“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.
After the drama and speculation at Le Mans, it will be Maverick Viñales who will join Valentino Rossi in the Movistar Yamaha team in 2017.
The reports pegging Dani Pedrosa for the seat alongside Rossi turn out to have been wrong, despite coming from highly credible sources.
On Friday, Spanish magazine website Solomoto reported that Viñales flew to Milan to sign the contract at Yamaha Motor Racing headquarters in Gerno di Lesmo, a stone’s throw from the Monza circuit.
Solomoto’s report was followed by a deluge of other Spanish news sites reporting the same facts, though citing different sources. This makes it more likely that the news really is true this time, and that Viñales has indeed signed with Yamaha (after the time of this writing, this deal has since been confirmed to Asphalt & Rubber -JB).
The deal will see Viñales sign for two years alongside Rossi, with the announcement to be made on Thursday at Mugello.
A major piece in the silly season puzzle came into place today, as Dani Pedrosa re-signed with the Repsol Honda MotoGP team. This should put to bed any ideas that Pedrosa was ready to jump ship to Yamaha’s factory MotoGP team, though sources do confirm the two parties were in talks.
The news also gives a clear path for Maverick Viñales to move to the Yamaha garage, leaving the Ecstar Suzuki team at the end of this year, though official word on that has yet to appear, despite much talk on the internet.
Now 30-years-old, Dani Pedrosa has been a Honda rider throughout his career, and with today’s announcement, he seems certain to finish his career riding for Big Red.
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.
MotoGP at Le Mans is a weekend filled with anticipation. Anticipation of much-vaunted moves, with fans and media eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future.
Anticipation of further negotiations, with the rest of the MotoGP and Moto2 grids eagerly awaiting a decision from Maverick Viñales on his future, so that they know which seats might be open for them.
Anticipation – and for riders such as Scott Redding, trepidation – at the tires, front and rear, which Michelin have brought to Le Mans, and how different (and hopefully better) they will be from the tires which appeared at Austin and Jerez, which caused problems for so many riders.
And anticipation of what the notoriously fickle weather will do at Le Mans.
MotoGP is in Le Mans, France this weekend and if you watch the TV feed long enough, you will invariably see a candid moment where a rider is in the pit box, trying to explain a technical item with his team. In these moments it goes, almost without saying, that he will be doing most of the explaining with his hands.
There is something about the dynamic movements of a motorcycle at speed that defies mere words – gestures and sounds seem to be an integral process of getting one’s point across in a clear manner. It’s two-wheeled pantomime.
The folks at Alpinestars have picked up on this, and made a quick video with its sponsored riders in the MotoGP race class. What’s interesting to see is how many of the gestures at the same for explaining the same act. Call it Universal Rider Sign Language, perhaps?