2018 Silverstone MotoGP Preview: The Best Track In The UK For Grand Prix Racing?

A permanent and bitter debate rages among British fans over where the home of the British round of MotoGP should be. One faction believes that Donington Park should play host to MotoGP. The other states categorically that, no, the true home of MotoGP in the UK is the Silverstone circuit. (There is a third, far smaller faction which claims that Brands Hatch is where the British Grand Prix should be held. Blinded by nostalgia, they hark back to the halcyon days of World Superbikes, when fans packed the track to watch Carl Fogarty dominate. But they ignore the fact that the circuit is too short, too tight, and frankly, too dangerous to play host to 270+hp MotoGP machines. The Ducati would barely get out of third gear around Brands. The Brands Hatch faction can safely be ignored.)

The battle lines between Donington and Silverstone are clearly drawn. Donington is set on a rolling hillside, with grass banks where fans can watch a large part of the action. Fans love Donington for the views, and for the access (though not so much for the facilities). Silverstone is a vast affair, with lots of fast sweeping corners where the MotoGP bikes can really stretch their legs. Racers love Silverstone for the challenge of riding fast and hard, but fans complain of limited access, limited views, and cold and windy seats up in grandstands.

Which track is better? In terms of racing, there is really no contest. Donington is too small, too tight to host a modern MotoGP machine. The final sector, the Melbourne Loop, was a late addition to find the necessary length to allow the track to qualify as a Grand Prix circuit. It was added without any thought or imagination on how to make the circuit more interesting.

Sweeping is superior

Silverstone is a grand, sweeping affair, with a variety of corners allowing a variety of lines, and allowing different types of MotoGP bikes to play to their strengths. The racing at Silverstone is often close and entertaining, with the rider counting for much more than the machine. Silverstone belongs in the racing pantheon alongside Mugello, Assen, Brno, Phillip Island. Donington would need a radical redesign to reach those heights.

But the complaints of the fans are valid. For anyone not actually racing, a visit to Silverstone is a rather soulless experience. The track sits atop a hill, windswept and forlorn. Photographers hate Silverstone even more vehemently than the Donington fans do: with no backdrop and limited track access, it is hard to squeeze some life from their shots. There is little scenery, and no elevation differences offering views of the track. There are grandstands, and there is the void between them.

The location, perched atop a hill, also means the weather can change rapidly. There is nothing to stop the wind, and rain squalls can blow in and out quickly. When the rain hangs around, the track can be a cold, wet, and bleak place. But even then, the track presents a real challenge, rewarding skill and bravery in the wet, just as it does in the dry.

Fortunately for the MotoGP paddock, the rain is expected to stay away this weekend. The forecast is for bright, dry weather, though without the searing heat which has swept across most of Europe through this long, hot summer. Cooler weather will come as something of a relief for Michelin. The track has been completely resurfaced, but the circuit was unable to arrange a tire test at the track, as has happened at other circuits which have had new asphalt. To cope with this, they have brought four different tires both front and rear, including two different choices of hard tire. Reasonable temperatures combined with a sufficiently wide choice of rubber should ward off any chance of a tire disaster.

Them bumps

There are still questions over the track surface, however. Some F1 drivers complained that the track was still too bumpy at their race here back in July. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton called it, "the bumpiest track I've ever experienced," comparing it to the Nordschleife, the old road circuit at the Nurburgring. McLaren's Fernando Alonso did not understand what the fuss was about, saying it was "better, less bumpy, and with more grip". "They don't remember the race last year," the Spaniard quipped.

How will the MotoGP riders find it? A lot of the complaints from the F1 drivers seem to concern the bumps in the straights. Those are not necessarily the main fear for MotoGP riders: the main issue for anyone on a bike is the ripples pulled up by the F1 cars in the braking zones, which make it impossible to pitch the bike into the corner predictably and safely. If the bumps are only on the straights, MotoGP may well be able to live with it.

