Just when you thought this season couldn’t get much weirder, Valentino Rossi starts a wet qualifying session on slicks. Actually, he had to. He’d crashed his first bike in FP4 and couldn’t get it back to the pits despite multiple attempts to bump-start it. The second bike was set up for the dry as their was a distinct possibility there would be a dry line by the end of qualifying, so Valentino decided to gamble on slicks. It didn’t work, he was 15 seconds slower than a blistering early lap from, who else, Marc Marquez. The mystery was why he waited so long before coming in and putting wet tyres in. Obviously there was not the time to significantly alter the setting and Vale ended up 12th and last in the session. At least he was two places ahead of his team mate who continues to have a nightmare in the wet with rear grip trauma. It is worth noting that Rossi has suffered with the same affliction, right up until FP3 when he suddenly found a lot of time and finished second in the session, celebrating like he’d won the race. But that joy only applies to fully wet conditions, not the dry tarmac of qualifying.
Marquez came in for his second set of tyres with a massive lead, well over a second, and looked set for pole. Amazingly he went out on slicks. Why? Did he really think it was going to dry up? His first answer after he got off the bike was that he did it because Rossi did it. Even though he saw on the timing screen that Valentino was 15 seconds off the pace. While Marc was going a bit faster than Rossi but nowhere near anyone else, that time he probably thought was unbeatable was surpassed by Petrucci and Zarco. Marc was quite lucky to hang onto a front-row start. As usual he put a positive spin on things, saying the objective as always had been a front-row start and his time on slicks taught him a lot that could be useful on race day. I am not sure that Honda’s top management will have been quite so sanguine about handing pole position to a Yamaha, and a satellite Yamaha at that, on their circuit. Too many echoes of the recent 8 Hour humiliations there. Someone is doing some explaining while bowing a lot.