The warning signs flashed brightly at the last two Grands Prix. The weather could play a massive part in the outcome of the MotoGP™ World Championship. The heat and humidity in India and the torrential rain in Japan could be the foretaste of what lies ahead for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). That three point advantage could be submerged by heavy rain, melted in searing heat or simply blown away in those final six rounds.
A World Championship truly means Championship of the World. Success is achieved by both riders and teams who are prepared to travel tens of thousands of kilometres around the globe. They learn to cope with jet lag, the setup and contrasting circuits. They must adapt to different cultures and languages, and as was so clearly illustrated in India and Japan, the weather.
In India, Martin virtually collapsed in pit lane with heat exhaustion after a heroic ride into second. In Japan, despite bringing in flag-to-flag regulations the race had to be stopped on the flooded track. It could not be restarted as the rain continued to fall. Despite reducing the number of laps in India and the flag-to-flag in Japan, the weather, as it usually does, came out on top. With the next four Grands Prix in Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, and Malaysia, contrasting weather is guaranteed. Even in those final two rounds, there could be problems. It has rained at night in Qatar, and Valencia can be a bit chilly at the end of November.
It’s certain that flag-to-flag races will play their part in the intrigue, especially in those next four Grands Prix. Ever since James Ellison pulled into the Phillip Island Pit Lane to change bikes in 2006, becoming the first flag-to-flag participant, they have added to the overall plot. I always think of the likes of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Chris Vermeulen and Dani Pedrosa changing from slicks to wet with perfect timing. Dani changing at the end of the warm-up lap in Valencia 2012. He crossed the line in 20th place at the end of the first lap and went on to win by 37 seconds. The ones I tend to forget are the wets to slicks changes. Marc at Brno in 2017 made the switch earlier than anybody else and found himself down in 19th place on the drying track. It was brave but perfect timing. The World Champion held a 12-second winning advantage over teammate Pedrosa at the finish.
So, plenty of exciting tyre changes but what about those who stayed out there on what they started? Brad Binder’s heroic victory through the Austrian rain on the slick shod KTM at the Red Bull Ring in 2021 is surely the highlight. Bradley Smith’s second place at Misano in 2015 with fellow Brit Scott Redding third despite a crash on the Honda. It takes guts and skill, and both beat or equalled their best-ever MotoGP™ result in the race won by Marquez who had switched tyres.
The days of looking up at the clouds above or hanging out a piece of seaweed to check the weather have long gone. Modern-day technology, especially radar, can give an indication of what is about to arrive. The teams and riders will be ready for what the elements choose to throw at them in those next four Grands Prix.
They will be prepared. They know it could be the difference between winning or losing that world title.