Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Weather Plays A Role

It has been a typically Assen start to the weekend of the Dutch TT. Thursday's stifling heat lingered through the night, windows left open throughout the province in the hope the cool air sweeping in from the south would arrive and bring relief. The heat lingered long into the night, until a summer storm arrived. A massive downpour around 8am dumped a lot of water on the track, the weather instantly turning gray, wet, and blissfully much cooler.

It made for a tricky morning out on track. Conditions were manageable for both MotoE and Moto3, a steady drizzle persisting. The rain picked up a little at the start of the MotoGP session, and made riding increasingly difficult. Assen drains pretty well – a legacy of its ancient roots starting as a race held on public roads, which means there is a crown to several parts of the track, the center of the track a little higher than the sides, to facilitate drainage.

That works fantastically up to a point, but once the rain starts to reach a certain point, water starts to accumulate along the sides of the track, on the inside of the kerbs. Even that would not be an issue, but for the fact that it happens at a couple of the fastest points on the track. The front straight, the Veenslang, the back straight between Turns 5 and 6, and, most terrifyingly, in the sweeping section through Meeuwenmeer and Hoge Heide, Turns 13 and 14.

Lessons from history

That section is taken at high speed, and the best line passes through the edge of the track, right where water accumulates. Just ask Jorge Lorenzo: the three-time MotoGP champion crashed there in similar conditions to today back in 2013, breaking his collarbone, during Thursday practice. He was flown to Barcelona, had his collarbone plated, and returned to race on the Saturday, in the time when the race was held on Saturday rather than Sunday, crossing the line in a remarkable fifth position.

It was an incredible achievement, and sparked a change in the medical regulations, it being deemed unsafe for riders to participate in practice or races within 48 hours of having a general anesthesia. It didn't end up making much difference either. Two weeks later, at the Sachsenring, Lorenzo fell again, bending the plate on his collarbone and requiring a second surgery. He missed the race, and that would end up costing him the championship, Marc Marquez lifting the 2013 MotoGP crown in his rookie season by a margin of just 4 points.

The memory of that lingered on, still. "it’s funny, no lie, you've seen that, you know that and every time you go past there you think that too! So, not cool," Brad Binder told us. "I mean, it's not that it's super unsafe, you can manage it. But it's in really fast places and if you crash there, you're going to know about it. So it's not worth the risk, especially in FP1."

The majority opinion was that the session should have been red flagged. "This is over the limit for me, yeah," Miguel Oliveira said, summing up what most riders felt. "Start of FP1 was not rideable. I could not even see the lights on the back of the riders. Definitely, to even go alone it's hard with the aquaplaning and to race for sure it's impossible." The bikes were spinning in sixth gear, impossible to rev over 14,000 RPM (to put that in perspective, that's where the big torque bump starts for most MotoGP bikes, the engines revving to something approaching 19,000 RPM).

One reason the session was not red flagged was because, well, most of the riders headed into the pits of their own accord, waiting for track conditions to improve. Johann Zarco didn't, he stayed out and kept improving his time.

Jack Miller was one of the few dissenting voices. "At the end of the day, everyone's got their own common sense," the Australian said. "If you want to go out and ride in it, go out and ride in it. If you don't, sit in the box. Simple as that." Given that it was just FP1, a meaningless session on the wettest day of the weekend, the rest of the sessions expected to be dry, there was nothing to be gained by riders going out. Had it been qualifying or the race, when riders have no choice but to ride, then perhaps it would have been different.

It is something that riders vowed to discuss in the Safety Commission, however. Whether that will bring about change remains to be seen. And whether change is even necessary, as Jack Miller said, is another question.

The rain let up in the afternoon, and Assen showed just how quickly the track can dry. FP2 started off damp, but it was clear before the session was even a third of the way in that slicks would work. Luca Marini and Darryn Binder were the first to try the slicks, and the rest quickly followed suit. In the space of 25 minutes, Marini slashed 10 seconds off his best time. Pecco Bagnaia got down to a 1'33.274, roughly half a second off the best race lap, and 2 seconds off the pole record. The track was pretty much dry bar a few damp patches by the end of FP2.

