Friday was a weird one. Normally, I'd be talking about who was fast (Pedrosa), who was not (Rossi), and the implications of the new chassis being used in MotoGP and Moto2, but instead, Friday at Motorland Aragon was all about transformers, UPSes, backup systems and the complex electronics that control them.
Power started going at around lunchtime, the lights and power in the media center cycling on and off continuously for a couple of minutes, before cutting out entirely. It immediately became clear that it was not just the media center, however, as teams came streaming out of garages both into pit lane and out of the rear for a communal gathering to try to figure out what had happened. Power came back after lunch for a short period, allowing the 125cc class to run their FP2 session, before going out again directly after that. There then followed a period of about an hour in which journalists wandered round looking quizzically at each other, while harried members of the Motorland Aragon staff rushed around trying to figure out what was going on.
It turned out to be a blown transformer. Once they figured that out, the backup systems which were in place kicked in and allowed the 125cc FP2 to be run, but the complex electronics that are required to run even something as apparently simple as providing power to all of the systems in the paddock had been befuddled by the blown main transformer, and the backup transformer started playing up as well. The track decided they simply could not risk anything going wrong, and not being able to communicate with the marshals posts around the track in the event of a serious accident. For the safety of the riders, they called everything off.
If it sounds like a tale of incompetence, that is a gross injustice to the organization of the circuit. The transformer blowing was a freak accident - it was operating at just 42% of maximum capacity, track staff said, and was nowhere near overheating - and they had everything in place to move to backup systems. They switched over to the backup transformer, and once that started showing strange readings, they decided to call everything off. A spare transformer - which the track had on standby in nearby Alcañiz - was immediately transported to the circuit, and switched for the defective one late on Friday night. On Saturday, everything should be back to normal, but even if it isn't the circuit has four separate backup generators on standby ready to shoulder the load. There will be a race here on Sunday.
Before then, there will be extended practice for the MotoGP and Moto2 class, each getting an extra half hour on Saturday morning to compensate for the loss of Friday afternoon. The strange thing is that this is the second time this season that a whole afternoon has been lost, the first being a session lost in Assen after a Moto2 bike spewed oil on the track after the rain - an eventuality that the Motorland Aragon circuit was prepared for, with a huge number of water tanks on standby, the circuit management having been at Assen this year when the session was canceled. It is a very strange season indeed.
It might even be some kind of omen, if you are that way inclined. The two occasions that sessions were canceled were at the two races where Valentino Rossi was using a brand new chassis for the very first time. Assen was the race where Rossi switched from the GP11 to the GP11.1, and Aragon was the race where he switched from the carbon fiber chassis to the new aluminium front section, tested previously at Mugello on the 2012 bike.
If you were the superstitious type (which Valentino Rossi most assuredly is), you might even begin to suspect that Rossi had run through his allotment of good luck. Rossi's luck is legendary, the Italian always walking away from crashes, always being able to pick the bike up after a crash and continue racing, rain falling at the most opportune times. Now, it looks as if his luck has turned: just when he needed a break, to get to run the new chassis back-to-back, the fates (or chance, or whatever it is you happen to believe influences these things) intervene, leaving Rossi stranded, and on the back foot again. He and his team have a whole heap of work to get through tomorrow, their hands forced by the random chance of the magic smoke escaping from a transformer at Aragon.
Rossi was a little miffed, as the new chassis seemed to be showing some improvement over the old. The bike seemed to be turning better, and was a little more agile, but the improvements in front end feel were very hard to judge, the bike hampered by a chronic lack of rear end grip, as the Bridgestone tires struggled in the heat. Yet Rossi was confident, more positive than he had been for a long while. Even Nicky Hayden commented on the reports after the Mugello test, saying that the test team had been happier than they had been all year.
Some mystery remains over exactly what has changed, however: yesterday, I wrote that the new chassis fits the existing engines, based on the pictures which had appeared on Twitter yesterday, but today, Nicky Hayden implied that the new chassis also requires modifications to the mounting points on the engines. That, in turn, requires a new engine with modified casings, and Hayden seemed to suggest that Valentino Rossi took just such a new engine at Misano, laying the groundwork for the new chassis which was to be debuted here at Aragon. This would leave Rossi with just a single engine capable of fitting the new chassis, to last for the remainder of the season. Rossi told reporters that he had the parts to have two bikes fitted with the new chassis, though he would say only that he would prefer to "concentrate on the new bike" rather than answering directly whether he would have two identical bikes to work with on Saturday. If there is a fog of racing which resembles the fog of war, there's a real pea-souper here at Aragon.
Whatever Rossi or Hayden had done, it had not helped their lap times. At the end of FP1, Hayden was half a second slower than he was a year ago in the same session. Rossi, too, was four tenths slower than Stoner had been on the GP10 at Aragon, both men complaining about the bumps. But the track conditions hadn't slowed either the Yamahas or the Hondas: Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo were two tenths faster than they were in 2010, while Casey Stoner was three tenths quicker than a year previously. The track, despite being a little dirty and a little bumpy, was basically fine.
It was Pedrosa who ended at the top of the pile on Friday, posting a string of hot laps towards the end of the session. The Repsol Honda rider sneaked past reigning champion Lorenzo, the Yamaha rider also setting outstanding times. Both men bested early leader Casey Stoner, but the Australian put the difference down to tires. Stoner had used only the soft tires, he said, preferring to save his hard tires for the race, after seeing just how badly the soft tires had been destroyed by the track.
Tires were once again a subject with the riders, with everyone complaining the track was tearing up the tires. The temperatures are much higher than they were last year, and the heat is taking its toll on the tires. The soft tires are destroyed after four or five laps, Stoner complained, while Lorenzo and Rossi complained that even the hard tires had a big drop off in performance in a similar space of time. One Bridgestone staff member was exasperated at the irony: after doing everything they could to appease the riders in the cold conditions which prevailed earlier this year, including introducing an extra soft tire to cope with the cold mornings, the weather had immediately ceased cooperating, intense heat prevailing at Indianapolis, Misano and Aragon. Whatever Bridgestone have done this year to meet the demands of the riders has been rendered irrelevant by events.
And that appears to be the story of this season. Never were the words of former British prime minister Harold Macmillan more applicable: when asked about the greatest challenge faced by a politician in his career, he replied "Events, my dear boy, events." He could even have been talking about MotoGP.