After a tough race on Sunday, managing tires on a drying track, around half of the MotoGP grid headed back to the track on Monday for a day of testing. Not everyone was enthusiastic about that. "Usually we hate Mondays, and this is a Monday that we hate," Danilo Petrucci told us with a wry grin on his face. He pinpointed why testing made a lot less sense for satellite riders than for factory teams. Satellite teams only really have set up changes to test, and the occasional tire, if the single tire supplier has something new. There was a real downside to working on set up at a track you have just raced at, Petrucci said. "If you are angry because you didn't get the best set up on Sunday, you getting more angry if you find it on Monday."
Latest MotoGP News
There were a lot of firsts at Brno on Sunday. Perhaps the most consequential was the fact that we saw the first wet race in the MotoGP/500 class ever to be held at the Masarykring, the modern purpose-built circuit which replaced the old road circuit at Brno. That had a lot of knock on effects: we saw a surprise winner in the premier class, a shift in the championship, and a long race of strategy, where some riders got it spot on, and others got it horribly wrong. All this without the race even having to be restarted, or riders having to pass through the pits. Though of course, some did...
The MotoGP race was both fascinating and entertaining, and an object lesson in how changing weather can make morning warm up lead riders down the wrong path. On a sodden track, with the rain still falling heavily in the morning, there were serious concerns among some riders that the softest compound wet tire which Michelin had brought was not going to be soft enough to provide enough grip. "This morning with the extra soft the tire was completely new after nine laps," Andrea Dovizioso said.
It rained throughout the Moto3 race – which provided enormous entertainment, a first-time winner and another first-time podium visitor – and kept raining during Moto2 – a less exciting affair, but one which still managed to shake up the championship. The rain eased off on the final laps of Moto2, then just about stopped in the break between the end of the Moto2 race and the start of MotoGP. It was a welcome development for us hacks: chasing through the paddock to talk to Moto3 riders after the race, we had endured a soaking. The same run down to the other end of the paddock in search of Moto2 riders was a far more pleasant affair. The need to scurry from garage to garage under the shelter of balconies was gone.
The Grand Prix Commission has introduced a range of measures at their meeting in Brno. Among the most important are the switch from selling Moto3 engines to leasing them, and changing the flag-to-flag procedure, in an attempt to improve safety in pit lane.
Starting from next year, the flag-to-flag procedure has been revised. The number of mechanics assisting has been reduced, with only four allowed to assist in the bike swap. Those mechanics must now wear approved helmets, which will also make them easier to identify.
After he and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo had looked well in control of proceedings after the first day of practice at Brno, Valentino Rossi warned the media against drawing premature conclusions. "I think it's just Friday, it's a long way to Sunday," he said. We in the media ignored his warnings, of course, and painted a technicolor picture of a race where the Movistar Yamaha riders took back a hefty bunch of points from Marc Márquez, reigniting the championship.
Then Saturday happened, and Valentino Rossi turned out to be right again (and not for the first time, I might add). Friday had been just Friday. It was indeed still a long way to Sunday. Saturday, a stepping stone on the way to Sunday, helped turn a lot of things around. Jorge Lorenzo is still fast. So is Valentino Rossi, though not quite as fast as he had hoped. Andrea Iannone is a genuine threat for the podium, or even his second win in a row. Maverick Viñales could still get up front and complicate things, though he has a hill to climb after a problem with the brakes saw him qualify on the third row of the grid.
But any illusions the Movistar Yamaha men had of clawing back points from Marc Márquez will have to be shelved. Not only will the Repsol Honda rider start from pole on Sunday, but he also has the race pace which was missing on Friday. All thanks to a breathtaking lap of Brno, and a large set of wings which helped cure some of the worst problems with the Honda RC213V.
