The significantly wet conditions were not conducive to improvements on the combined standings for the intermediate class throughout FP3, with Friday’s times ending up deciding the line-up for Q2, meaning that despite Tony Arbolino topping FP3, he will join the cast for Q1 later today. The rookie robbed compatriot Marco Bezzecchi on his final flying lap and by only three thousandths of a second, the SKY Racing rider also joining him in the first qualifying session.
The premier class enjoyed another wet misty start in Misano but there was time to be found despite the sketchy conditions, as demonstrated by Jack Miller improving his own FP2 benchmark only 15 minutes into the session. That was only the beginning of a tense FP3, at the end of which Johann Zarco claimed the lead of the session by 8 hundredths of a second from teammate Jorge Martin, with Ducati colleague Miller dropping to third.
The track was still wet on Saturday morning and with added mist, but that didn’t stop improvements on the timesheets quite early in the session, with Alberto Surra quickly demoting his teammate from the lead of the combined standings. Even though the rain and fog intensified towards the end of the session, riders continued their pursuit of the top 14 and Xavier Artigas picked up top spot on the final flying lap, three tenths of a second quicker than Yuki Kunii. Surra dropped to third, with Filip Salac and Ayumu Sasaki joining them in the top five.
It has been something of an irrelevant day at Misano. On Friday morning, the track was soaking, rain keeping it wet. In the afternoon, it started off wet but a dry line started to form. "At the end, the last 10 minutes to go, we had one dry line, but lap by lap it was getting wider," was how Takaaki Nakagami described it. With damp conditions expected on Saturday, and a cold and dry Sunday, nothing of importance was learned on Friday.
It was a wasted day in terms of finding race setup, perhaps, but it was still useful in overall terms. MotoGP is full of young riders who haven't had all that much time in the wet, and so Friday offered a chance to gain some valuable experience. "Not a wasted day because I don’t have so much experience in wet conditions, and a day like this is good for me," Suzuki's Joan Mir said. "I improved a lot and could understand. When I started in MotoGP, from then to now I ride in a different way and I am able to be a lot more strong."
The reasonably sunny conditions changed track conditions throughout the session to allow a swap to slicks, but the surface was still pretty damp and tricky to navigate for the intermediate class. It was all change in the final couple for flying laps, when Augusto Fernandez picked up the lead with two minutes left of the session and kept it to the chequered flag, fending off championship leader Remy Gardner. Xavi Vierge in third ended the day within a tenth of a second of the lead, followed by teammate Jake Dixon, who was almost half a second behind.
After a very wet and dark start to Friday morning, the rain stopped ahead of the second practice session for the premier class, patches of blue sky extended and there was a proper hint of sun. With conditions improving throughout the session, so did lap times, although the track never dried enough for a swap to slick tyres. It did mean that the final couple of minutes became a bit of a rollercoaster on the timing screens, but Jack Miller was unperturbed at the top throughout the entire session.
The Permanent Bureau, the joint body comprising the FIM and Dorna, who run short circuit motorcycle racing, have announced major steps to improve rider safety in all championships run or backed by Dorna. Ages are to be raised, grid sizes are to be limited, and work will continue to improve rider safety equipment and rider communication.
It is worth reading the press release in full for the complete details, but here is a summary of the key points:
With rain falling before FP2 got underway, improvements were slow on the timesheets and FP1 leader Andrea Migno held onto the combined standings with the benchmark he set in the morning session. That did not stop Pedro Acosta from claiming the lead of FP2, the championship leader making solid progress throughout the session. Alberto Surra continued an excellent showing in Misano with second position and Ayumu Sasaki made a late jump into third, ahead of Niccolò Antonelli, while Filip Salac joined the top five despite a late tumble at turn 10.
Rain had stopped by the time the intermediate class came out to play but the sky was still dark and the circuit still wet, causing some trouble early in the session, with turn 16 catching out Aron Canet, Jake Dixon and Sam Lowes in quick succession. Once things settled, a trio of names exchanged the lead of the session, Nicolò Bulega the eventual victor of FP1, demoting Augusto Fernandez by six hundredths of a second, while early session leader Joe Roberts eventually dropped down to eighth.
