If Saturday at Sepang taught us anything, it is that if the new qualifying system for MotoGP is exciting, the new qualifying system with a little rain mixed in is utterly breathtaking. A brief shower at the end of Q1 left the area through turns 6 and 7 very wet, while the rest of the track was still mostly dry.
Add in the searing tropical heat which dries the surface quickly, and the color of the Sepang tarmac which tends to disguise wet patches, and qualifying becomes even more tricky. And then there’s the fact that Sepang is a long track, the two-minute lap time leaving the riders precious little time to turn laps while waiting for the surface to dry out.
Strategies went out the window, and already stressed mechanics were forced to work themselves into even more of a sweat as they rushed to set up two bikes, one dry and one wet, just in case the rain returned. Some riders went out early and despite being warned, found themselves thrown out of their seats and given a proper scare.
With qualifying being just fifteen minutes, the most likely scenario was that the last rider to cross the line would be the fastest, unless it started raining again.
Qualifying at Aragon showed that the fourteenth round of the season could turn out to be a turning point in all three Grand Prix championships. Momentum shifts, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, title races can open up again.
Foregone conclusions are shown up for the illusions they are, and the words of every championship leader – “I won’t start thinking about the title until Valencia” – are brought into keen focus.
Half a second at Misano is a very, very long time. At a short track like this, gaps are measured in tenths, not seconds. The gap from 5th to 12th, for example, is 0.505. Yet the gap from Marc Marquez on pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider with the second fastest time, was 0.513 seconds. A huge difference.
Despite another one of his fast crashes in free practice, from which he keeps walking away almost unhurt, Marquez stayed calm, posted an impressive fast lap in his first run of Q2, and then followed it up by obliterating Casey Stoner’s 2011 Misano pole lap record by over two tenths of a second.
The lap was stunning – another trademark of Marquez since his switch to MotoGP – and beyond the capability of anyone to follow. The Repsol Honda man looked unstoppable during qualifying.
Why do we keep watching motorcycle racing? Because sometimes magic happens. Today was one of those days. Two riders took their sport to the known limits in qualifying at Silverstone on Saturday, and then pushed at the edges to see what was beyond.
What happened then took the breath of the crowd away, and left the press room sitting in stunned silence. And shutting the media up takes some doing.
Veteran broadcaster Dennis Noyes described the atmosphere in Parc Ferme after qualifying like being in a church. There was an air of awed reverence, quietness almost, as the teams of all three riders on the front row showed their respect for what they had just seen happen.
Jorge Lorenzo had put on a display of as near perfect riding as it is humanly possible to achieve, destroying the lap record in the process. And then Marc Marquez had gone faster still, with almost effortless ease.
As Lorenzo stopped in Parc Ferme after qualifying, he gave a little shake of his head. He knew what he had just done – afterwards, he would say the lap was one of the best of his career, and that there was really only one sector where he could have found more time – and it had not been enough. It doesn’t really matter what Lorenzo tries, matching Marc Marquez seems to be impossible.
You could have earned yourself a tidy sum today if you’d correctly predicted the MotoGP front row. Though Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista and Marc Marquez are all familiar faces on the front row, the combination of the three was quite unexpected. Crutchlow earned his second ever MotoGP pole at Brno, shattering the pole record on his way to doing it.
Bautista was on the front row at Laguna Seca, but his previous front row appearance was pole position at Silverstone over a year ago. And Marquez is a regular patron of the front row, but in four of his eight front row starts, he has had pole. The combination of the three was a surprise, and a testament to the way the new qualifying system this year manages to throw up surprises.
Somebody appears to have neglected to inform Marc Marquez of the laws of physics. Though the track is less slippery than it was last year, and so a little faster, where Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo upped their pace by three tenths of a second, dipping under last year’s pole record, Marc Marquez positively obliterated it.
The Spanish rookie put in one of the best laps every seen on a MotoGP bike, and stripped nearly nine tenths of a second off the pole record, held by his teammate Dani Pedrosa. He sits half a second ahead of reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, and a fraction more ahead of Pedrosa.
That gap bears repeating. Half a second in a single lap is a world apart in MotoGP: If they both started at the same time, Marc Marquez would have crossed the line 22 meters ahead of Jorge Lorenzo after that first lap, or roughly 11 bike lengths.