The rapidly changing conditions did not leave much time to work too much on bike setup. Up and down pit lane, garages were littered with rear shocks and collections of fork springs. It is common in a dry session to see teams swapping fork springs in pursuit of the ideal balance between support and absorption. But that usually means there might be one, or maybe two springs in tool trays.

During FP2 at Assen, I spotted several teams where the trays held five or different springs, with spring rates varying between 7-11 N/mm. That is a wide range to cover a lot of different situations.

You would think that with such variations that there would be a great deal to be learned for the riders and teams, but most disagreed. "Already we are quite fast, the 1'33.2 of Pecco is proof the track was dry, not perfect everywhere," Johann Zarco pointed out. "But you can get used to it because the change in direction in 6-7 and 13-14, you don’t have this kind of layout anywhere else in the world. So to get a bit of references on Friday is useful."

The loss of Friday means a change of approach in FP3, Fabio Quartararo said. "FP3 will be another story with two time attacks," the Frenchman said, underlining the importance of qualifying directly for Q2. "We will use a new tire to really push on the pace to see how is the potential of the tires. But today was just a normal session."

The changing conditions caught out Aprilia in a surprising way. All of the bikes started this morning and the first part of FP2 with the wet setup, including the water deflector attached to the lower swingarm, which is added to keep water off the rear tire. Aleix Espargaro's team forgot to remove the rain spoiler once he switched to his bike on slicks, and so he had his entire run on slicks canceled, his official best lap reduced to a 1'41.360 rather than the 1'33.452 he did on slick tires.

What was his sin? Rule states that parts such as rain deflectors and hand guards are regarded as add ons, which can only be used when at least one rain tire is fitted. That was not the case, and so Espargaro was in clear breach of the technical rules. It is not something Espargaro has anything to do with, of course, in the end, it is down to his team. Aprilia are not the first squad to get caught out by skipping over some of the less common parts of the rulebook. But such mistakes really shouldn't happen, especially in a factory team.

Did we learn anything about who is likely to be strong come Sunday? Not really. A dry Saturday should help clear up a few question marks, but we are most likely headed into the race on Sunday with more than one unknown.

Speaking of mistakes, Pecco Bagnaia had had time to dwell on his error at the Sachsenring. He had immediately acknowledged it was his error, but had failed to understand what he did wrong, he told us.

Bagnaia had used the time between the Sachsenring and Assen to reflect, and try to figure out what he had done wrong. And he thought he may have found a clue. That was in the level of intensity with which he was focusing on the race.

"The three times I crashed this year, the first time in Qatar I was pushing. I was pushing because I was behind, I was trying to recover and I crashed," Bagnaia said. That was straightforward, entirely comprehensible. There had been a good explanation for the crash.

"In the other two times, in the same moment I say ‘I will be more calm, breathe and then come back’, I crashed," Bagnaia reflected. Maybe easing off a fraction was the wrong decision, the Italian said. "So for sure say something that, maybe with our bike, I don't know the other bikes, but my feeling is that when you are not pushing on the tires maybe it's more easy to crash. Something strange to think, but it's the only thing that comes to me when I'm thinking why I crashed."

It was not quite a lapse in concentration, but perhaps a slight easing off. Pushing hard from the beginning was easy, it requires 100% focus right from the beginning. "It's easier, also for the concentration," Bagnaia told us. "I want to say that I never lose my concentration during the race, but maybe thinking to be more calm and to breathe is not a thing that helped me."

Throughout his past, the races where he had eased up, he had not won. "If we look at the races when I started first and I pushed, I didn't have this type of problem. Just controlling the gap from the rear and it's not a problem. So I have to concentrate on being more focused in a situation where I'm not first, when I'm not a gap of 6-7 tenths and working on that moment."

He may well get a chance to put his theory to the test sooner than than later. If a weekend without setup favors those with a good base setup, things are looking bright for Pecco Bagnaia. But they are also looking good for Fabio Quartararo, for Aleix Espargaro, and more. Saturday should shed more light on just where everyone stands.

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Appreciate the pronunciation guide as well.

The struggle, the diker's ditch & the seagull's lake. Corners with names not numbers, I love 'em!

Will have to listen again later.

Loving Assen from home in Oz. No Bonte wever or breakfast with Carmelo at the Hof van Saksen this year.

Hey Apical, where do I listen to this guide?

I dig those corner names and their meanings but I’d like to know how to say them correctly.

