve seen Johann opting for the softest rear tyre on many occasions this year, when others have favoured the medium or the hard. How does he make this work?

Guy Coulon:
I think it’s mostly [long pause] to use properly Michelin tyres you need to have different understanding. I believe also Ducati riders did well. I don’t know if it was the choice of riders, the choice of the teams or both together, but I think they managed it well. Also, Johann managed tyre choice quite well. Also, he’s able to decide for one choice even if the others go with another. He keeps his line. Finally, we never had a problem at the end of a [dry] race with our tyre choice. If you are a little bit ‘old school’ about tyre choice, it’s difficult with Michelin. You need to choose with a different way than Bridgestone. If you keep the same mind as before with Bridgestone then it’s difficult to understand how Michelin tyres are working.

Crash.net:
So it was an advantage that Johann never tried Bridgestones?

Guy Coulon:
Yes, it is an advantage. If you are able to choose your way against all others or most others… You need to be very strong in your head if the Michelin technicians and all other riders prefer another choice and you want your own choice. It’s not easy. Finally, step-by-step we can feel more riders making a similar choice to Johann.

Crash.net:
Is a lot of this down to his throttle control?

Guy Coulon:
Yes, I think he is able to control a lot of things by himself. Even in Argentina, where we started with the hardest tyre – we were alone in doing this. He started 14th on the grid because we had some troubles in FP3. Then he finished fifth. It was the opposite way, but he could manage it also. If you are able to manage by yourself properly the throttle, it’s good if you have a soft tyre because you avoid using it too much. Also you are able to use a hard tyre because you can control it more smoothly and so on. This kind of riding style is better, not only for tyres, but for different kinds of track surfaces, different kinds of grip.

Crash.net:
You mentioned Argentina, but Johann produced many great performances across the year. Was there one that stood out for you?

Guy Coulon:
Not everyone can see, but also in Germany he did a very good race. He was 19th on the first lap and he came back to ninth. If we check lap-by-lap, it was very good. I believe in Sepang his performance in the dry conditions, session after session, and in warm-up were very, very good. The race was wet but also he was not bad in the race in wet conditions. But in the dry in Sepang he was very, very strong in all sessions.

Crash.net:
And he was sure that he could have won if it was dry…

Guy Coulon:
For sure, he was competitive.

Crash.net:
We saw Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller win races last year. Johann and Danilo Petrucci have racked up multiple podiums this year. Do you think the change to spec electronics software helped ‘satellite’ machines challenge for more podiums?

Guy Coulon:
It’s difficult to say but anyway now we have a very spectacular and competitive championship. There are only good bikes and good riders. Now it’s very, very tight. Not only at the front. I didn’t check all the races but to give you an example, Jonas finished 16th at Aragon 30 seconds [behind the winner]. It was quite close. Years before, Dovi finished ninth 33 seconds behind the leader. The race time for the winner was very similar. But back behind, it’s much more compressed. Yeah, finally, all these regulations about the ECU and different things give us more spectacular races.

Crash.net:
In your opinion, has the increase in Michelin’s tyre allocation (from two fronts and two rears to three of each) contributed too? Now a team or manufacturer is surely more likely to find a suitable tyre for their bike.

Guy Coulon:
Some riders or some kinds of machines’ needs, for example, some stronger tyres, so they can have one more choice in this direction. Also, this year Michelin also brought some more front tyres that were much safer than before. I think these front tyres are working for all kinds of bikes and all the riders in the paddock. We are close to having every time the best choice as possible. Last year they brought some different constructions because it was their first year so they can mix some different constructions. It was a bit complicated to use them properly. Now we have always the same construction on the front, and mainly the same construction on the rear. There are only different kinds of rubber. It’s easier to understand and manage for everybody.

Crash.net:
You worked with Andrea Dovizioso in the past. During that season [2012] did you see anything that convinced you he could produce a season like this, a year in which he would challenge for the world title?

Guy Coulon:
It was a real pleasure to work with Dovi, because he’s a very nice guy and very professional. He knew everything about his setting and bike. He could control everything. When he moved from our team to Ducati, already at this time when some journalists asked me what I thought, I told them Dovi was the best choice Ducati could do in the situation they are in. Because he is able to work and work again without the media pressure and keep going. I believe if Dovi is not with Ducati this year, Ducati would not be in this situation now.