Last year's race is a demonstration of why Silverstone deserves to be the home of the British Grand Prix. Four riders on three different brands of bike fought for victory right up until the moment Marc Márquez' engine decided to go bang. Despite the disappearance of the Honda, the remaining three riders – the Movistar Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales, and the factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso – fought all the way to the line, Dovizioso just taking the win from the two Yamahas.

Desmo delivers?

Could we see a repeat of 2017? Ducati is coming off back-to-back victories at Brno and Austria, with Dovizioso winning in the Czech Republic, teammate Jorge Lorenzo winning at the Red Bull Ring. The 2018 version of the Desmosedici is a better bike than last year, has more power and turns better, making it an even better match for Northamptonshire track. Married to that is the fact that Silverstone suits Lorenzo, the Spaniard having won three times at the track, and been on the podium another time. Both Lorenzo and Dovizioso are on form, and conditions should be favorable for them to make it three in a row. The only question is which of the two will outdo the other.

Of course, you could say that the only reason Ducati won at Silverstone last year is because the engine of Marc Márquez' Honda RC213V decided to self-destruct. Up until lap 14, on the run down towards Stowe, Márquez looked in control of the race, easily matching the pace of the front runners. Would he have won if his engine hadn't blown? We will never know. But if Marc Márquez is in the lead group on the last lap, the odds tend to be in his favor.

This year, the Spaniard has a better bike with more horsepower, and a little better acceleration. Márquez may be extending his lead in the championship each race, but he hasn't won for a while. With a 59 point lead in the title chase, Márquez may be tempted to take a risk, and Silverstone is as good a place to do that as any.

The Repsol Honda rider may find another Honda standing in his way. Cal Crutchlow believes he is in the form of his life, telling us in Austria that he was riding better than ever. He has a competitive bike, and the will to win at his home round. He is also not in any real contention for the championship, and may be tempted to take a chance if he is anywhere near the front towards the end of the race. This is a race Crutchlow has wanted to win for a long time, and he arrives at his home Grand Prix in the best situation to actually achieve that for many years.

Naturally suited

Silverstone is nominally a Yamaha track, all of Jorge Lorenzo's wins at the circuit coming on the Yamaha, and the factory having racked up a string of podiums at the circuit. Last year, despite complaints that they couldn't manage their rear tire properly, the Movistar Yamaha team still managed to get both riders on the podium, with Johann Zarco the third Yamaha to cross the line in the top six.

The factory Yamaha team have just come off a test at Misano, where they worked on some electronics, and some setup issues. They did so with the help of new team addition Michele Gadda, Magneti Marelli electronics guru and the man sometimes credited with making the Yamaha WorldSBK R1 a much more competitive affair. How much difference can an electronics guru make in just a couple of tests? Probably not very much, but in a sport where the details count for a lot, not very much may be just enough.

Yamaha need a win. The Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring marked 21 races in succession without victory. If Yamaha don't win at Silverstone, they will equal the longest run without a win in their history in the premier class. Silverstone is probably their best chance at bringing that shameful streak to an end.

Boys in blue

Will much of the focus will be on the current top three, it will be worth keeping an eye on the Suzukis. Two years ago, Suzuki got their first victory since their return to the premier class here, Maverick Viñales taking his first win in MotoGP. Last year was a write off for the Hamamatsu factory after the engineers got the crankshaft wrong, but the 2018 GSX-RR has proven to be extremely competitive.

Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone have also shown their mettle on the bike this year. Iannone is still fuming from being dropped by the Japanese factory, and wanting to prove his worth. He has done that on more than one occasion this year, proving once again that he is an incredibly talented rider. If only his attitude matched his talent, he would not be heading to Aprilia, and likely oblivion, in 2019.

Alex Rins has also proved his worth this season, but Rins' problem has been one of consistency. On his day, Rins is as fast as anyone on the grid. On a day which isn't his day, he is firmly mid-pack. Given the results of Suzuki throughout the year, it seems likely that the bike is not fully rounded enough to be competitive everywhere. But the GSX-RR is a proven winner at Silverstone. Can it do so again on Sunday?

