The long awaited return of the MotoGP from the summer break came to an end today as the riders took to the Red Bull Ring in Austria for two Free Practice sessions in cool conditions. For the first time in 19 years the MotoGP returned to the refurbished track laid across the picturesque scenery.
Conditions different from the test before the summer break
After the ninth round of the MotoGP at the Sachsenring where riders competed in the German GP, the majority of the field made their way straight to Austria for a two day test in ideal conditions.
Almost four weeks later and conditions were significantly cooler meaning the riders had to adjust to temperatures being almost 30 degrees lower than the test.
This meant that French tyre manufacturers Michelin had their work cut out for the weekend. The track is predominantly made up of right handed corners with only two of the ten being left handed.
The tyres would again need to be of an asymmetric makeup to accommodate the track and the left hand side of the tyres would need to be up to temperature when required.
Riders struggled to adapt
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Pol Espargaro appeared to be struggling at the new track on the calendar and during the first session found himself running off into the asphalt areas.
Eugene Laverty (Pull & Bear Aspar Team MotoGP) was seen taking the extra scenic route back to the paddock after coming off track early on in the session. He was seen having to restart his bike after the incident that forced him to retire temporarily.
Returning after missing his home GP due to an incident in the warm-up session prior to the race where he suffered a concussion, German rider Stefan Bradl made his return as the break clearly did him good.
However the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini rider, who missed a recent private test at the Red Bull Ring because of his injuries, crashed out as he broached the top of a hill. He lost control of the bike and it threw him off. The bike was seen hitting the barrier and almost coming back onto the track.
Safety concerns at the Red Bull Ring
This exposed some of the safety concerns that the riders have already indentified in the lead up to the race at the Austrian circuit. The track is surrounded by short run-off areas and the barriers appear to be very close to the track increasing the risk for the riders.
All the organisers at the Red Bull Ring have been able to do to enhance safety is re-paint turn ten in an attempt to slow the riders down by making the corners narrower.
Strange crash from Pedrosa
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa became a victim of straight line braking when he crashed midway through the session as he came up over the crest of the hill. He was off the pace at the time (almost five seconds) and it may have been a matter of the cool temperatures that caused the crash as he may not have had the tyres up to temperature.
Pedrosa’s bike slid and Pedrosa slid behind it. There is a long asphalt run off and a short gravel trap and the bike landed on top of the tyre wall, meaning it would be a while before Repsol Honda would retrieve it. Pedrosa looked like he was not in a hurry to return to the pits to get back out.
MotoGP Free Practice 1 red-flagged for safety reasons
Just 12 minutes of the first Free Practice session for the MotoGP riders remained and the session was red-flagged. The flag came out just after Laverty again crashed at turn eight.
The front end of the bike tucked under as he exited the corner and accelerated up the hill and both rider and the bike ended up in the gravel trap; Laverty seemed unhurt.
The red-flag was actually as a result of Pedrosa’s crash though. When the bike hit the barrier it burst and so the session had to be stopped so the bike could be removed and the air-fence replaced.
Ducati remain strong at the Red Bull Ring
Ducati have proven to be strong here having dominated the two day test with Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) topping the leaderboard on both days (with a huge margin unofficially).
Several Ducati riders (and Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Maverick Vinales) took turns on the top spot of the leaderboard and it was Yonny Hernandez (Pull & Bear Aspar MotoGP) who led when the session was stopped while marshals reset the air fence. His time of 1:26.306 was the one to beat.
The session got back underway
It was not long before the session was restarted and the riders got back down to business with the majority making their way out on track straight away. The short break appeared to have done the riders the world of good as they returned looking like they meant business. The other manufacturers were determined to burst Ducati’s bubble.
The remaining 12 minutes of the session took place without any trouble and riders were able to improve their lap times.
Vinales fastest at the end of FP1
It was Vinales who led at the end of the first session with a time of 1:25.866 as he and Dovizioso, who placed second) where the only two who managed to lap under 1:26 minutes. Iannone lap just fell short of the barrier which left him in third position.
He was followed by Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) who is one of the only one of the riders to race here in the past; 19 years ago aboard an Aprilia in the 125cc category. The track has changed slightly since he last competed here as it has undergone a ‘refurbishment’; Rossi commented in the pre-race press conference that it is not too different but that the resurfacing has meant that it is now very grippy.
Marquez lack of experience in Austria not showing
Hernandez was pushed down to fifth fastest by the end of the session. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) who has only ridden the Honda Fireblade here as he completed some filming for the Honda Racing Corporation mentioned in the press-conference that he would have to use the data accumulated by the independent Honda teams as a baseline for the start of the weekend.
Marquez starts the second half of the season with a comfortable lead in the championship and it was not long before he appeared to come to grips with the track and he finished sixth quickest at the end of FP1; just under half a second slower than Vinales.
Lorenzo has to turn things around
Current MotoGP champion, Movistar Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo, admitted it is difficult to remain at the top when confronted about a challenging start to the 2016 season. The last two rounds prior to the summer break were declared wet races and Lorenzo shown that he lacks confidence in the wet.
In order to remain within contention of winning the championship, and closing the gap between him and Marquez, he needs to turn things around and fast. He felt the Yamaha improved towards the end of the test and mentioned that he was able to close the gap to the Ducatis. He finished FP1 in seventh position.
Miller a previous contender in an Austrian race
Estrella Galica 0,0 Marc VDS rider Jack Miller is the other rider to have experienced the Red Bull Ring besides Rossi. Miller competed in the German 125cc championships (much more recently than Rossi) and his experience has shown as he finished eighth.
Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) and Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) who is making a wildcard appearance this weekend, completed the top ten at the end of Free Practice 1 at the Red Bull Ring making it five Ducatis inside the top ten.