Silverstone, like so many British racetracks, is built on the site of a former World War II airfield. Though that fact may appear to be largely irrelevant, the location makes a massive difference to conditions at the circuit.
To allow the lumbering RAF bombers to take off on their nightly runs to Germany, the airfield was set up on the flat top of a hill. The combination of altitude and ubiquitous wind gave the bombers as much help as possible at take off.
Though the bombers are gone, the wind remains, and it played havoc with all three Grand Prix classes on Friday. The blustery wind blew the bantamweight Moto3 bikes all over the track. It hammered the heavier Moto2 bikes from all sides.
And it robbed the precious warmth from the MotoGP bikes’ Bridgestone tires, draining heat and reducing the grip. The mixture of strong winds, major cloud cover and low temperatures made it difficult for everyone during free practice.
Since the beginning of the season, as he racked up one victory after another, Marc Marquez faced the same question over and over again: can you keep on winning? And over and over again, Marc Marquez gave the same answer: one day, he would not win. On that day, he added, it would be important to think of the championship, and get on the podium if possible.
That day came 10 days ago, at Brno. After struggling all weekend with a lack of rear grip on his Repsol Honda, Marquez couldn’t match the pace of his teammate Dani Pedrosa, and the two Movistar Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Fourth was all that Marquez could manage.
The measure of a champion is not just how he wins, but also how he handles defeat. As Marquez rolled back into his garage after the race – a rare occurrence indeed, this the first time Marquez finished off the podium in his MotoGP career – there were no tantrums, no anger, no shouting.
He patted his mechanics on their shoulders, sat down in his seat, and immediately started analyzing the defeat he had just suffered with his team. This was clearly not an experience he was keen to replicate any time soon. If any doubt still lingered, the eagerness with which he attacked the official test at Brno on the Monday after the race quickly removed them.
Yet there is good reason for Marquez to fear another defeat. After the summer break, the reigning world champion pinpointed both Brno and Silverstone as tracks where he expected to come under fire from his rivals. Fans and journalists were quick to dismiss those doubts as merely sandbagging, or playing to the peanut gallery.
Had Marquez not said exactly the same thing about Mugello, Barcelona and Assen? And had Marquez not taken victory at those tracks, too? At Brno, it turned out Marquez had been telling the truth. “Everyone said that winning was easy for me,” Marquez told the media. “But I know how hard it was.”
You would have to live a life devoid of social media — raising some interesting issues about how you’re on Asphalt & Rubber in the first place — not to know about the Ice Bucket Challenge videos that occurring to help raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The campaign is pretty straight forward: someone nominates you to dump a bucket of ice water on your head, you post up a video of you accepting the challenge, and then you nominate a three other people to take the challenge themselves within 24hrs — or, you can opt for the drier and warmer alternative, and donate $100 to the ALS Association.
It’s all good clean wholesome fun, and it really doesn’t matter if you cut a check or take a dunk, the ALSA benefits either way from the money and/or increased exposure. A clever pieces of marketing, the Ice Bucket Challenge has reportedly increased donations to the ALSA nearly ten-fold, and it’s not uncommon to see celebrities getting in on the fun, even in the MotoGP paddock.
First up was Jorge Lorenzo unsurprisingly, as the Spaniard has often used his fame to help charities. After taking an ice bath, Lorenzo challenged fellow Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi, current MotoGP points-leader Marc Marquez, and recent race-winner Dani Pedrosa, well…the results are after the jump.
The hot-hand fallacy finally caught up with Marc Marquez. His amazing streak of consecutive wins stays at ten, the Spaniard being beaten for the first time this year.
In his twenty-ninth race in the MotoGP class, Marquez and his crew finally failed to find a good enough set up to win, or even make it onto the podium.
The Repsol Honda man has only missed out on the podium twice before, once at Mugello last year, when he crashed, and once at Phillip Island, when he was disqualified from the tire fiasco race.
Defeat had been waiting in the wings for Marquez for a while now. Look solely at the points table, and his dominance looks complete. But go back and look at his winning margin, and his advantage has not looked quite so large.
Of his ten wins, only two were by a considerable margin: one at Austin, where he has always been better than the rest; one at Assen, where rain created large gaps. His advantage at Argentina and Indianapolis was 1.8 seconds, at Jerez, Le Mans and the Sachsenring under a second and a half.
Marquez could only eke out victory at Qatar, Mugello and Barcelona, races he won by a half a second or less. At most races, Marquez was winning by a slender margin indeed, lapping on average just five or six hundredths of a second quicker than his rivals. It was enough, but it was really not very much at all.
Marquez’s slender advantage over his rivals was a sign of just how close they really were. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had all come close to beating Marquez, and in the case of Pedrosa at Barcelona, Marquez had been forced to delve deep into his bag of tricks to beat his teammate.
Marquez’s talent may have loaded the dice he was rolling, but eventually they would fall another way. “People said winning was easy for me,” Marquez told the Spanish media, “but I know how hard it was.”
The key to success in motorcycle racing is about controlling as many variables as you can. There are two variables which riders and teams cannot control, and which they fear for that very reason: the weather and crashes.
The weather spared both MotoGP and Moto2 at Brno on Saturday, but played havoc in Moto3. Crashes, too, made life difficult, both for MotoGP and in Moto3. It made for an intriguing day of practice.
The day started under leaden skies, with the threat of rain ever present throughout the morning. Dark clouds rolled in, then rolled right out again, chased deeper into Moravia and away from the track. They broke only briefly in the afternoon, the Moto3 qualifying session the main victim.
Standing at trackside, the rain came and went so quickly that by the time I posted an update on Twitter, the weather had changed, immediately contradicting me. In the end, a red flag saved my blushes, Phillip Oettl crashing and damaging the air fence, causing the session to be halted while the air fence was repaired.
The first day of practice at Brno turned out to be a day of two halves. The morning was glorious, sunny and relatively warm. Clouds began gathering shortly after lunch, and the first spots of rain started to fall just as FP2 for the Moto3 class came to a close.
The rain grew steadily heavier for the first half of the MotoGP afternoon practice session, easing up and stopping with some ten minutes to go. By the time the Moto2 bikes took to the track, the circuit was already drying, though it only really dried out completely towards the end of Moto2.
The two halves of MotoGP practice showed the same picture, however. Marc Marquez is fast in the wet and fast in the dry, and clearly looking comfortable on the Repsol Honda.
Teammate Dani Pedrosa is also quick in both conditions, though a little closer to Marquez on a wet track than on a dry track. In the dry, Jorge Lorenzo is very close to Marc Marquez, but in the wet, both he and Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi are a second off the pace of the Repsols.
Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez’s record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before.
At some point, the chips will fall someone else’s way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. “A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed,” Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate said. “So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed.”
Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. “You can’t plan things against Marc,” Pedrosa said, “he is smart, he can adapt each time.”
If it will take a whole series of events going against him to beat Marc Marquez, Brno is probably a good place to start. Though the Spaniard won here last year, it is not a track he feels comfortable at. The flowing nature of the track, with lots of changes of direction and fast and wide chicanes, plays to the strengths of both Yamahas and Hondas.