Want to know everything that happened at the very eventful Thai GP? Then you better read David’s 7,500-word tome on the race weekend.
Here is your much anticipated MotoGP summary from Sunday’s racing at the Aragon GP in Spain.
On Saturday evening, Stuart Pringle, Managing Director of Silverstone Circuit, told a small group of journalists that the delays and problems caused by the wet track during FP4 were due to the unusually heavy rainfall, and not the resurfaced track.
“It was a Biblical downpour,” he told us. “It was more like a monsoon you’d see in Malaysia than heavy, normal rain. The drainage on the circuit is very good.” He was not worried about racing on Sunday, because although rain was forecast, it was not a deluge.
“It’s heavy rain, but it’s not the kind of cloud burst stuff we saw earlier. Is it going to be more of a challenge if it’s wet? All circuits are more challenging in the wet than the dry. So I think we’re set for a good race tomorrow.”
Sunday proved Stuart Pringle wrong.
It wasn’t the quantity of water which caused the problems. It was the fact that water simply wasn’t being drained fast enough to allow riders to ride safely, or as safely as can reasonably be expected of traveling at over 300km/h on a wet track, braking as late as possible in a close pack, as 23 riders battle for position in the opening laps.
There was standing water in just about every section of the track, causing the MotoGP bikes to aquaplane while on their sighting lap, a lap taken usually at nine tenths, rather than ten tenths. They were aquaplaning while accelerating, at speed, and while braking.
Bikes aquaplaning had caused Tito Rabat and Franco Morbidelli to crash while braking for Stowe.
But Morbidelli had crashed after Rabat, and the Italian’s Honda had flown across the gravel and struck Rabat as he sat in the gravel trap, breaking the femur, tibia and fibula in his right leg, and putting him out of action for months rather than weeks.
Nobody who saw that wanted to suffer the same fate. Or worse.
Riders, teams, journalists, fans, almost everyone likes to complain about the layout of the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg. Three fast straights connected by hairpins, with a long left hand corner thrown in for the sake of variety.
The facilities and setting may be magnificent, but the track layout is pretty dire. Coming from the spectacular, flowing layout of Brno, the contrast could hardly be greater.
And yet the Red Bull Ring consistently manages to produce fantastic racing. The combined gap between first and second place across all three classes on Sunday was 0.867 seconds, and nearly half a second of that was down to Moto3.
The MotoGP race was decided on the last lap again, just as it had been in 2017, though the race was decided at Turn 3, rather than the final corner. Spielberg once again served up a breathtaking battle for MotoGP fans, with a deserved winner, and the rest of the podium riders losing with valor and honor.
If we were to be picky about it, it would be to complain that the protagonists of the MotoGP race were rather predictable.
It is no surprise that the factory Ducatis would play a role at the front of the race: a Ducati had won in Austria in the previous two races, and the long straights from slow corners are almost made to measure for the Desmosedici’s balance of power, mechanical grip, acceleration, and braking stability.
Nor was it a surprise that Marc Márquez should be involved, the gains made by Honda in acceleration giving the RC213V the tools to tackle the Ducatis.
A third of the way into Sunday’s race at Brno, and there was a group of eleven riders fighting for the lead. That’s the MotoGP race, not the Moto3 race. In the Moto3 race at the same stage, there was still a group of twenty riders at the front.
In Moto2, ten riders were in the group at the front. If you wanted to see close racing, Brno delivered the goods, in all three classes. The MotoGP race saw the eighth closest podium finish of all time, and the closest top ten in history.
Moto2 was decided by seven hundredths of a second. The podium finishers in all three classes were separated by half a second or less. And the combined winning margin, adding up the gap between first and second in MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3, was 0.360. Are you not entertained?
“A good battle,” is how Cal Crutchlow described Sunday’s MotoGP race at Brno. “I think again, MotoGP has proved to be the best motor sport entertainment there is. Week in, week out we keep on having these battles.”
The race may not have seen the hectic swapping of places which we saw at Assen. The lead may not have changed hands multiple times a lap on multiple laps. Yet the race was as tense and exciting as you could wish, with plenty of passing and the result going down to the wire.
Is it any surprise that Brno should produce such great racing? Sunday’s race reiterated just how crucial circuit layout is in racing. The track is one of the widest on the calendar, with sweeping corners which run into each other.
A defensive line going into a corner leaves you open to attack on corner exit. What’s more, even if you ride defensively, or pass a rider and get passed again, you still end up with the same lap time. Brno, Assen, Mugello, Phillip Island: these tracks are made for motorcycle racing.
