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.”
Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. That was the case for Chaz Davies at Donington Park today, as the Ducati rider found his Panigale R race bike going up in flames during FP2.
An unknown mechanical issue forced Davies to pull off the track, and not long after getting his bike to a stop did flames started erupting out of his Ducati Panigale R.
The bike was a total loss, and the whole ordeal cost Davies a valuable time during the practice session, but at least Davies didn’t have to abandon ship at full-speed – like Colin Edwards did on the Aprilia RS Cube.
“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?
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.
The infection of the MotoGP paddock is almost complete. At Jerez the last of MotoGP’s factories fell to the winglet virus. Aprilia debuted some massive double decker items on the nose of the fairing.
Suzuki brought a more modest pair, sitting below the bike’s nose. And Honda’s case of winglets grew more severe, the tiny side-mounted winglets replaced with much larger versions, akin to the early Yamaha ones.
The only holdouts are most of the satellite teams, and even they are starting to look longingly at the mustachioed factory bikes.
Why is this happening? Because the winglets provide a tangible benefit. Not huge, but big enough to make a difference. As Valentino Rossi put it, after also succumbing to the winglet infection, “small wings, small help.”
That had been the tenor of rider comments on winglets from the moment they first started to appear at the start of last season.
But at Jerez, we finally heard from a rider who was unashamedly enthusiastic about the wings. Aleix Espargaro had spent Thursday night pleading with Suzuki engineers to be given a chance to try the winglets during the weekend, instead of waiting until the Monday test, following the original plan.