Honda have won four of the five last races held here at Brno. Casey Stoner has won one race, Marc Márquez has won one, and Dani Pedrosa has won two of those races between 2011 and 2015. After the first day of practice for this year's race at Brno, Marc Márquez sits atop the timesheets, with a lead of a tenth of a second over Andrea Iannone, and a shade more to Jorge Lorenzo. Does that mean that a fifth win for Honda is on the cards?
For the answer to that, see Marc Márquez' improbable save during FP2 at Brno. As he turned in for the penultimate corner at Turn 13, he lost the front of his Repsol Honda RC213V. With the steering at full lock, he hung on to the bars as his right foot slipped off the peg, trying first to lever the bike up with his elbow, then with his knee. Eventually the front slipped sideways, gripped, and the bike jimmied itself off the horizontal. It had lost just enough speed for Márquez to regain control, and buck it back to the outside of the corner, and head straight into the pits.
Was it Márquez' biggest ever save at Brno? "Still the 2014 save was bigger," Márquez laughed, "But this one was very long. I leaned 67.5°, in 2014 68.3°." Even Valentino Rossi was impressed. "He tries a lot, is his position on the bike, and is his ability," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. "first he tried with the elbow, then with the knee, and at the end, he saved it. So it was quite impressive. I don't know if I can do the same. But I go slower, so I don't lose the front!"
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.
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.
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.
The penultimate piece of the 2017 MotoGP puzzle has fallen into place. As had been widely expected, the Avintia Ducati team have announced that they will be keeping their current line up of Hector Barbera and Loris Baz for the 2017 season.
So much for Ducati domination. Sure, the two factory Ducatis are on the front row, Andrea Iannone on pole, Andrea Dovizioso in third, but they did not destroy the competition in qualifying the way they did so in practice on Friday. Austria is still Ducati's best chance of a win since Casey Stoner left for Honda at the end of the 2010 season, but it is no longer the sure thing it seemed on Friday.
What happened? A lot of things, but most of all, the weather improved dramatically. That certainly helped Jorge Lorenzo find some confidence, and put him back into contention after a couple of tough races. Valentino Rossi found some acceleration, and improved his pace. Marc Márquez worked on making up on the brakes what he is losing in acceleration. That puts the Ducatis, the Yamahas and Márquez all within a tenth or two of each other in race pace. We really are going to have to wait for the fat lady to start singing on this one.
It's the Sachsenring all over again. Or almost: when the MotoGP bikes were here in July, air temperatures were in the low 30s, and track temperature was around 50°C. During FP1, the air temperature was just 9°, and track temperature was 14°C. "The temperature this morning was pretty extreme," Jorge Lorenzo said after practice was over. "Only a few times in my life have we been riding in such cold conditions."
Cold temperatures meant cold tire crashes, especially in the morning. The most obvious was Dani Pedrosa's crash, who fell at Turn 9 as he touched the front brake, the front folding as if the track were wet. The crash caused the session to be red-flagged, as Pedrosa's Honda ended up puncturing the air fence and landing on top of the tire barrier.
The crash seemed to be a warning of the excesses of tarmac run off, but Pedrosa was happy that there wasn't a gravel trap at the edge of the track. "I crashed in fifth gear, so I was going very fast," Pedrosa said. "From one point of view I think, most of the run-off area was asphalt so maybe the bike didn't decelerate enough. But on the other side I was very lucky it was only asphalt, because I crashed so fast that if I went into the gravel I would have tumbled over and over with a lot of speed." There are upsides to asphalt run off sometimes.
Dorna is considering allowing communication between teams and riders via the dashboard. At a meeting today between Dorna and the teams, initial discussions took place over a system to allow teams to pass very brief messages to the dashboard of the bikes.
The ability to pass messages between team and bike has been made possible thanks to the transponders currently being used in MotoGP. Those allow for a very limited and very short burst of communication as the bikes pass the timing loops at the track. Race Direction is currently using the system to pass signals to the dash in the case of a red flag, black flag or ride through penalty, but the system would also allow teams a limited ability to pass messages to the riders.