The Grand Prix of Argentina continues its proud tradition of weirdness, with Friday skipped and a day and a half of practice and qualifying crammed into Saturday.
The missing cargo, the result of not one but two planes breaking down between Mandalika and Termas de Rio Hondo, meant that Friday was canceled and the work of preparing for practice started around 2am on Saturday morning, as bikes and equipment were delivered up and down pit lane.
But, MotoGP as a whole pulled it off: apart from the weird schedule, practice and qualifying happened, and history was made.
It has been a busy day for everyone involved in MotoGP. A large section of the paddock was sat either behind a computer or staring at a mobile device frantically refreshing their flight tracker app of choice, watching the exploits of Aerostan aircraft EX-47001, as it finally made its way from Mombasa in Kenya to Lagos in Nigeria to Salvador in Brazil.
As I write this, it has taken off from Salvador and is winging its way to Tucuman, where it is due to land some time after 9pm. At Salvador, the flight number changed from BSC4042 to BSC4043.
A sign? I leave it up to the reader to decipher the letters BSC in the flight number.
Despite being back to something resembling relative normality, MotoGP is off to a strange start in 2022. The season opener at Qatar saw the favorites fall short, and a surprise winner and championship leader.
The second race, at Mandalika in Indonesia, nudged uncomfortably close to farce, the rain saving the MotoGP race from disaster. But like many wet races, the result was far from representative.
For round 3, MotoGP heads to Argentina, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. The track in Argentina is a lesson in contrasts.
A broken down cargo freighter has thrown the schedule for the Argentina Grand Prix at Termas de Rio Hondo into chaos.
One of the aircraft carrying some of the freight from Indonesia to Argentina suffered problems, causing the freight to get stuck in Mombasa, Kenya, and delaying its arrival at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
With bikes from a number of teams missing – including the Gresini Ducati of MotoGP championship leader Enea Bastianini – it was decided to cancel practice for all three classes on Friday, and to begin the weekend on Saturday instead.
The Repsol Honda team has announced that Marc Marquez is to miss the Argentina round of MotoGP at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
The Spaniard met with the specialist treating him for diplopia, or double vision, on Monday, who judged that it would be better for him to sit out the race weekend taking place in Argentina.
Honda went into the Indonesian Grand Prix widely seen as potential front runners. Pol Espargaro had been fastest in the test at Mandalika a month previously, Marc Marquez had been quickest on the second day of the test, Honda riders had set a consistently fast pace, looking better than their single-lap speed.
What’s more, Espargaro was coming off a podium at the season opener at Qatar, the race where Marc Marquez had finished fifth.
To say the Indonesian Grand Prix ended badly for Honda is an understatement. Pol Espargaro was fastest Honda once again, but the Repsol rider crossed the line way down in 12th, 33 seconds behind the winner, Miguel Oliveira.
Espargaro was one of only two Honda riders to finish in the points, crossing the line just ahead of Alex Marquez on the LCR Honda in 13th. Takaaki Nakagami could only struggle to a 19th place, 49 seconds behind the winner.
That wasn’t the really bad news, however. The worst blow for Honda was the fact that Marc Marquez manage to miss the race, and perhaps endanger his chances of the 2022 title, or worse. Much worse.
There has been much debate over the past two months over the use of front ride-height devices, hydraulic-mechanical systems which lower the front of a MotoGP bike on corner exit.
Ever since Ducati turned up with the device at the Sepang test, the other motorcycle manufacturers have complained about it as a waste of money, an expensive way of finding small performance gains.
That prompted an internal discussion inside the MSMA, the association of motorcycle manufacturers racing in MotoGP.
Marc Marquez has suffered yet another injury setback on his long road to recovery. He has been diagnosed with another episode of diplopia, or double vision, after his huge highside in the morning warm up before the Indonesian Grand Prix at Mandalika.
Marquez was ruled unfit after the crash, and did not take part in the race at Mandalika. At the time, he had undergone scans to check for broken bones and brain trauma, but the scans turned up nothing serious.
Fearing a concussion, however, Marquez was not allowed to ride, a decision he and his team supported. During his trip back to Spain, however, he started to suffer vision problems again.
The first Indonesian GP in 25 years has been a complicated affair. A new track, in the middle of a construction site where a new resort is being built. A track which was resurfaced after the test uncovered issues with the asphalt.
The blistering tropical heat, capable of raising track temperatures to well over 60°. The swapping out of the rear tire used at the test for an older, safer tire used in Austria and Buriram to prevent the tire from blistering if track temperatures get that high.
And the intense rains which leave the track wet for a long time, have eaten into setup time, and keep washing dirt onto the surface.
We say it pretty much every Friday of a MotoGP weekend: it’s hard to draw conclusions from the first day of practice.
The first day of practice is usually spent trying out different setups and then assessing which tires are the best compromise between performance and durability for the race, so just glancing at the timesheets doesn’t tell you as much as you would like.
The first day of practice at Mandalika is even more complicated to unravel. First, there is the fact that it rained heavily on Friday morning, leaving the track damp at the start before drying out.
Then there’s the fact that nearly half the track has been resurfaced, the work finished not long before MotoGP arrived.
Finally, Michelin changed the construction of the rear tire from the one used at the test, in response to the heat at the track, the new surface, and the data from the test.
Fortunes in MotoGP can change fast. Before the opening weekend of the 2022 MotoGP season, Pecco Bagnaia was the most tipped rider to take the title, the Ducati GP22 was the hot bike to have.
The question was not whether a Ducati would win one of the early races, but rather which one, and how many Ducatis would end up on the podium at them.
That prediction turned out to be accurate, but not in the way those making it expected. Enea Bastianini rode an outstanding race in Qatar to win the first race of 2022, and the first for the Gresini squad since Toni Elias back at Estoril in 2006.