Again, what is normal for conditions now? Abnormal. 

Really! Wow. 

More re Sillies, right now one might feel quite badly for both Pol Espargaro and Remy. Both are REALLY strong riders, and our difficult paddock has then milling about the refuse pile. A sign of the times. And perhaps, of their respective crap bikes and what it is like to get stuck on one. Dovisioso too, to a bit lesser degree perhaps.

Younger riders like Vierge and Canet are being considered for various seats. Time waits for no one. And irony, bullshit tantrums and selfish underperforming get Raul Fernandez the opportunity to get an Aprilia seat?! While Gardner may or may not get to stay on a KTM 2nd team. Ouch.

Conversely, prime cut riders Mir and Rins get dropped from rideable solid Suzukis to Hondas. Can they adapt and stay relevant long enough for the bike to arrive as competitive? At least all four bikes are current models and change is coming. But damn, not a secure move. And what is? An Aprilia. An APRILIA. 

Yamaha just fixes its wheelspin issue and hangs onto Alien Quarty. Aleix Espargaro in Black becomes 2020 Mir. And Zarco stays on his bike to be top Duc and 3rd. Really? 

This isn't where we thought we would be. Honda preseason --> winning ways for all riders! Marc returning to fitness finally. Dovi rediscovers Blue riding and comes forward. KTM chassis builders can get it right, Brad and Oliveira for podiums. Brad maybe more. And many put Remy for top rookie. Suzuki has more motor! Rins isn't overriding as much, Mir should be top 3. Go Suzuki (or go home? Oops)! Ducati has it all set, and Bagnaia has arrived as of 1/3rd of the way into 2021...steamroller favorite.

Eh, nope. 

Never mentioned, and obviously the data would show it. Right? But could a reversable silent failure of the rear ride height adjuster (see Maverick, heat, etc) be the cause of Pecco's crash?

Don't forget Occam's Razor friend. Pecco says he lost concentration. He got in deeper than usual, grabbed throttle differently. 

Sangster swapped Occam's "simpler" for "less personal" which is a great razor too. Brings good stuff.


I get it simplier explanation. I don't believe a confluence of multiple reasons is simpler. Cold tire (lack of laps), harder tire (medium v soft), dunlop rubber, fuel weight (see lack of laps), off line, lack of focus. Perhaps more. Pecco may never have crashed like that on pavement, but I have plenty on the track and the street. It is a rookie move, I know. Shows a lack of feel for what the rear is doing. Given that he still can't explain it, I'd like to toss in the height adjuster as one of those factors. Yes it smacks of conspiracy theory bullsh*t. Given that Ducati wouldn't mention it if it was a factor doesn't help.

'Given that Ducati wouldn't mention it if it was a factor doesn't help.'

Danger. I can't remember a name for it, it's like a confirmation based on denial. A tricky deal because it tends to lead towards hypotheses supported by an absence of the evidence on which they rely. It becomes a very special logic gate, confirm = 1, deny = 1, 'neither confirm nor deny' = 4.2e+56.

From my lounge suit the biggest factor seemed to be he was just simply wide and tried to keep the same pace as if he weren't.  Sort of just rode off the edge of the tyre, reminded me a lot of Rossi's crash at Lemans when chasing Mav on the last lap.

When I raced, I always wanted to go out in the rain and experience the track. Spots with rivers could have streams later. Puddles could be damp patches. Where is was uber slippery, it will be just slippery. You learn where the track is horrible, and you will know where it will be just plain bad later. If there is a good chance you will get caught in some conditions like these wouldn't you want the experience?

Thanks Motoshrink totally awesome race!

There was plenty of aero 4 years ago.

No MotoGp to dragbike transformers though.

Such a fantastic race, so much passing & multiple leaders! Classic race to watch on a rainy day in the off season. :-)

Hope we get a good'n this weekend. Should be entertaining.

Yes mtiberio I have done miles & laps in the wet. Practice days on a wet track. For me riding in the wet is good for the skills and feeling the grip. Working on technique to make the tires grip. I sat out a wet & foggy practice session at Mount Panorama Bathurst due to lack of balls and experience. I've used slicks in sketchy conditions, I was slow but didn't fall off. Not a wet weather wimp. Not A grade either.

