Qatar is a tough place to test. First, there’s the timing. The track is open between 4pm and 11pm, giving a full seven hours of track time. In theory, that is. In practice, the first two hours are pretty much unusable, as track temperatures are much higher during daylight than after the sun sets.
The final hour is a risky proposition, as the moisture in the air tends to settle at some point after 10pm, forming dew on the track. The dew is as good as invisible, yet it drastically reduces grip. Crashes start to happen without warning, and at high speed.
Then there’s the sand. The first day of testing is usually more about cleaning the track than setting times, as the dust blows in from the desert to the west. It is better than it was: much of the construction in the area has now been completed, making the sand on the track just a smattering, rather than a full four-ply coating.
Effectively, there are four hours of usable track time, and a little less on the first day of the test. For the first two hours of the Qatar test, only the official test riders present at the track were actually circulating, putting laps on bikes and creating a clean line.
The official MotoGP riders were left to act the vampire, only venturing out once the sun removed its deadly rays from Arabian skies.
What did we learn from the Phillip Island MotoGP test? We learned that the rule changes for 2016, new electronics and Michelin tires, have made learning anything from testing very difficult.
To borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, we learned that there are still plenty of known unknowns, and even more unknown unknowns. The most interesting thing to come out of the test is that a few of the unknown unknowns turned into known unknowns.
To put it more simply and bluntly, we had our noses rubbed in our ignorance. What we learned from Phillip Island is that the teams and manufacturers are still slap bang in the middle of adapting to the new regulations, and that things are changing fast.
Faces dropped as teams headed into the paddock at Phillip Island on Thursday morning. Another day of rain? Surely not. Had they not suffered enough?
What was needed was some dry track time, so that the teams could get on with the piles of work they still have to do getting ready for the 2016 season, and Michelin could start to get some proper feedback on their slicks.
Their supplications to the heavens did not go unanswered. As the day went on, the sun came out and the track dried out, conditions getting better and better.
By the end of the session, lap times were tumbling, riders getting close to the times set during the race in October, and Maverick Viñales getting a tenth under Marc Márquez’s best race lap.
If being the official supplier to a racing series is a double-edged sword, then being the sole supplier of equipment as essential as tires is doubly so.
Leaving aside the complexities of exactly what a four-edged sword would actually look like, being official tire supplier to MotoGP is a role that offers massive opportunities for raising the role of a brand, and having it associated with the most famous names in motorcycle racing.
It gets your brand name and logo in front of many tens of millions of race fans and motorcycle enthusiasts every weekend. It also sees your logo plastered all over just about every photo which appears in magazines and newspapers about MotoGP, as well as filling thousands of column inches on websites and in magazines.
If you had to pay for the same exposure – a concept known as equivalent advertising value – it would cost you many, many times the €25 million Bridgestone were rumored to have paid for the contract.
There is a downside, of course. It is extremely uncommon to hear riders heap praise upon your tires spontaneously. Bridgestone had to announce they were pulling out of the role as official supplier to receive the praise they deserved, riders immediately paying tribute to just how good their racing tires actually are.