It's only Friday, so the times don't mean all that much. You don't win MotoGP races on Friday. But you can certainly lose them, and even lose championships if you're not careful. Especially on a Friday.
That was the lesson of Silverstone, as both Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo found to their cost. Marc Marquez had a fairly simple lowside, but managed to do so at 274 km/h at one of the fastest parts of the circuit. Quartararo's crash was much, much slower – 75 km/h, rather than 274 – but could have been much more serious. The Frenchman lost the rear, then the bike tried to flick him up and over the highside, twisting his ankle in the process.
They were two of the five crashes which happened in MotoGP on Friday, but all of those crashes shared a common characteristic: they all crashed on the left side of the tire. Alex Marquez fell at Farm, the first left after the right at Club, the Hamilton Straight, and then another right at Abbey. Jorge Martin fell in the same place. Marc Marquez crashed as he tipped it into Maggots, the first left since Brooklands, nearly a couple of kilometers before. Alex Marquez had his second crash of the day, making it through Maggotts only to lose it at Becketts, the next left and the next section of those flip-flops. And Quartararo crashed at Vale, the first left after the Hangar Straight and Stowe.
The crashes of Fabio Quartararo, Marc Marquez, and Jorge Martin shared another characteristic as well: they were all freshly out of the pits, and with cold tires, either from traveling slowly or in the case of Quartararo, because he was trying the hard rear when the conditions were not really ready for it.
Quartararo's and Marquez' crashes came the closest to serious injury, however. For Marquez, it was simply down to speed: falling off at over 270 km/h makes it his fastest crash since 2013, the huge smash at Mugello when he locked the front over the crest at Mugello. The Repsol Honda rider was lucky to escape almost unscathed: he slid for a long time, tumbling at the end, but the biggest issue is that the crash threw sand up into his eyes. That left him with problems with his eyes watering during FP2, and prompted him to seek treatment at a local hospital to have his eyes rinsed and checked. But apart from bruises and bangs, he was OK.
At first, Fabio Quartararo looked like he might have broken a foot or ankle in his crash. His left foot got caught on the foot peg, then twisted up and caught on the rear wheel as the bike went over. He got up very gingerly, favoring his ankle as he was helped away by a marshal. He hobbled back onto his bike, then onto the back of a marshal's bike to be ferried back to the pits. He was still limping as he entered his garage, though his walking was improving all the time.
Quartararo was lucky to come away with a sprained ankle from a crash that could have been so much worse. If he hadn't slid off the low side, he would have been flicked to the moon, and guaranteed a very hard landing. "I think I left the bike at the best moment," the Monster Energy Yamaha rider said. "If I was highsided I'd have gone really high and more painful. It can always be worse."
The Frenchman was all too aware that things could have been worse, but that wouldn't change his approach. "We were lucky today," he admitted. "It’s not because I had this crash that I will ride more safe. Everyone can see after the crash I just went for it and had zero question. It could have been worse. It could have been better but I was really lucky not to have a serious injury."
So much of racing is mental, and that applies to getting back on the bike after such a scary crash as well, Quartararo acknowledged. Jumping straight back on the bike left him no time to think, no time for what happened, and what could have happened, to sink in. "To be honest it was good to be in a rush. I didn’t have the time to rest," the Frenchman said.
"I crashed, wanted to take the bike and marshal told me I needed to go to medical center before starting again. Then I came back to the truck, changed, went back on the bike. So everything was so fast and I didn’t realize that I crashed. I was on a mission and wanted to make laps." Going out straight away meant he could tuck everything away and just think about preparing for the race, Quartararo said. "It was positive because I’ve been fast. I’m pretty happy about the session went apart from that crash."
Still full gas
The crash wouldn't change his approach, Quartararo said. They are just things you have to take in your stride. "It’s part of the game," he shrugged. "I was not really on the limit. It was a mistake form us to try hard tire in that condition. It was a bit risky. That’s what I wanted to do. Just like a normal weekend. Try a little more to see the performance. It’s normal tomorrow if it’s sore but it’s part of the game."
