2012 Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Vinales Affair: Ambition, Greed, Incompetence, And A Breath Of Fresh Air
It was a strange day in Malaysia. Part of the strangeness was down to the weather. The familiar pattern of disrupted sessions as the rain fell, but not hard enough to allow the MotoGP riders, in particular, to spend much time on the track in the afternoon. There was a twist, however, a particularly Malaysian one at Sepang: the heavy shower which passed over the track at the start of the afternoon session for MotoGP left part of the circuit soaking, with water a couple of centimeters deep at turns 1 and 2, while the rest of the circuit quickly dried out almost completely. It at least added a little novelty to the disruption, along with the frustration of another wasted practice.
The real strangeness came at the start of the day, however. It took about 10 minutes for observers to notice that Maverick Viñales had not gone out on track and there was suspiciously little activity in the Avintia Blusens garage. Once they noticed, low-level pandemonium broke out: within seconds, a throng of Spanish journalists crowded out of the media center and hastened on their way into the paddock, to find anyone and everyone and learn what they could.
As they drifted back in, and as TV pictures started to appear showing an empty Blusens garage, Viñales walking through the paddock accompanied by his father and the Dorna media officer, and team managers Raul Romero and Ricard Jové gathered in discussions, it was clear that there was something very wrong. When it was revealed what that was - that Viñales had decided to quit the team with immediate effect - it sent a shock wave through the paddock. Riders quitting teams with races left in the championship is unusual; to do it while that rider is second in the title chance and still in with a shot at the championship is unheard of.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and the single tire supplier after the first day of a rain-affected practice at Sepang:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia:
Local Malaysian wildcard rider Hafizh Syahrin took advantage of the changeable conditions during FP2 for the Moto2 class at Sepang, going out and setting the fastest time of the session early on, while the track was at its driest. The rain started to fall much more heavily some ten minutes into the session, giving the riders a consistent track, but making it impossible for anyone to match the time of the Malaysian rider, giving Syahrin and his Petronas Raceline Malaysia team a massive boost in front of their home crowd.
In the full wet conditions, Marc Marquez had the pace of the field, the only man to post a lap in the 2'24s after the rain started to fall. Alex de Angelis came close, but suffered a nasty crash when he tried to push on, damaging his bike but walking away relatively unharmed from the crash.
The weather returned to play a significant role in MotoGP, once again causing a session of free practice to be wasted. A cloudburst at the start of the session left the section around turns 1 and 2 soaking, with a stream of water running across the track, while the rest of the track dried quickly. The track was too wet around the first couple of turns to safely run slicks, and too dry elsewhere to use wets without completely destroying them in a couple of laps. A few riders went out throughout the session, with a few of the bravest souls - including Silva and Michele Pirro - trying the track on slick tires at the very end. Silva and Pirro were rewarded with the fastest times in the session, but those were meaningless under the circumstances.
Maverick Vinales has shocked the Moto3 paddock at Sepang by announcing he is leaving the Blusens Avintia team with immediate effect. The Spaniard, who took no part in Friday's free practice at Sepang, cited broken promises and dissatisfaction with the team for the reason for leaving. According to Spanish daily Marca, Vinales has flown back to Spain with his father, Angel, after a meeting with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta failed to reach a solution.
In an interview with the official MotoGP.com website, Vinales talked off worsening relations with the team, after he had called for updates for his FTR Honda to allow him to compete with Sandro Cortese in the Moto3 championship race. His biggest complaint was about the level of the team. "It's not that much about the support," Vinales told MotoGP.com, "but I think it's a second division team - I have to try and win the Championship next year and I don't think I could do it with this team, so that's why I took this decision."
Jonas Folger completed the first day of free practice for the Moto3 class firmly in control of the timesheets, ending FP2 a quarter of a second clear of the men chasing him. Sandro Cortese took 2nd spot, just edging out his teammate Zulfahmi Khairuddin, the Malaysian rider keen for a strong result at his home round. Miguel Oliveira took 4th, behind the leading KTMs, and ahead of flock of FTR Hondas, lead by Alessandro Tonucci.
Pol Espargaro was the fastest of the Moto2 men in the first free practice for the Moto2 class, leading the class by two tenths of a second. Bradley Smith took 2nd, the Tech 3 man having found an extra burst of speed during the flyaways, while Marc Marquez ended the session in 3rd. Tito Rabat grabbed 4th, fractionally ahead of Dominique Aegerter and Andrea Iannone, Iannone having refound his mojo after a dismal weekend in Japan.
Dani Pedrosa has topped the first session of a hot, humid but dry practice for the MotoGP class, the Spaniard holding on to his strong form from last week at Japan. Behind Pedrosa came his Repsol Honda teammate Casey Stoner, the Australian clearly more comfortable than last week, when he first made his return from the ankle injury he sustained at Indianapolis. Jorge Lorenzo set the 3rd fastest time, three tenths behind Pedrosa, and heading up a host of Yamahas, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow in 4th and 5th respectively, while Ben Spies was the factory Yamaha slice closing up the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha sandwich.
Jonas Folger topped the first (ever) session of free practice for the Moto3 class at Sepang, taking a massive lead over Jakub Kornfeil and Zulfahmi Khairuddin. Championship leader Sandro Cortese ended the day in 4th, but with Maverick Vinales splitting with his team, not taking part in practice and not finishing the season, Cortese will be crowned champion at Sepang if he finishes within five places of Salom.
The Sepang round of MotoGP could see all three championships clinched this weekend, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Sandro Cortese all closing in on their respective world championships. The job is easiest for Cortese, all the German has to do to become the inaugural Moto3 champion is finish one place behind Maverick Vinales and the title is his. After getting a little too excited at Motegi, Cortese will doubtless be heading to Sepang in a much calmer frame of mind.
Marquez also faces a relatively manageable task, but unlike Cortese, he does not have his fate entirely in his own hands. If Pol Espargaro wins at Sepang, then the earliest Marquez could be crowned champion would be at Phillip Island. If Espargaro does not win, the Marquez is in with a very good chance: should Espargaro finish the race in third or worse, then Marquez only has to finish directly behind him; if Espargaro finishes second, then Marquez has to win. On current form, it would be hard to bet against Marquez, but Sepang was the circuit where the Spaniard was badly injured last year, suffering damage to his eyes which limited his vision and threatened to end his career. It will be interesting to see whether the memory has spooked Marquez, but judging by his performance this year, that seems faintly ridiculous.
Press release previews from the MotoGP teams and single tire supplier Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's race at Sepang:
The FIM today issued a revised version of the 2013 MotoGP calendar. The new calendar is only a minor update to the initial calendar issued on September 21st, with only one real change, the switching of the Sachsenring to a week earlier. That move was forced on the FIM, as Formula One had scheduled the Grand Prix of Germany at the Nurburgring for the same date. Holding an F1 race and a MotoGP race in the same country and on the same date was not a viable situation, and so the Sachsenring race was moved.
The other update to the calendar was not a change, but a confirmation. The Grand Prix of the Americas has been confirmed as taking place on April 21st, at the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. That had been widely expected, but could not be confirmed until contracts were signed. The continuing dispute between the Circuit of the Americas and Kevin Schwantz over the rights to organize the Austin round of MotoGP will not affect the scheduling of the race.
Below is the MotoGP calendar for 2013: