The legacy of the Lost Grand Prix lingers on. Silverstone was on the minds of many at Misano, and there was still much to be said about the race. The conclusion remained nearly unanimous, with one dissenting opinion: it was way too dangerous to race at Silverstone, and the new surface was simply not draining correctly.
Riders chimed in with their opinions of what had gone wrong with laying the asphalt, but those opinions should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. They may be intimately familiar with the feel and texture of asphalt, but the ability to ride a motorcycle almost inhumanly fast does not equate to understanding the underlying engineering and chemistry of large-scale civil engineering projects.
What riders do understand better than anyone, of course, is whether a race track is safe to race on, and all but Jack Miller felt the same way eleven days on from Silverstone. “The amount of rain was not enough to produce those conditions on the track,” Marc Márquez told the press conference.
“For me it was more about the asphalt, more than the weather conditions. And it was T2 and T3, that part was something that you cannot ride like this. Because there are many bumps, the water was there but inside the bump was even more water, and it was impossible to understand the track.”
It had rained far more in 2015, when the race had been able to go ahead, than it had in 2018, when the race had been called off, Márquez said. “For example in 2015 it was raining much more, in Motegi last year it was raining much more. But for some reason, we already went out from the box and it was only light rain but the water was there. It was something strange.”
2015 Was Worse
Valentino Rossi agreed. “For me, the rain was hard, for sure, but from what I remember very similar to 2015,” the Movistar Yamaha rider said. “In 2015 it was very slippery but the amount of water on the track was normal. The problem of this year is that also with less rain, the water remained on the track. In fact, during FP4, when all the riders arrived to Turn 7, half-crashed and half went straight on.”
“So it means that it’s not normal, because also in FP4 it started to rain quite lightly. And for example last year, in Motegi, it rained a lot more. But there wasn’t a worst place of the track, it was all the same. When we did the sighting lap to the grid, the amount of water was too much everywhere. The problem is the asphalt more than the bumps, I think.”
Jorge Lorenzo was one of the first riders to run into problems during FP4, being forced to run straight on into the gravel when the heavy rain came. He explained his view of proceedings. “I was one of the riders who went straight in FP4,” he said. “It was very strange, because before arriving there, before arriving in the second part of the long straight, there was almost no water, or only very little splashes.”
“An almost dry track, so we were riding with confidence. But then I went into fourth or fifth gear, it was a different world there, it was like a big swimming pool in the straight, a little bit foggy. It was very strange and I started to close the throttle, but even like that it was not enough to stop the bike. To stop the bike, I needed like 400 meters, 500 meters, and even like that, the front was locking, the rear was locking, and I couldn’t stop.”
Things had improved by Sunday, after the work done at Stowe to try to improve drainage. “In the two sighting laps on Sunday before the race, it looks like they made some work in that area on Saturday afternoon, they improved a little bit the drainage of the tarmac, so it was a little bit better in that zone, but the problem was everywhere, in all the corners that the drainage was not correct, and we were spinning in all acceleration points, and it was very difficult to ride.”
Rain in England Is Hardly Unheard Of
Aleix Espargaro was incensed that MotoGP had turned up at a track where, he believed, the management must have been aware of the problems in the wet. “It’s not normal what happened last week,” the Aprilia rider said. “I was very angry also how the situation was managed and I don’t understand how we can go there and… for me it’s bull***t that it didn’t rain in Silverstone before we were there. They say the last month was perfect, never rain.”
The rain on the Sunday was nothing special, Espargaro said. “The rain we had in the weekend was normal, it was not heavy rain, so they knew something. Because if you are working at the circuit and it starts to rain you can see that the water is not going out of the track. They tried everything I’m sure after the incident with Rabat, in the night making holes in the run-off area. But they should know this. MotoGP is a very important championship. So they should know before we go there.”
Jack Miller was the sole dissenting voice, though he accepted the will of the majority. “100% I think we could have raced,” the Australian said. “I think we quit too early. Because I didn’t leave the track straight away. I sat there and waited for the traffic to die down. The weather got better as the day went on. The rain stopped. Sure it was still wet. But to cancel it as early as we did was strange.”
Miller had a different theory for why riders were running on at the end of the Hangar Straight. “A lot of them you saw running off at the end of the straight and stuff like that. But that was not due to the conditions. It was due to you exiting pit lane and not needing to use the brakes until the end of the back straight if you go as slow as they were going on the way out.”
“So then they all run out because they are using carbon brakes in the wet, which two years ago nobody did and it was borderline if you could use them in the wet. Also if you don’t force the tires through the first sector, they were cold and not working properly.”
Miller had taken a different approach, which made him much more confident. “I didn’t have a drama because I attacked on the brakes straight out of pit lane and my bike was working quite well. So that’s how I felt. Also for example where the aquaplaning problem was, if you could avoid the racing line and go down the inside it was dry, because the water was running down. So it was a case of having to ride to the conditions.”
New Tarmac Please
The one thing that all agreed on was the need for Silverstone to be resurfaced. The current surface was simply not up to scratch, as it was not draining properly, and it was full of bumps. The bumps were the reason Silverstone was asked to resurface the track, and given they had reappeared, or even become worse, then there is no other option than to demand a new surface.
