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Are Michelin deciding the 2017 MotoGP championship? That would be an easy conclusion to draw after the war of attrition which the Gran Premi de Catalunya at Barcelona turned into. It would also be inaccurate.

This race, like the race at Jerez, was about managing tires in poor grip conditions, with the added complication in Barcelona of extremely high tire wear. The riders and bikes which managed that best ended up at the top of the results sheet. The bikes and riders which struggled with that went backwards, and lost out.

And yet Michelin undeniably has a role in all this. After the race, Honda boss Livio Suppo pointed out that we were seeing different manufacturers do well at each different race.

The pendulum swings between one and another, as a particular team or a particular factory hits the performance sweet spot for the tires, and gets the most out of them. At the next race, it’s a different rider, a different bike, a different team.

The criticism Suppo had was that the sweet spot for the tires could be hard to find. “The tires seem to have a very narrow operating window. If you get it right, you can be competitive,” he told me.

If you didn’t get it right, if you couldn’t find that operating window, you are in deep trouble. “Maybe it would be better if that window was bigger.”

That may be true. When Bridgestone were official tire supplier to MotoGP, their tires had a much wider operating window. But that tended to reward the teams with the biggest budgets to spend the most time analyzing data, finding the perfect setup, and the riders who could ride with inch-perfect precision for 25 laps.

That left little room for improvisation, for adapting to circumstances, for the element of surprise. Whether you prefer the Bridgestone way, rewarding relentless precision, or the Michelin way, rewarding the ability to adapt quickly, is probably a factor of where you as a fan fall on the Motorcycle Racing Purist Scale.

However you feel about it, though, the racing in the Michelin era is undeniably more entertaining.

Sunday at Barcelona is going to be a war of attrition. Everything is conspiring against the riders, and most especially the tires.

Temperatures are expected to rise even higher than they were on Saturday, when air temperatures hit over 32°C, and track temperatures climbed to 55°C and above.

Those are punishing temperatures in which to race a MotoGP bike, especially at Montmelo, where the heat gets trapped in the bowl of hills which holds the circuit.

Then there’s the tires. There is much complaining about the lack of grip and the fact that grip drops off a cliff after seven or eight laps.

It would be more accurate to blame that on the track, though: the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has not been resurfaced in twelve or thirteen years, and is very heavily used, both by bikes and by cars.

That has created a surface which is both too smooth to provide grip, while simultaneously being incredibly abrasive.

That sounds contradictory, so when Michelin boss Nicolas Goubert spoke to a group of journalists on Friday night, I asked him to explain. The Frenchman explained that grip and abrasiveness came from two different parts of the surface.

Asphalt (or rather, a road or racing surface) consists two parts: binder and aggregate. Aggregate is basically small stones, specially selected for size and shape. Binder is usually a special formulation of bitumen, often containing other ingredients.

There are a lot of reasons to visit Barcelona. It is one of the greatest cities in the world, a triumph of the architectural movement known as Modernisme, a vibrant center of culture, a place where you can eat, drink, and sleep well, after a day spent gazing mouth agape at some of the most remarkable buildings created by human hands, and human minds.

Once upon a time, the Montmelo circuit was also a good reason to visit the city. A track full of fast, sweeping corners challenging riders and bikes in equal measure.

That was before the aging asphalt turned the track greasy in the summer heat, and the repeated abuse from fat F1 tires left the surface rippled and bumpy, cracked and patched.

Tragedy struck with the death of Luis Salom – probably the victim of a wayward bump sending him flying towards a patch of gravel-free run off – and the Safety Commission (consisting of MotoGP riders, Dorna, and the FIM) decided to neuter the second half of the track, removing one of the fastest and most furious final sections on the calendar. There is little left to love about Montmelo.

I asked several riders whether it would be possible to race in Montmelo next year if the track had not been resurfaced. The response was unanimous. “No.”

