Some spits of rain set the scene for the first action of the day and with the forecast looking the same for the rest of Saturday, riders perhaps begrudgingly took to the track. The lightweight class was riding in fully went conditions for the first time this weekend and the situation was complicated by different conditions in various sections of the track.
We knew it was going to rain at some point on Friday, the only question was when. Well, not quite the only question. The other question was, if it did rain, would the MotoGP riders go out and ride in the rain? Or would they deem the Red Bull Ring to be too dangerous to ride in the wet, and sit out practice, as they had threatened when rain had caused Moto2 riders to fall like skittles last year?
It started to rain in the early afternoon, right at the end of Moto3 FP2. Thankfully, not heavily enough to claim too many casualties, though Nicolo Bulega did suffer a massive highside after the checkered flag had fallen, his bike flying through the air and clouting Nakarin Atiratphuvapat around the head, the Thai rider trying to fend off the airborne KTM with one hand, while trying not to fall off with the other.
From that moment on, the rain started to pelt down. A rivulet started running across pit lane exit, and standing water formed on the steep downhill sections of Turns 1 through 4. It rained so heavily that MotoGP FP2 was delayed for 20 minutes or so, as the safety car circulated testing conditions. But the session was eventually given the green light, and riders were free to enter the track. Would anyone attempt it?
After torrential rain messed with the premier class session, Moto2 got to splash their way through a downpour of their own in the initial stages of FP2. Some of the rain masters of the group snuck some fast laps in the first five minutes, when the visibility worsened and encouraged most of the pack to retreat to their garages. With half a dozen laps under their belt and a quick rest, the field resumed action in the final 20 minutes as rain eased only slightly but enough to allow some competitive times.
The skies opened generously just before the premier class’ second session of the day, which meant the start got delayed significantly. More importantly, it also meant that FP1 results proved crucial as FP2 was a washout and FP3 was predicted to follow suit. Even when the sky showed a few blue hints and the countdown for FP2 did eventually start, water was still intruding on the tarmac and no one looked tempted to sample the conditions.
The weather had threatened to interfere in proceedings from the first time we glanced at a forecast for Spielberg and that threat became reality ten minutes into the first session of the afternoon. Spots of rain in the first sector saw Moto3 riders halt play after only four laps on the board but we still got some action in the final twenty minutes, once the light shower eased and the track got busy once again.
The clouds were still at a safe distance by the time the intermediate class came out to play, although parts of the circuit looked darker and darker as things progressed. Last year’s poleman Mattia Pasini had another one of those sessions where he shot into the lead soon after the start only to fade throughout the session. The Italian was first demoted by Fabio Quartararo as the Frenchman made a return to the sharp end but it was a fleeting success once Pecco Bagnaia came to the fore to grab the headlines.
With barely any rest following the tense adventures in Brno, the premier class hit the fast and furious Red Bull Ring with a clear goal: to set an early benchmark while the sun was yet to give way to the predicted dark clouds for the remaining practice sessions. Marc Marquez was firing on all cylinders from the off and grabbed a lead of almost four tenths of a second until Andrea Dovizioso got the best of his softer tyres to sneak ahead with 15 minutes left on the clock.
With barely any respite, the GP circus was back in show at the rapid Red Bull Ring and so was Jorge Martin. The Spaniard was back in action after surgery on his wrist following a crash last Friday in Brno, in a bid to minimise the damage to his championship aspirations. With the habitual runaway leader of the lightweight class still convalescent, there was no dominant force in FP1, Marco Bezzecchi, John McPhee and Philipp Oettl sharing the top of the timesheets in equal parts until a late shootout.
It is hard to imagine two tracks more different from one another than Brno and Austria. From one of the most flowing and challenging circuits on the calendar, which caters to many different styles of bike and many different types of rider, to one of the plainest and simplest tracks which emphasizes braking and acceleration, and little more. The Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria is an amazing facility, set in a stunning backdrop, but the track layout remains a simplistic and uninspiring affair.
"You can split the track in two parts," Johann Zarco explains. "The first part until Turn 4, that you have hard braking and then strong acceleration, you restart from the corner from almost no speed to 300 km/h." From Turn 10, the last corner, there is the front straight, braking hard uphill for Turn 1, then the climb up the hill through the narrow and fast kink of Turn 2, before braking for the hairpin at Turn 3, then following a gentle downward slope along the hillside down to another tight right hander at Turn 4. Gas-brake-gas-brake-gas-brake.
"Then second part with fast corners, but not many," the Monster Tech3 rider continues. The loop through Turn 5, then the omega of Turns 6 and 7, the kink of Turn 8, then the hard right of Turn 9, which is crucial for lining up the final corner at Turn 10, and back onto the straight again. "You get focused on four corners, and you are already finished the lap," Zarco said. "And I don't know, I like that, you repeat things many times, so it's a lot of concentration for a short time, and then you repeat it."