In the week or so before a MotoGP race, crew chiefs and engineers pull up the data from the last race at that circuit and start work on a plan for the weekend. They then compare that to the tire allocation Michelin are bringing to the race, and try to get a jump on the game of figuring out which tires are going to work best. Motorcycle racing is a puzzle composed of many parts, and with just four sessions of free practice (three of which are partially lost to the pursuit of a direct passage to Q2), any pieces you can put in place beforehand can give you a jump on your rivals.
So crew chiefs and engineers pore over data, examine how tires performed, and decide what is likely to work and what probably won't. They make tentative choices about possible race tires, and draw up plans for practice accordingly: an attempt at a long run in FP2, a long run in FP4, and the option to revisit those choices during warm up on Sunday.
This system works because usually, MotoGP visits each circuit at pretty much the same time every year. Teams visit a circuit with a very good idea of what the conditions are going to be like, bar the arrival of rain. Track temperatures – in which solar radiation is a big factor, as well as air temperatures – determine to a large extent which tire is going to work, and which will struggle with the temperatures.
The teams did much the same as they approached Silverstone. But for the 2022 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, there was an extra confounding factor. The race had been moved three weeks earlier than previous editions, from the end of August to the first weekend of the month. This year, the race was held on August 7th, last year it was on August 29th.
Three weeks in summer should not make all that much difference, you would think. But the days begin to shorten with alarming rapidity as August winds down. On August 7th of this year, the sun rose at 5:34 AM at Silverstone, setting again 15 hours and 9 minutes later, at 20:43. On August 29th 2021, the sun came up at 6:11 AM and set at 19:57, 13 hours and 46 minutes later. That is fully 83 minutes less daylight: a lot less time for the sun to heat up the tarmac, and a lot more night in which to radiate away the heat absorbed during the day.
That difference expressed itself in temperatures too. The 2021 race at Silverstone had been sunny, but not exactly warm, with an air temperature of 17°C. It was sunny in 2022 as well, but it was also a good deal warmer, with a measured air temperature of 22°C. The difference in track temperatures was even bigger: 24°C in 2021 vs 43° in 2022, 19°C hotter.
Why all this focus on the date of the race? Because the difference meant the plans which the teams had drawn up ahead of the Silverstone race had to go out of the window once they arrived. Last year, the vast majority of the field raced with the medium rear, and a handful with the soft.
That made the medium the most likely candidate for the race going into 2022, but conditions determined otherwise. Of the 24 riders who lined up on the grid, 14 started with the hard rear instead of the medium. Nine of those riders would finish inside the top ten, the only exception Fabio Quartararo, who ended up eighth. What a difference 3 weeks makes.
In these subscriber notes, how the hard rear became the tire of choice for the Silverstone race, and how it turned Pecco Bagnaia's fortunes around. How that, and the timing of Fabio Quartararo's Long Lap penalty turned the MotoGP championship back into a three-way fight. And a few quick thoughts on how the race played out.
But first, Pecco Bagnaia's improbable win. On Saturday evening, the Ducati Lenovo rider looked to be in trouble. He was fast over a single lap – not exceptional, but good enough for fifth on the grid – but his race pace looked pretty poor. He was missing rear grip, he told us after qualifying on Saturday. "I don’t feel very well on my bike at this moment. I’m losing a lot of time compared to other Ducatis in some sections of the track. We’re still missing 2 tenths from the front group, to be able to win the race."
Bagnaia dropped a hint that his team had already figured out where they had gone wrong. "We already know what to do, so this is a great thing," he said.
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