The one positive thing for the MotoGP riders is that the race will take place at 1pm local time, to avoid a clash with F1 at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. That means the race will happen before Moto2, and so avoid having to take place on the layer of Dunlop rubber the Moto2 machines smear all over the surface. That should mean that the track is more consistent and less slippery at the start of the race, and perhaps assist notorious bad starters like Maverick Viñales. The altered schedule has not made much of a difference in the past. But in a series where the differences are so small, almost anything could turn out to be the deciding factor.


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Total votes: 27
Total votes: 30

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Comments

To add to the bump debate, I rode an RS250 Honda there in June, after it was resurfaced. Going down the long back straight I actually thought the rear tyre wasn't balanced, such was the vibration from the bumps. I think it'll be worse for the GP boys than we think. It's the only circuit good enough to host a GP though, despite the problems. Or we could take them to Lydden Hill.

Total votes: 19

"Silverstone belongs in the racing pantheon alongside Mugello, Assen, Brno, Phillip Island. Donington would need a radical redesign to reach those heights."

Respectfully disagree.  Mugello, Phillip Island, and Donington Park are the three best motorcycle tracks for MotoGP racing on the planet, in that order, with Mugello and PI distancing themselves from the next set of tracks.  Both are just so good it's ridiculous.  

Assen used to belong in that sentence before they hacked it up as Colin Edwards deemed after first riding the new configuration after the hotel was built on the circuit "it's shit!"  I'd add Brno after. And I'd like to mention that Spielberg is the worst on the calendar.   

Hoping for a good race and rooting for Cal since it is his home circuit.  

Total votes: 34

Watching Formula 1 cars at Silverstone has never failed to astound me, the speed at which they go round Copse, Maggots and Becketts simply looks impossible, by rights they should go spearing off the end yet they don't. Unfortunately it also ruins Moto GP, by comparison they look like they're barely moving, bumbling along between the vast run off areas and slowing to a crawl where the F1 drivers don't even lift.

The atmosphere of the place isn't great either. It's a great big corporate monolith and it's set up to keep fans and teams as far apart as possible. For F1 it works well enough, but motorcycle racing has been the friendlier sport.

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Donington by contrast is made for Motorcycle racing. Down the hill from Red Gate through the Craners is spectacular, plus from the banks by the track you can actually see the whole sequence in one go, grandstand or not. For all the press seem to hate the GP loop is a great place to watch from, you see from the end of Starkeys all the way to the final hairpin if you get the right spot, it's also the point where all the overtaking happens.

I always loved going to the Donington Moto GP too, in 2006 I met every rider on the grid except for Rossi, as well as Kenny snr and Mamola. The place is more compact than Silverstone, the camping is nearer, the bridges and tunnels make access to the infield easier, it's more sheltered from the great British summer, cheaper too without those F1 hosting fees to cover (the irony that Donington nearly collapsed and lost it's Moto GP because of it's abortive F1 bid is not lost on me). The Silverstone Moto GP just doesn't cut it, more money for less enjoyment.

Total votes: 29

Ah Donnington '06... that was the first time I was in the paddock myself. My girlfriend spent time smoking with Uccio behind the pits trying to find out when Rossi would come out, we did get to meet him in the end. We also had JB in our hotel and at our table in the bar on Sunday night. :)

I'm firmly in the Donnington camp myself. Having visited a fair number of GPs in Europe, including Mugello and Assen, it's still my favourite for the access and views and some of my favourite photos are those I took at the Melbourne Loop in '07. My favourite spot to watch the racing was at Hollywood, just round from Redgate, with views all the way down Craner and even coming back up round Coppice if you have binocculars. Many a 250 rider crashed in front of me there in the rain. I will admit I've never been to Silverstone so maybe it's better than I think but watching it on TV and talking to people who have been doesn't sell me on the idea.

Total votes: 27

but Silverstone wins for me to ride, spectate, or watch on tv. I’m not sure why Silverstone access is cited as a problem, as it’s been fine for many years, but Donington can be dire.