For both Marquez and Quartararo, temperature was an issue. It was a cool day, with a stiff breeze from the northeast. If you weren't paying attention to your tires, you risked paying a heavy price. Marquez had exited the pits and done a very slow out lap, and especially a very slow last sector some 6 seconds slower than his usual pace. When he arrived at Maggotts, there was no heat in the tire. Quartararo was trying the hard rear tire at the start of the session, in conditions which were still a little too cold. "The hard rear tire which was a total disaster in that condition and I nearly crashed a few times before," the Frenchman said.
The conditions were to blame for the crashes of Marquez and Quartararo, Jack Miller explained. "I think it's more to do with the temperatures than anything. Both of them. For Fabio, you go down the complete back straight, you got a little right hand corner and then the first time on the left, so. If he didn't really force it enough on the exit to the back straight, then it's gonna be quite cold on the surface."
Push to go faster
Not putting enough heat in the tire had been an issue for Marquez as well, Miller posited. "The same with Marc, if he didn't really push hard on the braking into the third last corner, you're right, right, right. It definitely was cold, because it was still on the gas, as soon as he went to that side it just had nothing. I honestly thought when I saw Marc go down that I thought he might have been trying the medium, but it wasn't to be."
There were a number of places where cold temperatures and strong winds can put your heart in your mouth, Miller told us "It makes you nervous every time you change at Turn 11 and 12, you're like, whoah, because it's quite a long time since you've been on the left-hand side of the tire."
Silverstone, Assen, Phillip Island, these are tracks where low temperatures and a strong breeze can quickly suck any residual temperature out of the tires. Dealing with that requires a particular approach, Miller explained. On your way into the pits, or on your way out, you can't afford to back off, shut the throttle, and expect to survive.
"You can't, and if you do, then you've got to go through a sequence where you've got to try to get some temperature back in the tire," the factory Ducati rider told us. "You need to go through a sort of stage where you've really got to force it, whether it be in the rear or in the front. Trying to brake as hard as you can and also get some lean angle going at the same time, really force the tire. And on the rear, just try to force it on exit." Though all the bikes have temperature sensors inside the tire which displayed a warning on the dashboard, they were set up for an entirely different purpose. They were "for when it gets too hot, but not when it gets too cold!" Miller said.
Brakes cool too
It wasn't just tires which were affected by the temperatures. Despite the fact that Brembo have widened the temperature range inside which their carbon brakes work, the combination of low temperature, strong winds, and long periods with only relatively light braking meant it was not easy to get the right mix of disc mass and disc cover, to retain enough heat to keep working without overheating when maximum braking was demanded of them.
That was the problem for Miguel Oliveira, who had struggled with his brakes in the morning. "Basically, I think today was not really a brake problem from Brembo side, I would say it's more of maybe choosing a good setup for the brakes in terms of disc size and cover or no cover, just to build up more heat into the brakes because it was so cold," the KTM rider said. "So it was not really a brake technical issue, it was just maybe a different choice would bring a better temperature."
The temperature was the only problem the riders had at Silverstone, after two years away from the circuit. There were fears that three F1 races would have introduced a lot of bumps, but the surface was still remarkably smooth, making it a joy to ride, Jack Miller said. "It’s a proper old-school race track, so a lot of different styles of corners. Just felt good to be back amongst it. The track’s in good condition."
There were a few more bumps, but it was not as bad as the riders might have feared. "The track's a little bit bumpy, but in all of it in good condition. It's got plenty of grip, feels good," Miller told us. "A few more bumps than last time we were here, which is normal after three F1 races in between when we were here last time and now. That's to be sort of expected."
It was better than Miguel Oliveira had expected. "My feeling from 2019 to now is quite the same from what I remember," the factory KTM rider said. "The track is still quite nice, the grip is good, it's just a completely different track without the bumps that we used to have in the past. So they definitely did a good job."
Bumps or no bumps, it is a physically demanding circuit. Lorenzo Savadori, returning from an ankle injury, found that to his cost, finishing several seconds off the rest of the field. "Honestly, I expected to be better than this," the Aprilia rider said. "Of course I tried to do the maximum at home to arrive here almost ready to ride. But when you ride a MotoGP, it's stresses the ankle a lot, and the level today was not good to ride."
