It was a particularly tetchy press conference at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin on Thursday. That may have come from the travel – team staff trickled in throughout the day, as the final stage of their epic journey from Termas de Rio Hondo to Austin came to an end – but more likely it was the questions about the future of Jorge Lorenzo, in particular, which generated a sense of real irritation. Little was said directly by Lorenzo, by Rossi, or by Márquez, but it was clear that the mutual antipathy between the Italian and the Spaniards is reaching new heights. There is a storm coming, and it will break some time this year. When it does, things are going to get very ugly indeed.
First, though, about that journey. Reconstructing the tales of those who arrived in good time after an uneventful voyage, and those who were only just traipsing in towards the end of Thursday afternoon, it was clear that the weather had been the deciding factor. Those who had left on Sunday night and Monday morning had made it to Austin without incident. In the afternoon, though, the clouds rolled down the mountains and into Tucuman, where charters were flying in and out of the regional airport.
Flights were canceled, and teams were sent off, first towards Cordoba, then back to Tucuman, then off to Buenos Aires, then finally to Cordoba once again. From there, they flew to Buenos Aires, then dispersed over half the globe. Sometimes almost literally – one Dorna staff member flew all the way back to Barcelona, then back across the Atlantic to Houston. The MotoGP paddock is much richer in air miles after Argentina, but much poorer in sleep.
So that may perhaps explain the levels of irritation on display in the press conference. But it would explain them only partially. More likely is the mutual hatred which simmers below the surface between Valentino Rossi and the two men he still blames for robbing him of the 2015 MotoGP championship.
Spanish and Italian journalists did all they could to coax a confession out of Jorge Lorenzo that he was jumping ship to Ducati. Lorenzo remained stony faced, saying he did not want to talk about it. The press turned their attention to Valentino Rossi, asking him about his switch to Ducati at the end of 2010. Rossi was similarly evasive, sidestepping questions about his own remarks at Qatar, and his experience when moving to Ducati.
Above all, the irritation in the press conference was obvious from the body language of the three protagonists from last year. Valentino Rossi studiously avoided looking at Marc Márquez even a single time, spending most of his time chatting to Eugene Laverty, who was sat to his right. Márquez tried to act naturally, and almost pulled it off. Jorge Lorenzo was less conciliatory, barely concealing his own contempt for Rossi.
Rossi and Lorenzo were a little more forthcoming to their national media. Rossi wished Lorenzo and Ducati good luck together, adding that it was a courageous decision. "Jorge is a rider who is fast and rides well, he will do so at Ducati as well." But Rossi was also quick to point out the differences between the point in time he went to Ducati, and now, when Lorenzo is set to make the move. "Dall'Igna, who uses his head, has made the bike much better. You saw it is a much more competitive bike in the last two races."
Waiting for a sign
Lorenzo, meanwhile, keeps refusing to confirm his impending move to Ducati. When asked about Rossi's comments on his move, Lorenzo remained his mildly sarcastic self. "I don't know what Valentino said," the reigning world champion quipped. "Perhaps he has more information about this than I do."
There is no doubt that Lorenzo will switch to Ducati, the only doubt in the paddock being whether the contract is already signed, or still has one or two minor details to iron out. If you want to understand why Lorenzo is making the move to Ducati, you can do no better than read Julian Ryder's excellent observations on the matter. Rossi alluded to something like this himself, to the Italian media. He went to Ducati "After spending so many years with Yamaha, and I needed to find new motivation," Rossi said. "In a certain sense, Lorenzo is in a similar situation to me at that time."
Fortunately for Lorenzo, this is the last weekend which he will waste refusing to talk about his future. With the cat very much out of the bag, Ducati will most likely announce they have signed Lorenzo at the next round, in Jerez. There, they will have most of Europe's press present, and especially national and regional TV. To achieve maximum exposure, Europe makes much more sense for such an announcement than Austin, despite the massive market in the US.
Who will take Lorenzo's place at Yamaha? The smart money is on Maverick Viñales. The Suzuki rider's race in Argentina proved he could be competitive, and battle for the podium. That is proof enough for Yamaha, and they will expect he will immediately challenge for wins and the championship. But unlike Lorenzo, this does not appear to be a done deal. It may take a little while to nail this deal down.
Outside of the press conference room, much of the talk was of tires. I had a long informal conversation with one rider, most of which we spent talking about tires, and how it is the Ducatis who are struggling. He had done way more than race distance on the tires in Argentina, but the tires had been withdrawn, to ensure they did not pose a danger. The only people they posed a danger to were the Ducatis, and the reason they were a problem for the Ducatis was evident to anyone who watched on TV: all of the Ducatis circulating were laying massive darkies through the corners, the rear spinning up and smoking. That will generate heat.
Right to work
To cope with the expected conditions at Austin, Michelin had produced a brand new run of tires especially for MotoGP. Production had taken place on Monday, with the tires being flown in just in time for the weekend. There may be one or two issues with the MotoGP tires, but Michelin are taking their responsibility very seriously. The new tires were of a softer compound but stiffer construction. With Michelin having missed most of the private test the French tire manufacturer had planned at the circuit due to rain, bringing a radically new tire may have been the only certain solution. It will surely shake things up a little.
I spent the best part of an hour on Thursday talking to Peter Bom, crew chief to Danny Kent. Bom talked about the effect tires could have on results, but most especially, how the tires had changed in the last few races. Dunlop was modifying its tires to keep costs under control. This meant that the Leopard team had been experimenting with set up, and taken things in a different direction to normal.
"Tires are everything," Bom told me. "They dictate what you can do with the rest of the bike." With Dunlop continuously testing new compounds, finding the perfect tire for both performance and durability was hard.
How the tires cope we will see on Friday. At a track with no set up data on the 2016 Michelins or common software, the track could yet throw them a curveball.
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