- Round nine: Donington Park, United Kingdom
- Track length: 4023 m
- Opened: 1977
- Fastest Lap Ever: 1' 30.740 (Max Biaggi, 2003)
- MotoGP lap record: 1' 31.023 (Valentino Rossi, 2003)
- Last year MotoGP winner: Max Biaggi
- Circuit tel: +44 1332 814120
- Circuit web site: http://www.doningtonpark.co.uk
2003 MotoGP race summary
After an ultimately close combined qualifying for the British Grand Prix, with only one second covering the top 13 contenders, expectations were high for a close MotoGP main event at Donington Park. But despite an initially promising opening few laps the Yamaha Factory contingent ended the eighth round of the MotoGP World Championship with little more than disappointment.
In a bizarre twist of fate Alex Barros (Yamaha) was the victim of a raceday warm-up collision, which resulted in the Brazilian crashing out of the session and breaking the metacarpal bone in his right hand. The incident took place in turn one, mid way through the session and only seconds after Barros had exited the pits. Suzuki 'wildcard' rider Yukio Kagayama had overshot his braking point and collided with the side of the Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1 sending Barros into the gravel trap and ending any chance of him contesting the British Grand Prix.
Although it was more positive story for Carlos Checa (Yamaha), who qualified fifth for today's race, the end result was still short of what the he and the bike are capable of. Timing the lights well he leapt off the grid for a solid run into turn one, but by mid race distance the Spaniard was unable to mount any serious challenge for a podium result and was left languishing back in a lonely sixth place. The 30-year-old's setback was the result of a lack of grip from the notoriously slippery Donington circuit.
It was further frustration for MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team) who began today brimming with confidence following his best ever qualifying performance in the premier class - qualifying third, 0.186 seconds shy of pole - only to end the day prematurely. The 2002 GP250 World Champion openly said that he felt more comfortable on his 220-plus horsepower YZR-M1 than he had all season, and was looking forward to challenging for a podium place in the 30-lap race, when his weekend took a turn for the worse on lap five.
Melandri, who won the 250 race here last year, launched off the line like a veteran, entering turn one fourth before taking third only a few corners further on. The 20-year-old then remained in the top four as the lead group pulled a gap on the competition, only for the Italian to lose the front of his machine entering Fogarty Esses. This left the Honda trio of Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau to break away and finish the race first second and third respectively. However, a protest made against Rossi for passing under the yellow flag on the start of lap two has seen the defending MotoGP World Champion incur a 10 second penalty - dropping the Italian back to third in the official results.
Set-up report YZR-M1
Donington was a circuit born with a reputation for being challenging on both rider and machine, a reputation that only gained further strength with the 1987 extension - carried out to allow Donington to form part of the GP calendar. It's this 'modern' extension that has added to the complexity of the circuit layout, which can be separated into two contrasting components. The first, from the start finish line to the right-hander called Coppice Corner, is a flowing sequence of medium to high-speed corners that drop down Craner Curves into the Old Hairpin before climbing back out on the approach to Coppice. In an extreme contrast the circuit is completed with a sequence of stop-and-go switchback and hairpins between Fogarty Esses and Goddard Corner.
This one feature alone makes dialing in a motorcycle chassis difficult, as a fast lap will come down to a compromise in all-round set-up. Add to that the lack of grip, which some say is due to the jet fuel residue left by the nearby East Midlands airport, and the best result will be achieved by the rider who can make the most of a compromised chassis set-up.
The main aim is to find a chassis that offers a good pitching balance during braking and acceleration. Too much and you lose stability under brakes in the second half of the lap; not enough and the bike will be difficult to turn through the faster sweeping opening sequence of turns. The catch is that the first half of the circuit lends itself to a fast lap-time, while a good set-up for the second half - the stop-and-go addition - is where many riders with the right set-up can make an easy pass.
What also needs to be taken into consideration is that the undulating layout of the first part of the circuit pushes the front of the bike a great deal, while the second half is pretty much 'highside' territory. The 2004 Yamaha has mage great progress with the front end feel of the YZR-M1, which should prove beneficial here at Donington Park. Also the more neutral chassis character will also aid in finding an all-round chassis set-up. Combined with softer spring rates front and rear, with the fine-tuning left to the spring preload, and the Yamaha contingent should feature well here. This approach will improve drive and front-end feedback, although it will come at the expense of a little braking stability into the hairpins - about the only point of concern.
As for the YZR-M1's in-line four-cylinder engine, its 2004 power character will prove ideal for the slick layout. Still it will be tuned to offer a strong midrange and a progressive and predictable delivery. Confidence to use that power on a slippery surface infested with changing cambers is the key to success here.
This article and pictures were kindly provided by www.yamaha-racing.com