When Jorge Lorenzo entered MotoGP, sparks were sure to fly. Lorenzo is both outspoken and flamboyant, and has never been at a loss for words. He has also never been afraid of confrontation, having spent virtually his entire career engaged in sniping at various targets in the paddock. Such was his reputation, indeed, that as part of his contract, Yamaha banned the "Lorenzoland" celebrations, and forced Lorenzo to work with a psychologist to keep his impetuosity in check.
This was all done, of course, because Yamaha were fearing, and MotoGP fans were looking forward to, a potential clash between Lorenzo and his team mate, the equally flamboyant Valentino Rossi. But so far, all has been peace and light in the Yamaha garage, a situation possibly helped by the huge wall splitting the garage in two.
But Lorenzo has not quite completed his transformation from sinner to saint. The reigning 250 world champion has a few old scores still open with former 250 champ Dani Pedrosa. And those scores are kept open by the open warfare conducted in the press between Alberto Puig, Pedrosa's mentor, and Dani Amatriain, Lorenzo's manager, two men who raced against each other in 250s, and make no secret of their hatred of each other.
So it came as no surprise that Lorenzo fanned the flames of old divisions this week, complaining bitterly to the Spanish daily AS.com that Pedrosa refused to congratulate him on the podium at Qatar. "I have no interest in causing controversy," the Spaniard told AS.com, without a hint of irony, "but if I see something that's wrong, I say it publicly, without hesitation. I don't like the fact that he didn't congratulate me, but each man must do what he thinks is right. If I'd been in his place, I would have congratulated a rider who had managed to finish in 2nd place in his first race. But then, I'm not Dani Pedrosa."
Lorenzo was much kinder to the man he was expected to be at war with. "I see the press and hear what people say, and they have already decided to bury him," said Lorenzo. "He finished 5th on tires which, apparently, weren't going very well in the conditions. I think he will be fighting for the win at Jerez, and will be winning races soon enough. I don't believe that he has dropped his game."
There have been occasional complaints that MotoGP seems to be lacking in soap opera, especially when compared to the diva of Motorsports, Formula 1, which saw a spy saga and two team mates taking chunks out of each other in the press. With the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo, the barren times for MotoGP gossip columnists look like coming to an end.
I am sure that many of you, like me, keep a close eye on the official MotoGP.com website. MotoGP.com is owned and run by Dorna, the organization which runs MotoGP, and contains a host of useful information, images, and videos. Sadly, in its current incarnation, it is also an absolute monstrosity, and a demonstration of the evils of Flash. It is hard to navigate, has limited archiving, difficult to link to, as well as a vast resource hog, slowing even the fastest modern computer to a crawl. Everything, but everything, is animated, making it tiring and irritating to read.
Fortunately, the days of MotoGP.com / Flash-induced psychosis are nearly over. Earlier this week, MotoGP.com launched a preview of the next generation of their website, which you can find at http://beta.motogp.com/. The good news is that it is much easier on the eye, uses larger, more pleasant fonts, and boasts a much improved layout. The site appears to be based on Drupal, the Open Source Content Management System being used ever more widely across the internet.
The only criticism of the new site is that it looks very much like a bunch of other Drupal / Web 2.0 sites, and has lost some distinctiveness. The fashion for a white background and lots of space between the text has been followed rather slavishly, giving the site a slightly disjointed feel. But this is very much a minor quibble, and it is vastly preferable to the bloated horror it replaces.
The change is presumably in response to a user survey MotoGP.com ran over the winter. It is excellent news that Dorna appears to be willing to listen to user feedback. Now all they need to do is to sort out the video streaming, and the glitches in live timing, and the site will be perfect.
A quick explanation of the word "beta" used in the title of this article. Beta is a term used by computer programmers to describe a program or website which has passed the stage in internal testing, and been released to a (small) number of external customers or users to test. The hope is that any problems found with the site or program will be reported, so that the problems can be fixed before being released to the general public. The term "beta" is from the second letter of the Greek alphabet, and follows alpha testing, which is testing within the company developing the software.
Some cynics, especially those who have spent any time working in the software industry, such as your humble scribe, refer to a third stage of testing, called gamma testing. Gamma testing is a euphemism for the release of software to the general public, in the full knowledge that the software is still full of bugs, under pressure from an artificial deadline, usually set by either the Marketing department, a sales executive's promise to a customer to close a deal, or by senior management to match the release cycles of the company's competitors.
The 2008 season has barely just begun, but already (and as usual) rumors and speculation has begun about what the 2009 calendar will look like. That we will be coming back to Losail in Qatar was already settled, with Dorna and the QMMF cementing a deal to run the Qatari MotoGP round until at least 2016. And as we suggested here yesterday, the Qatar round will be pushed back to the end of March at the earliest, to allow warmer temperatures, and so that the Jerez round can reclaim its place as the season opener.
But the Italian site MotoGrandPrix.it has more interesting speculation on the calendar. Sepang is also seriously considering switching to become a night race, for both MotoGP and Formula 1, something we also predicted. The track in Malaysia is expected to make an announcement about this at the Formula 1 Grand Prix, scheduled to run on March 23rd. The fact that an announcement is due to be made on the same weekend that Formula 1 is due to visit gives the strong suspicion that Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is behind this move, as he has pressured other venues into running night races to allow the races to hit key TV schedule targets in Europe.
Perhaps the best news, though, is that La Gazzetta dello Sport is saying that China could well be dropped from the MotoGP calendar in 2009. This will delight motorcycle racing fans, as the Shanghai circuit, despite its fantastic facilities, is completely unsuited to motorcycle racing, designed as it was for Formula 1. In its place, a race could be held in Hungary, at a new track to be build beside Lake Balaton. Alternatively, the race could also be held at the Pannonia Ring, a fantastic circuit built specifically for motorcycle racing near Sarvar in Hungary. The only problem with the Pannonia Ring are the facilities, which are not up to Grand Prix specification, something which could be rectified without too much investment.
For the moment, this is just speculation, and the situation will become clearer once there are some actual facts to discuss.
MotoGPMatters writer Rusty's fascinating article on Musco generated a fair amount of interest in the run-up to MotoGP's first ever race to be held at night. Now, Motorcycle News has jumped on the bandwagon, and has an interview with Musco Lighting vice-president Jeff Rogers, in which he discusses the various factors involved in lighting up the track at Losail, and the many difficulties they faced. An interesting read.
Although the first Grand Prix event ever to be run at night produced some spectacular images, MotoGP fans around the world were left with one question: Why were they running this thing at night?
A good question. A very good question indeed. Various explanations have been offered, official and otherwise. The official line was that by running the race at night, the riders, bikes and tires would be less troubled by the heat of the desert, which even this early in the year can be tremendous. The events of this weekend soon showed that to be entirely spurious, however, as the riders struggled with to keep warm in the chilly desert nights, and the tires had problems getting up to temperature as a cold and cooling track combined with the damp of evening to make finding any grip a difficult task.
The unofficial explanation was that running the race at night served three distinct purposes: The first was to beat Formula 1, who are due to run their own first night race at Singapore in September, an important public relations coup.
The second reason was to serve as a test bed for Sepang in Malaysia, as well as Shanghai and other circuits out in the Far East. There is plenty of interest in running these races in various parts of Asia, but with MotoGP's target market being in Europe, the standard 2pm local time start doesn't work for European TV schedules. Run these races at night, and they suddenly shift from a 4am start on Spanish and Italian TV to something more resembling the regular schedule in the early afternoon.
The third, and more important emotionally reason, was to allow the Qatar race to be moved until after the Jerez round, allowing the Spanish race to once again take its place as the season opener. For many Spanish fans, the Jerez MotoGP race is the start of both the MotoGP season and the motorcycling season in general, so having Jerez kick off the season once more will attract more interest in the Qatar round, as the Spaniards will have had their appetites whetted.
Now, the viewing figures from Spain and Italy are in, and the switch to a night race has been a big success, at least from the point of view of the TV. Italy recorded a small increase in viewers, up to 6,766,000 from 6,337,000 for last year's race, although the race's share declined to 27.54% from 38.24%, mainly due to it facing a much larger TV audience.
In Spain, the success of the early evening race has been much more marked: over 3 million viewers watched the races, with a peak of 4,293,000 watching Casey Stoner cross the finish line. In 2007, the season opener at Qatar only attracted 1,637,000 viewers. The MotoGP race also attracted 300,000 more viewers than the Spanish league soccer match between Real Zaragoza and Atletico Madrid.
The Spanish figures can be explained in part at the excitement generated by the entry of Jorge Lorenzo into the new class, as well as the belief that Dani Pedrosa stands an excellent chance of winning the title this year. One factor which may have influenced the figures is that the race was being shown right in the middle of the TV election specials, being screened to cover Spain's general election which was also shown on Sunday. It is not unthinkable that the race attracted viewers wishing to avoid coverage of the election, as the soccer summary shows also attracted increased viewer numbers.
|14||DE ANGELIS Alex||RSM||24||-118|
|16||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||18||-124|
|13||DE ANGELIS Alex||RSM||24||-98|
|16||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||18||-104|
|15||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||18||-79|
|16||DE ANGELIS Alex||RSM||11||-86|
|15||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||11||-70|
|16||DE ANGELIS Alex||RSM||7||-74|
|14||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||8||-53|
|15||DE ANGELIS Alex||RSM||7||-54|
|13||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||7||-34|
|17||DE ANGELIS Alex||RSM||2||-39|
|9||DE PUNIET Randy||FRA||7||-18|
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|8||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'56.482||0.633||0.026|
|10||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'56.547||0.698||0.011|
The qualifying session for the 2008 Qatar Grand Prix proved once again that running in the late evening is having more ramifications than anyone considered. The planning for this event has been, as ever, extraordinary, but like most well-planned events, there are always things which people overlooked. So far in Qatar, it's been the track temperatures.
The session started warm enough, with track temperatures up around 19° centigrade, and as the bikes rolled out of the pits and on to the track, it took just a few short laps for Casey Stoner to assert his authority over the MotoGP paddock once again, grabbing the fastest lap with his 2nd lap, then whittling it down to a respectable 1'55.426 over the next couple of laps. At this early stage in the proceedings, it was only Valentino Rossi who could follow Stoner's pace, putting in a lap just 3/10ths slower than the world champion.
But The Doctor wasn't the only Yamaha who was fast, 6 minutes later, Rossi was passed by his team mate Jorge Lorenzo, "Porfuera" getting to within a tenth of a second of Stoner. Then, more impressively, he did it again on the next lap, as part of a run of very fast laps, all in the 1'55 bracket, and well inside of lap record pace.
With the increase in the tire quotas, up to 18 fronts and 22 rears, from 14 fronts and 17 rears, it seemed a certainty that most riders would take an extra qualifier, giving them at least three runs at setting a qualifying time, rather than just the two, as had been the case last year. With extra tires to play with, the question was, when would the first qualifier come out?
The answer, when it came, was rather surprising. Less than 20 minutes into the session, James Toseland started lighting up the intermediate timing like a Christmas tree, as he smashed the fastest time for each sector, finally crossing the line to take provisional pole with a time nearly a second faster than Stoner's current fastest lap. Toseland and his pit crew had made the very shrewd decision to get a fast lap in early, as experience from the previous evening suggested that it got more difficult to set a fast time later on in the session, as the temperature cooled.
That Toseland's decision was a good one was soon confirmed by Casey Stoner, the champion following the British Yamaha man's lead on the next lap, flying through the 1st and 2nd sections right on Toseland's pace, only to lose out in the 3rd sector, eventually coming up 2/10ths short with his first qualifier.
A bigger surprise was perhaps that no one else thought to follow the two leaders' examples, the remainder of the grid stubbornly turning in laps on race tires, working on a setup for tomorrow's race. Only Toseland and Stoner were out trying to set pole times, until well into the last half hour of the session.
Stoner's next fast lap got him nowhere, end up in a low 1'55, nearly a second off where he needed to be for the pole, while Toseland put in yet another 1'54 lap.
By the 26 minute to go mark, the pack was starting to chase, as rider after rider started going out on their first qualifiers. The first man to make a dent on Toseland and Stoner was Jorge Lorenzo, coming up half a second short on JT's fast time. Then, a whole gaggle of qualifiers started to fly, with Randy de Puniet moving up to 5th, and Nicky Hayden taking the '07 RC212V up to 8th, but both men were still significantly off the pace.
For the bikes making the pace were the Yamahas. With 21 minutes to go, Jorge Lorenzo's 2nd qualifier worked out better, snatching the pole from Toseland with a very fast 1'54.219. But Lorenzo's moment of glory was to last just 45 seconds, as behind the Spanish 250 champion, Toseland was on another hot lap, this time taking back provisional pole with a 1'54.182, over 8/10ths faster than Valentino Rossi's pole record from last year.
From here on in, the action became ever more hectic. Casey Stoner put on the third of his qualifiers, but once again came up short, managing only a 1'55.015, and retaining 3rd spot. Then Valentino Rossi flew over the line, improving his time, but still only climbing to 5th spot on the grid, with a lot of people on fast laps behind him. Not least of whom was Colin Edwards, Rossi's former team mate climbing up into 3rd spot with a lap of 1'54.718.
As the clock ticked down, the temperature fell, and moisture started to form in the cool air, the increasingly adverse conditions did not prevent the hot laps from getting hotter. First Lorenzo improved his time, but not enough to snatch back pole, then Nicky Hayden climbed to 6th, while John Hopkins got up into 8th. With 3 minutes to go, Valentino Rossi made a final attempt to get onto the front row, which stranded on the cold track, leaving him 7th, with a 1'55.133, slower than his pole record from last year.
The seconds ticked away towards what looked like being a remarkable result. Could James Toseland, the man said to be too old to move to MotoGP, who'd left the safety of Honda for an adventure with a satellite Yamaha team, and what's more, the man who came from Superbikes, the "wrong" series to switch from, could he hold onto the pole in his very first race in the senior class? With most of the riders having chewed up their allocation of qualifiers, that pole was getting closer and closer, but another rookie was still out on a fast lap. Jorge Lorenzo, on the Fiat Yamaha, rounded section after section ahead of JT, and he crossed the line to take the pole and smash the pole record, setting an incredible lap of 1'53.927, over a second ahead of Rossi's record from last year. It wasn't to be JT who took pole on his first outing, instead it was Lorenzo, the man who was regarded as the great unknown, having one two 250 championships against dubious competition. A truly astounding achievement.
Toseland was forced to settle for 2nd, having already used up all his qualifiers, finishing ahead of his team mate Colin Edwards, making it an all-Yamaha, all-Michelin front row. Casey Stoner looked irritated, forced to start from 4th on the grid, with Randy de Puniet and Nicky Hayden behind him, both on the '07 Hondas.
Valentino Rossi heads up the third row of the grid, the slowest of the Yamahas, but ahead of Honda's Dani Pedrosa, who had elected to run the '08 bikes for the duration of the test. Andrea Dovizioso took 9th spot, while Kawasaki's John Hopkins, still suffering with a groin injury, completed the top 10.
The strangeness of the qualifying session illuminated a few important points for the race. First of all, the Michelin qualifiers are still significantly better than the Bridgestone Qs, with Stoner and Rossi the only Bridgestone runners to make it into the top 9. What is more relevant for Sunday's race, however, is that the Michelins are dealing with the cold conditions of race time better than the Bridgestones, with the Michelin runners scoring better results in the late sessions, while the Bridgestones fared better in the 7pm practices, when temperatures were warmer. The temperature differences are significant, and conditions are changing rapidly throughout the course of the session, with track temperatures dropping by 5+ ° centigrade over the course of an hour.
What this will mean for tomorrow is very hard to say. With the Michelins doing better in the cold, you'd be foolish not to point to one of the Michelin bikes as a potential winner, with Jorge Lorenzo the hot favorite on the pneumatic valve Yamaha. But Lorenzo isn't the only rider with good race pace: both Colin Edwards and, unsurprisingly, Casey Stoner were also running mid 1'55s in the cool of night.
