After the drama of Argentina, the first day of practice at the Circuit of the Americas was pleasingly normal. The track was not perfect, but it was the normal kind of not perfect, Friday-green-track-not-perfect.
A week ago, a filthy unused track left everyone struggling for grip and worried faces. On Friday, there were a few concerns over tire wear, especially on the right-hand side, but they were minor compared to Argentina. It was just another Friday in Texas.
And just like any other Friday in Texas, Marc Márquez was slaying the field. The Repsol Honda rider was fastest both in the morning and in the afternoon, and though Jorge Lorenzo kept Márquez honest in FP1, FP2 saw him go seven tenths of a second quicker than anyone else.
His gap over the rest made the gaps look massive, just six riders within a second. Take Márquez out of the equation, and a second separates places two and fourteen. The field is actually quite close, as long as you disregard the man out in front.
It was a particularly tetchy press conference at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin on Thursday.
That may have come from the travel – team staff trickled in throughout the day, as the final stage of their epic journey from Termas de Rio Hondo to Austin came to an end – but more likely it was the questions about the future of Jorge Lorenzo, in particular, which generated a sense of real irritation.
Little was said directly by Lorenzo, by Rossi, or by Márquez, but it was clear that the mutual antipathy between the Italian and the Spaniards is reaching new heights. There is a storm coming, and it will break some time this year. When it does, things are going to get very ugly indeed.
First, though, about that journey. Reconstructing the tales of those who arrived in good time after an uneventful voyage, and those who were only just traipsing in towards the end of Thursday afternoon, it was clear that the weather had been the deciding factor.
Those who had left on Sunday night and Monday morning had made it to Austin without incident. In the afternoon, though, the clouds rolled down the mountains and into Tucuman, where charters were flying in and out of the regional airport.
Flights were canceled, and teams were sent off, first towards Cordoba, then back to Tucuman, then off to Buenos Aires, then finally to Cordoba once again.
From there, they flew to Buenos Aires, then dispersed over half the globe. Sometimes almost literally – one Dorna staff member flew all the way back to Barcelona, then back across the Atlantic to Houston. The MotoGP paddock is much richer in air miles after Argentina, but much poorer in sleep.
Argentina left us with an awful lot to talk about. So much, that most of the discussion focused on just a few points: the problems with Michelin tires; the chaotic process by which Race Direction arrived at a race with compulsory pit stops, and the effect it had on the outcome of the race; and the various ways in which riders found to crash out of the race, and how it affected the championship.
That overshadowed several aspects which will affect the championship down the line. Time to take a look back at what we missed. It was a surprise podium, not least to those who actually ended up in second and third spot.
Valentino Rossi had resigned himself to another fourth place until Andrea Iannone made what Race Direction colorfully described as an “overly optimistic pass” on his teammate Andrea Dovizioso, and robbed Ducati of an outstanding double podium.
He was not surprised when it happened – Rossi criticized Iannone’s earlier pass as being too aggressive, saying it lost him two places – but he had not expected to be on the podium. Ducati’s strong showing at Termas de Rio Hondo bodes well for Austin, but more of that later.
The Circuit of Wales was dealt a significant setback on Wednesday, after the Welsh Economy Minister refused to offer a 100% guarantee for the £357 million development project.
Without the guarantee, the future of the project is now uncertain, with doubts over the willingness of Aviva, a British insurance company, to continue with backing for the project.
After a long period of preparation, which included a Public Enquiry on the transfer of public lands, work was set to start on the circuit, set just outside Ebbw Vale in South Wales. Work had already started to get the site of the circuit ready to start construction.
The final piece of the puzzle had been secured several weeks ago, in the form of financial backing from Aviva. However, the Heads of The Valley Development Company had asked the Welsh Government to underwrite 100% of the investment in the project, with reports in the regional newspaper South Wales Argus suggesting that such demands had come from Aviva.
If you had to sum up this weekend’s racing in Argentina in a single word, it would have to be “eventful”. The Termas de Rio Honda round has more twists and turns than a mountain trail, and just as many dangers lurking round every corner.
On Friday, the riders found a track still dusty, dirty and green from disuse, causing slow lap times and a fair few falls. On Saturday, as the track cleaned and speeds increased, the rear Michelin of Scott Redding’s Pramac Ducati delaminated, throwing the schedule into chaos.
Rain on Sunday added even more complications, the plan for the MotoGP race changing hour by hour, as Michelin, Race Direction and the teams all tried to figure out how best to proceed.
Sunday felt chaotic, and it was chaotic, but by the end of Sunday, it was almost entirely forgotten.
We have been here before, of course. The history of problems with spec tires is long and varied. In 2012, at Assen, the tires of several riders, including Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies, ended up losing chunks, causing huge problems in the race.
The cold tire highsides of 2009 and 2010, which saw Hiroshi Aoyama crack a couple of vertebrae, an injury which ended his career as a competitive racer, and Valentino Rossi break his leg, forcing him to miss a race for the first time in his career.
And of course the debacle at Phillip Island in 2013, when Bridgestone discovered that the tires they had brought could not cope with the stresses imposed by the new, much faster surface, forcing Race Direction to grant themselves new emergency powers, cut the race to two thirds’ distance, and impose a mandatory pit stop.
If you think the problems are because of a lack of tire competition, you would be sorely mistaken. There were plenty of issues with tires in the heat of competition.
Shinya Nakano’s Bridgestone exploding along Mugello’s front straight is perhaps the most famous, leaving Nakano sliding down the tarmac at close to 300 km/h. But there were plenty of others.
Like the time Valentino Rossi’s front Michelin started chunking at Shanghai in 2006, forcing him to retire and putting him 32 points behind Nicky Hayden, who would go on to win the championship.
Or Laguna Seca 2008, when the Michelin riders were forced to use intermediates on Saturday morning, because they had been expecting sweltering California heat, rather than mist and cold making track temperatures plummet.