2013 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Nicky Hayden Issues A Retraction, Some Intimidation, And Pedrosa Cheers The Media
The media duties are one of the more difficult parts of a MotoGP rider's job. Every day they spend at a racetrack, they have to spend 10 to 15 minutes answering a barrage of questions from the assembled press. The questions range from stating the obvious, to inane ramblings, to blatant provocation chasing a printable quote, and even, on the odd very rare occasion, to sensible questions provoking subtle and thoughtful answers. In terms of time, the scope of the questions can range from what happened five minutes ago to events of five or ten years ago.
So it is hardly surprising that from time to time, the facts of relatively ancient history get confused. Such was the case at Silverstone, when on Thursday, Nicky Hayden said he would have liked to test the carbon fiber frame he tried at Jerez back in late 2011. On Friday, Hayden made a retraction, or a clarification, or call it what you will. He explained that what he had actually tested was the aluminium monocoque frame which was the intermediate chassis between the old carbon fiber frame and the aluminium perimeter beam chassis of which the current bike is an iteration. He had not, he said, called for a return to the carbon fiber frame, he had merely stated he would have liked to give that aluminium frameless front chassis one more try, but he was thwarted when he broke his hand in a first-corner crash with Alvaro Bautista at Valencia, and was forced to miss the test.
It is understandable that Hayden was a little confused over what he had been testing. He had been thrown a question asking about developments he had liked in the period he had been with Ducati, and had quickly run back through his memories to see what had stuck out. The test at Jerez in 2011 had been one such moment, but as he had had three different bikes to test on that day, it was easy to confuse which chassis he had been riding at a particular moment. The other thing Hayden had been confused about was the time: it was not a 1'38.1 he had posted at the test, but a 1'39.1. A 1'38.1 would have been sensational, just under the time set by Jorge Lorenzo back in 2008, set on the super-sticky qualifying tires. A 1'39.1 is still outstanding - good enough for 4th on the grid at this year's race, and half a second quicker than Hayden had gone during qualifying in 2013 - but a much more realistic time, and consequently, more credible.
Human memory is a fragile thing, and we remember things more as a narrative than as the series of isolated events they usually are. When Nicky Hayden had told reporters that he felt that Ducati should try to do something the Ducati way, and he would have liked to have tested the carbon fiber frame again, he was telling the truth, though the facts involved were incorrect. It was a different chassis he would have liked to test again, but his regret was sincere.
Is the Ducati way - pursuing alternative solutions to the problems racing poses - the best way to compete? On Friday, Hayden was less sure. Ducati's competitors had had a lot of success with an aluminium twin spar frame, he said, which would suggest that is the way to go. Especially, he explained, if MotoGP continues to use a spec tire, which forces everyone down the same design path. While Hayden clearly had his chassis confused when first asked the question, what is a little odd is that he appears to have altered his stance on innovation and the Ducati way. What changed between Thursday and Friday is unclear, but his statements on the two days appear to be difficult to reconcile.
From testing many months ago to racing in the here and now. And it doesn't get any more here and now than a couple of attempts at pure intimidation. In the Moto2 class, it was Scott Redding attempting to mess with Pol Espargaro, while in MotoGP, Jorge Lorenzo set out to strike some fear into his opponents. Redding's attempts were the most blatant, but were nonetheless successful for all their lack of subtlety. Espargaro posted the fastest lap in the morning, only to be bested by Redding at the end. The Spaniard was quicker than Redding in the afternoon, only to have Redding pip him at the post - despite the fact that it was only for 5th place, not first - very late in the session.
Blatant or not, Redding's tactics worked. At the end of FP2, Pol Espargaro was seen riding around on the cool down lap shaking his head and slamming his fist into his tank. They may not award any points for what you do on Friday, but with the right approach, you can lay a few away for Sunday. Redding is playing the rivalry as hard as he can in 2013, turning the Moto2 title race into an intriguing mental battle, as well as straight fight on the track.
Jorge Lorenzo's attempt to seize the initiative was not quite as brutal, but was still plain for all to see. After matching the pace of Marc Marquez in the morning, in the afternoon, Lorenzo came out of the garage all guns blazing, setting a scorching pace on just his second flying lap. He ended the day as the fastest man - and having lapped under the race lap record - and having stamped his authority on proceedings.
