On Friday, a young man died in a freak crash at the Circuit de Catalunya, and we mourned him. On Saturday, we went through the motions, picking up the rhythm of a normal race weekend, but in a state of mild shock.
On Sunday morning, we remembered Luis Salom, the whole paddock and a circuit full of fans standing in silence, united both in the memory of a bright young talent who take took from us, and in the knowledge that it can happen again.
On Sunday afternoon, we raced, and reminded ourselves of why young men and women risk their lives with the frankly rather futile objective of demonstrating that they can ride in circles on a motorbike faster than anyone else.
“It was difficult to not cry when we were in the minute of silence,” Maverick Viñales reflected on Sunday afternoon. “It was a really difficult race, but I think the best way to remember Luis is racing, and trying to make the best result. I know he will be always with us.”
Marc Márquez felt much the same. “In the end also this Sunday, I liked it was again the atmosphere of the family, the MotoGP family. Because when we were there together on the grid, when we were racing, everybody was racing for Luis. Everybody dedicated the race to Luis.” And what races to dedicate to Luis Salom.
The Moto3 race saw a tense battle go down to the line, and a thrilling finale and a win that had been a long time coming. The Moto2 race became a brawl between two of Salom’s recent rivals, with a masterful display to take victory. And MotoGP produced one of the fiercest duels we have seen in a while, a popular victory, and a shake up in the championship.
What does the MotoGP paddock do the day after a rider dies? Carry on as normal. Or nearly normal: bikes circulate, riders compete, but conversations are more hushed, the mood muted. The whole paddock is a quieter place, bar the bellowing of racing four-stroke engines.
Heartless? That is putting it a little strongly. It is in part a coping mechanism, immersing yourself in your work to avoid dwelling on tragedy, and thinking too much about danger.
But it is also a response to the request of Luis Salom’s family and team. When Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta asked them what they wanted to do, they said they wanted the race to go ahead.
Their wishes would be respected, but it was not the first choice of everyone in the paddock. Danilo Petrucci told the Italian press he would have preferred to have packed up and gone home, and he was not alone.
“Yesterday I was crying together with my brother because [Luis Salom] was really young,” Aleix Espargaro told us. “This is a disaster. With Pol we were thinking that the best thing was to not race because actually now I feel empty inside.” We all felt empty inside, and still do.
If there is an axis around which every MotoGP season revolves, it has to be the sparkling jewels in the crown at Mugello and Barcelona.
From the glory of the Tuscan circuit, all high-speed and rolling hills set just an hour down the road from the heart of Italian sports motorcycles, the circuits heads to the magnificent track at Montmeló, just outside Barcelona.
A stone’s throw away from the cradle of Spanish motorcycling, and with a third or so of the grid (and the paddock regulars) having been born within an hour’s drive, Barcelona is MotoGP’s true home race.
Like Mugello, it is a track worthy of MotoGP, where the big bikes can properly stretch their legs. A massive front straight, exhaust noise booming between the great wall of a grandstand, with a tricky right-left chicane at the end of it.
Lots of long fast corners, allowing differing lines and offering up chances to try to pass. A couple of hard braking sections with more opportunities to pass.
After the chicane at Turn 1 and 2, the next favorite passing spot is into Turn 5, a tight left hander. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can have a sniff at Turn 7, though that can leave you open at Turn 9.
Turn 10 is prime passing territory, a fast approach with a long downhill braking section, before you flick it left round a long, wide corner. Care is needed, though, as it is easy to lose the front on the greasy off-camber corner, or run wide when passing.
That allows the rider you just passed to come back underneath. If the pass does not stick there, all is not quite lost, but it will require every gram of skill and bravery you can muster. Passes are possible at the final corner, as Valentino Rossi so stunningly demonstrated in 2009, but they are far from easy.
“This morning was not Mugello weather,” joked Pramac Ducati team manager Francesco Guidotti when we went to speak to him on Friday evening. It was cold, wet, and overcast, with a track still damp from the overnight rain.
The Tuscan sun stayed hidden behind the clouds, lending no hand in burning off any water on the track. It was that horrible half-and-half weather that teams and riders fear so much, a completely lost session in terms of preparing for the race.
It was also precisely the kind of conditions that had prompted the return of intermediate tires. Fearing empty tracks – and consequently, dead TV time – Dorna had asked Michelin to produce tires that might tempt riders out on track, give TV viewers something to watch, and TV commentators something to talk about.
It didn’t really work. At the start of MotoGP FP1, a group of riders went out on the hard wet tires, switching to intermediates as the track started to dry out a little.
