As the last of three back-to-back races, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone sees the teams and riders looking a little more tired and frazzled around the edges than when they first convened after the summer break at Indianapolis. Tempers are a little shorter, stubble is a little longer, and eyes are a little redder. Add to this the fact that Thursday at Silverstone also plays host to the Day of Champions, and the teams and riders have a lot more PR duties to do, going up to the stage to help sell some of the items up for auction to help Riders for Health, and you have a group of tired and irritable motorcycle racing followers all clumped together in a room.
Despite the weather, the overwhelming consensus is a positive feeling going into the weekend. The track is widely loved, every rider I spoke to singing the praises of the circuit. What's more, the forecast fine weather has also had a positive effect on the general mood. In the past, Silverstone has inspired dread among the paddock, as it has all too often been cold and very, very wet. Moving the race from June to late August/early September has been a masterstroke, however, as the chances of warm dry weather are vastly improved. Nicky Hayden even half apologized to the waiting British journalists for having given them a hard time about the British climate.
Three races on three consecutive weekends may be tiring, but it does allow for a series of extended discussions between rider managers and teams. The first of the expected deals was made official today - Scott Redding announced at Gresini, to ride a production Honda for 2014, and the factory prototype in 2015 - but more are clearly in the pipeline. Nicky Hayden said talks were still ongoing, and he didn't expect an announcement any time soon, but some of the top Moto2 rides vacated by the departing Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro could soon be filled. Unsurprisingly, the two top Moto2 teams of Marc VDS and Pons are chasing the top Moto3 talent, with interest in both Luis Salom and Maverick Viñales. The teams are also keeping a keen eye on Alex Rins, though the young Spaniard has consistently said his first aim is to stay in Moto3 for another year, to try to win a championship.
At the press conference, all eyes were on Marc Marquez, naturally enough, and the stunning debut the Spanish prodigy has made in the class. What would Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa be doing to try to stop Marquez? 'Try to win races and finish ahead of him,' Lorenzo said. When asked what his strategy to beat Marquez was, he reiterated it would be the same as at Brno: try to get a great start, break Marquez early, and get away. But Lorenzo looked resigned when answering the question, not holding out much hope that such a strategy would succeed. As far as he was concerned, the Yamaha could not compete with the Honda, suffering too much under the advantage the Honda has in braking.
Would changing his strategy, trying instead to follow the Hondas and then attack later in the race, give him a better chance? Not with this bike, Lorenzo said. It might leave him with more energy at the end of the race, but the Honda's superiority in braking left him few options to attack. The strong point of the Yamaha is the fast corner speed, but he needs a clear track ahead of him to exploit that, Lorenzo explained. Until they get a new bike, complete with seamless gearbox and a modified chassis to handle braking better, Lorenzo had to charge early and hope for the best. The look on his face did not hold out much hope, however.
Over at Ducati, while Nicky Hayden is yet to find a new ride, he had some comments on the state of the Ducati. One thing he regretted, Hayden told reporters, was the fact that the 'frameless' carbon fiber chassis was abandoned so quickly. The American had tested the 1000cc version of the bike at Jerez late in 2011, and had immediately been fast on it. Hayden claimed to have posted a 1'38.1 on that first version of the GP12 at Jerez, at a test where he had been drafted in to replace Valentino Rossi after the Italian broke his finger in Japan. That time is faster than anything Hayden has ever done at the Spanish circuit, and is actually inside the pole record for the track.
The carbon fiber frame 'had a lot of potential,' Hayden told reporters. It did not have anywhere near the understeer of the later aluminium frame, he said, but the choice for the aluminium had been made in his absence. His first-corner crash at Valencia - taken out by Alvaro Bautista - had seen him break a hand and ruled out of testing, leaving Valentino Rossi to decide, the Italian plumping for the aluminium frame over the carbon fiber frameless design. Hayden was frustrated that he had never been able to match the lap time he set on the carbon fiber bike since, and that he wished Ducati had pursued that avenue a little further. 'Ducati has had the most success when they went in their own way,' Hayden said. 'A Ducati is a Ducati, and it needs to be ridden in its own way.'
What was frustrating, Hayden explained, was the fact that Ducati had never brought the CF frame back to the track to be tested. They had brought a bunch of other parts, including stuff he had already rejected, Hayden explained. Yet the CF frameless design is one thing which Ducati had not brought to be tested again.
2013 Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso and 2014 Ducati man Cal Crutchlow were not interested in trying the carbon fiber frameless design, however. Dovizioso was downright dismissive: 'I don't think this is the future,' the Italian said. As for Crutchlow, he revealed he had already had extensive talks on the progress of Ducati's 2014 MotoGP project, and was optimistic without looking at the CF frame. He could see further down the road than the current riders, Crutchlow explained, as the only topic of conversation he had with Ducati was the 2014 season, while Dovizioso was largely focused on this year. Crutchlow is optimistic that Ducati will have something to help solve the problems of the bike, the Englishman said. For his sake, I, and millions of bike fans around the world, hope he is right.