Rain welcomed the premier class back to Misano and it led to a bit of a mid-session lull as the downpour intensified, but Johann Zarco was soon back out, demoting his Ducati colleagues and increasing his advantage with every lap. The Frenchman’s final flying lap put him almost a second and a half ahead of the closest challenger, a role taken up by Marc Marquez in the closing stages of FP1. After leading the way early on, Jack Miller dropped to third, with Jorge Martin making a late jump to fourth.
The background of the Misano circuit was quite different to how we left it over a month ago and it made for a pretty wet start for the lightweight class. A few men did seem to shine in the tricky conditions, the Rivacold Snipers team hogging the limelight for much of the session and Andrea Migno keeping the lead at the chequered flag despite a slight tumble into the gravel at turn three. Teammate Alberto Surra closely followed him despite some rodeo moments of his own, while Filip Salac was their closest challenger, over eight tenths of a second behind the leader.
Of necessity, the past two MotoGP seasons have seen races repeatedly run on the same race track. 2020 was a succession of back-to-back races at the same track: Jerez 1 and 2, Austria 1 and 2, Misano 1 and 2, Aragon 1 and 2, Valencia 1 and 2. With a better grip on the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 was much better: the first 15 races have been at 13 different tracks. So far we have only had Qatar 1 and 2 and Austria 1 and 2.
The next three rounds will see MotoGP visit just one new circuit. We have the Gran Premio Nolan del Made in Italy e dell'Emilia-Romagna, or Misano 2, the Grande Prémio do Algarve, or Portimão 2, and then Valencia. But where Misano 2 and Portimão 2 differ from, say, Qatar 2 and Austria 2, is that they are not being held the week after. Misano 2 is happening five weeks after Misano 1, and with a race in Austin having taken place. Portimão 2 is even more distant, with nearly seven months and 13 races between the two rounds in Portugal.
So the Misano 2 of 2021 will be very different to the Misano 2 of 2020. Last year, the weather was pretty much identical between the two races at the Italian round. This year, air temperature at Misano 2 could be as much as 11°C lower than it was when we raced here five weeks ago. That could have a massive impact on track temperatures too; the asphalt might be 20°C rather than 29°C.
A change is as good as a rest
Today, Dorna and Ducati announced that Ducati is to take over from Energica as the official manufacturer supplying bikes for the MotoE championship.
The Petronas Saga is nearing its end. On Thursday, Yamaha announced that from 2022, the RNF team led by Razlan Razali will be taking over as satellite Yamaha squad, and fielding as riders Andrea Dovizioso and Darryn Binder. The RNF Team has a contract with Yamaha for 2022, with an option to continue for two more seasons in 2023 and 2024. Binder has a contract for 2022, with an option for 2023.
This is the end point of a process which began at the Red Bull Ring in August, when Petronas announced they would be withdrawing sponsorship from the Petronas SRT team, forcing the team to completely reorganize. That also saw an end to the direct involvement of the Sepang International Circuit with the team, complicating matters even further.
The latest episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast powered by Fly Racing and Renthal Street sees Neil Morrison, Adam Wheeler, and Steve English sit down in person for the first time in months. Fresh off the plane from the San Juan Villicum round of WorldSBK, Steve kicks off the show with some talk of the WorldSBK title, and how things are looking for Toprak Razgatlioglu. That transitions into talk about the MotoGP title, with Steve, Adam, and Neil discussing whether they think Fabio Quartararo will wrap up the 2021 MotoGP crown at Misano this weekend.
The crew then discuss how they expect the race to play out, as well as taking a look at the Moto2 and Moto3 championships, and what role Misano 2 could play. They discuss Valentino Rossi's best, and more interestingly, worst special helmet designs for the Italian races. They mark the 10th anniversary of Marco Simoncelli's death at Sepang, which will be commemorated this weekend. And they make their predictions for who will win the race. Steve also reveals what food he most looks forward to eating when he visits Misano (and it's not pizza).