2012 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Soft And Hard Fronts, Gambling On Tires, And Changes To Qualifying

The weather at Aragon is a fickle thing. The weather forecasters had predicted rain all day, but the rain lifted during the morning and stopped falling completely before lunchtime, leaving only threatening skies looming over the track like a slate-grey cloak. The track dried surprisingly quickly, the Moto3 riders going out on rain tires and with a wet set up once pit lane opened for the first of the three qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon, only to return straight away for slicks and stiffer springs front and rear, the dry line appearing on the track now wide enough to push very hard.

It stayed dry for Moto3, MotoGP and Moto2, more or less, but there is more to going fast than just having a dry track. It was cold and overcast, and the chilly track temps caught a lot of riders out, especially on the finicky Bridgestone tires which, while vastly improved, still give problems in very cold conditions. The combination of the track temperature, a stiff breeze and the lack of right handers mean that the right side of the tire soon loses temperature, and the few right handers there are at Aragon are not turns which you spend braking into, loading the tire and generating heat, Andrea Dovizioso explained.

That explained the plethora of crashes which plagued MotoGP and Moto2 especially. Turn 2 was one favorite spot to go down, the other being turn 13. What both have in common is that the are the first right handers after the bikes have just spent long periods of time on the left-hand side of the tire. The list of riders that went down is long, and includes both factory Ducati riders, Dani Pedrosa and Yonny Hernandez. All crashed due to the same cause: a cold right-hand side of the tire.

Tire choice tomorrow will be crucial, and all eyes will be on the thermometers. If track temperatures are the same as they were on Saturday, then most riders - especially Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo - will run the softer front tire, as advised by Bridgestone. Fitting the hard front and crashing out while trying to get it up to temperature is just too big a risk to take.

Riders with less to lose will take that gamble: the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha men have both said they would prefer to run the hard front, as that tire proves the extra stability they need under braking while leaned over. Andrea Dovizioso was "about 80%" certain to run the harder front, while Cal Crutchlow was prepared to risk it, in part due to his experience earlier in the year. "In Jerez when we were all advised to run the soft, I ran the hard and I was a second and a half away from the winner," Crutchlow explained. "That's the best any satellite rider has been all year." Crutchlow's plan, he explained, is to try to stick with Lorenzo and Pedrosa in the early laps, and then hope to still be close at the end.

With dry weather, and more importantly, some sunshine to warm the track, the hard front will become an option for those prepared to take the risk. With all of their set up data gained on the soft tire, most riders, and especially the front men, will be sticking with the soft and dealing with the consequences.

Those front men will almost certainly once again be Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. There is nothing to separate the two, and picking a winner is anyone's guess. Hopes are high for another thriller like Brno, but with so little track time and so little data to go on, whether this will materialize or not is anyone's guess. If both Dovizioso and Crutchlow can get near to the two title contenders, the race might even get more interesting at the front. "I think you will see more battles than normal," Dovizioso told reporters on Saturday.

If the Monster Tech 3 men do manage to stick with Pedrosa and Lorenzo, then Yamaha will be faced with a dilemma. Jorge Lorenzo's 38 point lead looks pretty comfortable at the moment, and the factory Yamaha man can afford to lose 5 points every race to Pedrosa. But if Dovizioso and Crutchlow intervene, then his loss of points could go from 5 points to 12, cutting his advantage over Pedrosa to just 26 points. That should theoretically be enough over the final four races, but it is a very long way from being comfortable.

Under ordinary circumstances, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha men can be relied on to do the right thing by Jorge Lorenzo. But with Andrea Dovizioso departing for Ducati at the end of the season and Cal Crutchlow badly wanting to prove that he should be on a factory bike, the odds are tipping against the unspoken assumption that the Monster Tech 3 boys will help the factory Yamaha out. Given the level of both Pedrosa and Lorenzo, though, just sticking with them will be demanding enough.

The question is whether Ben Spies will be able to join the fun, and indeed whether Stefan Bradl will tag along for the ride as well. After a solid result in Misano, where he started a little too conservatively, but finished a race without incident or making a mistake for the first time in what seems like forever, Spies is gunning for a little bit more. As for Bradl, the German has been extremely impressive in his debut year on the LCR Honda, gradually gaining speed as the season has progressed. Bradl has benefited from the extra test here a month ago, and is feeling supremely comfortable on the bike. Though he qualified six tenths off the pace of Pedrosa, he could yet pull out a surprise at Aragon.

