2013 Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: Rossi's Fastest Lap, Tire Troubles And Crutchlow's Future

It has been a while since Valentino Rossi's name has topped the timesheets in MotoGP: once during the test at Jerez back in March, before that at a wet Silverstone almost exactly a year ago. Since that time, he's been close on occasion, but never fastest. Until today.

The Italian set out on a hot final run to set the best time of the day, and take over the top spot from his Yamaha Factory Racing teammate Jorge Lorenzo, to the delight of the assembled crowd, so many of whom wear his colors. (On a side note, I often wonder what colors will adorn the racetracks of the world once Rossi retires. Right now, you do not need a GPS to guide you to the circuit, you just follow the sea of yellow to the gates.)

Rossi was delighted, but he was also relieved, having confirmed to himself that he can still be at the front. "Today I am very happy about the result," Rossi told the press, saying that to be at the front was a great feeling. But Rossi was also realistic: it is only Friday, he pointed out to the media, and he had been fast on Friday at previous races.

The time was set while working on qualifying, his weakest point since his return to Yamaha and the introduction of the new qualifying format. Once a formidable qualifier, he has yet to get to grips with the high-pressure 15 minute qualifying dash, his best grid position a fifth spot at Jerez. He had set out to try a practice run at qualifying on Friday, to simulate the added speed he will need on Saturday afternoon. The first part of the afternoon session had been spent on a hard rear, to try to see if that could be the race tire, before Rossi put on a soft rear for a final three-lap push for the pole.

"We decided to do like this, first because we wanted to try the hard tire, make some laps - I did like 15 laps," Rossi said on Friday. "And second for try the qualifying, for try if I'm able to improve my lap time in one lap with a soft tire, what I have to do tomorrow. For sure, yes, is a test for the qualifying, and was not so bad. But I think that anyway to stay on top tomorrow, we have to go faster." Rossi had briefly abandoned the pursuit of race set up to prepare for qualifying with some success. He will have to go faster on Saturday, though, he admitted. "For sure we have to go in 1'41," Rossi said.

Is Rossi's flying lap a realistic representation of his race pace? That is hard to say. Rossi had been trying the hard rear tire, but the hard rear is almost impossible to use for the Yamahas, all of them preferring the soft, though Crutchlow and Smith had both spent time on the hard rear. The Hondas had been using a mix of both rear compounds, as had the Ducatis. On the hard rear, Rossi's pace was around 1'42.9, a little slower than Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, a little faster than Alvaro Bautista and Cal Crutchlow. On the soft tire, and in 'pseudo-qualifying' mode, he was a few hundredths quicker than Jorge Lorenzo.

The tire issues which make Rossi's race pace so difficult to discern are occupying the entire paddock. The Yamahas, especially, can only really use the softer of the two options Bridgestone have brought, as has been the case for much of the season. This is exercising Jorge Lorenzo, who expressed frustration at having to eke out another weekend with what is effectively a tire allocation of 7 rear tires, instead of the maximum of 11. If only the soft works, the 4 harder option tires the riders must use are effectively unusable.

The Hondas are more flexible in their choice of tires, being able to use both compounds. Neither Marc Marquez nor Dani Pedrosa had made a decision on which would be better, but they still had some work to do on set up. Marquez had his plan for Saturday clearly in mind: in FP3, they would continue to work on finding the optimum set up, before concentrating on tire choice in FP4. FP4 is the natural session to do so, Marquez suggested, as with nothing at stake in the session, the riders' efforts could be concentrated entirely on race pace.

Cal Crutchlow had already warned against underestimating the Hondas. "We know the Hondas take a little bit longer to set up, but when they come out Saturday morning, they normally take a second off," the Tech 3 man warned. "Tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon will show the true potential of the Honda, I believe. You never really read into what Honda does on a Friday, because they take so much more time to set up electronically as well as set up wise." The factory Yamahas' top two slots should not be taken for granted. Once the Hondas get up to speed, it could all change.

