The first day of MotoGP riding is done in Thailand. Here is everything that happened Friday at the Thai GP.
Here’s all the MotoGP happenings from Friday at the Aragon GP in Spain.
Want to know what happened in MotoGP land on Friday at the San Marino GP? Here is your daily summary.
For the past couple of months, the UK, along with the rest of Northern Europe, has been sweltering under one of the hottest summers in recent memory. That, of course, was before MotoGP arrived.
The arrival of Grand Prix racing brought an abrupt end to the British summer, with temperatures struggling to get anywhere near the 20°C mark.
Add in a strong and blustery wind, and a late shower in the afternoon, and the MotoGP paddock faces a very different prospect to recent weeks. And let’s not talk about the heavy rain which is forecast for Sunday.
Before the bikes took to the track, there had been much talk of just how bumpy the new surface would be. On Thursday, the riders were wary, wanting to ride the track at speed before making a judgment. After Friday, the verdict was pretty devastating. For the majority of the riders, the bumps are worse, if anything.
We knew it was going to rain at some point on Friday, the only question was when. Well, not quite the only question.
The other question was, if it did rain, would the MotoGP riders go out and ride in the rain? Or would they deem the Red Bull Ring to be too dangerous to ride in the wet, and sit out practice, as they had threatened when rain had caused Moto2 riders to fall like skittles last year?
It started to rain in the early afternoon, right at the end of Moto3 FP2.
Thankfully, not heavily enough to claim too many casualties, though Nicolo Bulega did suffer a massive highside after the checkered flag had fallen, his bike flying through the air and clouting Nakarin Atiratphuvapat around the head, the Thai rider trying to fend off the airborne KTM with one hand, while trying not to fall off with the other.
From that moment on, the rain started to pelt down. A rivulet started running across pit lane exit, and standing water formed on the steep downhill sections of Turns 1 through 4.
It rained so heavily that MotoGP FP2 was delayed for 20 minutes or so, as the safety car circulated testing conditions. But the session was eventually given the green light, and riders were free to enter the track. Would anyone attempt it?
Alex Rins was the first to test the waters, venturing out and then heading straight back in. Johann Zarco was the next, the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider the first to put in consistent laps, though conditions were not really up to it.
“When I start, even if we have mapping for the rain, there is too much power and I was fifth gear and spinning in fifth gear all the time,” Zarco said. “Also I have to have half-throttle to go and to make the straight.”
It is hot at Brno. It was hot at Assen, it was hot at the Sachsenring, and it is positively scorching at Brno. Air temperatures are at a relatively bearable 34°C, but the asphalt tentatively broke the 50°C during FP2.
That is officially what is known colloquially as a scorcher, testing riders, teams, and above all, tires on the first day of practice at Brno. Where last year, the riders concentrated on the soft and the medium Michelins, on Friday, the MotoGP riders spent their time assessing the medium and the hard.
The downside of forcing Michelin to choose tires for the entire season back in February is that sometimes, their crystal ball fails them, and the weather deviates wildly from what might reasonably be expected. The heatwave which has Europe in a vice-like grip is just such a case.
There are upsides to the heat, though they are perhaps unexpected. There were just four fallers at Brno on Friday across all three classes, less than half the number from last year, a third of the number in 2016, and a massive five and a half times fewer than the 22 crashers in 2015. It’s hot and dry, so the tires will definitely grip.
As if anyone needed reminding of just how close the MotoGP field is at the moment, you have to go a very long way down the standings to find the first rider more than a second slower than Jorge Lorenzo, the fastest man on the first day of practice at the Sachsenring. Eighteen riders are within a fraction over nine tenths of a second of each other, with Scott Redding the first over a second away.
It’s even closer than that, once you discount Lorenzo’s time. The Factory Ducati rider put in a searing lap at the end of FP2 to go fastest, and was over a quarter of a second quicker than second-place man Danilo Petrucci.
The gap between Petrucci in second and Johann Zarco in eighteenth was 0.645 seconds. Or approximately two blinks of an eye.
