"It was an up-and-down day," Ben Spies said after practice on Friday, and truly, he spoke for a large part of the paddock. It started with the weather: the overnight rain continued for the better part of the morning, leaving the track soaking during FP1. The sun came out at lunchtime, quickly drying out the track, helped by the strong winds buffeting the circuit. The dry track helped, the wind certainly didn't. "That's what happens when you build a circuit on an airfield," Cal Crutchlow commented curtly, after complaining about being blown around by the gusting wind in the afternoon.
The up-and-down nature of the day was illustrated most neatly by Valentino Rossi. The Italian topped the timesheets in the morning when the track was soaking - the first time he has done so since warm up in Assen last year, and that was in a torrential downpour too - then ended the afternoon session in 11th, and last of the factory prototypes. Rossi had no real explanation for the paradox, saying only "the places we are very fast in the wet are the same places we are very slow in the dry." He was losing six tenths in the space of just 500 meters compared to Nicky Hayden, Rossi said, putting the difficulty down in part to still having to learn the track. Silverstone is a very technical circuit, the Italian explained, summing it up as "very long, very wide and very fast." The problem is the number of blind corners, Rossi said, where you have to brake from memorized points and turn in long before you can see where the track is going. But 11th was not an entirely accurate reflection of where they felt they were, he added, saying that the brief shower of rain that fell in the middle of FP2 meant they had not had time to try a final setting which he and the team believed would make a major improvement. Nicky Hayden had tried the same setting in the afternoon, and ended the dry session in 4th.
The encouraging news for Hayden was not so much his position, as the gap to the fastest man of FP2, Casey Stoner. Hayden was just half a second off the pace of the Repsol Honda man, and though he may have lost his position if the Yamahas had not struggled so badly in the afternoon, the gap is very acceptable. The American and his team had been playing around with the steering head, moving the offset and the steering head. This had worked out well, and it was this modification which Rossi had not had a chance to test.
Best of the Yamahas was Ben Spies, the Texan doing very well after a crash in the wet in the morning. Ironically, Spies' success is a reversal of his fortunes so far this season, the Texan often struggling while the other Yamahas blitz the top of the timesheets. At Silverstone on Friday, it was the turn of the Monster Tech 3 bikes and Jorge Lorenzo to have problems, while Spies ran a consistently fast pace in the dry. Spies merely said he felt the team were working pretty well, but Cal Crutchlow offered a plausible explanation. Spies' style and setup were very different from the rest of the Yamaha riders, Crutchlow suggested, meaning that he could benefit while the rest struggled.
Each Yamaha rider was struggling in his own way, however. For Cal Crutchlow, the problem was in part the wind, but mostly, it was about getting the bike stopped. For Jorge Lorenzo, the issue was one of rear traction, and getting the electronics to work. Andrea Dovizioso's main problem was controlling the bike with the wind. Despite the problems, the gap to Stoner was small: Crutchlow was slowest, just under eight tenths off the time of the Australian, while Dovizioso was two thirds of a second off Stoner's pace. A little improvement would suffice to get them much closer to Stoner, bringing a front-row start well into reach.
As for Casey Stoner, his main problem was with the track, rather than anything else. His team had solved most of the chatter issues the bike had been having, the Australian saying they needed just one more dry session to make it go away completely - at least at the rear. The track he was less complimentary about: the new repaved section - the whole section from The Loop through Village and Luffield - was very bumpy, despite having been resurfaced. The bumps were upsetting braking, Stoner said, making it very hard to ride. Stoner's ability to sense the smallest changes on the bike and track may be getting in his way here, as the consensus of the other riders was generally that the new asphalt was an improvement. Yes there were still bumps there, the riders said - "It is not perfect," as Valentino Rossi put it - but it was definitely better than last year. The track surface had more grip, and that was the most important thing.
Whether the things the teams learned will be of any use for the rest of the weekend remains to be seen. The weather appears to be improving, and while there should be some rain again on Saturday, the race on Sunday looks like being run in the dry. The wind is set to continue again on Saturday, though, making controlling the bike and keeping the front wheel down an added problem. But come Sunday, the track could well be dry and the wind should have died down considerably. That will ruin Valentino Rossi's best chance of another podium, Rossi admitted, but more dry track time will help them work on the bike. Solutions should be found at Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa should also be closer to the front. Strange days indeed, a wet and windy Friday at Silverstone, but normality may yet return.