Marc Marquez was also asked about accusations that he and his team had been copying set up data from Dani Pedrosa, and that this had helped them at Mugello. Marquez denied using set up data, saying it was useless to him because of their differing riding styles, but admitted that he checked Pedrosa's data after every session. "About checking and comparing the data, I compare every practice," Marquez told the media. "When I finish the practice I compare with him, because I know that for example he is much faster, so I would like to compare. But about the set up, we didn't compare, because you know, in the end, we have such a different riding style. In the preseason in Jerez and Malaysia I tried his set up, but I was not able to ride with his set up. So we just compare the speed in the middle of the corner on data, but about the set up, we never compared that."

Marquez had started out basing his set up on Casey Stoner's, and he was still close to that in terms of electronics, Marquez explained. Asked if he was still using a set up similar to Stoner's, Marquez was frank: "About the electronics side? Yes. About the bike? It's different, because we have a different chassis, different swingarm, so we are using a different set up." Marquez said. This data sharing is common to all factories: in Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, all riders can see each other's data, to check speed, acceleration and braking points. If a rider does not understand where he is losing time, looking at the data of another rider can be very instructive. A quick glance at corner speeds, braking points or throttle traces can tell a rider exactly where they are going wrong.

The difference between data and set up was visible down in pit lane, where the Yamahas are split into two camps. Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo and, to a lesser extent, Bradley Smith are all using a much longer bike, while Valentino Rossi is using a much shorter bike, with the rear axle further forward and the headstock further back. The result is very similar, and the center of mass on the bikes is also fairly similar, Bradley Smith explained. "If you look at Valentino's setting compared to Jorge's, they are completely different. So you can't really say one setting works or one setting doesn't," Smith said, "but just that balance of where they have put the weight, that center of gravity balance seems to be in a similar spot, so we need to try to follow that direction, I feel."

While much of the focus was on today's practice, Cal Crutchlow fielded a host of questions about his future. After the meeting he had with Yamaha on Sunday night at Mugello, the media gathered on Friday afternoon tried to pry whatever they could out of the Englishman about his future. Crutchlow remained coy, saying only that the exchange of views had been useful, but that nothing had changed. Pushed for details of the parties he was speaking to, Crutchlow joked that there had been contacts, but no contracts.

The press were unwilling to settle for this, and he was asked about his level of interest in the Suzuki test on Monday. His interest in it was as a potential rival, more than anything else, Crutchlow explained. "I'm curious [to see the Suzuki] because it might be on the grid next year," he told the press. "I'm curious to see it's potential, because someone else decent might be on it, because they're fast and they might go fast on it."

He would not be trying to evaluate it as a bike he could potentially be racing next season, he protested. "I'm not interested to look at it and think 'I might ride that, it might be strong in this area.' I don't really care yet, because it's got a long way to go. And it's not going to come out of the blocks next year and blow everything away. But if they manage to sign a really good rider, then you look at it with the potential of maybe it could be really good with that rider on it."

While the Suzuki is to take the track on Monday, it will not have the company it might have hoped for. The Factory Yamaha team will be heading for Aragon on Monday, skipping the test at Barcelona to test instead on Tuesday and Wednesday at the track in Alcañiz. They will be joined there by the Repsol Honda team, leaving only Suzuki, the CRT teams and Ducati to test at Barcelona on Monday. Given that Ducati will be the first target to aim for for Suzuki, that may not be such a bad thing.

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If you win can you spare us the daft cobra? If anything you are like a boa constrictor, relentlessly increasing the pressure, but you'd look even sillier trying to emulate a boa while riding back down pit lane after a win.

Loving race weekends, looking forward to it. Marquez isn't far back given it's a Friday, reckon he might be a dark horse here. Meanwhile all eyes will be on Rossi, certainly wouldn't count him out at this track, the 2009 race was superb.

To hear that he uses a similar electronics setup as Casey is interesting. Wasnt it Gabarini that said the two were very similar?