“I think it’s quite clear,” Jack Miller summed up the general consensus. “In saying everything I’ve said, it shouldn’t have been a drama because I’ve seen races held in much worse conditions. The 100% fault comes down to the asphalt. Because it didn’t drain. The water sat on top. The rain on Sunday was expected to be this crazy rain, but to be honest it was drizzling all day. It was not real rain.”
“In North Queensland we get rain, and that’s what I was expecting. It was nothing like that and definitely nothing to stop the race. Last year for example here we had much worse rain and it was perfect, even though here it’s quite slippery because the ocean is so close. There’s a lot of salt and crap that gets picked up and dropped here. So it can be quite ‘icy’.”
There was some confusion about the way the meeting had come about at the IRTA trucks, where the riders had decided against racing. Aleix Espargaro cleared up a few misconceptions. “I talked with Dani [Pedrosa] in the paddock, then I saw Maverick and we started to say to everyone around us to go to IRTA and talk a little bit together,” Espargaro explained.
“We arrived there and was some IRTA and Dorna guys in the office. So we asked them to go out, to make a meeting with just the riders, and we were 21 riders. The only rider who was against all the others was Jack. Jack was saying that it wasn’t dangerous and that it was good to race. Everybody else was saying it was super dangerous to race and then when everybody agreed except Jack, the Dorna and IRTA people came in and we talked with them.”
“It was nothing prepared. We were in their IRTA truck and when we arrived, someone from IRTA said, ‘at 7 it will stop raining. We can race at 7’. I was looking for a camera thinking it was a joke. But they were serious. I said: ‘are you kidding me?’ It’s strange because normally in the Safety Commission, among 22 or 23 riders there are many opinions. But this time everybody was together except Jack, who was also right. If you want to race and think it’s safe then okay, but he was the only one.
Espargaro also explained how some riders did not appear to have been told about the meeting. “I just talked to Maverick because he’s a good friend of mine, I texted him, I arrived there and when I arrived there was already Lorenzo, many riders. I was fifth or sixth to arrive, and in two minutes there were 100 people around IRTA. Maybe some riders didn’t know at the beginning, but they could arrive later.”
“For example Luthi didn’t know and arrived when we were already talking. Abraham and Bautista I think as well. But the paddock is small and everyone was waiting for some… so if you are watching TV or in the garage you realize that something is happening in IRTA and go there. The people who didn’t know and didn’t come, I’m sorry but they didn’t come because they didn’t want to come.”
Andrea Dovizioso had claimed that he had not been told about the meeting, and that he had wanted to come, but he had missed out because of that. Espargaro dismissed this out of hand. “Dovi knows perfectly. Because when I talked with Albert, my manager, to say to Lorenzo, the Ducati press officer was with Dovi.”
The one lesson learned from the debacle at Silverstone was that in the future, there will always be a race, no matter what needs to be rearranged to make it happen, Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta told Spanish broadcaster Movistar. “It’s important that everybody knows that if the race can’t be held on the Sunday, we will race on Monday or Tuesday,” Ezpeleta said.
“We come here to race. Tomorrow I will let the riders know, that there will always be a safe race, always when possible, but safe, I don’t like to change the rules, and this wasn’t confirmed. From now on we will race on a Monday, if it’s possible to race on the Monday. I will tell them to be prepared to race the following day. We must also tell this to the organizers.”
Fixing the Aprilia
Aleix Espargaro had a lot to say on Thursday, and not just about Silverstone, but also about the way the season has gone for Aprilia so far. The Spaniard was pretty downbeat about the way Aprilia seemed to have lost their way, as a result of geometry changes to the new bike. “We changed a lot the balance of the bike,” Espargaro told us. “We move a lot the weight of the bike and we did a mistake obviously.”
The problem was that the change meant it had become impossible to get the front tire up to temperature, the opposite of the issues Aprilia had had in 2017. “We are far from the right front temperature for the tire,” Espargaro explained. “Last year our problem was that we were sometimes at the last part of the race destroying the front tire. Never the rear. Because we had too much temperature in the front. This year I’m able to run super-soft front tires. We don’t put more than 58 degrees into the front tire and we are cooking the rear tire, which is very strange. So we have to rebalance the bike.”
“The problem is that with the 2018 bike we cannot come back to last year’s bike,” the Spaniard said. “So this weekend we try to change a little bit the balance. Then we have two days of testing where we can do a, let’s say, hybrid bike with the 2017 and 2018 and see if this is a problem. Because obviously we have to start on the 2019 bike and understand if this is the real problem.”
One solution to Aprilia’s problems could be announced very soon. Bradley Smith hoped he could finalize a deal to become Aprilia’s official test rider some time this weekend. “I already spoke to Aleix in Austria,” Smith said. “At the end of the day I feel like I have a lot to offer. Also I’m not done. When you’re not done, the motivation is high. I’ve said before I want to be back inside this paddock full time in 2020.
