Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class at the Red Bull Ring:
It was an uneventful practice session for the intermediate class, with the usual contenders at the top and Johann Zarco undoubtedly leading them, the only rider to beat Luthi’s time from Friday early in the session. The Swiss rider kept close for much of the session but was eventually pushed back to third position as Alex Rins improved to go second.
Marcel Schrotter placed the AGR Team in fourth, followed by birthday boy Jonas Folger in fifth. After a slow start on used tyres, Sam Lowes made his way into sixth position, half a tenth behind the German rider.
Sun’s out, drama’s out in Spielberg. With eighteen degrees of track temperature, the Ducatis gave the rest a chance to catch up before seriously twisting the throttle in the final minutes of the session. An Andrea Iannone with an injured rib set the fastest time of the weekend.
Four tenths away was the Suzuki of Maverick Viñales, proving that yesterday’s performance was hardly a fluke helped by the cold weather. The reigning world champion followed in third position, Lorenzo half a second off Iannone’s time.
As Saturday started, sunshine decided to actually make an appearance this time around and delight us with seventeen degrees of track temperature. Even so, the riders took their time in improving their lap times from Friday.
Yesterday’s fast men Brad Binder, Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo were the first riders to beat the benchmark and drop into the 1:36s, ending the session in that exact same order and without any real challenge from behind. The challenge for Quartararo seemed to be respecting track limits, the Leopard rider seeing several of his laps cancelled.
It's the Sachsenring all over again. Or almost: when the MotoGP bikes were here in July, air temperatures were in the low 30s, and track temperature was around 50°C. During FP1, the air temperature was just 9°, and track temperature was 14°C. "The temperature this morning was pretty extreme," Jorge Lorenzo said after practice was over. "Only a few times in my life have we been riding in such cold conditions."
Cold temperatures meant cold tire crashes, especially in the morning. The most obvious was Dani Pedrosa's crash, who fell at Turn 9 as he touched the front brake, the front folding as if the track were wet. The crash caused the session to be red-flagged, as Pedrosa's Honda ended up puncturing the air fence and landing on top of the tire barrier.
The crash seemed to be a warning of the excesses of tarmac run off, but Pedrosa was happy that there wasn't a gravel trap at the edge of the track. "I crashed in fifth gear, so I was going very fast," Pedrosa said. "From one point of view I think, most of the run-off area was asphalt so maybe the bike didn't decelerate enough. But on the other side I was very lucky it was only asphalt, because I crashed so fast that if I went into the gravel I would have tumbled over and over with a lot of speed." There are upsides to asphalt run off sometimes.
Dorna is considering allowing communication between teams and riders via the dashboard. At a meeting today between Dorna and the teams, initial discussions took place over a system to allow teams to pass very brief messages to the dashboard of the bikes.
The ability to pass messages between team and bike has been made possible thanks to the transponders currently being used in MotoGP. Those allow for a very limited and very short burst of communication as the bikes pass the timing loops at the track. Race Direction is currently using the system to pass signals to the dash in the case of a red flag, black flag or ride through penalty, but the system would also allow teams a limited ability to pass messages to the riders.
Track conditions might have seen slight improvements but that did not change the contenders for the top positions. Johann Zarco was the first to beat his top time from the morning session, Thomas Luthi challenging him in the late stages of the session and finally snatching top position with four minutes to go.
The afternoon temperatures saw a happier Alex Rins join the party, a late charge seeing him take second from Zarco, under a tenth of a second off Luthi. After several setup changes and cancelled lap times, an eventful session ended with a fourth position for Franco Morbidelli, teammate Alex Marquez providing another pleasant surprise in seventh position – after being as high as third - helped out by a brief tow from the reigning world champion.
As the top class took to the slightly warmer track compared to the morning session, it didn’t take long for the Ducatis to beat the first practice time by over two seconds, Andrea Dovizioso on top, followed closely by his fellow Andrea who still shares his garage. Both Italians set a string of fast 1:24s, no one able to match their rhythm.
Times dropped in the final few minutes of mock-up qualifying session, with FP1 leader Maverick Viñales finishing almost nine tenths away from the leader, showing once again how strong Ducati were in the afternoon session. The Spaniard had Valentino Rossi breathing down his neck, metaphorically, the Italian a hundredth of a second away in fourth position.
After a session of accommodation to the new track, FP1 leader Brad Binder dropped his time even further, nine tenths of a second faster than his time from the morning session. The rest took their time to drop into the 1:37s, with second placed Enea Bastianini and third placed Fabio Quartararo the next men to do it. While both Binder and Quartararo swapped times at the top, they also exchanged cancelled lap times throughout the session.
