Silverstone extended a rather British welcome to the lightweight class riders, who signalled the start of the race weekend in chilly and overcast conditions but with the smell of fresh asphalt. The dark surface immediately placed riders over a second faster than last year’s FP1 benchmark and by the time the first checkered flag waved, Tony Arbolino broke the all time lap record standing since 2015.
Silverstone, Great Britain
This time last year, the entire paddock was stood in the rain, looking at the skies, and wondering how we were ever going to have a MotoGP race at Silverstone again. After a brief shower of torrential rain on Saturday put more water on the track than the new surface could drain away, making the track unrideable and creating conditions which saw a series of riders crash at the end of Hangar Straight, Tito Rabat coming off worst as Franco Morbidelli's wayward Honda smashed into his leg and destroyed his femur.
With the forecast for rain later on Sunday, the race was rescheduled for an early start, the lights due to go out at 11:30am local time. But the rain came earlier than forecast, and was heavier, and the track never dried out. There was standing water at several sections around the track. We waited, and we waited, and we waited. And we looked at one another and asked, have you heard anything? And every time we heard about a possible start time, or a time to evaluate track conditions, that was contradicted or retracted ten minutes later.
Barry Sheene and ‘King’ Kenny Roberts fought a breath-taking duel for victory at the 1979 British GP, notorious for Sheene’s cheeky hand signal
On August 12 1979, Barry Sheene and ‘King’ Kenny Roberts fought one of the greatest and most important Grand Prix duels of all time. Their battle for British GP victory was unforgettable for all kinds of reasons.
First, the pair were two of motorcycle racing’s all-time greats. Roberts was the prototype Marc Márquez, who changed bike racing with a new way of riding that left everyone struggling to catch up. Sheene was the prototype Valentino Rossi, whose rock-star persona broke him into the mainstream.
The 2018 British Grand Prix at Silverstone was a miserable affair from every possible perspective. On Friday, the riders complained bitterly about the bumps which had appeared, despite the track having been resurfaced over the winter, a complaint which echoed the Formula 1 drivers, who had raced there several weeks earlier.
On Saturday, in a downpour, several riders crashed at the end of Hangar Straight, including Tito Rabat. Unfortunately for Rabat, Franco Morbidelli crashed immediately after him, his bike slamming into Rabat and shattering the Avintia Ducati rider's leg. Rabat would face a very long recovery to come back from such a severe injury.
Things got worse on Sunday. Heavy rain drenched the track after warm up, and continued steadily throughout the day. Mindful of Rabat's accident, and the fact that there was standing water at several points on the track, the racing was delayed in the hopes of better weather. When better weather didn't arrive, it was called off altogether.
The Silverstone circuit is to be resurfaced in June, ahead of the British F1 Grand Prix, and to be ready for the 2019 British round of MotoGP at the circuit in August.
The resurfacing was a condition for the Northamptonshire circuit to be able to host MotoGP. After last year's debacle, when the race had to be canceled because the track was not clearing water fast enough to be able to race safely, the FIM suspended Silverstone's license to host international motorcycle racing events.
To avoid a repeat of that debacle, Silverstone brought in Jarno Zafelli, owner of Studio Dromo, an engineering company with expertise in track design, while Tarmac Ltd - the business founded by the inventor of the sticky black road surface - will be responsible for laying the new surface. Zafelli acts as an advisor to Dorna on track safety, design, and surfacing, and has been a key figure in overseeing the process.
The FIM today officially confirmed the 2019 MotoGP calendar. There were no changes made to the provisional calendar released in September last year. There will be 19 races, starting in Qatar on 10th March, and ending in Valencia on 17th November. There will be tests after the race at Jerez, Barcelona, and Brno, while the first test of 2020 is expected to take place after Valencia.
There could be an extra test in the schedule, to be held directly after Silverstone. If the new Kymiring circuit in Finland is finished on time, the riders will head to Finland at the end of August to try the new circuit, and generate important data for Michelin.
The official calendar appears below:
The legacy of the Lost Grand Prix lingers on. Silverstone was on the minds of many at Misano, and there was still much to be said about the race. The conclusion remained nearly unanimous, with one dissenting opinion: it was way too dangerous to race at Silverstone, and the new surface was simply not draining correctly. Riders chimed in with their opinions of what had gone wrong with laying the asphalt, but those opinions should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. They may be intimately familiar with the feel and texture of asphalt, but the ability to ride a motorcycle almost inhumanly fast does not equate to understanding the underlying engineering and chemistry of large-scale civil engineering projects.
What riders do understand better than anyone, of course, is whether a race track is safe to race on, and all but Jack Miller felt the same way eleven days on from Silverstone. "The amount of rain was not enough to produce those conditions on the track," Marc Márquez told the press conference. "For me it was more about the asphalt, more than the weather conditions. And it was T2 and T3, that part was something that you cannot ride like this. Because there are many bumps, the water was there but inside the bump was even more water, and it was impossible to understand the track."
It had rained far more in 2015, when the race had been able to go ahead, than it had in 2018, when the race had been called off, Márquez said. "For example in 2015 it was raining much more, in Motegi last year it was raining much more. But for some reason, we already went out from the box and it was only light rain but the water was there. It was something strange."
Dorna today unveiled the provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019, confirming much of what we already knew. The schedule will consist of 19 races, as the circuit in Mexico City will not be ready to host a MotoGP race next year, and the Kymiring in Finland is also still under construction. Both races are provisionally expected to be on the 2020 calendar.
The calendar is broadly similar to this year's schedule, with a few tweaks. The season kicks off at Qatar on 10th March, earlier than usual and a week before F1, which normally starts before MotoGP. Three weekends later, the series is racing in Argentina at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, and two weeks after that, the whole circus heads north for the US round in Austin.