2012 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: An Up-And-Down Kind Of Day

"It was an up-and-down day," Ben Spies said after practice on Friday, and truly, he spoke for a large part of the paddock. It started with the weather: the overnight rain continued for the better part of the morning, leaving the track soaking during FP1. The sun came out at lunchtime, quickly drying out the track, helped by the strong winds buffeting the circuit. The dry track helped, the wind certainly didn't. "That's what happens when you build a circuit on an airfield," Cal Crutchlow commented curtly, after complaining about being blown around by the gusting wind in the afternoon.

The up-and-down nature of the day was illustrated most neatly by Valentino Rossi. The Italian topped the timesheets in the morning when the track was soaking - the first time he has done so since warm up in Assen last year, and that was in a torrential downpour too - then ended the afternoon session in 11th, and last of the factory prototypes. Rossi had no real explanation for the paradox, saying only "the places we are very fast in the wet are the same places we are very slow in the dry." He was losing six tenths in the space of just 500 meters compared to Nicky Hayden, Rossi said, putting the difficulty down in part to still having to learn the track. Silverstone is a very technical circuit, the Italian explained, summing it up as "very long, very wide and very fast." The problem is the number of blind corners, Rossi said, where you have to brake from memorized points and turn in long before you can see where the track is going. But 11th was not an entirely accurate reflection of where they felt they were, he added, saying that the brief shower of rain that fell in the middle of FP2 meant they had not had time to try a final setting which he and the team believed would make a major improvement. Nicky Hayden had tried the same setting in the afternoon, and ended the dry session in 4th.

The encouraging news for Hayden was not so much his position, as the gap to the fastest man of FP2, Casey Stoner. Hayden was just half a second off the pace of the Repsol Honda man, and though he may have lost his position if the Yamahas had not struggled so badly in the afternoon, the gap is very acceptable. The American and his team had been playing around with the steering head, moving the offset and the steering head. This had worked out well, and it was this modification which Rossi had not had a chance to test.

Best of the Yamahas was Ben Spies, the Texan doing very well after a crash in the wet in the morning. Ironically, Spies' success is a reversal of his fortunes so far this season, the Texan often struggling while the other Yamahas blitz the top of the timesheets. At Silverstone on Friday, it was the turn of the Monster Tech 3 bikes and Jorge Lorenzo to have problems, while Spies ran a consistently fast pace in the dry. Spies merely said he felt the team were working pretty well, but Cal Crutchlow offered a plausible explanation. Spies' style and setup were very different from the rest of the Yamaha riders, Crutchlow suggested, meaning that he could benefit while the rest struggled.

Each Yamaha rider was struggling in his own way, however. For Cal Crutchlow, the problem was in part the wind, but mostly, it was about getting the bike stopped. For Jorge Lorenzo, the issue was one of rear traction, and getting the electronics to work. Andrea Dovizioso's main problem was controlling the bike with the wind. Despite the problems, the gap to Stoner was small: Crutchlow was slowest, just under eight tenths off the time of the Australian, while Dovizioso was two thirds of a second off Stoner's pace. A little improvement would suffice to get them much closer to Stoner, bringing a front-row start well into reach.

As for Casey Stoner, his main problem was with the track, rather than anything else. His team had solved most of the chatter issues the bike had been having, the Australian saying they needed just one more dry session to make it go away completely - at least at the rear. The track he was less complimentary about: the new repaved section - the whole section from The Loop through Village and Luffield - was very bumpy, despite having been resurfaced. The bumps were upsetting braking, Stoner said, making it very hard to ride. Stoner's ability to sense the smallest changes on the bike and track may be getting in his way here, as the consensus of the other riders was generally that the new asphalt was an improvement. Yes there were still bumps there, the riders said - "It is not perfect," as Valentino Rossi put it - but it was definitely better than last year. The track surface had more grip, and that was the most important thing.