It is a truism in MotoGP that though they hand out the trophies on Sunday, the race is often won on Friday and Saturday. Practice is when riders and teams can find the setup tweaks they need to go faster, evaluate tire choices, and plan a strategy.
Which tires offer the most potential? Which area of the track can we gain most while sacrificing the least in other points? Is there more to be gained by pushing hard early and trying to manage, or by being patient in the first half of the race, hoping to have an advantage in the second half?
The wide range of tires offered by Michelin make practice even more important. Michelin’s remit from Dorna is to produce three front tires and three rear tires that can all be used during the race.
That requires a certain amount of compromise: labeling tires soft, medium, and hard does not mean that Michelin make three tires with an equal step in between the three different tires. It is more like an indicator of how well the French tire make expects each tire to cope with the heat and stress of a race, and the trade off in terms of grip.
So a soft and a medium tire may use the same rubber on one side of the tire, or on opposite sides of the tire. Or they may use the same compounds with a stiffer carcass, to reduce flex and therefore the amount of heat being generated.
Understanding how all these factors work together, and what that will mean for the race, is what the teams spend their time doing in practice. The team and rider that does this best on Friday and Saturday gets to spend Sunday evening celebrating their victory during the race. If all goes to plan, of course.
When it comes down to it, it is always individual races which define an era. Silverstone 1979 defined the late 1970s, with Barry Sheene coming up just short of Kenny Roberts, a milestone in the American takeover of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
In 1983, at Anderstorp in Sweden, Freddie Spencer brought the Roberts era to an end, by beating the triple world champion with an outrageously late braking maneuver on the final lap.
In the 1990s, what we might now refer to as the First Golden Age, Hockenheim 1991 typifies the battles between Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, where quarter was neither asked nor given.
The wild scenes at Eastern Creek and Jerez in 1996 marked the rivalry between Mick Doohan and the man came closest to stopping him, Alex Crivillé.
Valentino Rossi’s arrival in MotoGP may have been spectacular, but his win at Welkom in South Africa in 2004, his first race on the Yamaha since leaving Honda beating arch enemy Max Biaggi, was a watershed in his career. That was the point at which Rossi truly transcended the sport.
When we look back at this period, which will surely be called the Second Golden Age, then Assen 2018, along with the 2015 and 2017 races at Phillip Island, will be the races that fans and pundits point to as the ones which defined the era.
Mass battles between multiple riders, hard and close passing in which contact is frequent and accepted, a healthy mix of riders and bikes, of factory and satellite. Battles which rage almost from start to finish, with frequent lead changes, and an almost uncountable number of passes.
How do you win a championship? There are two schools of thought. Casey Stoner believed that the way you won world titles was by focusing on winning races. “If you win races, the championships will look after themselves,” he said when he was still racing.
Others argue that consistency is key, that you win titles by getting the best result available on the day, and hope that you don’t make mistakes. After all, Emilio Alzamora became 125cc World Champion in 1999 through sheer consistency, without winning a single race that season.
The riders in contention for the 2018 MotoGP title have mixed opinions about the best way to win a championship. Marc Márquez wanted to win every race he started in, until the 2015 Honda RC213V got the better of him, and he had to push too hard to try to be competitive, crashing himself out of contention.
Since then, he has tamed his approach, winning whenever possible, but understanding that sometimes, he has to grit his teeth and settle for whatever is available on the day.
Valentino Rossi, wily veteran that he is, follows the same approach, take what you can, where you can, and wait to see where it takes you. That’s how he came close to racking up title number ten in 2015, and that’s how he has remained in contention every season since he came back to Yamaha in 2013.
On Sunday night, Andrea Dovizioso affirmed that he was thinking about the championship in every race as well. “My approach to the race is always thinking about the championship,” the Ducati rider said. “If I fight for the championship or for another position, I always race for the championship.”
From time to time, the media gets hoist by its own petard. A story comes along which everyone picks up and runs with, pushed to ever more dizzying heights of breathless commentary; what ifs, maybes, and wild speculation.
Professional sports are soap opera for men, as the great darts promoter Barry Hearn once said, and the logical corollary of that is that sports media extrapolate throwaway comments and a handful of facts into vast sweeping narratives.
Thus it was that what looked like the entire MotoGP media contingent packed into Honda’s hospitality unit to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say during his media debrief. It was both genuinely impressive and actually quite frightening.