Worse than that, Bradley Smith explained how the Safety Commission had grown impatient with the circuit, which has been singularly unresponsive to their requests to adapt the track to make it safer. Hopefully, MotoGP would not return, Smith told us bluntly.

“That’s finally what it comes down to. This is the only track on the calendar that’s not actually reacting to Safety Commission / rider / organizer’s requests. So at some point, you have to give them an ultimatum, and I think that this is the last year that they’ll be in that situation. We have enough people that want us to go race there, we don’t have to come here.”

Last year, at Jerez or thereabouts, I had a chat with Livio Suppo about the insanely early start to MotoGP’s Silly Season that year.

Suppo bemoaned the fact that so many riders were switching factories so early, with contracts signed as early as Qatar (in the case of Bradley Smith and Valentino Rossi), and the ensuing hullabaloo surrounding Jorge Lorenzo, and whence he was bound.

“Normally, we start talking after a few races, in Mugello or so,” Suppo said. “You want a few races to see how strong a rider is.”

While last year’s Silly Season was nearing its close at Mugello last year, it seems that 2017 is taking a slightly more normal trajectory. This year, Mugello may have seen the early conversations, which kick off the period where riders discuss their future options.

And Barcelona was the first race where they started to discuss – or more accurately, hint at – those options publicly.

Why is this year’s Silly Season so much later (or so much more normal) than last year’s? Put simply, it’s because last year, every single factory rider was out of contract, and every factory seat was up for grabs.

This year, all the factory seats are still taken for 2018 (or at least, unless a factory boss decides that one of their riders is grossly underperforming), and there are only the satellite bikes at stake.

Fewer seats are available, and those which are available have less money attached, and less chance of competing for podiums and victories. All that combined leads to a lower sense of urgency when it comes to negotiations.

From Mugello to Barcelona, with, in most cases, nary a chance in between to head home and wash your smalls. It used to be that the trip from Mugello to Barcelona was a chance to see MotoGP race back-to-back at two of the great motorcycle racing circuits.

Now, it’s one and a half great circuits, with a nadgery little section tagged on at the end to slow everything down. Or as Marc Márquez described it in Mugello, “You arrive [at Montmelo] and you know that it’s kind of two different tracks: the first part is really fast and wide, the last part tight and slow.”

What was a temporary fix to solve the immediate issues exposed by the tragic death of Luis Salom last year – one year on, the paddock will doubtless be full of memorials to the bright young Spaniard – has been turned into a rather horrible bodge job.

The fast sweeper of Turn 12, where Salom fell and found himself on an unexpected trajectory across asphalt, and not gravel which would have slowed him down, is replaced by an even tighter and shorter chicane than last year, made so because of the proximity of the walls on the inside of the F1 chicane used last year.

It is a tragedy – I use that word advisedly, as it cannot compare with the loss of a young man’s life – to sacrifice one of the great sections of a motorcycling track.

But it is also an inevitable consequence of Grand Prix motorcycles getting ever faster, being able to brake later, carry more corner speed. The progress in motorcycle development is pushing their performance beyond the capacity of race tracks to safely host that performance.

From Mugello to Barcelona, or from the heart of Italian motorcycle racing to the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Or rather, Catalan motorcycling, as any of the many Catalans which fill the paddock will happily point out. Then again, Catalunya is – ironically – at the heart of Spanish motorcycling itself.

If MotoGP had a home race, it would be here. Series organizer Dorna has its offices just south of Barcelona, and the working language of the organization is Catalan. Just east of the circuit lies the old factory of Derbi, once a mainstay of the 125cc class.

Check the birthplaces of any one of the riders racing on a Spanish license, and most of them hail from one of the towns and villages within an hour or two’s drive of the Montmeló circuit.

Most riders still have a house in the area, though many elect to live in the tiny mountainous tax haven of Andorra, because of the opportunities it affords for training, so they tell us.

With so much support, can the Spaniards – or Catalans, or Mallorcans – lock out the podium at home? It would be a crowd pleaser for sure, but getting three Spanish riders to fill out the MotoGP podium at Barcelona will be far from easy.