Whether the things the teams learned will be of any use for the rest of the weekend remains to be seen. The weather appears to be improving, and while there should be some rain again on Saturday, the race on Sunday looks like being run in the dry. The wind is set to continue again on Saturday, though, making controlling the bike and keeping the front wheel down an added problem. But come Sunday, the track could well be dry and the wind should have died down considerably. That will ruin Valentino Rossi's best chance of another podium, Rossi admitted, but more dry track time will help them work on the bike. Solutions should be found at Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa should also be closer to the front. Strange days indeed, a wet and windy Friday at Silverstone, but normality may yet return.

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The simple truth is that no track is perfect, and Stoner is simply more inclined to talk straight than other riders.

I think that when you can go as quickly as Stoner can go you might feel the imperfections a bit more keenly... kind of like how a Fireblade can add corners to seemingly straight freeways ; )

Then you are giving full permission to slag everything as there is nothing on Mother Earth that is absolutely perfect, nothing.

Good to hear the chatter is slowly going south on the Hondas. First time I'd read anything about that being the case.

The grid will be back to normal by the end of tommorws qualifying. Stoner, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Spies, Crutchlow.

I can guarantee you that Bautista will not be in the first two rows and you can take that to the bank. Its a wasted Honda on the grid. He's I'm sure one of the top 50 bike riders in the world, but still a waste on the Honda in MOTOGP.

Mr Invisible, Andrea Dovizioso, might just be a little pissed you left him off your grid haha!

I disagree on Bautista. I think he's doing a reasonable job on that Honda and can't think of anyone I would be absolutely confident they would do a better job than him (who isn't already in a better situation). What riders would you suggest deserve that ride more than he? Maybe RdP, maybe. Otherwise, the Honda is clearly marginally inferior to the Yamaha and he is also in the unique position of having different suspension to all the other Hondas on the grid to boot. I think with more time he'll get stronger but time will tell I guess.

In a sense, Rossi/Ducati are very lucky that their bike is showing such binary behavior. It has at least given them a sound place to start researching a solution (the dynamic behavior of the bike in the rain). If their machine performed badly under ALL conditions I think their job would be much more time consuming. In such a case where would you start looking?

Despite the constant repetition about 'weight bias', 'chassis flex' and so on, almost ad infinitum, the fact is the Ducati MotoGP bike will only become competitive when they use the correct geometry. The fact that it was Hayden's crew that moved the steering axis and adjusted the fork offset to suit once again highlights the fact Rossi does not seem to have a clue about chassis set-up. It will be interesting to see what lap times they achieve when they get to Aragon, where the race record is held by the much ridiculed carbon fibre chassis...

Figures he'd get pole today after what I wrote. I reckon I'll just shut up...other than to say they might try someone like Ianone or Scott Redding or take a real chance and get Fenati.

I still think Bautista has gone as high as he ever will in MOTOGP and remain just a backmarker. Never said he isn't a damn good rider, just not a part of the cream of the crop. He's a lot like Dovizioso. Reached his peak and ain't a gonna go any higher.

I must admit, after your initial comment I had a good chuckle after qualifying. His timing couldn't have been better!

If we were talking about Bautista being on the factory Repsol bike instead of Pedrosa or Stoner then I'd agree with your point. But he's on a satellite bike and none of your alternatives deserve the Honda more than Alvaro. Iannone was disappointing last year finishing a distant 3rd in Moto2 and hardly deserving a call-up to MotoGP. Scott Redding had a disastrous year finishing 15th overall and definitely didn't deserve promotion and it's just guesswork that either of them have anything extra to do better than Bautista. Also, the suggestion of 16 year old Fenati debuting in MotoGP is bizarre.

Your comparison of Bautista and Dovi is quite a good one. Both are incredible riders who just lack that extra edge of raw speed to consistently win races on factory equipment. But they absolutely have a place in MotoGP - and on good machinery. Regarding his bike, there are only four bikes capable of winning races this year and last (excluding exceptional circumstance) and the satellite Yamahas have thus far been superior to his Honda so Bautista results including three sixth place finishes and a seventh are around the acceptable mark for him. And as they dial in their unique Showa suspension, they are and should continue to improve so that Alvaro and his Gresini team will start fighting with the Tech3 Yamahas as best of the rest.