The motivation is high to help the whole project and ride well myself and put myself in the shop window. As long as that’s managed in the right way in the team structure, it’s certainly not a negative thing to be [a test rider]. Having wildcards available is always a good incentive for the rider and also a good incentive for the project. Everyone pushes on and pushes forward.”
The importance of tests was made clear by Maverick Viñales. He had made a leap forward in both feeling and in pace at the Misano test, and followed it up at the Aragon test last week. It had been much more about regaining his feeling with the bike rather than anything major, Viñales said. “Honestly, I think I found more myself and my way to ride the bike,” he told reporters.
“At Misano I did until midday doing the same, struggling so much with the lines and everything. Suddenly we changed one small detail on the bike with the electronics and I started to ride the bike in a different way: braking very late and being much more aggressive – the same way I rode at Silverstone. It looks like it’s easier for me to ride like this and to make the lap times. Honestly, the test has been good. I really hope to be at the same level as I was at the test.”
Earlier, Bradley Smith had explained that the feeling with the bike was the most important factor in going fast. “Riders are always looking for a feeling, rather than a setting,” he said. That feeling gives the rider the confidence to understand what they can do with the bike, and where they can take it without being bitten by it. It is this which Viñales appears to have found at the Misano and Aragon tests.
It had not come from parts, Viñales said. “There was nothing significant. Honestly I just got much more feeling with the front tire. That’s something I really need to be strong and to turn in the corner. Before the grip on the front was really low, so the rear was always pushing the front – I felt that bad. We’ve worked on this area and also another one on the electronics. Now the way the bike gives the power is a little bit different than before. So this helps so much for me, and for my riding style.”
High Noon at Misano
Misano would not be Misano without a moment of high drama. For the past few races, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi have been seated next to one another in the pre-event press conference, as a result of the press conference protocol.
As championship leader, Marc Márquez sits in the middle (or as near as, with six riders), and takes precedence with the questions. Valentino Rossi sits beside him by virtue of being second in the championship, and is second in line when it comes to answering questions.
The fractious relationship between the two is well known, a result of the tumultuous 2015 season. That relationship is under constant strain, as just as things look like they are starting to mellow, something like Argentina 2018 happens. From speaking to people around the two parties, Valentino Rossi harbors a deep mistrust of Marc Márquez, and Márquez would like to put the whole situation behind him, but the constant friction between the two also raises the Spaniard’s hackles.
Both Rossi and Márquez are hampered in any reconciliation by their ambition, and by their egos. Neither wants to admit they may be wrong, and both regard each other as bitter rivals, drawing motivation from that rivalry.
But there is a romantic view among the fans that the two greatest riders of their respective generations ought to be friends, and so many hope for some form of reconciliation. The media, on the other hand, know a good story when they see one, and seize on any opportunity to expose old wounds.
Stirring the Pot
So it was in the press conference that Movistar TV presenter Carles Pérez asked Valentino Rossi about an interview Marc Márquez had done, in which the Spaniard had said he hoped to be able to make peace with the Italian. Rossi, clearly not interested in getting into the subject, dismissed it out of hand. “Yes, I heard this,” he said. “But I don’t know, it sounds a bit strange to me, because in reality we don’t have any problem between me and Marc. So I don’t know why we have to make peace. For me, it’s OK.”
That statement – “For me, it’s OK” – was open to a great deal of interpretation. Did Rossi mean that the whole situation was OK, and the old wounds had healed? Or did he meant that he didn’t really care about the relationship at the moment, and he was perfectly fine with not finding some kind of reconciliation?
Another Spanish journalist took Rossi’s words to mean the former, and asked if the two would shake hands. Márquez took up the offer, and extended his hand, saying, “of course if it’s no problem for me, no problem to shake hands.” Rossi refused Márquez’ outstretched hand, saying it was not needed. “We don’t need to shake hands. We are OK. We don’t have any problem.”
Naturally, this generated reams and reams of coverage, with other riders being asked all about what happened. “For me, they are both wrong,” Jorge Lorenzo told the Spanish media. Rossi’s behavior made him look like a small child, Lorenzo said, and Márquez was wasting his time wanting any kind of reconciliation. “What Valentino does affects him too much,” Lorenzo said. Márquez should move on and let it go.
Rossi insisted that his relationship with Márquez was not something worth wasting time and energy on. “At the end, our personal relationship is not anything important, it only affects the two of us,” he told Italian media. “We are two riders, we race together, and the important thing is to remain calm and do our jobs as well as possible. All the rest is a waste of time, even just talking about it.”
It may be a waste of time, but the two biggest names in the sport being fierce rivals on the track, and apparently feeling such deep antipathy toward each other off the track is a big story for a lot of media. There will never be a reconciliation, because neither party wants that on anything other than their own terms, and that is something which the other simply cannot accept.
But it doesn’t really matter. The occasional spats between the two make for good theater, and help sell the series. Whether you love the drama, or hate the focus on the drama, it makes no difference. Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi will continue to be Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi, and take no heed of what anyone around them thinks. That is exactly as it should be, for MotoGP would be much the poorer without Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi.