This may sound a little strange at first, but if you're a motorsports fan, then this is a terrible weekend for you. How can this be? I hear you cry - there's MotoGP from Silverstone, World Superbikes from Misano, Formula One from Montreal and the legendary 24 hour sports car race from Le Mans. Plenty to go around, you would think, but then again, there is so much going on that there is a huge amount of overlap, and bike fans especially will be losing out.
British Eurosport commentator Toby Moody pointed out that bike racing was the big loser this weekend, a point he also made to FIM president Vito Ippolito at Barcelona last week. The first race of the day at Silverstone is a 11:15 local time, or 12:15 European time, which is 15 minutes after the first World Superbike race starts at 12 noon at Misano. The MotoGP race then starts at its usual time of 2pm CET, or 1pm local time, right in the middle of the World Supersport race. The last race of the day at Silverstone, the 125cc class, starts at 3:30 European time, at exactly the same time as World Superbikes. But both of those races will be hard to see on TV, as the 24 hour Le Mans race concludes at 4pm European time, and the final hour of the race is traditionally fully televised. There might be lots of racing going on, but the bikes, in particular, won't be getting much of a look in.
Usually, the schedules of MotoGP and WSBK are at least marginally coordinated, so as not to steal too much of each other's thunder. This weekend, though, the FIM has failed to do its job, and has allowed the two race series to fall foul not just of each other, but also of several of the biggest sporting events on the calendar.
MotoGP is at Silverstone, and so that's where I am, forced to choose between heading to Silverstone and covering MotoGP well and World Superbikes only briefly, or staying at home and doing a better job of World Superbikes and a much worse one of MotoGP. The MotoGP circus has taken over the new Silverstone Wing, the impressive facility built along the straight after Club Corner, moved from the previous location just after Woodcote, along with the start and finish line. Moving the finish line will not have much effect, the riders seem to agree, but the facility is a huge improvement on the old pits and media room along what is now the National Pits Straight. The level of equipment is outstanding, the building is finished to very high standards and the media center cafe has already become a firm favorite with the hungry journalists.
But there are a few downsides to the new building as well. On the temporary side, the paddock car park has not yet been finished, so the day starts and finishes for team members and media with a bus journey from the old paddock car park to the new paddock, approximately a mile away. But on the more permanent side, the media center now more closely resembles a military war room: clinically clean, very well equipped, but tucked in the heart of the building with no view outside, other than through a small temporary viewing gallery looking out over the pits. Though much of the work of the journalists consists of looking at timing screens and watching the TV pictures relayed to the media center, being able to look out of the window can be a very useful aid. But the biggest problems are the pillars: Throughout the room are structural pillars, and though painted white to be unobtrusive, they obstruct the view of the timing screens throughout a large part of the media center. That was a decision that somebody failed to think through completely.
Enough of the petty whinging by idiots who seem to forget that they have the best job in the world, and on to the racing. The pre-race press conference was a fairly tepid affair, the combination of Race Direction pouring oil on troubled waters and a hectic schedule putting paid to a lot of the talk that livened up the championship. Attempts by a German TV commentator to stir things up again - asking whether anyone wanted to go to Japan - fell flat on its face, everyone answering simply "we don't know" and controversy avoided. Cal Crutchlow was the only rider to liven up the debate, joking that he was in favor of not going, as it would save him a bit of money - reinforcing the reputation for frugality that Crutchlow has apparently earned in both the MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks.
Everyone had nothing but praise for the circuit, saying to a man that they all loved the mixture of corners and the fast direction changes and high-speed chicanes that Silverstone has to offer. The only complaint was from Andrea Dovizioso, wishing that the rain which threatens to affect the weekend would stay away, but there is little that the event organizers can do about that.
There was once again much focus on the development of the Ducati and the strength of the Hondas. Valentino Rossi said that his shoulder was now pretty near to being 100%, the Italian saying he could now ride with full strength, good endurance and very little pain. Now, he conceded, it was time to get to work and try and make the Ducati work, something which has so far failed to meet with too much success. New parts are coming - Rossi once again saying that Ducati still had a lot of work to do - but the multiple world champion also admitted that he had to work on his riding style. Asked if he had any tips for Rossi, Stoner parried the question elegantly, pointing out that as Rossi was the veteran, it was they, the youngsters, who should be learning from Rossi, not the other way around.
Speaking after the press conference, Stoner once again emphasized that his reason for leaving Ducati was because of the lack of upgrades that he received from Ducati. He said that he didn't feel particularly appreciated in Ducati, but that this was completely different at Honda. He also denied that the 2011 RC212V was a huge step forward on the 2010 machine. The bike was fundamentally the same, Stoner said, and had been a good bike for several years now. Though there is a kernel of truth in what Stoner said, there certainly has been a big step forward for the Honda over the past 12 months or so. That has mainly been down the HRC ironing out the setup bugs that made the early 2010 bike so difficult to ride, but the bike had been pretty good from the second half of the 2010 season onwards. It was already pretty good, and did not need all that much improvement.
The man credited with providing much of that improvement was also a notable absentee once again at Silverstone. After not turning up to his home Grand Prix at Barcelona, Dani Pedrosa is also missing from the British Grand Prix. The contrast with Colin Edwards - who broke his collarbone on Friday at Catalunya, had it plated on Saturday, then asked for permission to race on Sunday, and is now aiming to race this weekend - could hardly be greater, and illustrates the anomalies surrounding the Repsol Honda rider.
Rumors are rife, the flames fueled (quite rightly) by pictures of a relatively healthy-looking Pedrosa at a bowling alley from May 28th. Just three days later, Pedrosa announced he would not be racing at Barcelona, starting the first whisperings among the Spanish press. On Tuesday, a heavily-strapped Pedrosa appeared in an interview with MotoGP.com and Spanish TV station TVE. His arm - which had looked so healthy just over a week earlier - suddenly took on a withered aspect, his hand being held in an unnatural position, according to one Spanish TV journalist.
The story has been chased - with some success - by the Spanish website Motocuatro, Motocuatro unearthing some interesting background on the case. Rumors that Pedrosa had had a Supermoto accident were denied by one source close to Pedrosa, but those rumors persist. There is a good deal of doubt concerning Pedrosa's mental state, and much speculation that he is reluctant to return to racing.
The problem is that there is nothing currently other than rumors, with both Repsol and Honda unwilling to discuss the situation in any detail. Motocuatro has done a good job on digging up some of the details behind the story, but there are still rather too many unknowns to be able to say for sure. Whatever the truth of Pedrosa's injury, and whether he hurt himself training again or not, with no word coming out of Repsol Honda, and Pedrosa choosing to stay away from the race track, this story is set to run. Damage limitation is always best served by providing a massive overload of information, rather than trying to sweep information under the carpet. Under the carpet is generally the first place that journalists like to look, after all.