It is but a short trip up the road from Spielberg to Brno, but it is a journey between two very different worlds. From the hyper-modern facility at the Red Bull Ring, to the frayed-around-the-edges buildings of Brno. From a track which has been missing from the calendar for the best part of twenty years to a circuit which has seen racing almost since its inception, where teams often come to test. From a track with a paucity of corners, all hard braking and acceleration, to one which flows from corner to corner, where bikes mostly exit in third gear when getting on the gas.
The starkest difference between the Red Bull Ring and Brno is the layout. Both tracks snake up and down hillsides, but where Austria is a track stuck up against a mountain, Brno is a winding road which threads its way through hills and vales. Where Spielberg is basically seven corners, three of which are almost hairpins, all fourteen of Brno's corners are long and flowing.
Press releases from some of the MotoGP teams and Michelin ahead of this weekend's race at Brno:
Brno circuit according to Santi Hernandez and Ramon Aurin
Race engineers to Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, respectively, run through the key points of the historic Czech circuit.
Repsol Honda Team en route to Brno for Czech Republic GP
The penultimate piece of the 2017 puzzle has fallen into place. Today, the Pull&Bear Aspar team announced that they have signed Alvaro Bautista to race for them for the 2017 season.
The deal had long been anticipated, Bautista confirming at the Sachsenring that he was in talks with Aspar, and expected a contract to be signed. The final details were sorted out in Austria, and an announcement made the day before the Czech Grand Prix is to get underway in Brno.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's historic race at the Spielberg circuit in Austria:
Fantastic 1-2 for Ducati Team riders at Zeltweg, as Iannone wins the Austrian GP ahead of team-mate Dovizioso. Pirro twelfth
The Ducati Team put in an outstanding performance today at the Austrian Grand Prix, round 10 of the MotoGP World Championship, held at Zeltweg’s Red Bull Ring.
The rain finally come at 7:30pm, just as we were leaving the track. From Saturday night, the threat of rain at 2pm on Sunday – race time, local time – had hung over the Red Bull Ring in Austria, scaring riders at the prospect at racing on the circuit in the wet. Though everyone feared the effect of the rain on excessive asphalt run off, some were more worried than others. After two dismal results in the wet, Jorge Lorenzo had to get his championship back on track. In the cold and the wet, Lorenzo struggled. In the sun, Lorenzo could shine. Even against the Ducatis.
He got his wish, as did the reported 95,000 crowd which had flocked to the Austrian circuit for their first taste of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the country for the best part of twenty years. And what a taste it was. A brutal, thrilling opener of a Moto3 race, competitive to the line, with a new and popular winner. A fierce fight in Moto2 which took two-thirds of the race to settle. And a scintillating and intense MotoGP race which had the crowd holding their breath. The Spielberg track may not be a classic motorcycle track, but it produced some fantastic racing from the Grand Prix bikes.
In the last few years, the MotoGP season has shown remarkable stability. New tracks have been added from time to time, but the calendar has been very similar from one year to the next. Even though you get to go to some of the most amazing tracks in the world, the travel becomes routine, humdrum almost. You get to know the road from the hotel to the track, the circuit itself, the idiosyncrasies of each paddock, each media center, like the back of your hand. It becomes almost like a daily commute to an office. Almost, but not quite.
So new circuits have something a little special. They bring fresh faces, new ideas. There are new routes to learn to the circuit, a new paddock layout, figuring the most efficient path through the paddock. As a journalist, each media center has its own secrets. The best place to sit to get a view of the TV screens, whether the setting sun in the evening will end up shining on your laptop making it impossible to work, where to sit to avoid being whacked on the head by cameras as photographers try to squeeze past. You make note of which media center has good coffee, and which has none (Italy, surprisingly). You scout the paddock for food, if you do not wish to wear out your welcome at the hospitality units of various teams.
The Red Bull Ring in Austria has something special too. The track is different, in both good and bad ways, both simpler and at the same time more complicated. The media center, too, is different. It is quite simply the most luxurious media center I have ever been in. Fast WiFi (and more importantly, free, instead of the €30 to €50 which most tracks charge), plenty of big HD screens, a very airy and roomy space. Most amazing of all, the media center also has its own buffet, serving a wide selection of food throughout lunch time. At some tracks, such as Austin, we get a free lunch; at others, we get free bread rolls with meat and cheese. But I have never seen a media center with such an expansive spread of food. All those young people buying overpriced caffeinated sugar water are helping to ensure a bunch of old men are very well fed.
In the final part of our mid-season review of MotoGP, we come to the ragtag bunch bringing up the rear. From Bradley Smith to Yonny Hernandez, nearly all have a valid excuse for their poor results. But excuses count for nothing in motorcycle racing.
16th: Bradley Smith, Yamaha , 35 points
A remarkable reversal of fortunes for Bradley Smith and his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Pol Espargaro in 2016. Last year, Smith's consistency was in stark contrast to Espargaro's continuous attempts to try to make the Yamaha do something it didn't want to. In 2016, it is Smith who is banging his head against a wall trying to make the rear Michelin do something it won't, while Espargaro is the picture of consistency.
Why do they call it Silly Season? Its origins lie in the 19th Century, when a London publication found itself concocting trivial stories to try to pad out its pages. Its meaning has mutated to cover any story consisting mainly of speculation and rumor meant to fill empty column inches. And in motorcycle racing, it has come to mean the period of time during which riders and teams are negotiating over new contracts, and working on who will be riding where the following season.
This year, Silly Season has needed a new name. It has gone from beyond silly to being outright insane. In a normal year, riders touch base with teams at Jerez, start talks in earnest at Mugello, and sign contracts during the summer break, announcing deals at the first race after the break. But this is no normal year. As we approach the first race after the summer break of 2016, all but two of the twenty-three seats in MotoGP have already been filled, officially or unofficially, and Silly Season is basically over.
The madness started before the season had even begun. At the Movistar Yamaha launch in January, Jorge Lorenzo stated publicly that he wanted to sign a new deal with the team before the start of the season. Yamaha did their part, sending offers to both Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in the period before the first race at Qatar. Lorenzo did not sign his deal, however. Valentino Rossi did. The seven time MotoGP champion has tied his long term future to Yamaha, and never seriously looked elsewhere. Yamaha and Rossi will be making money for each other for many years to come.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the final day of testing at the Red Bull Ring in Austria:
APRILIA EXPLORES THE RED BULL RING
TWO DAYS OF TESTS FOR BAUTISTA, LOWES AND DI MEGLIO ON THE NEW AUSTRIAN CIRCUIT
The MotoGP riders had a chance to discover the Austrian Red Bull Ring circuit, one of the new additions to the 2016 calendar. Characterised by hard braking, fast acceleration and steep slope changes, the new track will host the next round on the weekend of 14 August.