Lorenzo issued a series of denials that he was thinking about the title, or trying to break the momentum of Marc Marquez, saying only that he was thinking of trying to win, nothing more. But he added 'we have to try to win this race. If we win it, the championship is a little bit less impossible. If we don't win, the championship is every time more impossible.' That sounds exactly like a recipe for trying to break the momentum of Marc Marquez.
Lorenzo's pace impressed Cal Crutchlow, for certain. 'I could not believe his lap time, or why he bothered doing it. There was no need for it, to be honest.' Crutchlow went on to sing Lorenzo's praises, and explain why he thought the factory Yamaha man had pulled out such a blistering lap. 'The authority he is trying to stamp [on practice] to demoralize the opposition, that's a clear indication he is riding better than anyone else.'
If Lorenzo is trying to demoralize Marc Marquez, Marc Marquez is remaining remarkably calm. Yes, he was worried by Lorenzo's pace, the Repsol Honda rookie admitted, but he was pleasantly surprised at how well he was going. 'We are better than expected here,' was the mantra Marquez repeated a number of times, simultaneously playing down expectations and issuing a covert warning that he should not be counted out. Marquez has so far rejected all attempts to put pressure on him; that may turn out to be his most powerful trump in the championship end game.
Will it be a race between Lorenzo and Marquez? Looking at the timesheets, it is a little more complex than that. Valentino Rossi is happy at last to be riding a bike round Silverstone that he doesn't have to spend all his time fighting with. His times were surprisingly good, and he pronounced himself 'quite happy' with progres smade so far. He and his team are working with a different setting aimed at improving corner entry, and so far, it appears to be working. His race rhythm is coming along nicely, but the main worry remains qualifying.
Doing two runs of two laps in the 15 minute qualifying window will be difficult at Silverstone, Rossi told reporters, and it will be crucial both to have a clear track ahead, and have no one behind. The long straights at Silverstone allow riders to take full advantage of a good slipstream, and so any rider who finds another on his tail will likely find his time suddenly bettered by the man he has just towed around the circuit, Rossi explained.
Cal Crutchlow's times look strong, though the Tech 3 man struggled with choosing between using the old tank or the new tank on the first day of practice. In the morning Crutchlow did back to back runs with a full tank with both the old and the new tank; in the afternoon, they repeated the process with a nearly empty tank. There was no clear result from the tests, however, as there were still too many variables at play. Crutchlow has a gut feeling the new tank is better, but whether he will plump for it or not will be decided overnight.
His teammate Bradley Smith has also shown good pace, and is finally starting to get to grips with riding a MotoGP bike. In the first part of the season, it would take the young Briton until warm up on Sunday morning to find the right feeling with the bike, meaning his team would take a guess at the right set up and leave Smith to try to race with it. Since the summer break, things have vastly improved, and Smith is now starting to understand the limits of the bike. That means that he knows on Friday what the feeling with the bike is, and can start to look for solutions on the first day of practice, rather than on race day. Smith now expects to go straight through to Q2, no longer relegated to battling to get through to Q2 by making the top two of Q1. 'We don't have to chuck tires at it just to get through to Q2 any more,' Smith explained.
And then there's Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard is looking remarkably chirpy, and though his position doesn't necessarily show it, he is building pace and momentum over the weekend. His collarbone is better again at Silverstone, and once he had ridden in the morning, he was much looser in the afternoon, more free to move around as he pleases. He made the press contingent laugh by describing the bumps around the track as being 'gnarly', a word he has clearly picked up from watching Supercross. There then followed a brief interlude while a couple of native English speakers tried to explain the nuances of the word 'gnarly', but the more I think of it, the more it is appropriate. After all, why should the Supercross guys have all the linguistic fun.
Pedrosa was on good form at Silverstone. When asked what he liked about the circuit, he replied that one of his favorite parts of the track was out of the final corner at Woodcote corner, and see the crowds in the stands. It was an exhilarating feeling, but one which was soon smothered at the rear of the circuit, in the section between Copse and Stowe. 'It's a bit lonely,' Pedrosa described the emptiness, 'it makes you feel a little bit sad,' he joked.