As for the Ducatis, the test at Aragon is the biggest influence on their performance. "It is the opposite of Misano," Valentino Rossi said, where he had got an outstanding podium at a track he had tested at two weeks' previously, after a weekend where much of the practice was lost to rain. At Aragon, where Yamaha and Honda tested but Ducati did not, the lack of track time was hurting Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden, while Yamaha and Honda had some data to fall back on. Not that such data was necessarily all that useful, Johnny Rea warned, pointing out that temperatures were at least 20° centigrade warmer when they tested here.

The biggest problem was the lack of data with the new chassis. Valentino Rossi was most confident, believing that with a few tweaks in the morning warm up to improve traction and acceleration, he should be much closer to the front. But with so little time spent in the dry, "it is difficult to understand my rhythm and the rhythm of the guys around me," Rossi explained.

The new chassis posed an even bigger challenge for Nicky Hayden. His first experience with the frame had been at the test on Monday after Misano, where had put in just a few laps to compare the old and the new chassis, before the pain in his broken hand had caused him to stop. Though the feeling with the new frame had been better at Misano, at Aragon, he felt no such benefit, Hayden said. The bike was not turning as he wanted once he left off the brake in the corners, Hayden said, and the front of the bike was probably a little too stiff. That was mainly due to a lack of set up time, however, with the rain having meant that Hayden had not had a chance to follow his original plan of testing the old and the new chassis against each other once again. The solution is simple, but not available to the American and his team: "We just need time to set it up," Hayden said.

After qualifying, it emerged that Dorna is studying proposals to change the qualifying practice. Losing qualifying tires and reducing free practice from 1 hour to 45 minutes meant that a large part of the 1 hour MotoGP qualifying practice was also devoted to working on set up. Qualifying only really gets interesting in the final 20 minutes or so, once the riders start to push for a fast lap. With the whole hour-long session currently televised, more excitement was needed during qualifying, both for the TV audiences and for the fans who come to the track.

Several different proposals are being studied, the schools of thought being divided into some form of knock-out format, such as employed by Formula One or World Superbikes, or a divided qualifying practice run under the current rules. Though the knock-out format has many advantages, there are concerns in the paddock that it would be seen as copying WSBK. So the idea of splitting qualifying into two separate sessions, a 30-minute free practice 4 session and a 15-minute qualifying dash, with a 15-minute break in the middle, looks to be gaining the most traction, according to Jorge Lorenzo. The proposal at the moment is only to introduce the changes for the MotoGP class, though the change could be made as early as next season.

Whether a change to the qualifying procedure would change the outcome is extremely doubtful. But having a relatively minor change would greatly benefit the excitement. The reintroduction of super-soft qualifying tires is simply not an option, simply because of the extra costs involved. However much the fans would like to see it.

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Comments

It decides the grid just fine but it's hardly entertaining which is what MotoGP needs in order to pay the bills. Surely there's a compromise to be had.

Then change it. If the riders & teams are already using the first half hour as a final practice & set up session then make it so. Tiresome to listen to the commentators talk about their breakfast & travel accommodations for most of QP only for the real event to get under way in the last 10 minutes. Proposed change gives teams what they want in a FP under exact conditions of QP as FP1,2, & 3 may not be. This also turns QP into more of a shootout from pit exit.

Well look here, after pushing Ducati into wholesale chassis changes over the past two years, Mr Rossi has managed to march the red bikes ever further backwards.

In 2010, on the carbon-fibre bike many 'experts' claimed was a disaster, Casey Stoner put it on pole at Aragon with a lap of 1m 48.942s. This was on a track he had never seen until first practice that year.

But, accoriing to the 'experts', Casey Stoner is a whining, useless Aussie.

Yet, Mr Rossi, after so many chassis changes we've lost count, backs the Ducati down to 8th on the grid with a lap time of 1m 50.949s. Is this is the way an Italian measures progress - in two years he has taken the Ducati more than two seconds per lap BACKWARDS!

And people have the nerve to criticise Ben Spies.

Hang your heads in shame.

Aragon MotoGP qualifiying

2010
1st 27 Casey STONER AUS Ducati Team Ducati 324.5 1'48.942

2012
8th 46 Valentino ROSSI ITA Ducati Team Ducati 336.1 1'50.949 1.545 / 0.539

There's a new book coming: "If only I had bothered to try!"

