Dovizioso Leads A Confusing Day One in Austria
It’s always possible for things to change from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning, but for yet another race changeable weather made the likelihood the more acute in Austria, and times for Friday afternoon’s FP2 all the more critical.
Should tomorrow morning be wet, those not in the top ten will have missed the boat, and will have to go through Q1 to try to get anywhere on the first four rows of the grid.
Among their number, Valentino Rossi, 13th today, as well as independent-team hopefuls Petrucci and Folger. Rossi blamed a dose of ‘flu, but was somewhat puzzled that at sections where last year he was quick he was now slow, and vice versa.
Today’s honors went in the end to—as expected—a Ducati. But not by as much as was expected, and not as easily. It was only at the end of the afternoon that Andrea Dovizioso, wearing the new box-kite wings, made it by two-tenths ahead of Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha).
The morning was dry, but a downpour came soon afterward, in a crash-strewn Moto2 session, and the afternoon was still damp for the first ten minutes or so.
The fast times, round the fast but simple circuit, all came at a frenetic close of the session.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) was briefly on top, ended up third; getting back ahead of another erstwhile leader Johan Zarco (Monster Yamaha).
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati) in the end was pushed back to fifth, ahead of Hector Barbera (Avintia Ducati), still on his best-in-session morning time.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) had a run-off trying to improve, finishing up seventh, from Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and Scott Redding (Pramac Ducati), completing the top 10.
Franco Morbidelli (VDS Kalex) was one of eleven riders to have 14 crashes in a slip-sliding drenched morning session – three of them, Lecuona, Navarro and Locatelli, fell twice. But Morbidelli bounced back best, fastest in Moto2 FP2 in the dry afternoon, just three hundredths faster than Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Kalex), whose win last weekend cut Morbidelli’s points lead in half.
Miguel Oliveira put the KTM third at its Red Bull sponsor’s home circuit; with Mugello winner Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Kalex) fourth.
Honda and its leading rider, Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir, claimed the high ground in Moto3, on morning times, with the Spaniard 0.35 of a second clear of compatriot Aron Canet (EG Honda); and four more Hondas in the top ten. Ramirez’s KTM was third, then Bastianini’s Honda fourth.
Miller to Pramac Ducati, Lowes Out at Aprilia
A mass reshuffle of MotoGP midfield hopefuls resolved the immediate future of at least two riders at the Red Bull Ring – with Jack Miller (above) departing Honda for Ducati, and the displaced Scott Redding switching directly to Aprilia.
The third element is yet to be confirmed: that Sam Lowes will slot in to Jack Miller’s vacated seat at Honda.
Miller’s move was the key that triggered the dancing party.
Speculation had been growing over the past week, with an offer on the Australian’s table from Pramac Ducati, plus the chance of staying with Honda, but with a year-old bike.
At Brno, his lips remained sealed, and he joined members of the Marc VDS team in a cycling marathon covering almost half the 325-km distance between Brno and the Red Bull Ring.
But on Thursday evening Pramac announced that he would be joining Danilo Petrucci in the top independent Ducati team.
Redding meanwhile had frequently revealed the insecurity of his tenure at Pramac, becoming more so with worsening results.
But no sooner had his replacement at Pramac been announced than Aprilia confirmed that the Englishman would be replacing his compatriot Sam Lowes, alongside Aleix Espargaro next year.
Things had been even worse for Lowes, with the second year of his MotoGP contract at Aprilia under growing threat with his own poor results in the first year. Aprilia boss Romano Albesiano said at Brno that they were hoping for better results there and in Austria in order to be able to confirm his position … but in the end he proved unable to wait that long.
Safety issues at the Red Bull Ring remained on the back-burner, and the strength of the riders’ Safety Commission likewise, with no changes to the areas of the track that caused disquiet.
Asked at the pre-event conference, senior riders Rossi and Pedrosa admitted that the matter had been allowed to lapse.
Said Rossi: I think any track where the speeds are so high, the run-off area is never enough. There are two or three points here, and tomorrow we will speak together in the Safety Commission.”
Pedrosa (above) agreed on “two or three points where it [the barrier] is too close for the speeds we have here. Tomorrow we meet again and see if there is anything we can ask to change.”
At last weekend’s flag-to-flag Brno race, not only did Loris Baz run into one of his mechanics, but also Andrea Iannone (above) and Aleix Espargaro collided, with the former falling off, scattering Suzuki mechanics and knocking team-mate Alex Rins’s bike over. The danger was obvious, the solution not so much.
The same two riders, asked how to reduce the risks of bike changes in pit lane, had a couple of ideas. “One way is to make the speed limit in the pits more slow, but that is difficult for tyre temperature, especially if you change to slicks. And maybe we need the rules more clear,” said Rossi.
Pedrosa added: “It would help if they spread the MotoGP pits out more, maybe to put a Moto2 pit in between to make it easy to see when you come in. Because when you do there are a lot of people round you, two guys catching the bike you come in on, more with the new bike. It’s hard to see, and hard to know who to listen to, to let you go.”
One truth was articulated by several riders: that out on track you can make up tenths of seconds … but in the pits you can gain whole seconds.
Marc Marquez (above) denied that he had deliberately slowed before his lap-two pit stop at last week’s Czech Republic GP in order to avoid letting the faster riders see that he was going to switch to slick tyres.
“If it had been deliberate, I would have only dropped back maybe four places,” he said. Instead, he had lost ten or more on his ill-chosen soft wet tyre, prompting the abrupt and unexpected decision.
Yamaha (above) kept their second aero-body update under wraps in Austria, after it appeared in post-race tests at Brno.
The bodywork includes the sandwich-side ducted venting, but adds a new slanted top section resembling that of the KTM. But once it comes out of the pits in anger at a race meeting, it will have been homologated, and there will be no further chance for change this year.
Team chief Massimo Meregalli told Dorna TV: “We will test it again at Misano to get more data, before we homologated.
CORRECTION: Apologies for an error last week, that Honda’s aero bodywork, seen for the first time at Brno on the Repsol bikes, was the company’s permitted update, being different from that seen in pre-season tests. In fact, the fairing side-pods (smaller for Pedrosa, bigger for Marquez) were the first version homologated before race one at Qatar, but not seen since on the factory bikes. Honda have been taking advantage of the rule that permits bodywork to be removed from homologated fairings, but not altered. In fact they have one update left in the bank.
Dovi’s New Clothes
Andrea Dovizioso (above) used Ducati’s new “box-kite” fairing for the first time at Brno tests on Monday after the race, and was cautiously positive. Today in Austria he had them from the start, and all caution was abandoned, as he used them to go fastest, and came home with a glowing report.
Ducati’s engineers had, he said, “done a really good job … managed to get close to the effect of last year’s winglets,” and working both in the dry in the morning and in the low-grip of the damp afternoon.