So far, the inaugural Thai round of MotoGP has been full of surprises. We expected heavy rain at the track on most days, but it has been pretty much dry as a bone throughout. We expected Yamaha to be nowhere, yet the Movistar duo of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi have looked seriously threatening all weekend. We expected the round to be popular: the only surprise here is just how popular it has been. An estimated 65,000 fans came to watch qualifying on Saturday. To put that into perspective, that is more fans for qualifying than fans on race day at six of last year's rounds. Nearly twice as many as fans on race day at Phillip Island. Sunday should be packed, with a good chance that this will be the round with the highest attendance.
The hot weather has taken Michelin by surprise as well, not for the first time this year. That is hardly Michelin's fault, however: after they introduced several changes during the 2017 season, the teams demanded that Michelin set the tire allocation at the start of the year. That demand is coming back to bite the teams, as it is hard to get the allocation absolutely spot on if you have to predict the weather many months in advance. The hot European summer has caused problems on occasion, and now the heat in Thailand is doing the same.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Buriram:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Buriram:
Yamaha got a taste for some headlines after stealing the spotlight on Friday and Maverick Viñales seemed to forget that his bike used to suffer in hot slippery conditions and set camp at the front of the pack straight out the gates – only to be quickly demoted by teammate Valentino Rossi once the Spaniard took to the pits. The Yamaha charge was stopped by Andrea Iannone of all people once the Italian picked the pocket of his compatriot. Ultimately it was a pointless exercise once the title rivals swapped rubber and attacked the top of the charts.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Buriram:
The final casual outing for the intermediate class was a more subdued affair but a couple of riders did manage to improve on Friday times and find some gains on race pace. The difference was minimal, Fabio Quartararo finding the right tow to pick up the lead halfway through the session and keep it at the checkered flag. Ironically, the man who aided Quartararo along the straights in his bid for the lead struggled to drag himself into the top 15 for much of the session.
The first Saturday outing for the premier class was getting hotter and hotter, mostly literally, and it started with news of Jorge Lorenzo deciding to withdraw from the Thai GP following his spectacular but unfortunate crash on Friday. Ultimately, it was Dovizioso who finally nailed the final sector and became the fastest man of the weekend, almost two tenths ahead of Miller.
The second day for the lightweight class to explore the new playground at their disposal brought them up to speed straight away, sending Friday’s benchmark out the window in the first ten minutes of the session. Fabio di Giannantonio was the first man to dip into the 1:42s and the Italian kept showing the way throughout proceedings, one and a half tenths ahead of the opposition. The Italian doubled that advantage – impressively while running on his own and with no slipstream opportunities – on his final outing.
One of the best ways of avoiding disappointments is to lower your expectations. Set the bar low enough, and it becomes almost impossible for reality slip below it. That has been the strategy adopted by Maverick Viñales recently, and with good reason: Yamaha's run of form recently has been pretty dismal. No podiums for four races, their longest run off the box since 2007. No victory for 23 straight races, the worst losing streak in their entire history in the premier class.
"I feel more positive about myself, but the expectations are the same," Viñales said on Thursday. "I have zero expectations. I want to just enjoy riding and see if we can take something positive from this weekend." It was a message which he repeated on Friday. "As I said, I don't want to make any expectations. I just want to go riding, enjoy."
There had been plenty for Viñales to enjoy. The Movistar Yamaha rider's expectations may have been set low, but he far exceeded them. In the morning, Viñales was fastest, with his teammate Valentino Rossi in second. In the afternoon, Viñales missed out on the top spot by three hundredths of a second, but Andrea Dovizioso only beat Viñales by putting on a fresh set of soft tires. Viñales had been circulating on hard tires, and lapping consistently in the low 1'31s.
Pundits proved wrong again
Andrea Dovizioso ended the first day of practice on top of the timesheets, the factory Ducati rider posting a fast lap at the end of the day, as almost everyone stuck in a new tire in pursuit of a fast time.
After a dismal season so far, the Movistar Yamaha team got the Thai round of MotoGP off to a strong start by topping the timesheets, with Maverick Viñales leading Valentino Rossi by over a quarter of a second. With Monster Tech3 Yamaha's Johann Zarco taking sixth, it may seem like something of a turnaround for Yamaha, but the three Yamaha riders all used a soft tire to set their fast times at the end of the session, while the others around them stuck with the medium rears.