If Friday was the warm up for the new schedule, Saturday was when it hit home hardest. The familiar pattern – FP3 in the morning, including a mad dash for a spot in Q2 in the final 15 minutes, then FP4 in the early afternoon followed immediately by qualifying – was gone. In its place, a lot of confused journalists (well, at least one, myself), suddenly confused by the fact that it was not yet 11am and MotoGP was already starting Q1.
Moto2 and Moto3 had a more normal pattern – they kicked off a little earlier in the morning, and qualifying was a little later in the afternoon than last year – but after qualifying for the Moto2 class, it was time for the first ever MotoGP sprint race. That turned into a genuine barn burner, in both senses of the phrase. It was exciting. It was something new. And it was really rather scary.
The day held a lot of surprises. Lap records tumbled in all three classes: by just under a tenth of a second in Moto2, half a second in Moto3, and by a whopping 1.5 seconds in MotoGP. Bikes and riders we had written off stunned the fans. Riders we had hyped up disappeared were utterly faceless. There is no substitute for racing to uncover the reality.
A caveat on that reality, perhaps. All three classes have had a test at the Portimão circuit within the last two weeks. So the setup work they needed to do had already been done, with the only real work left adjusting to conditions on the day. Whether the sprint race, and how qualifying played out, will continue to be as hectic and thrilling at tracks where the teams turn up and have to figure out a setup remains to be seen.
Wait and see
"I think we will adapt to the new schedule in Argentina," Pecco Bagnaia said after the sprint race. "Here we had the test, so we had time to prepare everything, to prepare the first session, the second session, the time attack. Everything was more in the direction for the race already thanks to the test. In Argentina it will be more difficult, because we will arrive there and the grip level is not so high, so you have not so much time to work for the race because we have to do the time attack in the afternoon. So, it will be quite difficult there."
While the MotoGP riders may want to try again at Argentina before jumping to conclusions about the new schedule, but we can make a preliminary judgment or two. A quick run down of the key points from the first Saturday with the new schedule.