Crash.net:
So his method of working and ability has carried the whole factory forward?

Guy Coulon:
Yes, and step-by-step he built this bike. He knows how to use it. He started to have some good results. He then felt he could win some races and he could be competitive for the championship, and so on. Step-by-step, it was a positive dynamic for him and for Ducati.

Crash.net:
It’s interesting that Johann has had such a great season, but the factory pairing of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi have really struggled, especially toward the end of the year. What has gone wrong for the Movistar team?

Guy Coulon:
I am not 100 percent sure, but I think they tested some different chassis – quite a lot. It seems if they keep this new chassis they liked it better than the chassis they used before. From our side, we used the same chassis from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Honestly, I didn’t feel a bigger difference at the end of the season with the Ducati or Honda machines to compare with our bike at the beginning of the year. That means we had no improvement during the season and the gap with Honda or Ducati, for me, is similar. I believe that if the factory have different chassis and an improved bike, they should reduce the gap. Instead there is a bigger gap. So it’s a question mark.

Crash.net:
Is it a case of trying to merge the chassis with the characteristics of the tyres?

Guy Coulon:
When you test a new chassis, you test a new chassis with the Michelin tyres you have for a race. You compare a different chassis with the same tyres. They have riders with experience. I believe if they chose one chassis, we can believe it.

Crash.net:
You said you had the same chassis this year. Did Johann and Jonas not receive a chassis update at the post-race test at Montmelò?

Guy Coulon:
It was the same chassis with small modifications. Jonas didn’t like it so he kept the previous one and Johann felt maybe a bit better so we kept it. But the geometry and everything were completely the same.

Crash.net:
In previous years, we heard Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro complain about the lack of updates that trickled down to the Tech 3 team…

Guy Coulon:
Yes, but you know this year were the chassis they [Bradley and Pol] used last year.

Crash.net:
So does that make Johann’s chassis a model from ’15? ’16?

Guy Coulon:
I think the chassis we have this year, Pol started to use it mid-way through 2015. Still, I believe it’s a good bike. I think this bike is working well. We know maybe one or two points that we need to improve. It’s good because when you have one bike and you consider that you need to improve this point and that point, it’s too much. On our bike, we have some strong points and one or two weak points. No panic and we’ll try and improve these points.

‘Dovi and Johann have a very similar mind’ - click here to read Guy Coulon's comparison between Zarco and former rider Andrea Dovizioso.

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I found Guy's comments regarding Dovi very interesting.  Specifically:

" He knew everything about his setting and bike. He could control everything."

and

"I believe if Dovi is not with Ducati this year, Ducati would not be in this situation now."

These are interesting because I have read many comments on these forums suggesting that "riders don't develop bikes, engineers do", usually in the context of arguing whether a certain rider is or is not good at developing bikes.  Guy's comments suggest that the expert opinion is that riders can play a very important role

Where could one find a bike engineer and designer who know exactly how a MotoGP bike should be, feel, go, respond... Only the rider is the final assessor.

Fantastic interview, informative...

There is so much data coming from the sensors in the bikes now that the engineers can make more and more conclusions without asking the rider. I think now the engineers also can tell the rider how to ride the bike better now. Slowly with time, the riders really have to listen more. Also, what feels fast isn't always really the fastest. So, yes but no, but yes but no.

 

It's not formula one. The rider is not just a "moving wheel" parameter. He moves a lot, he has a lot of incidence on the bike's reactions. And you can't just say "it's better like this because of the sensors' data". The pilot is a multi-sensor's data compilator, and he has a way of doing things. You can't really show "bike's confort" with data. Something can make you gain 0.05s but increase your falling chances. Data can't perfectly analyse that.

 

You just have to see Honda : they are really "engineering-based", and they have a fast bike but quite difficult to understand its limits, only Marquez who can make incredible saves is able to fight for the championship with it. 

And as you see with Zarco, tyre choice is a matter of riding style and feeling.

On motorcycles, the rider will always be important.

"

Crash.net:
So does that make Johann’s chassis a model from ’15? ’16?

Guy Coulon:
I think the chassis we have this year, Pol started to use it mid-way through 2015"

Need more proof that Zarco was riding Jorge developed 2 year old M1 chassis?