2012 Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Tire Conspiracies, And Windy Tracks

The weather has been a cruel mistress at Silverstone this weekend, much as it has been every year MotoGP has paid a visit. The track is built around an airfield, and consequently sits on a plateau just enough above the surrounding area to catch any wind which may be about. On Saturday, that was a lot, the wind blowing hard and gusting harder all day, catching many a rider out, especially on the way into Brooklands. The wind also blew in occasional showers, though it blew them back out again just as fast, a small blessing on an incredibly difficult day.

Despite the conditions, three men braved the wind to take pole in each class, to varying levels of surprise. That Maverick Vinales should take pole in Moto3 is much as expected, Silverstone being the Spaniard's third pole position in a row. Though his advantage is relatively modest, there has been no one to mount a serious challenge to his supremacy all weekend, and if he gets a decent start he will be a very hard man to beat.

Pol Espargaro's Moto2 pole is hardly unexpected - the Spaniard is one of the main candidates for the title this year, and is looking particularly fearsome at Silverstone this weekend - yet it is his first ever pole in the class. A front row regular this season, things have really come together with the Pons team and the Kalex chassis, the bike performing exceptionally well in the windy conditions. Mostly, though, Espargaro's performance is down to the man himself: he has led every session at Silverstone so far, his advantage over his rivals increasing each time.

The big surprise came in MotoGP, Alvaro Bautista snatching his first ever pole in the premier class. Luck - and judgment - were certainly on Bautista's side, the San Carlo Gresini man timing his first fast run just right, the first light showers appearing shortly after he claimed the spot atop the timesheets. Though the rain may have hampered his rivals - Casey Stoner, in particular, was confident he could have gone a lot faster than he had, his crew finding a big improvement just before the rain came down - Bautista's time was of itself highly respectable, and came on top of strong performances throughout free practice.

The improvement, Bautista explained, was down to a major set up change the team had found, moving the weight further forward and modifying the Showa suspension (Gresini is the only team on the grid using Showa, the rest are all running with Ohlins), changing the front fork internals to improve response at the front. They had intended to test the changes at the test after Estoril, but conditions there caused that test to be canceled and they had to wait until Barcelona. The changes worked on Monday at Barcelona, so it seems reasonable to expect Bautista to be much closer to the front, perhaps battling it out with the Tech 3 Yamahas from now on. With a seat vacant at Repsol Honda, Bautista's timing is impeccable.

Elsewhere on the grid, things are not looking half as cheerful. Cal Crutchlow's run of ill luck at his home Grand Prix continues, the Englishman crashing heavily in the morning, badly banging his ankle up, though fortunately without breaking any bones. He was discharged from hospital and looks set to ride on Sunday, an improvement over last year, at least, when he was forced to miss the race with a broken collarbone. If he is allowed to start, as looks likely, he will have to start from the back of the grid, so a podium is out of the question. His main aim is to ride in front of his home fans, whatever the wisdom of such a decision.

Crutchlow was not the only rider to crash. A spate of riders either went down or ran into the gravel, with two spots being the main culprit. The first was on the way into Turn 6, Brooklands, where gusting crosswinds made it very difficult to get corner entry right there. Even when you thought you were inch-perfect, the wind would either pick you up and force you wide, or let off and make you fall into the corner, Jorge Lorenzo explained, that spot catching the worst of the wind at Silverstone.

The other trouble spot caught out both factory Ducatis, causing first Valentino Rossi and later Nicky Hayden to crash heavily, causing extensive damage to their Desmosedicis. The fact that both crashes were identical had the conspiracy theorists out in droves, wondering whether it was an electronics problem, or a tire problem, or something even more complex. Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa was convinced it was the tires, pointing the finger of blame squarely at the new construction Bridgestone which both factory Hondas despise so thoroughly. "You can see how many front-end crashes there were today," Pedrosa said, explaining that he believed the root cause of the crashes was because the tire was much less rigid, and the teams were being forced to run more air in it to provide the stability they had lost from moving to a softer construction.

Enquiries among other riders showed Pedrosa to be in a minority of one, however. Even Casey Stoner, while criticizing the new front Bridgestone and reiterating his exasperation at the way the tire was introduced, said that he didn't think the new tire was the cause of the crashes. The Ducati riders themselves put it down to something completely different. Nicky Hayden acknowledged that his crash had been a combination of pushing that little bit harder - the American had been fastest in the first three sections of the track, before crashing on his way into Vale - and the particularly difficult nature of that stretch of the track. For Valentino Rossi - Vale also crashed at Vale, a small but wry irony - the problem was the Ducati's continuing lack of front-end feel, combined with the bumps, dips and rises that for that section going into Vale.

According to both Rossi and Hayden, the main culprit was the nature of the track. Just as you start to brake there, both men explained, there was a slight dip followed by a rise, right at the point where you are making the first move to start tipping it in for the final chicane. What's more, Andrea Dovizioso had weighed in earlier, that part of the track is very slightly off-camber, meaning that there is less of the tire on the ground than you think there is. The combination of the front unweighting as it crested the slight rise and heavy braking had been what had caused his crash, Valentino Rossi explained, the new tires having nothing to do with it. It was easy to crash there, Dovizioso had explained earlier, as it was impossible to brake fully for that corner because of the bumps.

