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."
The announcement of the MotoGP test dates in the middle of last week have given a hint of how the 2019 MotoGP calendar is to take shape. The official announcement is not expected for another month or so – Dorna are still waiting for the F1 calendar to be published, to try to avoid direct clashes with the premier car racing series. The F1 calendar will not have the same influence as it had in previous years, however: since new owners Liberty took over the series, they have moved the start time of F1 races to 3:10pm Central European Time, some 10 minutes after MotoGP has finished the podium ceremony.
The MotoGP test schedule sees three official tests taking place over the winter, though one of them is before the official winter break. The MotoGP field will be at Jerez on the 28th and 29th November for the first official test. This basically converts the previous private test, which most teams attended, into an official one, forcing all of the teams to take the track together, and to an extent, improving the coverage of the test.
Testing continues after the winter break, the teams picking up at Sepang on the 6th-8th of February. Two weeks later, the MotoGP teams assemble once again for the final test before the season begins, at Qatar from the 23rd to the 25th February. Moto2 and Moto3 test at the same Losail Circuit a week later, and the first race of the 2019 MotoGP season will almost certainly take place on 10th March.
Hubris is a dangerous, but necessary, affliction for any world class athlete. You need to believe that you're as good as anyone and better than most if you're to reach the top. That driving determination to prove the bastards wrong is one that is ingrained in the best. It's an unshakable belief that your will and skill can overcome anything.
Bradley Smith was never noted as a great talent on his route to the top, but he found a way to get there. Hard work, dedication and getting the most from himself was his ticket to MotoGP. Digging deeper was always the primary option for Smith coming through the ranks, and whether it was joining the Alberto Puig Academy as a 12 year old or racing a factory Aprilia in 125GP, Smith always did everything to get the most from himself.
Racing comes down to choices. The impact of decisions to make a move have reverberations as pronounced in the paddock as on the track. When Bradley Smith spoke at Mugello and said he'd retire rather than not race in MotoGP it was clear how slighted he felt by KTM moving on without him.
MotoGP is in a great place at the moment – brilliant racing and unpredictable results – thanks partly to the work of one company
Motorcycle racing is all about grip and traction. That’s all that really matters, because everything is worth zilch unless you can transfer it to the racetrack. You may have the fastest engine, the best brakes or the sweetest-handling chassis, but none of these things mean much unless you have the grip to exploit them.
This is the reality in MotoGP now more than ever. And this is one reason why MotoGP is so unpredictable.
You would think that after a tough weekend of racing in punishing conditions, the riders would find it very hard to spend 8 hours on a MotoGP bike pushing as close to race pace as possible testing new parts and setup. Not according to Andrea Dovizioso. "No, for me it's very easy, and it's the easiest way to do that. If there is a break, it's worse," he told us at the end of Monday's test at Brno.
There was a pretty full cast of MotoGP characters present, with one or two notable exceptions. The Reale Avintia and Angel Nieto Team Ducati teams were both absent, because they had nothing to test except setup, and testing is expensive. Pol Espargaro was in hospital waiting for scans on his broken collarbone and his back, which confirmed that luckily only his collarbone was fractured, and it won't need to be plated (though he will definitely miss KTM's home race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria).
HRC test rider Stefan Bradl was also absent, after stretching ligaments in his right shoulder in a crash he caused on the first lap. A crash in which he also took out Maverick Viñales, who also suffered a minor shoulder injury, and decided not to test. Given the massive tension in Viñales' garage at the moment between him and his crew, skipping the test may have been the best option anyway.
A third of the way into Sunday's race at Brno, and there was a group of eleven riders fighting for the lead. That's the MotoGP race, not the Moto3 race. In the Moto3 race at the same stage, there was still a group of twenty riders at the front. In Moto2, ten riders were in the group at the front. If you wanted to see close racing, Brno delivered the goods, in all three classes. The MotoGP race saw the eighth closest podium finish of all time, and the closest top ten in history. Moto2 was decided by seven hundredths of a second. The podium finishers in all three classes were separated by half a second or less. And the combined winning margin, adding up the gap between first and second in MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3, was 0.360. Are you not entertained?
"A good battle," is how Cal Crutchlow described Sunday's MotoGP race at Brno. "I think again, MotoGP has proved to be the best motor sport entertainment there is. Week in, week out we keep on having these battles." The race may not have seen the hectic swapping of places which we saw at Assen. The lead may not have changed hands multiple times a lap on multiple laps. Yet the race was as tense and exciting as you could wish, with plenty of passing and the result going down to the wire.
Is it any surprise that Brno should produce such great racing? Sunday's race reiterated just how crucial circuit layout is in racing. The track is one of the widest on the calendar, with sweeping corners which run into each other. A defensive line going into a corner leaves you open to attack on corner exit. What's more, even if you ride defensively, or pass a rider and get passed again, you still end up with the same lap time. Brno, Assen, Mugello, Phillip Island: these tracks are made for motorcycle racing.
Final times at the end of the Brno MotoGP test:
Times at 4pm:
Times at 2pm:
A day after a thrilling MotoGP race at Brno, most of the riders are back out on track for the traditional Monday test. At noon, Jorge Lorenzo led the way, ahead of Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone, with Andrea Dovizioso fourth quickest.