It has been a bad few weeks for Jorge Lorenzo. During the Barcelona race, he lost the front and wiped out three of his rivals (or rather, three of Marc Márquez' rivals), Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi. The next day at the test, on an out lap, he launched the bike at Turn 9, suffering a huge crash and causing himself a lot of pain.
Eleven days later, and a relatively normal crash in Assen saw him bang himself up very badly. Lorenzo lost the front going into the fast left at Ruskenhoek during FP1, not an uncommon occurrence. The problem was he was doing over 200 km/h, so when he hit the gravel he started to tumble, not quite ragdolling through the stones, banging his chest and his back as he went.
The consequence of the crash is severe. So severe, it forced Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig to have to talk to the media, something Puig tries to avoid as much as possible (and being team manager means he can avoid it an awful lot). "Basically I am here to explain about his condition," Puig said. "Normally I am never here. So I am just here to tell you the situation…and probably you already know. So I will re-confirm."
Explaining the crash
"He had a crash also last week in the Barcelona test and that time he was in pain in exactly the same area as he has the pain today," Puig continued after the opening unpleasantries. "Today with this crash the thing got worse and he was complaining about the same area. They made some checks at the circuit and it looked OK for the X-ray point of view, but we decided to take him to the hospital in Assen to make a more precise check of his vital organs. They found out that he has a vertebra – the T6 – which is fractured, but fortunately, from what the doctor said it is in an area that is quite protected so there was no affect of the nerve. This is good news. He will have to be in a cast or corset for three to four weeks. He will miss the Sachsenring but hopefully back for Brno. So this is the situation for you guys."
What had caused the crash? "For me it is quite clear and we don't need a big explanation," Puig said. "He went into the corner quite fast than normal and he just crash. These things just happen. A crash is a human error, a mistake. All of the guys crash. Probably his approach to the corner was from a different angle. Frankly I have not had the chance to check the data. I’m sure it was something like this."
He wasn't the only rider to crash at that corner. In the afternoon, Johann Zarco reduced his KTM to a pile of scrap similar to Lorenzo's Honda RC213V, for similar reasons. The entry to the Ruskenhoek is fast, and was reprofiled to make it safer, replacing a more right-angled corner with a faster, more flowing turn. The problem is, the reprofiling left some bumps in the corner where the new surface was laid to join the old, and it doesn't quite feel natural.
"The track has a lot of bumps and is a bit tricky, the part from Turn 6 to 7, where this morning Lorenzo crashed, has a lot of bumps," Valentino Rossi explained. "You know, is a modified track, it’s not the real track, so when you ride the bike you feel that the track was not born like this, it was born in another way but after for safety they modified. But now it's fast and is a bit difficult. But in general, apart from that place, the track is in a good condition."
Despite the fact that the bumps are restricted to a few areas – the Veenslang back straight, the entry to the Ruskenhoek, the first corner at the Haarbocht, and the entry to the Strubben hairpin – the track is to be resurfaced at the end of the year. At the end of October, once track action stops, the old surface will be torn up, and a new surface laid in early spring 2020. The aim, a circuit spokesperson told me, was to lay exactly the same asphalt mixture which they are about to tear up. That will at least provide some consistency.
Lorenzo's crash solicited comment about his process of adaptation to the Honda. Valentino Rossi had some sympathy for Lorenzo's predicament. "It's difficult," Rossi told the Italian press. "Having trust in the front of the bike is the most important thing for a rider. To go fast, you have to trust in your bike. Crashing when you are pushing is something very difficult to confront from a psychological point of view."
Marc Márquez saw Lorenzo's predicament similarly, though he was a little less sympathetic. "It looks like also that every time that he tries a little bit more, every time that he pushes with the Honda, he crashes," the Spaniard said. "So yes, it’s difficult to understand for sure for him, but anyway, Honda is trying to help him but we cannot lose time about thinking these things and worry for him. Of course, unfortunately for him, but just I keep going on my way and try to do the best for the team, for my championship. That shows that we don’t have the easiest bike of the grid but we are in the top of the championship, so we need to keep going."
