The coronavirus has struck another blow to the MotoGP Championship calendar for 2020, with news today that the British GP round at Silverstone, as well as the Australian GP round at Phillip Island have been canceled.
Episode 122 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one is a MotoGP show, as we catch back up with the premier class on its flyaway rounds at Japan, Malaysia, and Australia.
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of things for them to talk about, especially as we head into the final round of the season, at Valencia.
The elements prevailed in the end. The weather gods threw rain and wind at the Phillip Island circuit on Friday, and after showing their power to pose real peril to the riders, the riders and Dorna surrendered to a power greater than them.
The very strong gusting wind was just too dangerous to make riding at the Australian circuit safe.
Miguel Oliveira’s crash was the last straw. The Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider was caught out by the changing wind in the early part of FP4, got pushed wide on the entry to the terrifyingly fast first corner, and took a massive tumble through the gravel.
It looked like a huge crash, and Oliveira was very lucky to come away with no broken bones, though he had heavy bruising on his arm and hand.
“I was slipstreaming Zarco and at that point I was a little bit more close to the left side of the track,” Oliveira said.
“And from the morning to the afternoon the wind just completely changed the way and was really sideways going onto the straight. I rolled off to let Johann pass and when I braked, I braked completely sideways and the wind just pushed me out of the track.”
Strong winds have forced Dorna to cancel qualifying for the MotoGP class at Phillip Island.
Wind with gusts of over 70km/h made conditions impossible during FP4, and after Miguel Oliveira suffered a massive crash at Turn 1, blown off line and onto the grass, an impromptu meeting of the Safety Commission voted to cancel qualifying, deeming it too dangerous to continue.
Four seasons in one day. That’s how they describe the weather at Phillip Island, and that’s exactly what MotoGP got on Friday. Jack Miller’s day summed up conditions nicely. “It was quite windy early as the doors were nearly blown off my house,” the Pramac Ducati rider said.
“Then it started calming down, then bucketing down, and believe it or not I was sitting out having a coffee at 6:30 this morning in a t-shirt as it was 18 or 19 degrees and then as I was driving to my parents’ house the temperature started going down and down and then the rain came in. I thought it would be set in for the day but it managed to clear up this afternoon and we managed to get on the slick tires.”
In the end, the MotoGP riders got three session in different conditions. FP1 was cold, wet, and blustery. FP2 was warm, dry, and fairly sunny. And the special tire test session, to put the final touch on the new construction rear tire Michelin wants to introduce in 2020 was cooler, with temperatures dropping.
Those changing conditions had a fairly significant impact. First, it meant the MotoGP teams were trying to cram an entire weekend’s worth of setup work and tire testing into 35 minutes, followed by chasing a time for Q2 in the final 10 minutes.
Even Marc Márquez, who never stresses about chasing a time for Q2, stuck in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick lap, nearly losing out when he found his teammate Jorge Lorenzo sitting on the line through the final two corners.
From one seasonally misplaced track to another. Fresh from Motegi, which MotoGP visits at the tail end of typhoon season, the Grand Prix paddock heads south – a very long way south – to Phillip Island, on the south coast of Victoria in Australia, perched on the edge of the Bass Strait.
It is a glorious location at the end of the antipodean summer, with good weather very nearly guaranteed. But unfortunately, MotoGP doesn’t visit at the end of the antipodean summer in February or March.
Instead, MotoGP is condemned to brave the elements in October, when it is spring in the southern hemisphere.
And all because the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the company which runs the MotoGP round at Phillip Island, is also the promoter of the Australian Formula 1 race, held in Melbourne Park, pays a premium to host the first F1 race of the year.
With Melbourne just under two hours away, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation doesn’t want to have its two biggest events too close together, to prevent fans from being forced to choose between the two races.
And having paid to make the F1 race the first of the season, moving MotoGP to October is the obvious choice. An understandable choice too: the F1 race at Melbourne Park draws over 100,000 fans on race day.
Race day at Phillip Island sees around 35,000 paying customers through the gates.
It has been a while since we have had a chance to host a show, so there is much to discuss, and the guys get right down to it.
Amongst the discussion of the various rounds, there are some good side conversations about the internal workings of the GP factories, the career of Dani Pedrosa, and what makes a rider the “Great Ride of All Time” in the eyes of the MotoGP paddock.
Phillip Island is a glorious race track, in a glorious setting, with a history of serving up glorious racing, especially when the weather plays ball. On Sunday, it did just that, the circuit bathed in warm sunshine, almost taking the edge off the antarctic chill which can still hit the circuit in very early spring.
And great weather brought fantastic racing, starting with a spectacularly insane Moto3 race, followed up with a thrilling Moto2 race, and finally topped off with an intriguing and incident-packed MotoGP race.
The MotoGP grid arrived at Phillip Island mindful of the lessons of last year. In 2017, a large group had battled for the win for 20+ laps, until their tires were shot. Marc Márquez, having been mindful of his tires for much of the race, made his move in the last five laps, opening a gap over the chasing group of a couple of seconds. Everyone Márquez had beaten last year had spent the weekend concentrating on tire preservation for the last part of the race.
“Last year we lost the race because the last five laps, we didn’t have anything more,” Andrea Iannone said after practice. “Everybody had one or two tenths more than us, and at the end, finished in front of us.” Jack Miller, who had led the race for the first four laps in 2017, finishing seventh behind Iannone, made a similar point.
“What I learned from last year is try to manage the tire a little bit better,” the Australian said. “We’ve been playing a lot with the maps and setting up for the race. It’s not going to be a crazy fast race, almost from the get go, but it’ll wind up sort of five, six laps to go.”
Racing is always about balancing risk and reward, but sometimes, that balance is put into very stark contrast. Phillip Island is a very fast track with notoriously blustery weather, with strong winds commonly blowing in rain showers.
The weather gods have not looked kindly on this year’s Australian Grand Prix, though it has stayed largely dry. Gale-force winds, icy temperatures, and the occasional downpour have, shall we say, livened the proceedings up considerably.
The upside to being battered by strong winds is that the weather can blow out again as quickly as it blew in. Scattered showers are just that: scattered away towards the mainland in the blink of an eye. But they can be scattered over the circuit again in a matter of minutes.
This does not exactly make things easy for the MotoGP riders. Heading along the front straight well north of 330km/h and seeing spots on your visor, then wondering whether Doohan Corner, a 200+km/h corner is going to be completely dry or not is, shall we say, unnerving.
Doing all that during qualifying, when you know you only have 15 minutes to post a quick time, doubly so. As the reward goes up, so does the tolerance for risk.