It’s another home round for The Doctor, so that of course means another special helmet design. For this year’s San Marino GP, Valentino Rossi’s AGV Pista helmet plays to the theme of the coastal race track, with an underwater theme.
Very obviously, Rossi is pictured as a yellow fish that is being chased by a shark (we’ll let you decipher the symbolism there). The words “Via Via Via!” in Italian are on either side of the helmet, translating to “Get Away Get Away Get Away!” in English.
Not one to leave his pets out of the design, on the back of the helmet are Valentino’s dogs Cecilia and Cesare, as well as his cat Rossano, who are sporting some snorkels for their underwater excursion.
The trouble with raised expectations is that they are so often trumped by reality. After all the hype about Misano’s new surface, there was much puzzlement among the MotoGP riders, and among the teams.
Danny Kent’s reaction after Moto3 practice was typical. “Having heard so many people say that it’s two seconds a lap quicker than last year… I’d love to know where I can find two seconds!” So much had been expected that it could only ever end in disappointment.
That’s not to say the surface was poor. Praise for the new track was universal, and the times were definitely quick. In Moto3, Danny Kent beat the race lap record.
In Moto2, Tito Rabat was over a tenth quicker than the existing pole record. And Jorge Lorenzo managed the same feat in MotoGP, breaking the existing pole record by a few hundredths.
To do so on a Friday, when the track is still relatively dusty, and fairly green (new and not yet worn in), means the track really is a lot quicker, and times will probably drop quickly on Saturday, once the riders start to turn up the wick.
There was a sense of eager anticipation at Misano on Thursday. For the past five years, the riders have complained more and more of the poor surface, of bumps, of a lack of grip, and of asphalt polished as smooth as pebbles on a beach.
The new surface is a vast improvement, incredibly grippy, most of the bumps ironed out and fresh dark asphalt ready to welcome sticky rubber. Racing at Misano will be a much more rewarding experience than it has been in the past.
Just how much better is the new surface? Aleix Espargaro said that the Suzukis had lapped a second under the lap record, while Marc Márquez had been untouchable, lapping “nearly three seconds under the record.”
That seemed almost improbably fast, and a quick survey among the rest of the paddock suggested Márquez’s time was not quite that quick, but at 1’31.9 impressive nonetheless.
The key to success in motorcycle racing is in finding advantage wherever you can, and exploiting it to the fullest. If you are stronger in acceleration than your rivals, then you make sure you get out of the corner first and leave them for dead down the straight.
If you are stronger in braking, then you wait, not just until you see God, as the old racing adage has it, but until you have seen every deity imagined by humanity since the dawn of time before slamming on the anchors.
If you can turn tighter, you grab the inside line and push the other guy wide. You take what is on the table, and seize it with both hands.
So what about when you are racing in front of your home crowd? Do the cheers of your home fans push you to even greater heights? Does being willed on by tens of thousands of adoring fans spur you into taking more risks, trying harder, riding faster?
Going on the number of times that an Italian has won at Mugello or Misano, or a Spaniard at Jerez, Barcelona or Valencia, that is a tempting conclusion to draw.
Until you look at the other races on the calendar, and see that Spaniards and Italians have won in Australia, Japan, Britain, Holland. And that Spaniards have won in Italy, and Italians in Spain.
The key to success in motorcycle racing is to control the variables which you can control, and adapt to the ones which you can’t.
The British round of MotoGP at Silverstone turned out to be all about those variables, the controllable and the uncontrollable, about right and wrong choices, and about adapting to the conditions.
The one variable over which those involved in motorcycle racing have any control is the weather. Especially at Silverstone, especially at the end of summer. That it should rain is utterly unsurprising. That it should rain during a MotoGP race even more so.
The outcome of the MotoGP race – and in fact, the outcome of all three races at Silverstone – was entirely predictable: the rider who was both best prepared and best able to adapt to the conditions won.
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.
Silverstone was Silverstone on Friday. It pulled its many underhand tricks out of its sleeve, and threw everything it had at the riders, with the exception of rain. Cool in the morning, warm and sunny in the afternoon, with occasional cloud cover to drop the track temperature.
High winds, gusting in a few corners where it was trying to lift the bikes and throw them off line. And bumps galore, short ones, long ones, moved around the circuit since the last time the MotoGP riders were here, forcing them to recalibrate their memories, and pick new lines through the corners they thought they knew.
The ever eloquent Bradley Smith explained: “I’m not too worried about bumps coming from my motocross background it is not something I worry about, it might be something some of the other guys are more scared about, but it doesn’t really effect me.”
“It does seem to be quite bad going into the first corner Copse it is quite bad still and there is a nasty one into Stowe at the end of Hanger Straight. Still the braking point at Vale chicane is still like rollers into there. And for Abbey that one is really, really bad there is one in the middle of the corner which always makes the front tuck.”
The wind was not much better. “It is certainly bad. In a few places you have to make sure you get your body in the right place and get a little bit on the rear brake to keep the front wheel down.”
“I see a lot of guys drilling holes in the fairing but for some reason, especially me with my style and the way it is working at the moment I don’t feel it is causing any problems I can still turn into the wind. It is picking up the front a little bit in the exit but I can commit into the corner okay.”
The Irish budget airline Ryanair gained something of a reputation for being, shall we say, creative with the names of the airports it flies to.
Fancy a trip to Sweden? They will fly you to Stockholm Skavsta, a mere 100 km from the city of Stockholm. The same trick is played out time and time again: Paris Beauvais? Beauvais is a charming French city, and well worth a visit, but it is very long way from the French capital. Munich West (Memmingen)? 112 km west of the Bavarian capital.
So perhaps we should call this British GP the Ryanair MotoGP round. Officially, it is being run by the Circuit of Wales, located in Ebbw Vale, South Wales.