The weather has been a cruel mistress at Silverstone this weekend, much as it has been every year MotoGP has paid a visit. The track is built around an airfield, and consequently sits on a plateau just enough above the surrounding area to catch any wind which may be about. On Saturday, that was a lot, the wind blowing hard and gusting harder all day, catching many a rider out, especially on the way into Brooklands. The wind also blew in occasional showers, though it blew them back out again just as fast, a small blessing on an incredibly difficult day.
Despite the conditions, three men braved the wind to take pole in each class, to varying levels of surprise. That Maverick Vinales should take pole in Moto3 is much as expected, Silverstone being the Spaniard's third pole position in a row. Though his advantage is relatively modest, there has been no one to mount a serious challenge to his supremacy all weekend, and if he gets a decent start he will be a very hard man to beat.
"It was an up-and-down day," Ben Spies said after practice on Friday, and truly, he spoke for a large part of the paddock. It started with the weather: the overnight rain continued for the better part of the morning, leaving the track soaking during FP1. The sun came out at lunchtime, quickly drying out the track, helped by the strong winds buffeting the circuit. The dry track helped, the wind certainly didn't. "That's what happens when you build a circuit on an airfield," Cal Crutchlow commented curtly, after complaining about being blown around by the gusting wind in the afternoon.
Two topics dominated Thursday's round of talk, rider debriefs and press conferences - well, three actually, but the Marquez/Espargaro clash at Barcelona was really just rehashing old ground - and they were contracts and tires, probably in that order of importance. With Casey Stoner retired and Jorge Lorenzo having renewed his contract with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to the other players in the field, and so every rider speaking to the press was given a grilling as to their plans for next year.
That interrogation revealed only a very little. In the press conference, Jorge Lorenzo admitted he had been made an offer by Honda, and had only decided to sign for Yamaha once Lin Jarvis upped his original offer in response to Honda's. Lorenzo would not be drawn on the size of the sums involved - a clumsy and badly phrased question in the press conference asked by me was easily evaded by the Spaniard - but logic dictates that it would be more than the reported 8 million a year his previous contract was worth. But money was not the main driver behind the signing, Lorenzo said. "I listened to my heart, and my heart said Yamaha." As Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg said at Barcelona, and repeated again at Silverstone, Lorenzo wants to win championships, and Yamaha gave him the best shot at doing that.
A crash at 142mph is fairly reasonable in anyone's book. At Mugello, Silverstone, Brno it would be noted and not given a second thought. A slide across the track, maybe, and into some welcoming gravel. On Mona's Isle, however, it is a different story.
Simon Andrews crashed at that speed on Saturday. He misjudged his velocity on the entry to Graham Memorial and ran out of two-lane blacktop. After hitting a bank and laying in the road for probably longer than was entirely necessary, he was taken to hospital with nothing more than a broken ankle, wrist, shoulder and blood in his eyes. He should be dead.
But this is the Isle of Man. A place where Giacomo Agostini raced Mike Hailwood raced Phil Read, once upon a time. It was a Grand Prix. Not so now as the dangers of the place proved too much and Barry Sheene, who did just one lap of the place on a 125, was instrumental in it being removed from the calendar.
Heroes are made here. But they are only heroes in certain places. John McGuinness has now won 19 TT races. Those who follow MotoGP in Spain will have no idea who the man is but McPint does six laps of the 37.73-mile circuit at average speed of 129mph. Read it again. Average speed. On normal roads. His lap record is 131.5mph and tomorrow it will fall, so long as the rain doesn't intervene.
Timesheets don't tell you everything. That much is clear from looking at the results of Monday's MotoGP test after the race. After a race weekend where everything has been focused solely on going faster than the others, the finishing order is not quite as important during testing. Cal Crutchlow summed it up perfectly: "You know when a test is just a test when the race winner by 5 seconds is 7th or 8th. So you can't take anything from today's results."
Crutchlow's day did not start off as planned. The Englishman had a 200 km/h crash on the way into turn 4, which completely wrote off his bike and took a good deal of skin off his shoulders and leg. Crutchlow said it was entirely his own fault, but it is not an unusual crash at Barcelona, as Andrea Dovizioso explained. "I had exactly the same crash in FP1 two or three years ago," he said. The problem is caused by the bridge which runs over the track, which provides just enough shade that when a track is drying after the rain, a few wet spots can still remain, but these are impossible to differentiate from the dry tarmac.
