After he and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo had looked well in control of proceedings after the first day of practice at Brno, Valentino Rossi warned the media against drawing premature conclusions.
“I think it’s just Friday, it’s a long way to Sunday,” he said. We in the media ignored his warnings, of course, and painted a technicolor picture of a race where the Movistar Yamaha riders took back a hefty bunch of points from Marc Márquez, reigniting the championship.
Then Saturday happened, and Valentino Rossi turned out to be right again (and not for the first time, I might add). Friday had been just Friday. It was indeed still a long way to Sunday. Saturday, a stepping stone on the way to Sunday, helped turn a lot of things around.
Jorge Lorenzo is still fast. So is Valentino Rossi, though not quite as fast as he had hoped. Andrea Iannone is a genuine threat for the podium, or even his second win in a row.
Maverick Viñales could still get up front and complicate things, though he has a hill to climb after a problem with the brakes saw him qualify on the third row of the grid.
But any illusions the Movistar Yamaha men had of clawing back points from Marc Márquez will have to be shelved. Not only will the Repsol Honda rider start from pole on Sunday, but he also has the race pace which was missing on Friday.
All thanks to a breathtaking lap of Brno, and a large set of wings which helped cure some of the worst problems with the Honda RC213V.
So much for Ducati domination. Sure, the two factory Ducatis are on the front row, Andrea Iannone on pole, Andrea Dovizioso in third, but they did not destroy the competition in qualifying the way they did so in practice on Friday.
Austria is still Ducati’s best chance of a win since Casey Stoner left for Honda at the end of the 2010 season, but it is no longer the sure thing it seemed on Friday.
What happened? A lot of things, but most of all, the weather improved dramatically. That certainly helped Jorge Lorenzo find some confidence, and put him back into contention after a couple of tough races. Valentino Rossi found some acceleration, and improved his pace.
Marc Márquez worked on making up on the brakes what he is losing in acceleration. That puts the Ducatis, the Yamahas, and Márquez all within a tenth or two of each other in race pace. We really are going to have to wait for the fat lady to start singing on this one.
Starting on pole, or at least on the front row, is important at every race track, but at the Sachsenring, it is doubly so. There are very few passing opportunities at the German circuit: Turn 1, though it is not easy. Turn 12, after the run down the hill.
And if you are smart, Turn 13, the final corner, but that is usually only possible if you have just been passed on the way into Turn 12, and the rider who passed you is now off line.
So a strong qualifying is crucial. Normally, that means the fastest riders make their way to the front of the grid. But not on Saturday.
At the Sachsenring, a series of crashes meant that the grid had a strangely unfamiliar look. Three satellite riders on the two front rows, and two riders universally acknowledged to have the strongest pace well down the field.
At least they weren’t crashing in Turn 11. With the sun out, the asphalt significantly warmer, and with riders having learned the hard way that they need to get the line right through that viciously fast corner, riders were instead finding different ways to crash.
Andrea Iannone went down unexpectedly at Turn 1. Jorge Lorenzo hit the deck at Turn 8, then again at Turn 1, bringing his crash total for the weekend to three.