The Melbourne loop is ok, I think, but the Esses, at the end of the straight, is too tight for my liking, but it does create overtakes.  The same applies to Vale at Silverstone but the remainder is sublime and if you think it’s easy, try getting your knee down at Abbey, Woodcote, Copse, or Stowe. Yes, it is a long walk to view at all points, but worth the effort. There are some great viewing points and I have a favourite grandstand that equals some of Donnington’s banks. The one problem for fans not in hospitality is the sometimes sparse catering because of the distances - but if you plan your movements it’s fine. At least the loos are nearby. I think Silverstone edges Donington for big screen viewing too.

Total votes: 37

I hope we enjoy another excellent race at Silverstone. Some of the events at the circuit in Northamptonshire have been very good. When the racing is good the other factors do not matter so much. Yes it is a fine circuit, not my favorite.

I love Donington so much I travelled from Australia earlier this year for the world superbike meeting. Great access for walking around the track, infield & outside. Now I like Donnybrook even more. Silverstone has not inspired me to go there yet, maybe later. Donington was one of the first tracks that I saw the Grand Prix two strokes racing at. I spent a lot of time watching 500cc Gps around Donington. In previous golden ages of motorcycle racing, Doohan, Lawson, Schwantz, then V.R.46 always beating everybody. I grew up watching races at Donington.

I very rarely watch formula boring, so there is no comparison. If I want to have a look at circuits that the bikes may race at in the future I will sometimes watch the cars going around.

Lydden Hill surely you jest sir GTC, it would be a different challenge, that's for sure.

Silverstone, maybe next year. When does the 2019 calender come out ? Scroll down, down down.

Total votes: 22

Give me SUZUKA any day. They raced there until some politics, and, a new track was opened at Motegi. I have been to Phillip Island a few times, but, the flies in summer, plus, the rain and wind that always seems to appear some time in the meeting , muddy car parks. No thanks.

Total votes: 23

I've only viewed on TV, but I also do not understand how Donnington can possibly be considered "too small, too tight to host a modern MotoGP machine" when we have tracks like Sachsenring on the calendar (and seemingly if not loved then at least appreciated for it's uniqueness).  Assen has been ruined but thankfully the bit that remains makes it still worth the effort, we have places like Motegi, totally devoid of any redeeming features.  The run from Redgate to the chicane entering Melbourne loop is all sweeps and open turns, and in spite of it's hokey nature, the loop does present plenty of overtaking opportunities.  I'm at a distance but fail to see what really prevents it from hosting MotoGP - other than a few truckloads of properly serviced portable dunnies.  There are next to no permanent facilities at Phillip Island either and yet the event goes well and is not a hardship to attend even in the bleachers.

Total votes: 25

Interesting news from the MotoGp website. No Finland, no Indonesia, no Turkey or Africa.

Back on topic, Silverstone. I keep thinking it is a new track for MotoGp. Wrong again Apical, this weekend is the ninth MotoGp round at Silverspoon. Dovizioso won the last Gp at Donington way back in 2009. Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.

In eight years there have been a few different winners; Jorge Lorenzo won in 2010 (lap record), Dovi 2nd, Ben Spies 3rd. Casey won in 2011 & new lap record, Dovi 2nd, Colin Edwards 3rd, Nicky Hayden 4th on the Ducati, 2012 Lorenzo, Casey, Dani Pedrosa. 2013 Jorge wins again, M.M.93 second, Dani Pedrosa (new lap record) 3rd, V.R.46 forth. 2014 Marc Marquez wins, JLo99 second, V.R.46 third, Dani P. 4th. 2015 WET Rossi wins, Danilo Petrucci 2nd, Dovi 3rd. 2016 Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki wins it, Cal Crutchlow 2nd, V.R.46 3rd ahead of M.M.93 then Dani & Dovi. Last year Marc Marquez' engine let go but he set a new lap record, 2'01.560 Dovizioso won, Vinales 2nd, Rossi 3rd Cal 4th Jorge 5th

So Dovizioso has got form at Silverstone, just like Jorge Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales, Cal all know the way around silverstone.

Of corse Marc Marquez has got form everywhere. I am expecting a good race

Total votes: 26