Normally, I would start my Saturday round up talking about how pole position was won, whether it was expected or a surprise, and taking glance at race pace among the main contenders for victory on Sunday. But that would be to ignore the elephant in the room. Sure, Andrea Dovizioso's pole was impressive, and a little unexpected given just how quick Marc Márquez has been all weekend. But that's not the big news from Brno. The big story in MotoGP is in the final place on the fourth row of the grid, and how he ended up there.
Brno is the place the bomb finally burst between Maverick Viñales and crew chief Ramon Forcada. The tension has been building between the two for months, with rumors that Viñales has wanted to replace Forcada since the beginning of the year. Viñales has complained that Forcada will not make the radical changes which the young Spaniard requested in search of a solution to the traction problems. Forcada has wanted to stick to the plan, and work through issues methodically, so as not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
For the past few weeks, it has been an open secret that Viñales will be getting a new crew chief in 2019 (Esteban Garcia, currently crew chief for Bradley Smith at KTM). But Forcada and Viñales have soldiered along, their disagreements only occasionally seeping out into the public, such as at the Le Mans race, where Viñales told the media he had tried to crash in every corner because he felt it was the only way to demonstrate to his team that the bike would go no faster.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class at Brno:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class at Brno:
The final practice session for the premier class started off pretty anti-climactic as riders were back out on hard tyres – with the occasional medium rear if you’re the reigning world champion or a confusing soft if you’re Yamaha – and appeared to register similar pace. That all changed in the final half of the session, when a certain Marquez decided to show his hand a bit more.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class at Brno:
The final practice session for the intermediate class started under bright sunshine and the championship leader was the first to shine as he claimed top position on the timesheets on lap four and held on to it to the checkered flag. Pecco Bagnaia led teammate Luca Marini by less than a tenth of a second, a more significant three-tenth gap keeping Alex Marquez at bay.
The session started with an assault on the timesheets as the premier class line-up was enjoying the more sensible conditions temperature-wise. The final five minutes really kickstarted the battle for those precious Q2 tickets and Jorge Lorenzo showed his cards first to lead ahead of Petrucci.
The Italian struck back at the very last minute to retake the lead and it looked like a straight battle between the two Ducati men until Valentino Rossi, finding himself in a dangerous 11th position, fired in the fastest time of the weekend on his very last lap.
In the absence of the championship leader, many contenders came to the fore to share the spoils in Brno and the still acceptable temperatures helped their cause in the morning session. The lightweight class riders improved their Friday benchmarks from the word go and the ultimate victor of the final practice session was Gabriel Rodrigo. The RBA racer’s morning was not without incident as Rodrigo was pouring gravel out of his fairing halfway through the session but eventually recovered to lead the field.
It is hot at Brno. It was hot at Assen, it was hot at the Sachsenring, and it is positively scorching at Brno. Air temperatures are at a relatively bearable 34°C, but the asphalt tentatively broke the 50°C during FP2. That is officially what is known colloquially as a scorcher, testing riders, teams, and above all, tires on the first day of practice at Brno. Where last year, the riders concentrated on the soft and the medium Michelins, on Friday, the MotoGP riders spent their time assessing the medium and the hard. The downside of forcing Michelin to choose tires for the entire season back in February is that sometimes, their crystal ball fails them, and the weather deviates wildly from what might reasonably be expected. The heatwave which has Europe in a vice-like grip is just such a case.
There are upsides to the heat, though they are perhaps unexpected. There were just four fallers at Brno on Friday across all three classes, less than half the number from last year, a third of the number in 2016, and a massive five and a half times fewer than the 22 crashers in 2015. It's hot and dry, so the tires will definitely grip.
Sometimes a little too much, as Jorge Martin found to his dismay in Moto3 FP1. The Spaniard managed to highside his Del Conca Gresini Honda Moto3 bike and break the radius bone in his left wrist, ruling him out of action for Sunday's race, and making him doubtful for next week's Austrian round at the Red Bull Ring. Martin had steadily built up a lead over Marco Bezzecchi in the Moto3 championship in the last two races, only to throw it away with a huge mistake at Brno. There may only have been four crashes on Friday, but one of them was very costly indeed.
In the MotoGP class, the timesheets tell a rather deceptive tale. Dani Pedrosa finished the day faster, and digging into the timesheets, he looks quick on old tires and in race trim. Danilo Petrucci was second quickest overall, and also showed solid pace. But the Pramac Ducati rider was convinced that the riders with real race pace were behind him, Andrea Dovizioso in fifth, and Marc Márquez in tenth. Not where you might necessarily expect to find the fastest riders on the day.
In a familiar storyline from earlier today, Marcel Schrotter set camp at the top of the timesheets on lap four and once again followed through to ensure first place at the checkered flag. The German had two tenths of a second in hand over the world championship leader throughout the session, with Mattia Pasini a further four hundredths of a second back in third position.
By the time the premier class took to the track for the second time today, Brno was baking hot, with the tarmac sizzling at 50 degrees and prompting plenty of hard tyres to come out of their covers. For most of the session it looked like a Honda washout: Marc Marquez wasted no time in setting the fastest time from the off, Pedrosa soaked in the sunshine and surfed his way into the top two on used tyres and Cal Crutchlow joined them soon after to make it a Honda top three.
The monopoly was broken as soon as the final time attack unfolded but Pedrosa put any attempts to steal the headlines to rest and posted the first and only 1:55 time of the weekend. Danilo Petrucci trailed the Spaniard by a tenth of a second while Alvaro Bautista added another Ducati to the mix in third position.
The second session of the day for the Moto3 class started with bad news from championship leader Jorge Martin, who fractured his left radius at the end of FP1 and was off to Barcelona for surgery. That left the fight for fastest man on track wide open and the first to claim it was perhaps surprisingly the reigning Red Bull Rookies champion Kazuki Masaki, who snatched the lead in the final time attack.
With temperatures knocking on the doors of the 40 degrees, it still felt very much like summer holiday by the time the intermediate class hit the tarmac. The man who enjoyed it most was Marcel Schrotter, the Dynavolt rider picking up the lead of the session early on and finishing untroubled at the top of the timesheets by nearly half a second.