After visiting three Honda tracks in a row, MotoGP finally heads back to a Yamaha track. Brno is fast, flowing, with a multitude of left-right and right-left combinations which favor the agility and high corner speed of the Yamaha over the more stop-and-go Honda tracks. Here, it is the Yamaha's turn to shine.
Well, that was the theory. At the end of the first day of practice, it's the Honda of Stefan Bradl on top of the pile, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow. That's Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha. So much for Yamaha domination. Then again, with just three tenths of a second separating Bradl in first from Crutchlow in sixth, Brno is hardly seeing the Hondas dominate either. There is very little to choose between any of them.
So how do you separate the leaders? It's hard to do. All six men are posting consistent runs of mid to high 1'56s, the only exceptions being Stefan Bradl, who only upped his pace at the end of FP2, and Dani Pedrosa, who had opted to go for shorter runs. Pedrosa was in more pain than expected, he said on Friday, and that had made it difficult to ride. He had not had much pain the previous couple of days, but back on the bike less than a week after the previous GP at Indianapolis and his collarbone was more painful than he had hoped. It didn't slow him at Indy, though, so he should be just as fast as at Brno.
Jorge Lorenzo's collarbone appears to be holding up much better. The Spaniard reported no pain from his broken and plated collarbone, and judging by the fact that he ran basically half race distance in FP2 at race pace, it did not slow him up.
Teammate Valentino Rossi was also happy, the good feeling with the bike having returned, after gone missing in Indianapolis. They improved the set up in the afternoon, playing with weight distribution, bike length and height, and found a clear improvement. Rossi said he could release the brake earlier and carry more corner speed, the key to going fast at Brno.
Cal Crutchlow's experience was the opposite, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man and his team had run through four completely different set ups in pursuit of a better feeling, but none had been a particular set up. Crutchlow is the victim of his own pleading for the new fuel tank, which improves the feeling of the bike at the beginning of the race when the tank is full. He now has the new tank, but he and his team have not had the time to test it, trying to figure out how to get the best out of the bike from the start of the race. Doing that on a race weekend is far from ideal, and is proving to be a struggle. Making things worse is the fact that no matter what they do to the bike, Crutchlow is still clocking the same lap time. 'To run three different bikes on completely different settings and do the same lap times every time is good but not when you have to make a decision,' Crutchlow said.
The fact that the Hondas and Yamahas are so close raises the question of whether there are any Yamaha tracks left at all. Jorge Lorenzo certainly doesn't think so. 'For me, I didn't see any clear Yamaha tracks at this moment,' Lorenzo told reporters. ' I would like to see some, but we have to work to find in the future some Yamaha tracks. But now it's difficult to find.' While Yamaha still rule the world of corner speed, Honda have moved the game along.
Where is the Honda better than Yamaha? It was a question asked of all of the Yamaha men at Brno on Friday, as well as of Marc Marquez. The consensus was that Yamaha still ruled in corner speed, and could even hold its own in acceleration nowadays, but that Honda's strongest point was stability in braking. The Hondas could brake later and still remain stable under braking, while the Yamahas brake earlier, but release the brake earlier carrying more corner speed. The Yamaha also turns better, making it easier to pick a line, though that was balanced by the fact that you can spin the Honda's rear wheel and still get drive, something the Yamaha simply will not let you do.
In the words of Marquez, 'In edge grip and the middle of the corner, Yamaha is stronger than us but we need to be focused on the brake point and corner exit, because it's where we are stronger.' That is bad news for Yamaha, as the strategy they have chosen to follow is clearly the fastest way around the track. The trouble is, it's only the fastest way around the track when the track is clear and there is no one there with you. When you have a Honda behind you, you have two choices: brake later into the corner, lose too much corner speed, then get murdered on acceleration out of the corner; or brake earlier, watch the Hondas sail past on the brakes and get their bike stopped, ruining your fast line and forcing you to brake and lose too much corner speed, and then get murdered on acceleration out of the corner.
What Yamaha need is a new chassis to make the bike more stable on the brakes. That, at least, was the opinion of Valentino Rossi. The braking issue could not be fixed with electronics alone, it needed some help to be able to brake later into corners while still maintaining corner speed. According to Cal Crutchlow, the Honda was also helped by the fact that they use more engine braking helping to slow the bike up. The Yamaha enters the corner more like a two stroke, smooth, wheels in line, carrying corner speed like a 250. The Honda is a traditional four stroke, using the engine to help get the bike stopped.
Two more things worthy of note at Brno, outside of the question of Honda versus Yamaha. The first was the performance of Martin Bauer, the Austrian wild card riding a Suter BMW at Brno. While most CRT wild cards in MotoGP have cruised around at the back of the pack, finding it hard to compete with the regulars. Like those others, Bauer has had a test prior to joining the fray, but is close to the times of Karel Abraham and Michael Laverty, and ahead of Bryan Staring and Lukas Pesek. Bauer certainly won't win the race on Sunday, and he won't be fastest CRT either, but it is good to see an independent wild card rider come in and add to the spectacle, rather than just bring up the rear.
The other item worthy of note was the appearance of a 'funny front end' in Moto2, something which many had hoped the class would help stimulate. French wildcard rider Lucas Mahias is riding the Transfiormers Moto2 machine in the Promoto Sport team at Brno, the bike using a variation of the Hossack fork first developed by Claude Fior. The Transfiormer bike uses a modified version of the original Fior front end. The benefit of such a set up is the separation of the braking forces from suspension, allowing suspension movement to continue under braking. With a conventional telescopic fork, the first thing that happens when you slam on the brakes is that you use up all, or nearly all of the suspension travel in the front forks. In this set up, the suspension doesn't dip as hard.
So far, Mahias is doing reasonably well on the bike, though he is very much trundling around at the rear. The Frenchman finished 32 of 34 in FP1, and 31st in FP2. Clearly, this is an idea which needs a lot of work and development if it is to reveal its potential. But at least someone is actually trying, for a change. Moto2 was hoped to be a hotbed of innovation; instead it turned into the same fearful nest of conservative thinking. It's nice to see something radically different on the grid.