2014 Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: On Wasted Sessions, A Feisty Rossi, And American Joy And Despair
The weather didn't really play ball at Mugello on Friday. The forecast rain held off until the last five minutes of Moto3 FP2, before sprinkling just enough water on the track to make conditions too wet for slicks, too dry for wet tires. That left the entire MotoGP field sitting in their garages waiting for the rain to either get heavier and wet the track completely, or else stop, and allow it to dry up. Dani Pedrosa explained that though the track was dry in most places, San Donato, the first corner at the end of the high speed straight, was still wet. Bridgestone slicks need to be pushed hard to get them up to temperature, and if you can't push in Turn 1, then they don't. That leaves you with cold tires, which will come back and bite you further round the track.
One of the items on the list of requirements Dorna sent to Michelin was the need for an intermediate tire. Would anyone have gone out if they had had intermediates? Pedrosa believed they would have. 'With intermediates you can go out. I'm not sure whether you get anything out of it, but for sure you don't have 24 bikes in the box.' You don't learn much in terms of set up when you go out on intermediates, but more people might venture out. One team manager I spoke to was less convinced. 'We have five engines and a limited number of tires. We can't afford to lose an engine in a crash. Why take a risk, when it's better to save miles on the engine?'
The wasted afternoon session left Marc Marquez – who else? – on the top of the timesheets. It had not looked that way for much of the session. Valentino Rossi had led the way from early on, Marquez only taking over in the front towards the end. For Marquez, this was a conscious strategy. After his massive crash at Mugello on the first day of practice last year, he and his team had decided to start a little more slowly, and build pace more steadily. Because of the nature of Mugello, he had been forced to work on being more smooth. It worked, Marquez pulling out an advantage of nearly four tenths of a second over Rossi by the end.
This was not the real gap, Valentino Rossi protested. His reading of the lap chart was that you had to compare the last lap which Rossi did – a 1'48.5 – with the last lap Marquez did, a 1'48.4. That, Rossi insisted, was what he was down on Marquez, and he felt he could close that gap. A measure of just how much Rossi believes he can take on Marquez was his response to questions about the dominance of the Spaniard. At previous races, Rossi simply laughed them off, acknowledging he was powerless to stop Marquez. At Mugello, Rossi showed the first signs of irritation at such questions and comparisons between Marquez and himself in his younger years. Rossi is clearly in combative mood. If he can stay close to Marquez' times on Saturday, then the game will truly be afoot.
What of Jorge Lorenzo? The Spaniard continues to close in on the leaders once again, after a dismal start to the year. His lack of fitness at the start of the year is having all sorts of unforeseen effects, however. Lorenzo acknowledged that he had not managed the physical training time he had lost during his recovery period from surgery particularly well. He had believed he would be able to get into shape in time for the start of the season, but he had not. He arrived in Sepang heavier than he should be, and needed to spend a lot of time on his cardio fitness to get back into shape. Since then, he has been training every harder, but that too has had unforeseen consequences. His body shape has changed as muscles have reappeared again, leaving his leathers not fitting properly and causing tightness in the shoulders and arms. Israeli journalist Tammy Gorali paid a visit to the Alpinestars truck on Friday night, and found the seamstress there hard at work putting in expansion patches to cope with the more muscular Lorenzo.
Bradley Smith has also had a boost at Mugello. At Jerez, he received a new chassis, one which caused him to lose the front end. The weekend at Le Mans has been a revelation. The new chassis again caused all sorts of problems, but it highlighted the underlying cause, as the corners at the circuit had all of the characteristics of corners at other circuits where he had been struggling. After another crash, Smith decided to ditch the chassis and return to his old frame, preferring to work on that instead. His crew have removed the spacers behind his seat, allowing him to move around more freely and relocate weight. That gave him the grip he had been missing in the corners, which then allowed his crew to modify the front of the bike to give more grip. Every change they made to the bike made a noticeable difference, and by the end of FP1, Smith felt he had a bike he could work with again. He ended FP1 down in 10th, but there could be much more to come from the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man.
Another rider showing promise was Colin Edwards. The Texan was absolutely delighted with the new chassis he has finally received, built – in the end – by FTR. 'It's great, it's so good,' Edwards enthused. 'I'm in love with racing motorcycles again. When you want to do something and the bike does it, it's easy. The new chassis, wherever I look, the bike goes. This is all I can ask for.' Edwards' joy is visible on the timesheets. He was faster every exit, and his lap times showed an upward trend every time he went out. Changes to the bike made sense again, he could feel suspension changes again, Edwards said. He never even reached that point with the old chassis.
The weekend has not gone so well for Nicky Hayden. The American's wrist injury has flared up again, a problem which reemerged at Jerez, and has got worse since then. The bones he broke in his wrist at Valencia in 2011 never really healed properly, and surgery to fix the problem still left him with arthritis in the joint. Hayden only managed a few laps in FP1 before pulling back in, and seeking medical advice. He will try once more on Saturday morning, but is looking highly doubtful for the race. Hayden all but ruled himself out of Sunday's race. He is scheduled to have surgery later in the week to clean up the arthritis in his wrist, in the hope of providing a more permanent solution.