But it was still only about half the field, the rest preferring to remain safely ensconced in the pits, only venturing out at the end of the session to do a test start or two. Why, fans and journalists alike asked, did the riders not make use of the tools they had been given?
For sheer, stunning beauty, it is hard to beat Mugello. ‘Nestling in the Tuscan hills’ is an overused cliché precisely because it is so very true.
The Mugello circuit runs along both sides of a beautiful Tuscan valley, swooping up and down the hillsides as it flows along the natural contours of the land. Like Phillip Island, and like Assen once was, it is a truly natural circuit.
It does not feel designed, it feels as if it was left there by the raw overwhelming natural forces which hewed the landscape from the limestone mountains, discovered by a man with a passion for speed, who then proceeded to lay asphalt where the hand of nature dictated.
It is fast, flowing and challenging. It demands every ounce of speed from a bike, and courage from a rider. It lacks any really tight corners, keeping hard acceleration in low gears to a minimum. Corners flow together in a natural progression, with a long series of left-right and right-left combination corners.
The riders call them chicanes, which they are only in the very strictest sense of the word. In reality, they are way, way too fast to be what fans call chicanes, more like high-speed changes of direction.
What they do is allow riders to line up a pass through one part of a turn, and the rider being passed to counter attack through the second part of the corner. That makes for great racing.
The pre-event announcements for the Italian GP seem to keep rolling in. First, it was Dani Pedrosa re-signing with Repsol Honda for two years; then, we got word that Maverick Viñales had done the same with the Movistar Yamaha team.
Now, we get news from Ducati Corse that Andrea Dovizioso will be with the Italian team for the next two years, with Andrea Iannone making his departure from Ducati, as well.
With this news, good money in the MotoGP Silly Season betting pool would place Iannone in the ECSTAR Suzuki garage for the foreseeable future, but time will tell on that speculation.
Three race at Le Mans, three winners, and all three displays of complete control. In the first race of the day, Brad Binder waited until the penultimate lap to seize the lead, and render his Moto3 opposition harmless.
Alex Rins took the lead much earlier in the Moto2 race, toyed with Simone Corsi a little more obviously, before making it clear just how much he owned the race.
And in MotoGP, Jorge Lorenzo faced fierce competition at the start, but in the end he did just what Valentino Rossi had done two weeks ago at Jerez: led from start to finish, and won by a comfortable margin.
Lorenzo’s victory was hardly unexpected. The Movistar Yamaha rider had been dominant all weekend, quick from the off, and peerless during qualifying.
The report last night that Dani Pedrosa will replace Jorge Lorenzo in the Movistar Yamaha garage had a devastating effect on the paddock on Saturday. It provoked an almost universal panic among everyone peripheral to the decision.
Maverick Viñales’ manager Paco Sanchez – strictly speaking, the lawyer who is helping Viñales with his contract negotiations, as Viñales is managing himself – was interviewed by every television broadcaster in the MotoGP paddock, along with nearly every radio station and most journalists.
Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo and Movistar Yamaha team director Maio Meregalli did pretty much the same, answering the same questions over and over. It was Silly Season at its most frenetic.
As an example, the Spanish sports daily – Spanish journalists are chasing this story hardest, as they have the most at stake – AS featured the following vignette on its website.
Reporter Mela Chercoles walked past Albert Valera, manager of Jorge Lorenzo, Aleix Espargaro and others, and heard him berating Alex Salas, assistant to Maverick Viñales.
“Tell me that Maverick won’t let the Yamaha train get away from him,” Chercoles reports Valera as saying. The sense of disbelief in the paddock is huge.
They say that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. There are also two certainties in MotoGP so far this year: at every race, Michelin will introduce yet another new tire, and the Ducati Desmosedici GP will sprout a new set of wings.
For Le Mans, Michelin brought a new rear tire, with a slightly softer construction but identical compounds, to try to generate a little more grip and address rider complaints about the rear spinning without creating drive, even in high gears.
The new wings on the Ducati were much larger than the previous versions, to perhaps address the need for drive out of the many first gear corners at Le Mans.
Michelin bringing yet another tire to another race may sound like they are still flailing around, but in reality, it is a sign that the French tire maker is starting to settle on a development direction, after their plans had been sent astray by the double Ducati disasters of Loris Baz and Scott Redding.
The rear tire raced at Austin and Jerez was the so-called “safety tire”, a construction Michelin was certain would make race distance without any nasty surprises. It was raced without any real testing, meant only as a back up, not seriously intended for competition.