It really is only the factory Hondas who have the problem with the new tires, as everyone else is either extremely positive about them, or at the very worst, mildly indifferent. Polesitter Alvaro Bautista preferred the new tire, as it gave him better feedback, he said. Valentino Rossi denied they were using more pressure in the front to provide more support in the tire, as Pedrosa had claimed that everyone was being forced to do. Only Pedrosa and Stoner were doing that, in an attempt to provide some of the stability they had lost when the old construction had been scrapped. Though it is perhaps strange to switch to the new Bridgestone tire after five races, the decision had been taken much earlier, back in March after the IRTA test at Jerez. Logistical and production problems meant that limited quantities of the tire were available until now, making it impossible to do the switchover before the season began.

The change may not have been particularly well organized or well handled, but to lay the blame entirely at the door of Dorna or Bridgestone is neither fair nor accurate. The vast majority of the riders prefer the new spec tire, and only the factory Hondas are suffering with chatter from it. Honda's problems have more to do with Honda than with Bridgestone, the bike having chattered from the beginning, though the new tire has added more chatter to the front of the machine. Pedrosa and Stoner's campaign to gain sympathy for the injustice of Honda's situation keeps foundering on the fact that it really is just the factory Hondas that are suffering.

How that will affect the race remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the Yamahas should do well during tomorrow's race. Casey Stoner is certain to be up among the front runners, while Jorge Lorenzo is much closer to the front than he was at the end of the first day. The big question mark is just how well Ben Spies can do, the Texan slowly regaining his confidence in the bike as his team moves back towards a setting that he feels comfortable with. Spies looks strong, certainly, but his problem has been making too many costly mistakes on race day. A mistake-free race is the aim, to get his season back on track.

The Ducatis appear to be heading in opposite directions, Nicky Hayden improving while Valentino Rossi continues to struggle with a lack of front-end feel. Rossi's situation refuses steadfastly to improve, and one is forced to wonder just how long he can keep up his enthusiasm for a road so obviously bestrewn with major obstacles and setbacks. Very soon, the Italian will have to ask himself whether it is not time to give up on every being able to ride the Ducati. What he does then is the million dollar question, and one which more and more people are starting to ask.

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Comments

Both Ducatis crashing in the exact same way, in the same corner, well finally, just maybe, the folks at Ducati Corse will finally understand that their bike has a vague front end and they need to do whatever it takes to remedy the problem, even if that means dropping the L for a narrow(er) angle Vee.

Casey would be my pick for the win tomorrow. The new Bridgestone front isn't stopping him and he looked good in the QP. I think he would have been on pole if the rain hadn't started.

Once again the weather, in 2012, is the story of the weekend.

"Both Ducatis crashing in the exact same way, in the same corner, well finally, just maybe, the folks at Ducati Corse will finally understand that their bike has a vague front end and they need to do whatever it takes to remedy the problem"

You are so right! That is so not a coincidence!
Me thinks they're saying their making the bike to Rossi's taste but I bet it's still Preziozi who's calling the shots, there's a battle of two big Italian egos under the Bologna roof...

Also the fact that the Ducati is so good at the wet means the design has potential but something is wrong or inverted, once they find that parameter and reverse that, the bike will click, Vale said something like "The bike is faster in the wet right where it's slower in the dry"

That should ring some bells to the design team.

I found the MotoGP really interesting to see who could get their fast times in before the rain - if it would indeed come. I was concerned that Casey seemed to be leaving his run late as he tumbled down the qualifying order but I needn't have worried as he looks very strong for tomorrow. I'm rapt to see Spies on the front row but am a little concerned/skeptical from a couple of mistakes he made to run so fast. They just reminded me a bit of the blues he has made in the past couple of races that cost him dearly. Hopefully this is his turnaround race. And I was stoked to see Bautista clinch pole position. So good for him, his team and the series I think. Here's hoping it translates into a strong race finish too.

The Ducati crashes really shocked me. They were both so sudden and absolutely identical. Rossi's appeared particularly heavy as he appeared to face-plant into the tarmac but fortunately walked away ok and Hayden was looking the goods, riding so fast and set to lay down a claim for a possible front row start but it wasn't to be.

Here's hoping for an exciting race without the wind and rain causing the crashes and runoffs experienced from Friday and Saturday.

Alvaro Bautista gets the Pole @ Silverstone. Great – good on him – well done, Son!

Forget conditions etc & all other rationales & excuses as to who & why & how come & ifs, buts & maybe’s... Fact is, in the same conditions as everyone else - Bautista went quicker than anybody else. Like – there was no-one else “assisting” or on the bike with him. Agreed?

So – why oh why do the bike media & “official” MotoGP commentators, Harris & Moody go & denigrate, belittle & insult Bautista by saying things like, “He was on Simoncelli’s bike”?

