Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Barcelona:
The last playtime for the premier class before things got serious started off with some uncharacteristic tyre choices in the field. Jorge Lorenzo on the soft was no surprise though, nor was his excellent pace on it, so the only choice the Spaniard needed to make was between the two aero fairings. As the Spaniard swapped to the less sizeable version, he looked unthreatened at the top of the timesheets – until the final minute that is, when Andrea Iannone put in a new soft rear and snuck ahead by eight hundredths of a second.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Barcelona:
The intermediate class was out to play in a sunny Catalunya and not unusually, some of that playground was covered in sand as more riders put their name down for the already sizeable crash list across all classes this weekend. But no such concerns for Pecco Bagnaia, the world championship leader setting camp at the top of the timesheets with an advantage of nearly four tenths of a second.
With a bit of sunshine, a bit of cloud cover and a cooler surface, plenty of soft rubber had hit the track on Saturday morning. And unlike the usual FP3 session, most attention went to race runs as similar track conditions were forecasted for Sunday afternoon.
The sun made an early appearance over the lightweight class on Saturday morning but catching up with Friday benchmarks took some doing. Jorge Martin was one of the few who improved his performance early on but the fast lap and race run came at a cost, the Spaniard getting flicked over the top of his Honda in a scary crash in turn two. The Gresini man walked away gingerly and did not rejoin the action as the field was having a final charge. The only man to eventually dethrone Martin was Aron Canet, who took over the lead on his very last lap by seven hundredths of a second from Martin.
MotoGP riders love resurfaced tracks, and Barcelona is no exception. But while the new asphalt laid at the start of this year is infinitely better than the old surface it replaces, there are still the odd few blemishes. The surface may be new, but the grip wasn't universally good, especially as the track was a little dirtier than expected. And as the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmeló is used extensively by F1, the cars have already started to pull up the tarmac in the braking zone, bumps and ripples starting to make an unwelcome appearance already.
And though you can change the asphalt, you can't change the locating and microclimate around the track. It got hot and humid in the afternoon on Friday, and riders went tumbling through the gravel despite the new surface. A grand total of 28 riders hit the deck on Friday, across all three classes and all sessions. That is well over twice as many crashes on Friday as on any Friday during the last five years.
Johann Zarco was one of them, washing out the front at Turn 5. It was a fairly normal crash, Zarco explained. "The crash this afternoon was not something bad, just closing the front when you try to lean the bike to turn the bike as quick as possible," the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider said. "Things can happen. It was the medium front after three laps. Maybe I asked a bit too much, or we were not good in the setup to lean that way. But not a big problem, I could understand it quickly."
MotoGP could be heading back to Brazil from 2021. Today, Dorna signed a memorandum of understanding with Rio Motorsports, a Brazilian motorsports company, to organize a Brazilian round of MotoGP at a new facility to be built in Rio De Janeiro. If the circuit gets built and the project proceeds to the next phase, it would see Grand Prix motorcycle racing head to Brazil for the first time since 2004.
A significantly hotter track was waiting for the final session of the day in Catalunya and the different conditions meant that the intermediate class struggled to find great improvements in their lap time. Some of the usual names were at the front of the session with a more unusual one thrown in the mix mid-session. Marcel Schrotter had another brief stint at the top before Fabio Quartararo sparked a surprise in Speed Up’s pretty livery. The Frenchman was then demoted by Alex Marquez, last year’s victor starting to demonstrate the same impressive speed.
Tarmac was near sizzling point and so was the future intra-team battle between Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, the Spaniards starting the second session of the day swapping seats at the top of the standings. The early battle soon cooled off and some race runs replaced the excitement, with the final five minutes reserved for the charge for top ten positions. Lorenzo was the first to leave a lasting impression on the timesheets with the first 1:38 time of the day, while Marquez’s hard front had enough and took a detour all the way through the turn four gravel trap.
Catalunya heated up nicely for the second set of practice sessions, although cloud cover was still keeping the show under wraps. Despite the improved conditions, riders were not in much of a hurry to improve their morning pace. It was Niccolò Antonelli’s turn to grab an early lead in the session after struggling in FP1 but the Italian’s prime position was snatched away in the final three minutes of the session as rivals picked up some serious speed.
The intermediate class started off their weekend on the revised layout in Montmeló with many of the usual contenders presenting themselves from the word go. Pecco Bagnaia took charge as the early leader, but while the Italian was dusting himself off after losing the front in turn ten, Marcel Schrotter and then Alex Marquez picked him up at the top of the timesheets. The trio continued to battle remotely in the final time attack but it was Bagnaia who had the final say by one tenth of a second.
With the new configuration of the circuit of Barcelona-Catalunya wiping out all track records, one man appeared keen to start writing them up once again. Marc Marquez got straight down to business in familiar fashion and did his best to maintain a whooping one second gap to the pursuers. But in the end, the honour of posting the first benchmark on the new-old layout went to Valentino Rossi, who finally brought a Yamaha in the mix after putting new softs to good use.
A warm but not all that bright morning greeted the lightweight class to the Catalan track and its new configuration. The surface was not quite up to ideal conditions which meant that the first ten minutes of the session were scattered with light crashes, including championship leader Marco Bezzecchi and wishful championship contender Aron Canet, who apologetically bumped Adam Norrodin in turn ten.
From time to time, the media gets hoist by its own petard. A story comes along which everyone picks up and runs with, pushed to ever more dizzying heights of breathless commentary; what ifs, maybes, and wild speculation. Professional sports are soap opera for men, as the great darts promoter Barry Hearn once said, and the logical corollary of that is that sports media extrapolate throwaway comments and a handful of facts into vast sweeping narratives.
Thus it was that what looked like the entire MotoGP media contingent packed into Honda's hospitality unit to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say during his media debrief. It was both genuinely impressive and actually quite frightening. Normally, somewhere between 20 and 30 journalists and photographers attend Pedrosa's media debrief in the HRC hospitality, which is held upstairs on a unit built in the space between two trucks holding offices. A large balcony spans the space between the two trucks, with stairs ascending to a space full of chairs on the roof of one of the trucks, and a table where first Marc Márquez, and then Dani Pedrosa sit and give their account of the day to the assembled media.
Instead of 30 journalists, there was what looked like between 200 and 300 people. Honda's design is meant to be spacious and airy, but that amount of people standing on the roof of what is basically a truck trailer made it look crowded, and rather fragile. Coward that I am, I chose to stay downstairs, and listen there.