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.”
Every year at Mugello, Valentino Rossi and Italian designer Aldo Drudi come up with a special helmet design for Rossi’s helmet.
They vary in originality and ingenuity: my own personal favorite by far was the helmet from 2008, which featured Rossi’s face on the top, wide-eyed with the terror he felt braking for the first corner at San Donato, one of the highest speed approaches on the calendar.
Others have varied from the obscure and personal, to the entertaining or passionate. Most people have their own personal favorite, a few curmudgeons find the whole idea rather pointless.
Rossi’s helmet for this year, features a simple design, based on a pun in Italian. His AGV Pista GP helmet is yellow, featuring an outline of the Mugello circuit, and the word “MUGIALLO” around the front.
“Mugiallo” is a play on the words Mugello, the name of the circuit, and “giallo”, the Italian word for yellow. Rossi’s tribal color is yellow, his fans call themselves “Il popolo giallo”, or The Yellow People. The press release from Dainese described it as a tribute to the circuit, and to Rossi’s fans.
Is that what it means to Rossi himself, though? On Saturday, Rossi made his helmet look more like an act of appropriation than a tribute. Rossi’s searing qualifying lap laid bare his intentions: Valentino Rossi laid claim to the Mugello circuit. He came here to win.
“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.