That there will be one, perhaps two Spaniards on the box is a given. But filling all three places? That is going to be tough.

Testing alongside the rest of the MotoGP paddock, Suzuki Racing was present again at the Catalunya test, with Randy de Puniet once again turning laps on the Suzuki XRH-1. Now using the Magneti Marelli electronics, Suzuki has the long process of dialing-in the XRH-1’s full potential.

Also a priority at Catalunya was Suzuki’s more powerful iteration of its inline-four engine, which the Japanese OEM hoped would close its gap to the other OEMs. In the hands of Randy de Puniet, the Suzuki XRH-1 was 2.499 seconds off the pace of test-leader Marc Marquez, though that margin comes with an asterisk.

While the rest of the paddock has had since Friday to hone their machines and bodies to the Circuit de Catalunya, Suzuki and RdP did not have that luxury going into Monday’s test. One can also argue De Puniet’s pace to the other GP riders, as with all due respect to the Frechman, Marc Marquez he is not.

With a thousand variables at play (we can even question the validity of test times in general, as teams are testing not qualifying/racing), it is easy to make excuses for RdP and Suzuki as to why the gap remains so far from the other factories, but the end result is that the XRH-1 is a tough character to judge. That makes Suzuki’s return to the GP paddock a bit of a wild card.

With Both of Ducati Corse’s riders praying for a miracle, or a better option, Suzuki could be that salvation. One also has to consider Dani Pedrosa’s rumored $8 million price tag, and the bevy of other contracts that expire at the end of the season. Suzuki’s impending presence is a considerable factor in MotoGP’s game of musical chairs..

Being a difficult factor to judge though has made Suzuki, the Suzuki XRH-1, and Randy de Puniet’s role in all this is very speculative and uncertain. The only thing we can say for sure then is that it will be interesting to watch the limited number of “factory” seats sort themselves out.

It is becoming customary for any MotoGP preview worth its salt to begin with a single question: can anyone beat Marc Marquez this weekend? That same question was put to the riders during the pre-event press conference, to which Valentino Rossi gave the most obvious answer. Of course it was possible, he said.

“It is nothing special. What you have to do is do your maximum and improve your level.” The only trouble is, every time Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, or Dani Pedrosa improve their level, so does Marc Marquez. But it is still possible, Rossi believes. “We are not very far. It is not easy, but nothing special.”

Barcelona, like Mugello, is one of the tracks where Marquez is perhaps more vulnerable. It is a circuit where the reigning champion has always struggled – though for Marquez, “struggling” means only managing podiums rather than wins – and where the Yamahas, especially, have been strong.

Valentino Rossi has won here nine times, and Jorge Lorenzo has been either first or second at the track for the past five years. The track flows, and has a little bit of everything.

A long, fast front straight, some elevation change climbing up into the two stadium sections, the two “horns” of the Catalunya bull which the Montmelo circuit most resembles, a couple of esses, and long, flowing combinations of corners. Those corners more than compensate for the front straight.

Jorge Lorenzo reckoned that the Yamaha had a top speed deficit of perhaps 4 or 5 km/h on the Honda, but that at Barcelona, this was less of an issue than at other tracks. After all, he pointed out, there are some 3.7 kilometers of corners in which to catch a Honda ahead of you.

Stand at any corner during a MotoGP session and in real time you’ll witness a variety of riding styles and lines, not to mention see plenty of body-english that tells you how a rider is coping with his machine. Slow all that down by about 50x speed, and you’ve got something. You’ve got art, and that’s what Red Bull has done here with its Red Bull Moments. Shooting Casey stoner in 1,000 fps slow-motion video at the Catalan GP, Red Bull brings us every body panel flex, every exhaust pipe wag, and every wheel and dry clutch rotation…and oh, Casey also talks about racing in MotoGP. Bonus points to Red Bull for including the Karel Abraham “look back” shot as well (a personal pet-peev of Stoner’s).