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.
In the rapidly rising temperatures of the Czech Republic, the usual suspects returned from summer holiday in top shape and ready to enjoy some more sunshine in their first session of the weekend. Marc Marquez kicked off proceedings at the top of the standings by dipping into the 1:56s but his reign was cut short halfway through the session by a seemingly invigorated Andrea Dovizioso.
After a short summer holiday, the lightweight class swept away the cobwebs in the picturesque hills of Brno. Jorge Martin looked to be starting off his second half of the season on the right foot by jumping to the top of the timesheets late in the session with the first 2:09 time of the day. Nothing too impressive given the conditions but the world championship leader was consistently in the top three positions of the morning. His best time seemed untroubled at the top but Martin ended his session with a highside at turn ten and walked away worryingly holding his wrist.
There are modern tracks on the MotoGP calendar, and there are old tracks. The modern tracks offer plenty of run off and nice wide tarmac, but are usually too tight and convoluted to give free rein to a MotoGP bike. The old tracks are fast, flowing, offer plenty of overtaking opportunities, and are a real challenge, but they also tend to be narrow, and, frankly, dangerously lacking in run off. The riders find the new tracks irritating, but enjoy the safety, and they love the old tracks, but fear the consequences of a bad mistake.
The Automotodrom Brno seems like the perfect compromise. Fast and flowing, challenging, and big enough to give a MotoGP bike its legs. But also wide, with plenty of run off in most places, and plenty of grip from the track. It has a stadium section, giving fans the chance to follow the action through a section of track. But it also flows up and down a hill, and through the woods, a ribbon of tarmac snaking through a beautiful natural setting, high on a hill above the city of Brno.
That location offers its own challenges. Up on the hill, it is usually a little cooler than down in the town. The woods exhale oxygen which gives the bikes a little power boost. But they also hold moisture, the combination of high hills and thick woods raising the possibility of rain. Fortunately, the track retains its grip in the wet, though the rain can still shake up a race.
Yamaha have been at the center of the MotoGP news for a good part of this season. For good reasons and for bad reasons: the new Petronas SIC satellite team has been at the center of speculation over who would run the team, who would manage the team, and more importantly, who would ride for the team, with some top riders linked to the seats. But Yamaha have also now gone for 19 races without a win, their longest streak without a victory since 1998. At the same time, Valentino Rossi is second in the championship, and Movistar Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales is third, and both riders have been podium regulars throughout the first part of 2018.
After the Sachsenring, Yamaha announced that Monster Energy would be taking over as title sponsor from the 2019 season, replacing the departing Movistar, who are expected to lose the MotoGP broadcasting contract for Spain and are stepping back from the series. On Thursday at Brno, Yamaha held a press conference with Monster Energy, giving the media their first chance to question Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis and Monster Energy Vice President Mitch Covington about the deal.
Once the press conference was over, a small group of journalists got a chance to question Jarvis about the challenges the factory Yamaha team has faced over the course of this year. He spoke about dealing with the pressure of going for such a long time without a win, of handling rumors about dissatisfaction within the team, and some of the more fanciful rumors of discord between Valentino Rossi and himself, and about needing to expand their testing strategy.
Gilles Bigot, the French crew chief of Marc VDS MotoGP rider Tom Lüthi, has been in MotoGP a long time. In that time, he has seen a lot of riders come and go, and learned an awful lot about racing. At Jerez, I spoke to the Frenchman about the process of adapting to MotoGP. What started out as an attempt to get to the bottom of the problems Tom Lüthi faces in his switch to MotoGP after spending so many years in Moto2 became something much deeper, and much more interesting. We ended up speaking for half an hour, all of which was fascinating.
The first part of the interview covered three changes which he had seen from close up: the switch from 500cc two strokes to the four-stroke MotoGP bikes; the move to Moto2; and Kenan Sofuoglu's aborted attempt to make the jump from the World Supersport class to Moto2. You can read that part of the interview here.
But after talking about those changes, we went on to discuss Tom Lüthi's switch from Moto2 to MotoGP, and the difficulties the Swiss rider faced in making the jump. Lüthi is a proven winner and championship contender in Moto2, but he has struggled in the premier class. Bigot talked in great depth about the lessons which can be learned in Moto2 to prepare a rider for MotoGP, about what Moto2 doesn't teach riders, and how hard the Honda makes the transition to Moto2.
The first in an occasional series of chats with MotoGP’s top crew chiefs – this week it’s Santi Hernández, right-hand man to Marc Márquez
How did you get into 'bikes?
My father was a race-'bike mechanic and my brother raced in the Spanish championship at the same time as Alex Crivillé, in the early 1980s. At that time I was very young, so we’d go to the circuits, with me sleeping in the van, between the 'bikes. There were always 'bikes around the house, but I didn’t like 'bikes, I was focused on soccer.
MV Agusta have released the first official photos and details of their Moto2 bike. The Italian manufacturer is partnering with the Forward Racing team, who will race the MV Agusta from 2019 onwards, once Triumph takes over as official engine supplier. The MV Agusta Moto2 machine brings to an end a 42 year absence from Grand Prix racing.