The Monday after the final race at Valencia has not been the first day of the official test for a few years now. This is a good thing: the riders are exhausted after a full season of racing, and need a lie in and a day to recover.
The team members aren’t the same, mechanics moving from garage to garage, and crew chiefs shuffling around to meet their new teams.
The riders might get the day off, but the rest of the staff do not. Mechanics are being shown the ropes in the new garage, and learn how the bikes fit together by helping to strip and reassemble them for the start of Tuesday’s test.
Factory bosses are also busy, going through test schedules with existing and new riders to sort out who will be testing what, and what to expect.
They also make time on Monday to talk to the press. Or at least some of them do. The top brass of Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda all held press conferences to talk to the media, and to go over their plans.
The three different press conferences also gave an insight into the different approaches of the teams. HRC was there to present the management team that will take over from Shuhei Nakamoto, who retires as HRC Vice President in April.
Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio held a solo press conference in English, to discuss the plans for the team. And Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna spoke to the media in Italian and English about the 2017 bike and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo.
Valencia is supposed to be an emotionally charged race. The last round of the season, the grand finale. The last chance for riders to lay it all on the line, in pursuit of glory. The bowl in which the Ricardo Tormo circuit is set focuses and amplifies the cheers of the crowd, carrying the racing to new levels of intensity.
There was an extra layer of emotion at Valencia this year. The excitement is tinged with the bittersweet taste of parting. There is the largest group of riders moving from one garage to another that I can remember in a very long time.
Riders and their crew become very close, a tight unit that works intensely together. They celebrate success together, and share their despair during the bad times. These men and women have been through a lot together, forging bonds that are not easily broken.
Riders may only be moving a couple of garages away, the parting is no less painful for that.
Those departing felt compelled to put on a good show for the people they leave behind, and they did not disappoint. In Moto3 and Moto2, the departing champions put on brave fights to reprise their title-winning ways, with supporting stars offering fierce opposition to add some luster to their victories.
In the MotoGP class, all the factory riders switching garages dug a little deeper inside themselves, and pulled some outstanding performances out of the bag. The extra emotion of the final weekend of the season produced three great races at Valencia, with three truly deserving winners.
2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on setup. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up.
The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get setup right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.
That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row.
At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn’t won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory.
They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way. And then there’s Jorge Lorenzo.
The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place.
The rear tire Michelin has brought uses the more pliable carcass that was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo’s strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.
The media is a fickle beast. Normally, journalists and TV only have eyes for the top half of the timesheets. Or more realistically, the top half of the top half of the timesheets.
As Valentino Rossi once joked one weekend during his time at Ducati, when only four or five journalists turned up to speak to him, rather than the thirty or forty he used to see at Yamaha, “So this is what it’s like to finish seventh.”
If media interest beyond tenth place is sparse, it is absolutely nonexistent for last place. Normally, the rider who finishes last has no visits from journalists, nor will anyone come to speak to their crew chief. But Friday at Valencia was anything but normal.
A brand new manufacturer joining the grid is anything but normal, however. And even when the rider on the new bike finishes last, the media crowd waiting outside the garage is seriously impressive.
The back of the KTM garage was thronged with journalists, first to speak to Mika Kallio about his day on the RC16, and then to grill Kallio’s crew chief Paul Trevathan about the bike, and the problems they encountered.