Has Valentino Rossi finally mastered qualifying? The Italian has struggled since the format changed, from the extended hour of qualifying which started out as free practice and ended up as an all-out time attack, to the frenetic fifteen-minute dash for pole.
His biggest problem, he always explained, was getting up to speed from the start: leaving pit lane and going flat out from the very first meters. He had spent a lifetime slowly sidling up to a blistering lap, rather than getting the hammer down as soon as the lights changed.
The switch from an analog to a binary format had been hard to swallow. Millions of older fans sympathized, as they faced the same struggle in their own lives.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, has thrived in the new format, having learned the skill while doing battle with Casey Stoner. The Australian’s greatest legacy was his ability to go as fast as possible the moment he left the pit lane.
I was once told by Cristian Gabarrini, Stoner’s crew chief, that when they looked at his sector times, they would see that he had set his fastest sector times on his out lap. To beat Stoner, Lorenzo had to learn to emulate him.
The last two races have followed a familiar pattern. On Friday and Saturday, Jorge Lorenzo has laid down a scorching pace, which his rivals – and more importantly, his teammate and rival for the 2015 MotoGP title, Valentino Rossi – have been unable to follow.
Lorenzo’s name was penciled onto the winner’s trophy, and his grip on the MotoGP class looked secure.
Then on Sunday, everything changed. The weather gods intervened, rain lashed down at Silverstone, then started and stopped at Misano, throwing the race into disarray. Both times, Valentino Rossi handled the conditions better than Lorenzo, gaining big points in both races.
At Silverstone, Rossi won comfortably, while Jorge Lorenzo struggled home in fourth. At Misano, Rossi rode a tactically poor race, but still managed to come home in fifth. Lorenzo got caught out by the pace of Scott Redding, failing to understand that the Marc VDS rider had already been out for several laps and had his tires up to temperature and his brain up to speed.
The Movistar Yamaha rider tried to stay with Redding, and paid the price when he turned left after a long series of rights, crashing out and scoring zero points.
What do we have at Aragon? Another weekend where Lorenzo is dominating, Marc Márquez his only clear rival, with Dani Pedrosa there as a dark horse.
Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, is struggling with tire degradation, the performance of the tires dropping in the heat. Rossi could lose a big handful of points to Lorenzo on Sunday, if he is unable to match the pace of the top three.
He really needs a bit of a miracle, either in the shape of rain, or in the form of colder temperatures.
Marc Marquez set a new lap record of 1’46.635 to claim pole position for tomorrow’s Grand Prix of Aragon.
Jorge Lorenzo was only just behind Marc Marquez, in 2nd place.
Andrea Iannone battled through the pain of a dislocated shoulder to take the final place on the front row.
Saturday Summary at Misano: The Prospect of a Furious Fight, Mind Games That Weren’t, & Three-Stop Strategies
Remember Brno? A scintillating qualifying left Jorge Lorenzo on pole, with Marc Márquez beside him and Valentino Rossi filling out the front row. Race pace for the three was very similar, and the fans were left with the mouthwatering prospect of a thrilling race on Sunday. They were disappointed.
Jorge Lorenzo surged to the lead off the line, shook off Marc Márquez, disappeared into the distance, and won comfortably. The battle royal promised by free practice never materialized, and we were all left with a hollow feeling of disappointment, no matter how brilliant Lorenzo’s victory was.
Hence my reluctance to play up the prospect of a good race at Misano. The ingredients are the same. The same three riders on the front row, in the same order.
Valentino Rossi’s front row start was greated with huge cheers by the home crowd.
Pol Espargaro crashed early in Qualifying 2, and will start from 12th place.
Eugene Laverty struggling to keep the front wheel down during Qualifying 1.
Predicting how a MotoGP race will play out is hard. Scratch that, predicting how a MotoGP race will play out is downright impossible. We scour the sector and lap times, talk to as many riders as possible, try to make sense of what they tell us, and take our best guess based on all we have learned.
And inevitably, we get it wrong. Because there was something we missed, or because some random factor intervened, or because we didn’t pay enough attention to what the riders were telling us, or perhaps paid too much attention to it. Which is why you should probably take the following with a pinch of salt.
After qualifying and practice at Brno, we confidently predicted one of the best races of the year, with Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Márquez setting almost identical pace during free practice.
The chase lasted for five laps, before Lorenzo picked up his heels and disappeared, riding a perfect race to an unstoppable win, and killing any burgeoning excitement stone dead.
Silverstone looks like being very similar. There are two riders who are clearly a step ahead of the rest, and on the basis of practice times on Saturday, their pace is very similar indeed.
Though you wouldn’t say that just based on the headline numbers: in FP3, Jorge Lorenzo destroyed the rest of the field, beating Márquez by nearly half a second.
In the afternoon, during FP4, Márquez returned the favor, laying down a withering pace to put over eight tenths on everyone else, and posting a string of ten laps, the slowest of which was faster than fastest lap set by any other rider on the field.
The difference between Lorenzo’s FP3 lap and Márquez’ FP4 lap? Just 0.062 seconds, in Lorenzo’s favor.
Tires are what made the difference. Lorenzo put a brand new tire on for the last two laps of FP3, and obliterated the rest of the field. Márquez put a brand new medium tire in FP4, and blew the field away, then slapped in a new hard tire, and was fast with that too.
In FP3, Márquez was working on getting the best out of old tires, in FP4, Lorenzo was doing the same, as well as trying out a setup change that simply did not work.
Two riders, similar pace on new tires, both much faster than the rest. Who will come out on top? At this point in time, it is impossible to say. What it will come down to is who manages tires the best.