Race day at Barcelona saw three different races in each of the three classes, and each with a particular lesson to teach. In Moto3, Maverick Vinales was the only rider to understand that it is better to escape from a battling group than get caught up in all the excitement. Vinales eventually won with a massively comfortable lead, but while there is no doubt that the Spaniard's pace was particularly tough, those in the group behind him gave him a big helping hand by turning on each other instead of banding together to hunt down Vinales for the win. Even 2nd place went to the smartest rider, rather than the most fierce: Sandro Cortese had been forced to ride more carefully due to a very painful right hand he suffered in a crash during qualifying, and by conserving his forces for when he needed them most, he bagged second spot and did very well in the championship race. Brave, mature, and above all intelligent riding by the young German.
It has been great to have some consistent weather, Casey Stoner said at the qualifying press conference at Barcelona, a sentiment that was shared by everyone at the Montmelo circuit, riders, teams, fans and media. Apart from the anomaly that is Qatar (a night race with practice in cooling temperatures) all of the MotoGP rounds held so far have featured massive changes in weather almost from session to session. With four session all with comparable temperatures - a little cooler in the mornings, a little warmer in the afternoons - the riders have been able to actually spend some time working on a consistent set up.
What they have learned is that the tires are going to be a huge part in Sunday's race. The 2012 Bridgestones are built to a new specification and a new philosophy, softer to get up to temperature more quickly and provide better feedback. This the Japanese tire company has succeeded in spectacularly well, the only downside (though that is debatable) is that the tires wear more quickly. This makes tire management critical for the race, with both hard and soft tires dropping off rapidly after 7 laps, and then needing managing to get them home.
After the fickle weather which has dogged the first three European rounds of MotoGP, the first day of practice at Barcelona weekend got off to a dry, warm and sunny start. It was just what the teams and riders needed, some dry track time to work on the issues they face: for Honda, the chatter which they have suffered since the introduction of the RCV213V in the middle of last year, for Ducati, the lack of rear grip and poor drive out of corners, and for Yamaha, well, nothing really, it's a pretty good bike as it is.
Conditions were pretty near ideal, though the blazing afternoon sun made the track a little too hot to get the best out of the tires, and it showed in the times. In the MotoGP class, Jorge Lorenzo posted a time well inside the race lap record, while in Moto2, Thomas Luthi obliterated the outright lap record in the morning session. Only Moto3 lagged behind, the brand new four-stroke class still a way off the times set by the 125cc bikes which they replaced.
2012 Catalunya MotoGP Thursday Round Up - Of Italian Earthquakes, Ducati's Electronics and MotoGP's Backyard
If MotoGP can be said to have a backyard, then the Montmelo circuit just outside Barcelona is surely it. Series organizer Dorna has its offices just south of the city, and the Catalunya region - and especially the dormitory towns surrounding Barcelona - has provide a rich seam of riding talent, a seam almost as rich as its Italian counterpart surrounding the Misano circuit, comprising Cattolica, Riccione and the immediate area. So this is a home race for everyone, almost literally for some people. Where normally, nearly everyone in the paddock stays in hotels or rented accommodation, Dorna staff and some team members are now commuting to work from their homes in Barcelona.
And there are plenty of riders in more or less the same boat. Jorge Lorenzo lives in the city, Dani Pedrosa is from Sabadell, the industrial town just south of the track, while the Espargaro brothers Aleix and Pol are from Granollers, the town just a stone's throw from the Montmelo track. The pressure is enormous, as both Dani Pedrosa and Lorge Lorenzo acknowledged in the press conference today. Media appearances go through the roof, friends, family, sponsors, business contacts, everyone wants a piece of the Spanish riders, and they barely get a moments rest. Actually riding a MotoGP bike at the limit feels like a blessed relief.
Casey Stoner's retirement announcement marked the - unhealthily early - opening of MotoGP's silly season, and with just two weeks having passed, it is, in the words of Nicky Hayden, "too early to start thinking about that." At the moment, factories, teams and riders are still absorbing the news and pondering their strategy for the many talks and negotiations which will surely follow. Though the paddock, the media and the internet are full of speculation, everything is so open that even the wildest guess may turn out to be true.
Even so, there are a few hard truths that we can be sure of, and most of them revolve around Marc Marquez. After Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, Marquez will play a key role in who goes where in 2013. Honda is a strong supporter of the Spaniard, in no small part due to the backing of oil giant Repsol. It seems almost certain (almost, but not completely) that Marquez will end up on a Honda in 2013, but that brings its own set of challenges. For the question is not so much what Marquez is to ride - money bet on it being a factory-spec and factory-supported Honda RC213V is probably the safest investment going given the troubled time the stock markets are going through - as which team he will be riding it in.