That left Honda in a state of some concern. "It is not that we are starting to get worried: we are worried," Alberto Puig told the media. "But this doesn't change our approach. He is taking time to get used to the bike and we hope that he gets used to it. Anyway, all we can do from a Honda point of view is support him and try to do things that he requests and what he is asking for. This is the job that a professional team like HRC tries to do."
Lorenzo wasn't the only rider to have a big crash on Friday. Danilo Petrucci also had a massive crash, when he ran afoul of a clutch and engine braking problem. The factory Ducati rider had just blasted through Hoge Heide and had just started tipping it in for the very fast left hander of the Ramshoek, when the rear wheel locked up, pitching Petrucci off at over 200 km/h as well.
"This corner is one of my favorite on all the calendar, ever since I rode here in 2008," Petrucci said on Friday. "We had a problem two or three laps before, with some parts of the bike, so I came back to the pits. Maybe I was a little bit fast at the part of the track, but for sure the left side of the tire was no so ready, and with a bit aggressive setup of the engine brake, everything together caused the crash. It was strange, because I had already changed to fourth gear, and I crashed at 220 km/h. It was one of those crashes where you have the time to say, OK."
Petrucci would not be drawn on exactly what had caused the crash, but there are credible reports that it was caused by the clutch. Ducati is working on a very light, very compact clutch, and the bike has had problems before. Jorge Lorenzo's crash in Thailand last year, for example, or Danilo Petrucci running wide on the first lap at Phillip Island. But the Italian seemed more upset that the crash had ruined his favorite corner rather than he had actually suffered a fall.
Petrucci had been testing the setup Ducati had found at the Barcelona test which had helped with turning the bike. His teammate Andrea Dovizioso had been trying the new chassis tested in Barcelona, and the test had confirmed the improvements on corner entry. Dovizioso will use the frame on both of his bikes on Saturday, and was very confident in his pace.
The times were close after Friday, at least in terms of race pace. "We are in a very similar situation like Montmelo," Marc Márquez explained. "Four or five riders with a very similar pace and now it’s time to work in the details to try to find these one tenth, two tenths to be faster on the race pace."
Who are those four or five riders? Maverick Viñales was fastest overall on Friday, and was very pleased at the end of the day. He has been carrying on the momentum he had picked up since returning to Europe, the factory Yamaha rider explained. "I think after Jerez we keep the momentum," Viñales said. "Jerez was good for us, we make a lot of improvements on the bike. Le Mans was good until it rained, but was quite good, even in rain it was not so bad. We are keeping in a good way the bike but still we have things to improve, the most important point to improve was the Sunday race. I think in Montmelo for my side we did a good step forward, especially at the start and the first few laps. So yeah, we are in a good moment."
Mystery and disarray
His teammate, not so much. Rossi had used a tire to set a quick lap and get through to Q2, but he was still a long way off race pace, he explained. "At the end I am in the top 10 this afternoon, because this morning we had a problem with the first bike and that was the best bike," Rossi said. "We lost 15 minutes and after we are always a little bit in delay because everybody when they go in the track they are able to improve."
"In the afternoon it was a bit better, in the end the time attack was not too bad and I am in the top ten but I am not very happy. I mean I am not fast enough, my pace is not fantastic and I have a gap in the race pace compared to the faster guys. So we have a lot of work to do, because in some part of the track, especially in the fast part, I don’t feel very comfortable with the bike, I am not able to be strong like I want, so we need to work with the setting. And we work a little bit with the tyres also, but as always the choice is very open so we need to continue and we see. But the first important thing is to try to be stronger especially in the pace because I’m not fantastic."
Who is quick, to go along with Maverick Viñales and (of course), Marc Márquez? Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso have decent pace, with Alex Rins not far behind. Andrea Iannone figured in the top ten of the timesheets, but only mad it through by following Marc Márquez around.
The sun is due to come out on Saturday and give the Dutch track a proper beating. But it is still Marc Márquez looking like the man to beat.
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