That makes it hard to judge riders by position. A tenth of a second would move you up three or four places; three tenths is the difference between eighteenth and eighth.
A small mistake in a single corner could be the difference between being comfortably through to Q2, and going to sleep on Friday night worrying about posting a fast enough time on Saturday morning in FP3.
“I needed to make a perfect lap,” Red Bull KTM’s Pol Espargaro bemoaned his twelfth place, before joking, “or my rivals needed to not make a perfect lap!”
Another Friday, another save that would have seen any other rider rolling through the gravel. And at Assen, with its collection of terrifyingly fast corners, rolling through the gravel often ends up rolling into the back of an ambulance, and X-rays, cat scans, and metal plates holding your bones together.
But Friday wouldn’t be Friday without Marc Márquez folding the front completely, jabbing his elbow into the tarmac, and hanging on long enough for the front to catch again and stay upright, or what passes for upright if your name is Marc Márquez.
This time it happened at the Ruskenhoek, the very fast left hander after the Veenslang back straight, where the bikes flick right, then long left, and then right again for the short run towards Stekkenwal.
Márquez was traveling at something approaching 200km/h when the front went, but he caught it, stayed on board, and ended up running just off track and clipping the gravel. “I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t want to have a ‘safe’ crash in fourth gear at a very high-speed corner,” Márquez explained.
Holding your line is difficult because of the track changes direction at very high speed, so being precise is of the utmost importance, Márquez said.
“Here at Assen, the speed is so high and to take the correct lines is difficult but we were already in FP2, but in the first run it is always difficult to understand the lines and to be precise. A small mistake is a big mistake here: you cannot adjust with the brakes or the gas and you need to keep the speed during all the lap.”
MotoGP riders love resurfaced tracks, and Barcelona is no exception. But while the new asphalt laid at the start of this year is infinitely better than the old surface it replaces, there are still the odd few blemishes.
The surface may be new, but the grip wasn’t universally good, especially as the track was a little dirtier than expected.
And as the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmeló is used extensively by F1, the cars have already started to pull up the tarmac in the braking zone, bumps and ripples starting to make an unwelcome appearance already.
And though you can change the asphalt, you can’t change the locating and microclimate around the track. It got hot and humid in the afternoon on Friday, and riders went tumbling through the gravel despite the new surface.
A grand total of 28 riders hit the deck on Friday, across all three classes and all sessions. That is well over twice as many crashes on Friday as on any Friday during the last five years.
Johann Zarco was one of them, washing out the front at Turn 5. It was a fairly normal crash, Zarco explained. “The crash this afternoon was not something bad, just closing the front when you try to lean the bike to turn the bike as quick as possible,” the Monster Tech3 Yamaha rider said.
“Things can happen. It was the medium front after three laps. Maybe I asked a bit too much, or we were not good in the setup to lean that way. But not a big problem, I could understand it quickly.”
Mugello is many things: majestic, magical, magnificent. Beautifully set, with a natural flow unmatched almost anywhere else.
It was made to host the fastest, most powerful motorcycles in the world, giving them room to stretch their legs and challenging the rider’s skill and bravery, and the bike’s handling, horsepower, and braking.
Unfortunately, this challenge is what makes Mugello so dangerous. During the afternoon session, Andrea Dovizioso hit 356 km/h on the Ducati Desmosedici GP18. Shortly after, his engine spewed a huge cloud of smoke at the end of the straight, causing the red flag to come out.
A little while previously, the session had also been red flagged, after a huge, vicious crash by Michele Pirro just over the crest at the end of the straight, the fastest and most dangerous part of the track.
It made for some harrowing moments at Mugello. The track fell silent, a pall descending on pit lane as the teams feared the worst. Having learned their lesson at previous tragedies, Dorna were not showing either the crash or the rider on the ground.
The mood only lifted when word reached us that Pirro was conscious, and moving his arms and legs. MotoGP dodged a bullet on Friday. But there are still rounds in the chamber.