After a weekend of waiting, the rain finally came on Sunday. It had been forecast for Friday, but Friday stayed dry. It was forecast again on Saturday, but Saturday was dry as well. In the run up to the Grand Prix of Thailand, Sunday had looked like offering the best chance of remaining dry. But that forecast proved to be wrong as well.
The trouble started as the Moto2 race was about to get underway. A few raindrops on the grid quickly turned into a downpour. After a brief delay, the organizers started the race, but it would only last 8 laps before conditions forced Race Direction to red flag it, spray and standing water making it impossible to complete the race safely.
Several abortive attempts to restart the race followed, but when another downpour started as the Moto2 bikes got halfway round the track on the sighting lap to the grid, the red flag went out again and the race was called. With less than two-thirds distance completed, half points were awarded, much to the consternation of anti-decimal faction of the MotoGP paddock who abhor the ugliness of a points table which does not consist solely of integers.
The rain hammered down on and off for the next 40 minutes or so, forcing a delay to the start of the MotoGP race of nearly an hour. But 57 minutes after its originally scheduled start time, the lights went out and the MotoGP grid roared into Turn 1 in a cloud of decibels and spray.
Conditions were pretty miserable on the opening laps. There was a lot of spray, and rivulets of water were streaming across the track between Turns 3 and 4. Opinions were divided on whether conditions were safe to ride or not.
Were conditions over the limit? "Yes, for me it was," Suzuki's Alex Rins believed. Mooney VR46 rider Luca Marini was a little milder in his judgment. "Well, it was on the limit," the Italian said. "Sincerely, it was really really on the limit, because the spray of the other bikes was really big, and in the straight between Turn 3 and Turn 4, there were many rivers, and with the MotoGP bike, when you spin in the straight, it's not easy. It's not good to feel this."
The deeper inside the pack you were, the worse the spray and visibility became."Going down the straight it was like someone had a blanket over your head because of the amount of spray from all the bikes," Brad Binder said after the race. "And I had to keep rolling in the straights, because I could not see where the braking markers were."
Cal Crutchlow, a not completely willing returnee from retirement, was another who felt it wasn't safe. "The start of the race was so dangerous, we couldn't see anything in the back. So I rode the first two laps slow because I don't care enough to not be able to see," the WithU Yamaha rider said. "Nobody could see in the back. People were shutting the throttle in 5th gear in the straight. And then somebody hit in the back of each other and it's just ridiculous."
Aleix Espargaro, normally one of the more vociferous proponents of safety, felt conditions were good enough to go. He had been arguing with the other riders, telling them to take their concerns to MotoGP's safety representative, Loris Capirossi on the grid, where they had the opportunity to do just that.
"I was angry with the other riders!" the Aprilia rider said. He had taken his concerns to Capirossi. "I said to Loris, the track is perfect we can race very good but please clean 3-4 because there is no visibility and there are rivers crossing the track."
His annoyance was with his fellow riders. "How do you think I feel when Fabio says to me ‘yeah, there is no visibility…’ I was like ‘OK, go and tell them!’. You cannot stay sitting on the bike and then if there is a crash blame everybody," Espargaro said. "There is a race direction on the grid and it is good that we can give some good information to them and they can improve the track. They delayed by five minutes more and did their best."
Perhaps the start could have delayed a little longer, but it would not have made that much difference. It needed bikes circulating to clear the water, and once the field had spread out a little, both visibility and the amount of water on the track improved. "After three or four laps, the track condition was good," Luca Marini said. "So maybe they could delay the start of the race a little bit, but this was the decision of the organization, and finally nobody was in danger. There were no dangerous situations, so everything went well in my opinion."
The reason for the rain, of course, is because MotoGP visits Thailand during its rainy season, as part of the Asian and Australian flyaways. Here, Dorna is caught between several different fires. On the one hand, there is the availability of circuits, and how MotoGP fits in with other events. As a rule, the only event that trumps a MotoGP race is F1, but Dorna doesn't have a completely free hand in setting a date.
F1 plays a role in deciding dates as well, both series attempting to avoid racing in the same timezone, or at the same time if they are. Then there's the weather in Europe, especially the northern races at Silverstone, Assen, and the Sachsenring. The window for those races is relatively narrow: snow can fall and temperatures can drop to freezing even in mid April, as WorldSBK found out in 2019. Even the softest compound Michelin uses need temperatures of 8°C to start working properly.
Finally, there is the double whammy of freight costs and logistics. The flyaways dotted around the Pacific basin are grouped together because it is much cheaper to fly freight and staff between, say, Japan and Thailand, or Australia and Malaysia, than it is to fly them between Asia and Europe.
Choosing a date
That leads to some unfortunate scheduling choices. In 2023, Buriram, Mandalika, Phillip Island, and Sepang all happen over a five-week period from mid October to mid November. That works in terms of logistics, but less so in terms of climate. Thailand's dry season is from November to March, just after the race in Buriram. November to March is the wet season on Lombok, the Indonesian island where Mandalika is located. Dry season for Sepang is May to September, right in the middle of the European races. While the best weather at Phillip Island is between roughly late November to March, the antipodean summer.
Now take all of those ingredients and create a calendar which works. The expansion to include races outside of Europe and turn MotoGP into a truly global series is a necessary and important objective. But it does mean that there will always be races where the weather will be an adversary.
Of course, mixed weather can be conducive to a more open championship, as we found out at Buriram. After qualifying on Saturday, Fabio Quartararo looked like he might at worst lose a handful of points to Pecco Bagnaia, and perhaps even widen his 18-point gap if he got a good start. When the rain came, the general consensus was this helped Quartararo and hindered Bagnaia. In the last truly wet race this year, at Mandalika, Quartararo had finished second, while Bagnaia had scored just a single point.
In Japan, Bagnaia had confessed that he hadn't been able to find a good feeling with the Ducati Desmosedici GP22 so far this year, after being strong in the rain in 2021. Rain had been a cause for concern.
But that was not at all how things had played out. Bagnaia had gotten a strong start, and held on to take third at the end of the race – with perhaps a little help from Johann Zarco, but more about that later on – while Fabio Quartararo had sunk like a stone. The race had been won by Miguel Oliveira – the winner of the previous soaking race at Mandalika in March – with Jack Miller finishing second. But the real winner was Pecco Bagnaia, closing to within 2 points of Fabio Quartararo.
To read the remaining 4705 words of this article, you need to sign up to become a MotoMatters.com site supporter by taking out a subscription. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here. If you are already a subscriber, log in to read the full text.
This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion, and is available to everyone supporting the site by taking out a subscription.
If you would like to read more of our exclusive content you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here. If you prefer, you can also support us on our Patreon page and get access to the same exclusive material there.