It’s very odd how the same event can look very different depending on how you view it. My colleagues watching the first press conference of the year on TV remarked how young Valentino looked. I was sat in the press room thinking how he looked old, gaunt even. Maybe it was the lighting but we all agreed that he appears to have have shed a pound or two, which is remarkable given that he wasn’t carrying much surplus in the first place. Anyway, the first event of a new season is definitely always instructive, and this time it told us that not a lot has changed. Cal Crutchlow livened things up and gave us a few laughs, Marc Marquez isn’t convinced that the Honda is properly sorted yet, and Maverick Vinales is very, very impressive.
There were one or two subtle little messages, notably Rossi and Marquez interacting in a civilized manner when Vale forgot to mention Dani Pedrosa as a potential winner. Marc reminded him and Valentino apologized for the omission and corrected himself. Mind you, when they’d sat down Marc had edged his chair away from Valentino’s to avoid getting to cozy.
The only innovation was a selection of questions from fans off social media. Cal had had a little gripe about British fans who “Jump all over you when you win and next week are telling you to retire,” He went on for a while, so when one of the fan questions was addressed to Cal he muttered “At least I’ve got one fan.” Vinales grinned and patted him on the back; that or he was miming slipping a knife between the shoulder blades. Earlier Valentino had been asked why Maverick was so much faster than he was. “He is able to do the corner faster” was the deadpan response.
But don’t start to think this race is a done deal. More than one rider pointed out that conditions vary wildly from session to session, and of course the weather forecast is decidedly mixed. Rain is expected tomorrow evening (Thursday) when first practice is on. Riders will go out in the rain under the lights for the first time, and decisions will then be made. The given reason for not doing this in previous years was glare from the lights being reflected off the wet surface. I asked Cal and Andrea Dovizioso about this, neither was worried about the glare but thought there may be questions over grip. Cal’s view was that Loris Capirossi had driven a car on the wet track in a group of motors and didn’t foresee problems. That is good enough for Cal. Dovi, tongue ever so slightly in cheek, said seven years racing minibikes on floodlit seaside tracks, frequently in the rain, meant he didn’t think there would be problems either. As Loris Baz has ridden the Le Mans 24 Hours, and therefore has certainly done the light and rain thing, he may be worth a small wager.
The most serious effect of rain looked like being potentially cancelled Moto2 and 3 races. The decision to give the go-ahead for wet races was only given a few weeks ago, too late for Dunlop to put wet rubber in their containers for shipping to Qatar. Despite protestations that it would be impossible to produce the necessary kit without disrupting production for other series, Dunlop have been prevailed on to fly some wet tyres in and they should be here tomorrow morning. It remains to be seen how many will be allocated to each rider. But as I doubt Dunlop paid for the freighting there should be enough.