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.
It was a wasted day at the Sachsenring. The day started cold but with a dry track, then, ten minutes into MotoGP FP1, a fine mist of rain started to fall, making already tricky conditions positively terrifying.
A few journalists walked through the Sachsenring paddock up towards the end of pit lane, where the fences give you great views of Turn 1 and Turn 11.
Just as we arrived, Scott Redding’s battered Pramac Ducati returned to the paddock in the back of a recovery trailer. When we turned around to watch the bikes coming through Turn 11 again, Jorge Lorenzo slid through the gravel towards us, his foot caught up in his bike for a while.
While we were watching Lorenzo hit the gravel, we heard another bike scrape across asphalt and into the gravel. It was Stefan Bradl’s Aprilia, the German having lost the front at Turn 11, just as Lorenzo had.
The rain continued, never really heavy enough to soak the track properly, only lifting towards the end. A few riders went out on wet tires to check their repaired bikes, coming straight back in again.
The morning session was lost to the weather conditions. The afternoon session was a little better – at least it was dry – but the track temperatures meant that the tires never really got to the operating range they were designed for.
The disadvantage of reporting on your home race is that during the media debriefs, the period when riders speak to the press, they turn to you and ask, “So what’s the weather going to do?”
Living in The Netherlands, Assen is my home race, and so this weekend, it is me they are asking about the weather. There is only one honest answer I can give them. “This is Assen. Anything can happen.”
The weather has been a constant topic of discussion. Weather apps and weather websites have been compared, and each of them says something different. Some say it will only rain heavily on Sunday. Others say Sunday will be dry, and the rain will fall on Saturday.
Check another site, and it says rain overnight, but only heavy clouds during the day, with the risk of rain at a minimum. Which site to believe? This is Assen. Anything can happen.
There was a sense of nervousness in both FP1 and FP2 for the MotoGP class. Riders pushed late to chase a lap good enough to put them into the top ten, and automatic entry into Q2.
Some, like Bradley Smith, got their strategy wrong, went out on a hard rear tire instead of a medium, and ended up languishing down the order. Others, like Dani Pedrosa, were just having a dismal time. “No improvement from FP1 to FP2, no improvement on different tires, and no feeling with the bike.”
“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?