It is but a short trip up the road from Spielberg to Brno, but it is a journey between two very different worlds.
From the hyper-modern facility at the Red Bull Ring, to the frayed-around-the-edges buildings of Brno. From a track which has been missing from the calendar for the best part of twenty years to a circuit which has seen racing almost since its inception, where teams often come to test.
From a track with a paucity of corners, all hard braking and acceleration, to one which flows from corner to corner, where bikes mostly exit in third gear when getting on the gas.
The starkest difference between the Red Bull Ring and Brno is the layout. Both tracks snake up and down hillsides, but where Austria is a track stuck up against a mountain, Brno is a winding road which threads its way through hills and vales.
Where Spielberg is basically seven corners, three of which are almost hairpins, all fourteen of Brno’s corners are long and flowing.
Ironically, Brno’s flowing layout makes it somewhat more simple to set up a bike for it. All of the corners are similar, with no camber and needing the same approach.
“The set up is more important than at other tracks because all the corners are similar,” Danilo Petrucci explained to us on Thursday. “You have to be good on braking and especially the feeling of the front. Because for more than 50% of the track you are on the edge of the tire.”
It’s the Sachsenring all over again. Or almost: when the MotoGP bikes were here in July, air temperatures were in the low 30s, and track temperature was around 50°C. During FP1, the air temperature was just 9°, and track temperature was 14°C.
“The temperature this morning was pretty extreme,” Jorge Lorenzo said after practice was over. “Only a few times in my life have we been riding in such cold conditions.”
Cold temperatures meant cold tire crashes, especially in the morning. The most obvious was Dani Pedrosa’s crash, who fell at Turn 9 as he touched the front brake, the front folding as if the track were wet.
The crash caused the session to be red-flagged, as Pedrosa’s Honda ended up puncturing the air fence and landing on top of the tire barrier.
The crash seemed to be a warning of the excesses of tarmac run off, but Pedrosa was happy that there wasn’t a gravel trap at the edge of the track. “I crashed in fifth gear, so I was going very fast,” Pedrosa said.
“From one point of view I think, most of the run-off area was asphalt so maybe the bike didn’t decelerate enough. But on the other side I was very lucky it was only asphalt, because I crashed so fast that if I went into the gravel I would have tumbled over and over with a lot of speed.”
There are upsides to asphalt run off sometimes.
There has been a reversal of fortunes in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage.
Last year, it was Bradley Smith who was the clear top satellite rider, putting in strong and above all, sensible and consistent performances week in, week out, while Pol Espargaro tried hard to get the Yamaha M1 to do things it didn’t want to do, and either crashed or finished well down the order.
This year, it is Espargaro who has the consistency, while Smith is trying (and failing) to get the Michelins to do what he wants them to do.
Yet another impostor. Valentino Rossi is arguably the most complete racer on the MotoGP grid, and probably the most complete racer of all time. His experience is unrivaled, as is his ability to adapt to circumstances.
Yet he has thrown away one win and the chance of a very strong result through something resembling youthful impatience. The most experienced rider on the grid has made life impossible for himself as a result of two rookie mistakes.
That is a real shame. For Rossi, like Lorenzo, arrived at the start of this year in better shape than ever during his career. His training is more intense and more focused, his demeanor more single-minded.
He has separated from his long-time girlfriend, and hired a rider coach in Luca Cadalora. Quite literally, Valentino Rossi has done everything possible to try to win the 2016 MotoGP title.
Who is the real Jorge Lorenzo? Like Marc Márquez, it sometimes looks like Jorge Lorenzo’s place has been taken by an impostor in Movistar Yamaha leathers.
The swap would have taken place at Barcelona: in the first six races of the season, Lorenzo’s results included three wins, two second places and a crash in tricky conditions in Argentina.
From Barcelona onwards, Lorenzo was taken out by Andrea Iannone as he dropped down through the field, with a tenth and a fifteenth place finish. Tenth at Assen was Lorenzo’s worst finish in MotoGP since his rookie season. Three weeks later, he had his worst finish in Grand Prix racing since 2004.
What has happened to Lorenzo? It is hard to say whether his results at Assen and the Sachsenring represent a decline of Lorenzo’s form, or whether they were merely a collapse in confidence in difficult conditions at two of the circuits which have caused him the most physical and mental pain in the past.
Why do they call it Silly Season? Its origins lie in the 19th Century, when a London publication found itself concocting trivial stories to try to pad out its pages. Its meaning has mutated to cover any story consisting mainly of speculation and rumor meant to fill empty column inches.
And in motorcycle racing, it has come to mean the period of time during which riders and teams are negotiating over new contracts, and working on who will be riding where the following season.
This year, Silly Season has needed a new name. It has gone from beyond silly to being outright insane. In a normal year, riders touch base with teams at Jerez, start talks in earnest at Mugello, and sign contracts during the summer break, announcing deals at the first race after the break.
But this is no normal year. As we approach the first race after the summer break of 2016, all but two of the twenty-three seats in MotoGP have already been filled, officially or unofficially, and Silly Season is basically over.
The madness started before the season had even begun. At the Movistar Yamaha launch in January, Jorge Lorenzo stated publicly that he wanted to sign a new deal with the team before the start of the season.
Yamaha did its part, sending offers to both Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in the period before the first race at Qatar. Lorenzo did not sign his deal, however. Valentino Rossi did.
The seven time MotoGP champion has tied his long term future to Yamaha, and never seriously looked elsewhere. Yamaha and Rossi will be making money for each other for many years to come.
New electronics was just one of the changes for 2016. The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires has been a much bigger story in the first half of this season.
The wildly different character of the tires has had a big impact on the championship, changing riding styles and rewarding some riders, and punishing others.
How should we appraise the first nine races with Michelin as official tire supplier? Their return has seen both ups and downs, highs and lows.
In a sense, you could say it has gone very much as you might expect it to go, in that there were always going to be surprises they hadn’t been taken into account. As Harold Macmillan once said when asked what he feared most, “events, dear boy, events”.
The biggest fear of the MotoGP riders after the Valencia test in November last year was Michelin’s front tire. A spate of crashes – over twenty in two days, with almost everyone hitting the floor – where riders lost the front inexplicably was a great cause for concern.
To its credit, Michelin worked to address that issue, bringing a much improved front to a private test at Jerez in November, and another iteration to Sepang. The front had grip again. It was no Bridgestone, but there was at least some predictability to it and some feedback from it.