This is subterfuge. No way he runs on Casey's electronics set up.n If Casey, as he proclaims, ran very little electronics, there's no way Marquez runs the same. He's a child of the electronic generation. Give him a bike without electronics and he's chucking himself into orbit around every corner. That's what is rubbish about electronics nowadays. It doesn't tell you who the fastest rider is. It only tells you what the fastest "package" is, whatever that means.

Plus, if you haven't noticed, MotoGP is actually more boring than Formula1 at this point, if that was possible.

At least there's passing in F1 and WorldSBK...

Marquez a child of the electronics generations? That's the most silliest statement I've heard on Marquez. He dominated Moto2 in 2011 and 2012. In case you don't know, moto2 does not allow advanced electronics like anti wheelie, anti wheelspin, traction control, etc. ECU's are standard for all, with very basic tweaks allowed through a software tool. Software mods are banned. ECU data is checked and ECU's can be swapped.
Marquez is probably on a learning curve now adjusting to all the settings and tweaks available to him in MotoGP.

True that. I actually find F1 to have more passes and excitement in general than MotoGP, atleast this season and last. I hope Dorna does not screw up WSBK Next year.

I think you're slighty clouded here chap... these bikes are built to USE the electronics, it is a requirement.

Casey used less than others, sure, but a hell of a lot was still involved, he certainly didn't ride it with everything switched off... That considered it could be very likely that Marquez is using a 'similar' set up.

Casey Stoner could have won a championship on the satellite Yamaha. Crutchlow can't.
The difference between the two is not necessarily talent, but attitude. Stoner was content with racing the bike he was given, whereas Crutchlow and most others (Rossi included), need to be given a bike they can race.

Casey might not win a WC on the factory Yamaha. This is not a criticism of the possibly most gifted motorcycle rider ever, but just an observation on his style.

Give him loads of horsepower and tires that will withstand good abuse, and no matter what the chassis is or the forks are, he will thrash everyone out there.

Put him on a nice friendly bike that requires delicate handling, patience, race craft, and such assorted subtle nuances for which Casey gives no shit, he will have a trouble some year. Not denying he will be fast - he will do well, but we won't see the real Casey. Lorenzo on a similar bike might have the edge over him, just like Pedrosa had a slight edge once the Honda was sorted.

In other words, put the entire grid on the same ill mannered bike with loads of horsepower and tons of unrideable character: Casey will thrash everyone else and probably win every race.

On the other hand, put the entire grid on a bike like the Yamaha: Casey will find himself at a disadvantage; a Lorenzo or a younger Rossi might win a closely fought championship.

This also might explain (partly) why he became such a force once he stepped up to Motogp. Lot of people think Casey might have done well in the 500s, which actually is debatable: we just might have seen some of the finest riding performances ever, but also numbing crashes...tires back then were simply not up to 'Casey Standard Torture' :)

I agree with just about everything you said. Rides all have different styles and can succeed under very different conditions.

On a similar vein, just because a rider doesn't have the skill-set to make a 'bad' bike go fast, doesn't always mean he lacks the skill-set to make a 'good' bike go faster than anyone else. Its the nature of things.

much better from and for cal that he is keeping his 'contacts' quiet until things are sorted. Hopefully he'll get what his riding deserves.

Concerning Rossi's "sea" of fans often mentioned. They are the furthest from fair weather as he hasn't won a race in 3 years. I'd call them loyal more than anything. And they buy race tickets at every round. I'd say those are the kinds of fans any rider would love to have. They support you whether you win or lose.

I expect the ago das, as CC stated, to be fastest tomorrow. I would love to see a race with 4-5 riders all very close at the end of a race fighting for it. Lorenzo, Rossi, Crutchlow, Marquez, and Pedrosa could all be close for this one, at least I hope so. This is a wonderful track and one of the gems on the calendar. You have to give it to the Spanish, they are passionate about this sport. They have a newly made Marco Simoncelli museum exhibit that Motogp.com covered this week. Really shows the love they have for all the riders.

I agree mate, it's amazing seeing all these fickle fans 3 years since his last win, 4 years since his last championship still flying the flags, still filling the crowds and colouring the circuit yellow... even in Barcelona where they have an astounding array of Spanish talent to pick!