The fast changes of direction made it extremely tough to ride for Savadori. "This track doesn't help me, because it's very physical, it has a lot of changes of direction with high speed, and of course when you put a lot of stress on the ankle, you have a lot of pain, and I'm not able to ride in a normal way," the Italian said.
For Miguel Oliveira too, coming off a wrist injury in Austria, riding proved tougher than expected. "The wrist is hurting a little bit and really giving me a hard time," the factory KTM rider said. The cases of Savadori and Oliveira are a pointed reminder for Fabio Quartararo of just how hard it could have been if he had injured his ankle more seriously.
Those fast changes of direction also gave an indication of just how much the Ducati Desmosedici had improved in the past couple of years, Jack Miller said. "Really cool also to sort of compare my feelings, I sorta remember what it felt like in 2019 to what it feels like in 2021 and how much the bike has developed over that time, over that period, and the positives of the bike. How much better it is, especially in the first sector, through the sequences of left/rights, it’s a big step there. So it's definitely one of those moments where you reflect on how well the bike’s going and how much headway we’ve made with this bike."
The improvements in the bike made it much less tiring to ride, the Australian said. "That's the main thing. OK, your timing is easier to get correct in that first sequence, but also the physicality of the actual change of directions, the bike is doing it a lot easier. You’re not having to force it so much, put so much input into the handlebars to achieve the same result."
That bodes well for tracks coming up, Miller believed. "For sure, it’s definitely better and it makes me excited to head to places like Texas, for example where we have a lot of left/rights." A bike which was less physically demanding to flick from one side to the other gave the rider a wider window to work within through those sections. "If you miss one, the problem is, if you're a little bit slow on one, then you are screwed for the rest of the sequence, so. It's a really crucial character of the bike, and it's something we've definitely improved on."
That also made it easier to manage the tires, Miller explained. "Also maintaining the tires, because you don’t have to hold the lean angle so much, but also in terms of your outright race pace. It’s a lot easier to be more precise, you’re able to get your timing correct pretty much every lap. It's just better in general. You're not going 'HNNHHH HNNNHHH' changing directions you're not having to force so much," the factory Ducati said. "It's a lot nicer for a rider."
That improvement may help explain why the Ducatis are so strong after the first day. With three Desmosedici GP21s in the top six, the bike is looking extremely competitive. The Hondas, too, are looking quick, with Pol Espargaro beating his teammate Marc Marquez for the first time since Le Mans.
Espargaro put his competitiveness down to additional grip the circuit provided in the cool conditions. "The temperature is low, which gives you more grip with the soft tires and you generally have more grip," the Repsol Honda rider explained. "It happened exactly the same with Le Mans. If you remember Le Mans the temperature was very similar, the track asphalt was similar and these conditions help."
Espargaro felt that he was able to benefit while other riders struggled. "As much grip as I have, for other riders maybe in the past with other manufacturers when we had quite a lot of grip, for my teammates sometimes or most of the times it was a big problem and they didn't know how to manage this grip," the Repsol Honda rider told us. "But for me it was a huge advantage. They had problems in the front, pushing and quite a low stability. But for me, I can manage with good grip. Some people with low grip are fast, but with good grip I’m fast."
But one rider stood head and shoulders above the rest. Despite his big crash in FP2, Fabio Quartararo was capable of running consistently three or four tenths faster than the rest. That was a cause for concern for Joan Mir, who has been slowly creeping up the order in the championship and now finds himself in a position to challenge for the championship.
Mir didn't have the pace to tackle Quartararo at the moment, though. "At the moment I’m not looking at Fabio," the Suzuki Ecstar rider told us. "But the fact is, he was the only one that was strong today. If you look back at the lap times from 2019 he is the only one able to make more or less the same lap times in FP2. It means the others, we are a bit lost. Fabio is strong here. Also the Yamaha guys are pretty strong. I’m not worried but I don’t want to fall asleep. We must work."
Conditions should get better on Saturday, as more rubber is laid on the track and as temperatures improve. Though the wind will remain, the sun is expected to play a more prominent role, and help raise the temperature of the track. Fridays might not mean much, but they lay the groundwork for Saturdays, and Saturdays matter quite a bit.
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