The cloudy afternoon in Mugello got more gloomy shortly after the start of the session, the red flag coming out for a heavy crash for Michelle Pirro in turn one. The Italian was said to be conscious and moving by the time he was picked up by an ambulance and the session was restarted with 28 minutes on the clock and with Andrea Iannone leading. The Suzuki man manged to sneak in a lap to improve his time at the top of the timesheets before another red flag was caused by another Ducati.
Mugello was warming up nicely for the second run of sessions of the day, although the clouds did keep the lightweight class company. Fabio Di Giannantonio was back with a vengeance, at least for the early part of FP2, the Italian leading for most of the session before Jorge Martin’s reputation as the fastest man in class came to the fore and the Spaniard checked out at the front by over three tenths of a second to improve his own pole record.
The intermediate class danced their first tango of the weekend in Mugello and it brought nothing new to the routine. Alex Marquez established himself as the early leader and came under friendly(ish) fire in the final time attack from teammate Joan Mir. The younger Marquez came out on top, ending the session with a three tenths advantage on his pursuers.
Friday morning in Mugello saw the splendid scenery covered by a sheet of low clouds, although the track kept dry for the duration of the session. The low grip took a few people by surprise and plenty of front tyres were tortured but the top of the timesheets were a very patriotic display. Local expert Michelle Pirro perhaps unsurprisingly led the way after the first run and the Italian was unchallenged at the top until compatriot Andrea Iannone brandished a new rear soft tyre and blasted ahead by half a second.
A cloudy but warm morning set the scene for the opening session of the weekend but the plot was more of what we’ve gotten accustomed to. Namely, Jorge Martin setting camp at the top of the timesheets early in the session, then going on to improve on his own benchmark in a final attack. Things got a little more unusual behind the Spaniard – if not in names, it did in time gaps.
Usually we have to wait until Friday for the action to hot up at Mugello, but there was an almost hysterical vibe at the Italian circuit on Thursday. We appear to have entered what can only be described as peak Silly Season, with the rumblings of a series of rider and bike changes likely to explode into the public consciousness between now and Barcelona. By the time the MotoGP test finishes on the Monday after Barcelona, we should know where Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, and Joan Mir are riding, and have a solid clue as to what Franco Morbidelli, Dani Pedrosa, Danilo Petrucci, and Jack Miller will be doing in 2019. It's going to be hectic.
All this is adding to what is already an incredibly stressful weekend, especially if you are an Italian rider. The paddock is already buzzing with sponsors, friends, family, and fans, so you can imagine what it will be like when the action starts in earnest on Friday, let alone the madness of race day. How do the riders cope with it? "Just let the seconds pass away from here to Sunday at 2pm," Danilo Petrucci said. The Pramac Ducati rider took a podium in Mugello last year, and has been even more competitive in 2018. He is in the hot seat to replace Jorge Lorenzo in the factory team, if the Spaniard leaves as many expect he will.
But he will not be letting the high expectations get to him. "I will do my normal things and try to do my best that’s the best I can do. If you stop and think about it I have nothing to change compared to other races as at Le Mans the situation was more or less the same. I am talking about the future, wanted to confirm my speed from last year. At Mugello I have a friendly paddock but it is not as I said it is not a big advantage. We will work in the way worked in Le Mans, controlling every detail, and they we’ll see. The podium is a target but we’ll discover it on Sunday afternoon because it is very difficult to predict the race in MotoGP in the space of two years. I can only go as fast as I can."
There is no such thing as an ideal race track. Circuits are bound by the iron laws of reality: Grand Prix level tracks have to fit a given distance (between 3.5km and 10km) of track into the available space, in a layout which will allow powerful vehicles to stretch their legs. They have to be somewhere where noise is not an issue, either as a result of being isolated from the general population, next to another source of noise such as an airport, or situated near a willing and enthusiastic town or city. They need to have space for the fleet of trucks which transport the paddock from circuit to circuit, and they have to be accessible to those trucks via roads wide enough to let them pass. Last but not least, they have to provide an attractive setting which fans want to visit, and good viewing over as much of the track as possible.
All these things militate against the existence of the ideal circuit. Find a space which is away from hostile neighbors, and it may be too small to create anything other than a tight, contorted track layout unsuitable for MotoGP bikes. Or it may be on a hilltop, with few natural viewing opportunities. Or it may be too far from large population centers to make it easily accessible for fans, or lack the space for a usable paddock layout.
Yet something approaching the ideal circuit truly exists. A track where the bikes can use all of the 270+hp at their disposal. A track which challenges every aspect of the rider, from managing their reactions at 360 km/h, to braking late and entering corners hard, to sweeping through fast combinations of turns carrying as much speed as you dare without washing out the front or having the rear come round and bite you. A track with a roomy paddock, near a major highway, and several large population centers. In a country full of bike-mad fans. Set in a valley among some of the most enchanting scenery on the planet. Oh yes, and the food in the paddock restaurant is some of the best you will eat all season.
|18 March||Qatar*||Losail International Circuit|
|08 April||República Argentina||Termas de Río Hondo|
|22 April||Americas||Circuit of The Americas|
|06 May||Spain||Circuito de Jerez|
|20 May||France||Le Mans|
In many ways, the MotoGP season is structured like a Hollywood action blockbuster. There is preseason testing, the opening sequence in which we are introduced to the main cast of characters. After the opening credits, we start off by flying across continents to a range of exotic and colorful locations, where the first threads of plot are laid out, some of which will turn out to be red herrings later in the season. There then follows a regular sequence of dramatic action sequences, the narrative of the season taking dramatic twists and turns along the way.
If MotoGP is a Hollywood blockbuster, then the Pacific triple header of flyaway races is the frantic last 10 minutes, where the protagonists face off again and again leaving the audience barely a moment to catch their breath. It is where the battle for MotoGP reaches its crescendo, the drama of the season raised to another level and compressed into the briefest of windows. The flyaways are intense.
If the fans feel the triple header takes its toll on them, just imagine what it's like for the riders. Back-to-back races within Europe are usually manageable, as the riders are only a few hours away from their homes, and spend the weekends in their motorhomes, which are a home away from home. For the flyaways, the riders spend four weeks on the road, moving from hotel to hotel. They kick off the trip with a 15-hour flight to Japan, follow it up with an 11-hour flight from Japan to Melbourne, then another 9-hour flight to Malaysia.
The provisional calendar for the 2018 MotoGP season has been released, and as expected, there are few surprises. The schedule has been expanded to 19 races with the inclusion of the Chang International Circuit in Thailand, which has a contract to host a race through 2020.
The addition of Thailand hasn't altered the schedule much. The 2018 schedule is almost identical to this year's calendar, with just a few minor variations. The season kicks off a week early in Qatar, and to accommodate that earlier start, the time of the race is to be changed to 7pm local time. Starting earlier will mean that MotoGP avoids the evening dew that can render the track so treacherous.