Brad Binder showed just what a good poker player he would be with that victory in Austria. The KTM rider stuck and stayed out in the rain while others twisted and came in to change tyres. The riders arrive at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this week knowing such poker decisions have won and lost races both at Silverstone and Donington in the past – it probably has something to do with the weather
It started back in 1978 and just the second time Silverstone had replaced the Isle of Man as the British venue for the British round of the World Championship. The result 43 years ago is still hotly disputed. The 28 lap 500cc race, that played a massive part in the outcome of World Championship battle between local hero and World Champion Barry Sheene and the American ‘upstart’ Kenny Roberts began in the dry. The majority of the riders started on slicks but somebody with a bit of local knowledge knew better. British Champion Steve Manship looked at the dark clouds rolling over the flat Northamptonshire countryside and went for intermediates, the cross between slicks and wets on his Suzuki.
When the rain arrived, it arrived in true British style. Big wet heavy drops of liquid falling out of the leaden sky soaking the Silverstone tarmac in seconds. The wet patriotic British crowd had come to support Sheene but soon realised from underneath their umbrellas that Manship’s gamble could bring home success. At the end of lap 13 Roberts twisted and pulled into the pits realising if he had any chance of winning, he had to change tyres. No jumping from one Yamaha to other in those days but just getting down to the business of changing wheels. The Cal Carruthers led Robert’s team were experts. They had started the season with just one Yamaha and were experienced at the complicated and precise procedure. This was no modern Formula One wheel change, but they still managed it in two and half minutes. Others such as Sheene’s Suzuki team were less experienced and took up to seven minutes.
It was a total nightmare for the lap scorers. Peering through the fogged-up windows and driving rain with stopwatches in hand trying to note down the riders’ numbers as they raced through the spray to start a new lap. Nobody was absolutely sure the exact positions but with 15 laps remaining it appeared that Roberts was lapping ten seconds a lap quicker than leader Manship. Going into the last lap Manship was still leading but Roberts passed him halfway round the 4.170 kms circuit and was declared the winner. Second placed Manship and third placed Sheene were not so sure, but the result remained, and Roberts was on route to that first 500cc title.
Probably the best-remembered twist or stick decision at the British Grand Prix came 22 years later in the 2000 250cc race at Donington Park. The 27-lap race started in slightly damp conditions. The majority of the riders started on slick, or hand-cut slick tyres. Ralf Waldmann and Naoki Matsudo decided to take the gamble on starting on wets and it appeared very much wrong decision. Olivier Jacque led the way on the Tech 3 Yamaha but with nine laps remaining the rain arrived. At this stage Waldmann on the Aprilia was one minute 40 seconds behind the leader. He was cutting great swathes out of that time advantage lap by lap but with two to go he was still 24 seconds behind the Frenchman. Coming into the last lap they were still separated by the length of the start and finish straight but on the run to the finish line Waldmann raced past the future World Champion for a famous victory. The gamble had paid off, but it doesn’t always.
In 2009 again at Donington it misfired for the Ducati duo of World Champions Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner. They chose wet weather tyres at the start of the 30 lap MotoGP™ race. The track was damp, and rain was expected. It came but not in enough quantity to help them. They eventually finished 15th and 14th respectively in the race won by Andrea Dovizioso on his one and only victory for Repsol Honda.
The riders arrive at Silverstone knowing that those big decisions can and have played such a massive part in the outcome of the race. Hopefully there will be no stick of twist decisions to make, and the sun will shine all day on Sunday.