Then we get stuff like Alvaro Bautista’s Pole - being “dedicated” to Marco Simoncelli. I didn’t see or hear this from Alvaro’s mouth – it came from Fausto Gresini - thus, also & in his own way, devaluing the bravery, talent & effort of his own rider. And there are plenty of others who seem to want to perpetuate this indulgent & hysterical wallow in last year’s grief.

Anyone really believe in “ghosts & spirits or the occult & witch doctors” - all that silly stuff? It is one thing to fondly respect & remember & honour someone who has passed-away – but this has become just sickening & silly.

Two points here: a good few years back, Oprah Winfrey completed a Full Marathon. The time was irrelevant - her personal challenge just to finish, overcome & achieve the 42.2 kilometre distance. A horde of negative naysayers immediately denigrated this - making all sorts of comments like, “Well – it’s easy for her, with her money & access to “personal trainers” etc & what was the big deal?” This obviously came from envious non-achievers - people who couldn’t run around their own block or challenge themselves past the Hamburger stand! And to start comparing a middle-aged, obese, African-American woman to the likes of sylph-like, young & uber-athletes & World’s Best rocket ships like Paula Radford or Greta Waitz et al was not only patently ridiculous – the criticism missed the entire point – no-one ran it for Winfrey & she did it all by herself - without jets or any other aids in her running shoes. So did Batista with his very first Pole...

Another fact to consider: Looking at 2 x GP tragedies & their aftermaths – Daijiro Kato’s record shows that Marco Simoncelli didn’t hold a candle to him - insofar as their respective records & therefore their future, albeit sadly truncated, potential shows – Kato’s 250cc record makes ‘Simo look almost “ordinary” & his brief Senior Class record very much the same & all without the negatives of being a serial wrecking ball for other riders...

After his fatal crash @ Suzuka in 2003 - the FIM retired Kato's number - 74 not being used by any rider since. The FIM also quite rightfully named him a Grand Prix "Legend".

But here’s a totally hypocritical peculiarity for you: - In 2006, the Misano Circuit honoured Kato, who lived part of the season in the area, by naming a new access road to the circuit “Via Daijiro Kato”. That circuit's offices are located on the road named in his memory.

So – ‘Super-Sic gets the ENTIRE circuit named after him in 2011-12 as a mark of respect - but a guy who Simoncelli, quite frankly, couldn’t tie the laces of the shoes of – Daijiro Kato – ONLY gets an access road there named after him. Really – there is no “justice or equity” – just shallow, media-confected & “nationalistic” nonsense!

Maybe it helps one’s post-mortem reputation, cachet or mana to have had big hair & be Italian? Over to you for your own thoughts, & opinions, OK?
Cheers

Ever since Bautista first threw his leg over a Gresini bike at Valencia (mind you, it was Aoyama's back then as well) I've been eternally annoyed by the constant "it's Simoncelli's bike" nonsense. It is not and it's never been "his". It's not even his crew either, it's the one Aoyama worked with last year.

Certainly, Álvaro had the chance to join the team because Marco was gone, but actually the team had two bikes without a rider, Pirro taking the second spot and now working on what used to be Marco's side of the garage. If someone was taking over his seat this year, it could be argued that it's the Italian, not the Spaniard.

As you said, the achievements of Álvaro are his and his team's alone. No ghost guiding him, no soul in his bike making it go faster. It's been his and his team's work and that should damn well get some respect. After last year's tragedy the whole team seemed to throw themselves into their work this season and push hard to support both Bautista and Pirro as good as they could to look forward again and this is their reward. I certainly cheered loudly when it was clear he got the pole. Very well deserved too, no matter the weather.

I'm all for honouring the dead and dedicating the pole to Marco is a nice touch, but I'm also slightly appalled by how distorted his memory had become in the media almost the moment he died. Comparing what I vividly remember from his time in 250cc and MotoGP (and how he was portrayed in the media back then) with what one can read about him now, it feels like two different people.

"Pedrosa and Stoner's campaign to gain sympathy for the injustice of Honda's situation keeps foundering on the fact that it really is just the factory Hondas that are suffering".

It may not seem important to most, but I bet it matters a hell of a lot to Honda, Casey and Dani. I still don't see why they can't let Honda run the original tyre. No matter how nice they try to make it sound... in the interests of safety etc, it still comes across as excuses and dodgy. Honda said their riders were safer on the original tyre but that seems to fall on deaf ears and after all, it makes for a better show if Honda are struggling.

"I still don't see why they can't let Honda run the original tyre."

That's pretty much the opposite of a single tire rule. Whether the rule is a good idea or not isn't the point, just that if they are going to have a single tire option for the series, then they have to stick with it. Also, allowing as few as 2 riders veto power over any tire changes would not really work.

now it's clear that the tires have had a different reaction in different teams, with Honda on the wrong end of the stick, if I were a psychotic that sees hallucinations I would see a conspiracy to handle the championship by the tires, i.e. providing information beforehand to i.e. one of the two giant companies , if my condition worsens I'd be seeing the tire company designing tires not to suit a specific bike(they know the bikes very well, don't they?)

Therefore we must look above the level of the parties involved and there must be a higher force that bonds them all together ,and handle the wheel of the whole series... ole! ;)