Maverick Viñales has given an indication of just how much faster the new asphalt is at the Barcelona circuit. Despite the layout being nominally slower than the old layout, Viñales took over a second and a half of Aleix Espargaro's pole record.
Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain
After Le Mans, the MotoGP teams had rushed from France down to Barcelona to test the new surface and layout at the Montmelo circuit. The track has been completely resurfaced, and extra runoff created at Turn 13 (the old Turn 12) which means that the corner can be restored to its former glory, before it was altered in the wake of the tragic death of Luis Salom in 2016.
Michelin's return to the MotoGP paddock has been nothing if not eventful. Since taking over from Bridgestone as official tire supplier to MotoGP, Michelin has had both spectacular success and highly visible failure. Lap records (and more importantly to Michelin, race time records) have been broken, but there have also been delaminating tires, compulsory pit stops, and at the start of their time, a lot of crashes as the riders, teams, and Michelin all struggled with the front tire.
It is hardly surprising that the first two years of Michelin's return did not go entirely to plan. Having been out of MotoGP since 2009, it was predictable that Michelin would run into unexpected problems. The spate of front end crashes which marred the first Valencia test was quickly remedied as riders learned to fathom the different nature of the Michelins, teams adapted the geometry of the bikes, and Michelin changed the profile of the front tire to improve the contact patch. The extreme tire wear was dealt with by using harder compounds, which Michelin then slowly adjusted back in search of the right balance.
By the end of their second year in the class, Michelin had a much better understanding of the demands of MotoGP, and tires had become much less of a talking point. That is something of a double-edged sword according to Piero Taramasso, head of Two-Wheel Motorsport for Michelin. "We want people to speak about the tires, but in a good way," Taramasso joked to reporters on the final day of the Qatar test. "But I know this is not the case, I know that when we do well, nobody speaks about the tires, when something goes wrong, everybody speaks about the tires, this is the way it is since forever."
Dorna issued the following press release confirming the shortening of races in all three Grand Prix classes, as we reported earlier. Seven MotoGP races are to be shortened, ten Moto2 races are to lose laps, and eight races in Moto3. The press release explaining the full list of changes appears below:
FIM MotoGP™ World Championship race durations to change
The number of laps in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 races are to be adjusted to ensure greater parity in race duration.
Seven MotoGP races are to be shortened for the 2018 season onwards. The MotoGP races at Austin, Le Mans, Barcelona, Brno, and Misano are all to be cut by a single lap, the race at Jerez is to lose two laps, and the season finale at Valencia is to be reduced by a whole three laps.
The reason for the reduction in length is to bring the races into line with the remainder of the calendar, and create a consistent time schedule. Previously, the MotoGP regulations specified a minimum and maximum length for races (between 95km and 130km), but for 2018, the specification of distance has been dropped. Race distance for all events is now to be determined by the Permanent Bureau, consisting of the FIM and Dorna.
The old race distances caused a large variation in race duration. Races could last anywhere between 40 and 45 minutes, making scheduling for TV problematic. It also meant that if there were delays at the start, or if races were wet, they could overrun the allotted TV slot, causing major headaches for broadcasters. It meant that audiences were never sure whether they would get to see the Parc Fermé interviews or podium ceremonies.
|18 March||Qatar*||Losail International Circuit|
|08 April||República Argentina||Termas de Río Hondo|
|22 April||Americas||Circuit of The Americas|
|06 May||Spain||Circuito de Jerez|
|20 May||France||Le Mans|
In many ways, the MotoGP season is structured like a Hollywood action blockbuster. There is preseason testing, the opening sequence in which we are introduced to the main cast of characters. After the opening credits, we start off by flying across continents to a range of exotic and colorful locations, where the first threads of plot are laid out, some of which will turn out to be red herrings later in the season. There then follows a regular sequence of dramatic action sequences, the narrative of the season taking dramatic twists and turns along the way.
If MotoGP is a Hollywood blockbuster, then the Pacific triple header of flyaway races is the frantic last 10 minutes, where the protagonists face off again and again leaving the audience barely a moment to catch their breath. It is where the battle for MotoGP reaches its crescendo, the drama of the season raised to another level and compressed into the briefest of windows. The flyaways are intense.
If the fans feel the triple header takes its toll on them, just imagine what it's like for the riders. Back-to-back races within Europe are usually manageable, as the riders are only a few hours away from their homes, and spend the weekends in their motorhomes, which are a home away from home. For the flyaways, the riders spend four weeks on the road, moving from hotel to hotel. They kick off the trip with a 15-hour flight to Japan, follow it up with an 11-hour flight from Japan to Melbourne, then another 9-hour flight to Malaysia.
The provisional calendar for the 2018 MotoGP season has been released, and as expected, there are few surprises. The schedule has been expanded to 19 races with the inclusion of the Chang International Circuit in Thailand, which has a contract to host a race through 2020.
The addition of Thailand hasn't altered the schedule much. The 2018 schedule is almost identical to this year's calendar, with just a few minor variations. The season kicks off a week early in Qatar, and to accommodate that earlier start, the time of the race is to be changed to 7pm local time. Starting earlier will mean that MotoGP avoids the evening dew that can render the track so treacherous.
Results and summary of the Moto3 race in Silverstone:
Can part two of the (melo)drama which is the 2017 MotoGP season live up to part one? It has been a wild ride so far, but like any great fairground ride, we have ended up more or less back where we started. Just five points separate Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales at the top of the championship, and Valentino Rossi in fourth is only ten points behind Márquez, with Andrea Dovizioso in between a point behind Viñales. If Márquez does not win the Czech Grand Prix at Brno on Sunday, there is every chance the championship will have a new leader. If there is, it would be the fifth time the title lead had changed hands so far this year. It has been a wild ride indeed.
So how did we get here? Through a mixture of rider swaps, tire changes, weird weather, and changing track conditions. Add in a healthy dose of spec electronics, the loss of winglets for this season, and a brace of astonishing rookies, and you have an explosive mixture. At Mugello, perhaps the nearest thing we have had to a normal MotoGP weekend this year, the gap from the winner, Andrea Dovizioso, to Jack Miller in fifteenth was 30.7 seconds, with 50 seconds covering all 20 finishers. In 2015, 30 seconds covered just the first eight riders. In 2013, only five other bikes finished within half a minute of the winner. Those kinds of gaps have been the rule for most of the modern era. But the old rules no longer apply.
Michelin can take much of the credit, or shoulder much of the blame, depending on your perspective. In their second year back in MotoGP, the French tire manufacturer have been a much more stable force in the series, the tires changing less this year than in 2016. But that has not stemmed the complaints: there have been a string of riders muttering that the Michelins are not up to scratch, that they change too much from one race to the next, and even from one day to the next. Are their concerns valid? Michelin deny it, of course, and give a long list of entirely plausible reasons for the tires to react differently from day to day.