Pecco fell off, that's it, move on. He is still learning, judging by him saying he doesn't know why. Methinks,Lean angle, throttle application, slight change in the angle of the downhill slope? Lapse of concentration? Maybe. Offline Breganzane? Yes that too. Many minor errors add up to... Chernobyl!

If you look closer at the bikes from 2018 the aero is like baby steps compared to 2020,2021,2022. The Ducati has a lot of area, much of which is on the side of two very tame wings. Visually looks like AERO but in detail is very small. Compare to the 2020 Ducati and especially the 2021 Ducati. The Honda and Aprilia wings are like gestures compared to 2022.

^ Right? It started as all "Fokker Triplane" winglets on the Duc. They were visually huge, but the overall downforce increased and moved around the bike when integrated as loops and ledges as part of the bodywork. It has been an interesting evolution. Coupled with the shapeshifters, we have to include that it dramatically multiplies things. 

I have not been anti aero. Until shapeshifter gizmos AND another aero increase. It doesn't need a very big backstep if we ditch gizmos, right?

Cheers Wavey 

It's been 4.5 years and finally I know what the 2018 wings reminded me of...thanks.

I think the shape shifters allowed them to go super blunt force high drag in the braking and corner entry. I dunno. I think they are a huge sack of crap. I'm just waiting for...'we can't get rid of them because it wouldn't look like a MotoGP bike anymore'. Next would be, 'it's supposed to be the pinnacle of two wheeled sport and if we remove them the bikes will be slower'....'it's safer' etc etc. What is very obvious is that they add absolutely zero, that's ZERO, to the racing. It's not required to prove they subtract from the racing. They make it easier, not easy, easier. Simon Crafar did a few laps this year at Mugello (?), he mentioned that a lot of the challenge has gone, they are easier. If the bikes are close and easier then that, as I mentioned a while ago, is why the times are so close. We are so impressed by the sheer amount of super fast riders coming into the top tier. I think a good deal of that is the fact that now more can do it because it's not as difficult as it used to be. I remember only a few years ago we were amazed when the top 10 were within 1 second, now we often see top 18 within 1 second. I think the other progression when things are easier and close is that the riders must focus on the absolute tiny tiny fraction of a second. That tiny detail becomes the difficulty in the game. I'm not sure which is more stressful for the rider. A more difficult bike or competing against people on very similar easier bikes ? I'm also not sure it's very kind to think riders should ride more difficult bikes into T1 Mugello.

Rant. Hate them


Riders like Marquez are saying the "playing with the throttle" and enjoyment of racing left with them. You can go 110% the whole time and have to now. But in an odd way...less rider in the equation. 

Ducati and Aprilia say aero makes it safer. The Japanese are quiet, and miserably lost. Suzuki is lame duck irrelevant, the MSMA is now in a new era. I hated the pre championship electronics Honda rulebook era. Might start hating this Red one too, after cheering their clever rise. 

Want to go in on a nice track bike? I'd like one of these Suzukis. Caprirossi just bought an Aprilia, so hey. 

Hayatezuki would be fantastic. Give it to...Remy? Dovi? Hell, Rins? Zero chance, but dreams are fun. 

An argument against sack of crap shapeshifter gizmos could come soon. Safety, the show, expense...the usual. Harder argument re aero. Fingers crossed. 

Enjoy the racing tomorrow 

It's worth noting that some riders are not finding it easy at all.

The safer argument has some merit in certain circumstances. The jump into T1 at Mugello for example. However, if the aero allows you to go faster, arrive faster, brake later etc then when things go wrong through a mistake or a failure the rider is in a worse position...therefore, not safer.

The aero and shapeshifter stuff is crap that has to go. It's as pointless as Formula 1 cars pretending to be ecologically conscious. I saw a comment in Motorsport magazine recently that one container ship from China to Europe causes more emissions than the entire F-1 season. Which doesn't have much to do with Moto GP racing, I know, but the point is that pointless crap is, well, pointless.

The pointless crap is crap too. Yuck. 

Motorsport has a bit that holds appearances, like "sustainable fuels." Hard to see reason to take aim at it. 

But the rulebook and bike spec? A living thing tended by Dorna. It is as they see it. And they have seen it wrong this go. Quick focused recovery is the hope here. 

Get to work Dorna!