It was another good showing from Bo Bendsneyder, the rookie finishing in close proximity to Quartararo, while a rather incognito afternoon was in store for the Sky VR46 gang, with Romano Fenati grabbing fifth position late into the session.
As the intermediate class took its turn on the Austrian track, the usual suspects fought for the top position, with Thomas Luthi and Johann Zarco switching places on several occasions before the world champion eventually sped up to lead the session in his final lap.
Jonas Folger sneaked in between the two, a tenth behind his future teammate and another tenth in front of Luthi. The Leopard team brought some new energy back from the summer break, with Miguel Oliveira as high as second before dropping to fourth, closely followed by Marcel Schrotter. The bright pink Speed Up of Simone Corsi separated the duo from their teammates, with Danny Kent in seventh and Axel Pons in eighth.
MotoGP’s return to Austria saw the riders (bar one) take to the track for the first time in an official race weekend, with new tyres and a reconfigured last turn. The quickest learner proved to be Maverick Viñales, the Spaniard taking over the top of the standings in the final few minutes of the session – a welcome sight for the struggles of Suzuki in the test previously held here.
The Ducatis were slower to warm up to the track compared to their testing adventures, Yonny Hernandez and Andrea Iannone the standout red bikes early on, with Andrea Dovizioso making a late charge to finish second, followed by his teammate.
We might hope for the fight to heat up this weekend but the weather did not. With the track displaying some mere fourteen degrees in temperature, the riders gingerly took to the new Red Bull Ring.
Brad Binder was the early leader, the first rider into the 1:38s and he kept shaving tenths off his time until dropping down to 1:37.902 with little over four minutes left of the session. Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo joined him in the 38 club, the trio switching places at the top for a good part of the session.
In the last few years, the MotoGP season has shown remarkable stability. New tracks have been added from time to time, but the calendar has been very similar from one year to the next. Even though you get to go to some of the most amazing tracks in the world, the travel becomes routine, humdrum almost. You get to know the road from the hotel to the track, the circuit itself, the idiosyncrasies of each paddock, each media center, like the back of your hand. It becomes almost like a daily commute to an office. Almost, but not quite.
So new circuits have something a little special. They bring fresh faces, new ideas. There are new routes to learn to the circuit, a new paddock layout, figuring the most efficient path through the paddock. As a journalist, each media center has its own secrets. The best place to sit to get a view of the TV screens, whether the setting sun in the evening will end up shining on your laptop making it impossible to work, where to sit to avoid being whacked on the head by cameras as photographers try to squeeze past. You make note of which media center has good coffee, and which has none (Italy, surprisingly). You scout the paddock for food, if you do not wish to wear out your welcome at the hospitality units of various teams.
The Red Bull Ring in Austria has something special too. The track is different, in both good and bad ways, both simpler and at the same time more complicated. The media center, too, is different. It is quite simply the most luxurious media center I have ever been in. Fast WiFi (and more importantly, free, instead of the €30 to €50 which most tracks charge), plenty of big HD screens, a very airy and roomy space. Most amazing of all, the media center also has its own buffet, serving a wide selection of food throughout lunch time. At some tracks, such as Austin, we get a free lunch; at others, we get free bread rolls with meat and cheese. But I have never seen a media center with such an expansive spread of food. All those young people buying overpriced caffeinated sugar water are helping to ensure a bunch of old men are very well fed.
The MotoGP test in Austria brought to light several safety issues with the Red Bull Ring. At least one of those issues is to be addressed before the start of the Austrian round of MotoGP. After consultation with several members of the Safety Commission, the FIM Safety Officer Franco Uncini has ordered the final corner, Turn 10, to be modified.
There is a lot of money to be made by using clever marketing to sell caffeinated sugar water to the gullible. So much money, in fact, that you can afford your own air force and your own space program. That money can be further multiplied by staging your own sporting events in sports that suit your brand, such as freestyle mountain biking, or motocross, though it is best not to ask about competitor insurance. This should probably not come as a surprise, though, from a company owned by someone who threatened to shut down a TV station when the people who worked there wanted to convene a works council.
The peddling of sugar water generates enough revenue to fund not one, but two Formula One teams, a soccer team or four, as well as backing large numbers of racers and teams in all forms of two-wheeled competition. It may seem churlish to complain about energy drink companies, given the amount of money they pump into motorsports, but that money also creates a major risk.