Unless the conditions remain the same. We have just read how cold conditions are at Aragon which results in slower laptimes.

I personally love the Sperpole format, it really allows the audience to focus on a rider trying to string a lap together at 100% commitment.. And with riders like Casey Stoner that would be a sight to behold need. The pressure and tension of that single lap is beautiful, and the other great thing is how it mixes things up occasionally. The one lap format means a mistake can send a front runner down the grid order, creating interesting race scenarios. Of course mixed weather can hamper riders depending when it hits but if it's unavoidable that's just he luck of the draw, again it at least shakes up theory abut.

But they need to change something else, not only QP. There was a time in F1 when qualifying was more exciting than the real race!!!

This one is indeed getting boring and something should be done. Copying for better is good.

I fail to understand what the new QP format would change. As it currently stands, teams use the first ~45 minutes of QP to get extra setup in. Then they come in, swap tires, and duke it out for the last 15 minutes.

New format: First 30 minutes are more setup time, riders take 15, then they put on the softs and duke it out for the last minutes.

So the practical difference between these two formats is a mandatory 15 minute break? And?... I don't understand why some here think it's a great thing that they'll get yet another 15 minutes of on-track viewing time taken away from them next season.

So is Dorna only going to televise the last 15 minutes, then? Or are TV/online viewers just going to be sitting there watching commercials for 15 minutes in the middle of QP while the teams take their break? And this is better how?

Here's a tip: If the first 45 minutes of QP bore you, just don't start watching until the last 15 minutes!

I understand the qulaifying issues, but as stated above you can just fast forward or put up some shelves whilst the stuff that doesn't interest you/you don't have the time for happens. I find the commentators interesting, and they have time for some discussion about what is happening amongst teams and riders etc. The first 10 and last 10 minutes suffice if time is tight for me.
IMO WSB superpole has become a confusing/unfair performance that does not allow a rider to work on set up and then hit us with that banzai lap that is so thrilling to watch. Top riders/team disappearing due to a hiccup or a tyre gamble does not help the show.
Qualifiers? Inters? Why on earth would anyone want to spend money on something that makes for/assists a great spectacle? This is business. Spectators just pay to watch whatever, why trouble yourself? As the saying goes, 'life would be so much easier if those darn customers would just let us get on with things'.....
F1 has enlivened the show by engineering tyres that provide opportunities for drivers to run faster/do fewer stops to suit. I'm not a huge fan of races being won in the pits but MGP should look to the attitude - making it attractive.
At the moment what I can only assume to be a cosy relationship between BS and Dorna (and Marelli if they are not careful) is increasing safety concerns, ruining cool/damp practice sessions, and now taking the fun factor out.
F1 seems to tell their suppliers what they want, Dorna seem to say 'what can you give us for 500 Euros?'. I know that the MSMA etc makes this more complex than it seems but WE pay for this and it was 'the professionals' that designed this structure, telling us they knew what they doing.
It could be that golf will get more exciting/satisfying to watch.
For me the BBC/F1 made the boring F1 years watchable by introducing tech talks etc that helped fans understand what was going on technology wise. If MGP continues to keep all that hidden in the pit box then viewers will only be more inclined to drift away when they don't understand why the races are processional. When you understand you can forgive.

TV coverage appears to on the line in the article's proposal by DORNA. I'm wondering whether in current arrangements of competitors that it's a better idea to give the CRT's a 15 or 20 mins first QP, a 10min break, then the prototypes the same time after that. This way, CRT's are both given a highlight/spotlight in qualy which helps advertise their efforts, tv coverage could still remain mostly intact (local commentary fills the break, and you don't need a hell of a lot of time on that to review the session), plus they get to post a (very) 'provisional pole' from much more matched competition. It is unfortunately a little devisive for the CRT's but if we have to have them in the comp, then spotlighting them needs to occur also. However, bringing everything back to an equal formula (all prototypes, all CRT's all whatever the rules allow), the session should be reduced to a maximum of 25mins, with opportunity to extend that out to 40min in wet weather. Cutting it down to 15mins for all would create a lot more havoc on track - we already see how many times the front runners have to deal with CRT's or in-lappers now that cause aborted runs. You need space on track and you need a timeslot on track that 15mins wont provide for 21 odd bikes.