How this will impact the already riven Yamaha garage, one can only guess. Valentino Rossi may be starting to have second thoughts about his switch to Bridgestones, but more likely, he'll put it down to the unusual conditions of a night race making the Qatar race fairly meaningless as a guide to the rest of the season. That knowledge won't make him any happier if his team mate finishes ahead of him tomorrow, or even worse, wins.
The Repsol Honda team must be wishing they had a wall down the middle of the garage, with the team now split between the two riders. The situation with only two '07 bikes can only have exacerbated the tension, and MotoGP wags are already comparing Dani Pedrosa to Max Biaggi, though "without any of Max's endearing qualities", to quote one commentator. Honda seems very much to have lost its way, and will need to score some points tomorrow to get its season underway. It's a small step from simmering resentment to open warfare, but a step which seems more likely every day.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|5||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'54.818||0.891||0.085|
|12||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'55.692||1.765||0.152|
|Fastest Lap:||Lap 21||Jorge LORENZO||1'53.927||170.003 Km/h|
|Circuit Record Lap:||2007||Casey STONER||1'56.528||166.208 Km/h|
|Circuit Best Lap:||2008||Jorge LORENZO||1'53.927||170.003 Km/h|
Once again it was Casey Stoner who was fastest during the early session of Free Practice, ahead of this evening's official qualifying session. And once again, it was Jorge Lorenzo who was second fastest, just as the Spaniard was last night. But behind Lorenzo was his team mate and seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi, who took nearly 8/10ths off his previous fastest lap time.
More importantly, it wasn't all the Stoner Show this session, with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo both holding top spot during the session, albeit briefly. Stoner is obviously fast right from the off, but others seem to be improving behind him.
Alex de Angelis was the other rookie to be quick, finishing in 4th, and giving Bridgestone 3 of the top 4 spots. The Bridgestone tires are quicker in the earlier part of the evening, when the track still has some heat left in it, but get worse in the depths of night. Which is unfortunate for the men on Japanese rubber, as that is when the race is due to be won.
With Andrea Dovizioso in 6th, the first factory Honda is Dani Pedrosa in 7th place, forced to see two satellite Hondas ahead of him. But Pedrosa is faring better than his team mate, as Hayden is languishing down in 15th spot, ahead of Marco Melandri, who must be wondering what he's doing wrong.
Qualifying begins at 11pm local time, when more will be revealed.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|4||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'55.659||0.473||0.061|
|9||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'56.371||1.185||0.263|
After Honda got their predictions of how to build a title-winning 800cc MotoGP bike so utterly wrong in 2007, expectations were raised that they would not make the same mistake again in 2008. If there was ever a year that you might expect HRC to come out with an unbeatable factory bike, surely this would be it.
Apparently, those expectations are also wide of the mark, for this afternoon, at Losail, Repsol Honda staff were spotted by our Italian counterparts GPOne.com unpacking the parts for 2007 RC212Vs from flight cases, and cleaning them ready for use. The initial diagnosis is that HRC will be testing the 2007 bikes during Friday's free practice sessions, pitting them up against the 2008 bikes to see which is faster.
Such a decision would be a remarkable implicit admission by HRC that their new bike is just not up to scratch yet. However, there are a few mitigating circumstances: the new factory RC212V suffered serious problems with grip during the night tests last week at Losail, as the cool track temperatures played havoc with traction. With no burning desert sun to warm the track, track temperature remains stubbornly around air temp, which is falling to around 10-15 degrees Centigrade out in the desert. The problem was highlighted by the fact that on race tires, the satellite Hondas - all basically running a version of the 2007bike which was victorious at Valencia - were significantly quicker than the factory Repsol bikes during the tests under the floodlights.
Although remarkable, the choice to revert to the previous year's bike would not be unique: in 1984, "Fast" Freddie Spencer elected not to run the brand new V4 Honda 500 at the German GP, choosing instead to go out on the older V3 design. Spencer claimed both the pole and the win that race, a fact which may help allay any qualms held by Nicky Hayden or Dani Pedrosa.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
The story has just been confirmed by Motorcycle News. MCN's Matthew Birt is saying that Hayden will definitely be running the 2007 RC212V, while Pedrosa is as yet undecided.