Why are the MotoGP bikes so much slower at Barcelona than last year? In FP1, fastest man Marc Márquez was a second and a quarter slower than Valentino Rossi was in the first session of 2018. Fabio Quartararo, fastest rider in FP2, was 1.2 seconds slower than Jorge Lorenzo was in the same session in 2018.
“If you compare to last year, in FP2 somebody did a 1’38 and many riders were able to do a 1’39, but this year, nobody was able to do a 1’39,” Takaaki Nakagami wondered. “More or less 1 second slower than last year.”
The answer came from the skies. When I walked to my car this morning, I found it covered in thick drops of very fine dust. According to the locals, this is a fine dust carried from sandstorms in the Sahara, 1000km south of Barcelona.
Heavy rain earlier in the week, then brief showers overnight, and at the start of the afternoon, left this fine Saharan sand all over the track, making it dusty, and robbing it of grip.
A lack of grip wasn’t the only problem. The sand on the track was also incredibly abrasive, chewing through tires, especially fronts, and especially in FP1. When Marc Márquez came back from his second run on the medium front tire, the right side looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to it.
Things were much better in the afternoon, but it did make figuring out who was doing what much more difficult. With conditions so rough in the morning, most riders were using up their allocation of tires they did not expect to need for either qualifying or the race. But some were also approaching the weekend from a different angle.
Was FP1 a wasted session? “No, it was not a waste of a session for sure,” Fabio Quartararo told us on Friday afternoon, after setting the fastest time of the day. The brief rain shower in the afternoon had made FP2 a tricky proposition as well, the Petronas Yamaha SRT rider said.
“Also in FP2, there was some rain in Moto3, it looked like it wasn’t water, it was more dirt. I work a lot with the rear brake, and today, I couldn’t touch it, because as soon as you touch it, the bike is sliding a lot. So for me the track today was really dirty, and we see that the lap times are really far from last year already.”