Racing at the desert at night, in the false noon created by the astonishingly efficient lighting system at the Qatar circuit, is always going to be a weird experience. But on Friday, events conspired to take it from the merely odd into the strangely surreal.
The culprits? The weather was one, the odd fleetingly brief shower of thick rain drops sending everyone scurrying into the pits and scratching their heads over what to do.
The other thing that had many people confused was the new qualifying rules. Though not necessarily particularly complex, like all rule changes, the effect they have on the system, the way the weekend operates, only becomes apparent once the changes are put into effect.
But before I get to that, some attention deserves to be paid to Marc Marquez. In his very first MotoGP weekend, he topped his second ever session of free practice, and followed it up by being fastest in his third session of free practice as well. He has now been quickest in the majority of the official MotoGP sessions he has ever taken part in. OK, that’s only two out of three, and the conditions have been a little unusual, but to be this fast this early is astonishing.
It’s back. The world is a better place now that young men are wasting fuel going round in circles at irresponsibly breakneck speeds on multi-million dollar motorcycles. (On a side note, someone pointed out today that a satellite 160kg Honda RC213V costs about half its weight in gold, at current prices, which suggests that a factory bike must be close to costing its own weight in gold).
The lights in the desert are once again spectacularly lit, and the sandy void which surrounds the Losail circuit again rings with the bellow of MotoGP bikes.
Jerez is to remain on the MotoGP calendar for at least one more year. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced the extension during the official presentation in Madrid of this year’s Spanish GP at the iconic Jerez circuit, stating that Jerez will stay on the calendar for 2013. He also confirmed that from next year, there will be just 3 races on the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), with Jerez and Aragon certain to stay, while Barcelona and Valencia could alternate, as is currently being proposed for Formula 1. Meanwhile, the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril appears destined to disappear from the calendar.
Rumors surrounding the fate of the Jerez Grand Prix had been circulating for a while, with the circuit still in financial problems over non-payment of debts to the consortium that carried out remodelling work at the circuit back in 2001. It was widely expected that Jerez would be dropped from the calendar, but sources close to the circuit owners were confident of being able to continue. Though the official confirmation is only for 2013, the chances of the race remaining at the track for the next five years look very good.
What a difference a tire makes. Last season in each of Cal Crutchlow’s rider debriefs that I attended, the topic at some point came around to the Bridgestone tire and how treacherous it was during warm-up. Once the tire reached operating temperature, it was fantastic if the rider could keep it hot enough. But until it gathered enough heat, it was flat out dangerous, as so many cold tire high-side crashes proved in 2011.
Crutchlow was one of the most outspoken riders in asking Bridgestone to change the tire design, which they have done for 2012. This year’s control tire warms up much faster, allowing riders to get through the early laps of a session without a dramatic high side, of which we had none in Qatar.