Why go testing on Monday after a race? Even though riders are pretty drained after a full race weekend, riding on Monday provides really useful feedback. First of all, the track is clean and already rubbered in.
Weather conditions are usually close enough to race day to provide good comparison. But above all, the riders are already up to speed, so no time is wasted.
Johann Zarco put it very nicely: “I enjoy it so much, because you don’t lose half day to find the feeling, you already have the feeling,” the Frenchman said. “You just wake up, warm the bike up and you are ready, and you can start to work.”
“We did the same today. It’s good anyway. Even if you are tired from Sunday, you go on the bike, going over 300 km/h and that’s just a nice life!”
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.
What had originally been planned as a two-day private test for Ducati grew into something rather larger, with Honda and Aprilia also joining the fray.
At the end of two days, it was Marc Marquez who ended the test as fastest, a couple of tenths quicker than Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati, while Alvaro Bautista was third fastest on the Aspar bike.
The test at Barcelona gave the riders a chance to test two of the most important changes for the series. First, the new, much shorter chicane being used instead of the F1 chicane, replacing Turn 12 where Luis Salom tragically lost his life during practice last year.
And second, the riders got a chance to test the stiffer front tire (the ’70’) which will be used from Mugello onwards, and will therefore be used in Barcelona during the race.
The FIM have published a report into the crash in Barcelona, in which Moto2 rider Luis Salom lost his life.
The report, which can downloaded from the MotoGP.com website, was drawn up based on information from Technical Director Danny Aldridge and Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli, as well as analysis of the data by an independent telemetry expert, Lluis Lleonart Gomez, who was appointed by Luis Salom’s family.
The report reaches a number of conclusions. The first is that there is no evidence of mechanical failure on the part of the bike. The right clipon, holding the throttle and brake assembly, was found to be loose when the bike was examined after the crash.
However, this could be put down to crash damage, as clipons often come loose when the bike hits the ground. Salom’s bike slid on its right side before impacting the wall, and this is the most likely cause of that damage.
The rear wheel was also damaged, but data from the (compulsory) pressure sensors showed that rear tire pressure was at the recommended pressure of 1.5 bar when the bike crashed.
The most likely cause of the rear wheel damage was when the bike hit the wall, the air fence not being sufficient to absorb the impact of the bike.
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.
It should hardly come as a surprise that Marc Marquez should be fastest man on the day at the post-race test at Barcelona. The Spaniard has been the standout of the season, and for him to be fastest, even at a track where he has not dominated like at others, is starting to become par for the course. More of a surprise is the name of the man in second.
Bradley Smith came up just four hundredths short of Marquez, making up for a mediocre race on Sunday, caused by a tire which was not performing as expected. The first thing Smith did when he started testing in earnest this morning was to try the same tire he used in the race.