That was a chaotic weekend. Two-and-a-half days lost to rain, then a bizarre series of hold ups and incidents on the start of the MotoGP grid that ended up eventually going a long way to deciding the championship. Fortunately for the series, the MotoGP race was preceded by two scintillating support races, and then the MotoGP race itself saw two very popular podiums.
To start with the biggest issue, the start and then the restart of the MotoGP race. There was a lot of confusion and head-scratching over what was going on - the riders had never seen the flashing amber lights on the starting panels, for one - but when the dust settled, it looked like everything had been run almost by the numbers, despite the protests from Dani Pedrosa's camp.
The sequence events seems to have been this: After the first warm up lap, the riders lined up on the grid ready to go, but after the starting lights had been shown, Karel Abraham had a clutch problem and put his hand up to indicate that his bike was not working. Once that had happened, Race Direction had no option to call off the start. They ran this by the book: flashing yellow lights were displayed next to the red lights, and yellow flags were waved. There was as short an interval as possible, before the bikes set off for the second warm up lap, and race distance was reduced by a single lap.
The book that this is being run by is the FIM's Grand Prix Road Racing regulations, but it is a book that very few riders ever consult much. Hence their confusion over the flashing yellow lights: having a start delayed after the red lights have been lit is a vanishingly rare occurrence, delays are usually called well in advance, and riders put their hands up once they find their bike won't start after the lights have gone out. But some familiarity with the rules would have helped greatly on Sunday.
What happened after that looked chaotic, but really wasn't. The three minute procedure was announced, the IRTA staff whose job it is to apprise everyone on the grid of the situation rushing around ensuring the teams and riders knew what was going on. Then the one minute procedure started, and teams started to remove their tire warmers. That was what caused the problem for Dani Pedrosa, his front wheel locking up and his tire warmer getting jammed under the front wheel. Pedrosa's bike was wheeled off the grid, where the problem sorted itself out - Pedrosa said that the wheel unlocked itself once the bike was taken down off the paddock stands. Pedrosa's team were then informed by Race Direction that Pedrosa was to start the warm up lap from pit lane, and he was to start the race from the back of the grid.
But Pedrosa's team were confused, and pushed the Spaniard back out onto the grid. Race Direction faced a choice: send someone out to argue with Pedrosa and the team, probably causing even more delay, or let Pedrosa start the warm up lap from the grid, before ensuring that he started from the back of the grid. They chose the latter course of action; the infraction was slight, the important thing being where Pedrosa started the race from, not where he started the warm up lap from. As he returned to the grid, Pedrosa was sent to the rear of the grid, and started the race from the correct position.
Afterwards, Pedrosa launched a scathing attack on Race Direction, claiming that nobody knew what was going on or what procedure was being followed. Yet the evidence does not seem to be on Pedrosa's side. Pedrosa said that nobody knew whether they were in the three minute procedure or the one minute procedure, and that they didn't know how many laps were to be raced. Yet Cal Crutchlow was adamant that he and his team had been told by the many IRTA staff who patrol the grid exactly what was going on with the three minute and then one minute procedures, and that the number of laps to be raced was being displayed on the board over the start.
The confusion seems to have been in Pedrosa's team. Pedrosa said that different TVs were giving a different number of laps to be raced. But it is not the TVs, official or otherwise, which displays the number of laps, it is the board at the starting line. Pedrosa also discovered as he was halfway round the warm up lap that his pit lane speed limiter had been engaged by a mechanic. He referred to this as a 'mistake', but it seems to indicate that the mechanics actually knew their job, engaging the pit lane limiter because they knew Pedrosa was supposed to start the warm up lap from pit lane. Pushing Pedrosa back onto the grid was the real mistake, or perhaps it was allowing the front wheel to lock up somehow in the first place.
After the start, Pedrosa's luck took a turn for the worse, if that is even possible, Hector Barbera missing his braking point and wiping out Pedrosa's rear wheel. Even the chance of salvaging a few points was denied the Spaniard, and Pedrosa heads to Aragon 38 points behind Jorge Lorenzo. That Lorenzo should win in the same race that he was taken out was typical, Pedrosa said. "This has happened to me all my career."
Lorenzo's victory was flawless, or nearly so, as the Factory Yamaha man was forced to save a huge moment with his elbow on lap 4. Lorenzo lost nearly a second, but was soon back up to pace. This was rather to the annoyance of his crew, who had been trying to indicate to Lorenzo that he should take it easy, as Pedrosa was out. Lorenzo did not see, and the team could barely dare to look as he lapped in the low 1'34s for the first few laps.
The remaining podium spots were taken by two big favorites with the crowd. Alvaro Bautista getting third was more popular because he was riding a Gresini Honda, the bike he had inherited from Marco Simoncelli after the popular Italian's death. Seeing the white San Carlo livery on the podium at what would have been Simoncelli's home GP lifted the hearts of many.
But the second place man was the most popular of all. For once, Valentino Rossi had a very strong race on the Ducati. The revised swingarm and chassis allowed them to move the front end around more, giving more freedom in set up. But the question is whether the improvement is all down to the new bike, or rather down to the two days of testing Rossi had at Misano on this bike two weeks ago, aided by the fact that everyone else lost nearly all their set up time because of the rain that plagued all three free practice sessions, forcing them to enter the race with little track time at the Misano Circuit. No doubt the bike is better, but his rivals lack of set up time also had to be a factor.
The really good news for Ducati came with tire wear, however. So far during his career at Ducati, Rossi has suffered with a major tire drop off from about one-third distance. At Misano, Rossi could post consistent race times all the way to the end. When the tire started to slide, Rossi could still find grip, something that he has not had previously. The Italian will face a real test at Aragon, when they arrive at a tract where both Honda and Yamaha have already spent two days testing earlier in the month.
Misano also had two outstanding support races. But that will have to wait for another day...