Silverstone has been off the calendar to MotoGP for a while. In fact it's never actually been on the calendar for MotoGP. To be slightly more accurate (or less pedantic if you prefer), Silverstone lasted hosted motorcycle GPs in 1986 before losing out to the at the time deservedly more popular Donington Park. But the last year saw Donington make an unsuccessful (and, in hindsight, unwise) bid for the F1 GP and run out of money while still digging the place up. In stepped Silverstone, making massive changes to the circuit in double quick time to turn it from a pretty dull, featureless former airfield into a rather more interesting but still slightly featureless former airfield. One thing that hasn't changed, though, is the speed. Silverstone was always fast, and though there are some more twisty sections now that overall character hasn't changed. Silverstone needs serious cajones to ride competitively.
Obviously, things would be better with Valentino Rossi on the grid. But the world champion is still languishing in plaster after his Mugello crash. And new circuits have their own special set of problems, one of which is learning them and the possibility of more and more crashes and the already small grid pushes harder to try to get those essential few hundredths of a second. And at this level, when things go amiss they can bite fairly hard, as Rossi found out in Mugello.
First to bite the Northamptonshire dust was Andrea Dovizioso in the second practice, followed by Barbera, Simoncelli and Ben Spies, the latter appearing to do himself a bit of a mischief though still continuing.
Worse was to come, though, as Dani Pedrosa suffered a nasty, freakish crash in qualifying that saw him stretchered off. The unfortunate Spaniard was in one of the fastest turns on the new track when the Honda let go, sliding out then somehow hooking up and running the rider over before carrying on into the gravel. Pedrosa's leathers were torn open by the impact but fortunately he suffered no more than heavy bruisng to his legs. Randy de Puniet also crashed out, though uninjured.
Finally in warmup on Sunday morning we lost the likeable and hard working Hiroshi Aoyama, who highsided the Interwetten Honda and smacked himself around sufficiently to be ruled unfit to race. Indeed, the Japanese rider will also miss Assen next week as further examination showed a couple of fractured vertebrae which will count him out for a while. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Enough of crashing, though. As far as results go, despite the large amount of gravel surfing going on it was pretty much business as usual. Lorenzo took the top slot in the first practice session from Stoner and Dovizioso, with de Puniet close behind. Ben Spies continued to demonstrate just how quickly he can learn a circuit with a respectable fifth, ahead of Pedrosa and Marco Melandri. Practice two was similar, with Pedrosa taking the lead and a new lap record this time, from de Puniet again and Lorenzo ahead of Stoner and Dovizioso. In typical British fashion, the weather was proving a little uncertain as well, with occasional showers and a surprisingly low track temperature doing little to ease the problems being encountered.
Qualifying was interesting, with Randy de Puniet looking for all the world as though he was going to take pole after a session long scrap with Pedrosa, Stoner and Lorenzo, all of whom took turns at the top. In fact, over the hour long session, no less than sixteen fastest laps were posted, with Aleix Espargaro even getting up there on the Pramac Ducati. But finally, with just three minutes left to run, Jorge Lorenzo managed to get around in a blistering two minutes three seconds to take his first pole position of the season from de Puniet, with Pedrosa alongside them in third. The second row was headed by Dovizioso from Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner while Ben Spies led row three from the Gresini pairing of Marco Melandri and Marco Simoncelli. Colin Edwards rounded out the top ten on the fourth row.
Race day dawned sunny and bright, and already said saw the early departure of Hiroshi Aoyama, leaving a grid of just fifteen. Yes, finish the race and you're guaranteed a championship point. Even if you're lapped nineteen times, as long as you're out there riding when the chequered flag comes out there are points to be had.
So as the riders lined up for the race itself, the sun shone down and put some much needed heat into the track, getting us ready for what could potentially be a real humdinger of a race. Lights out and it was Lorenzo who made the most of his pole, for once not being out-dragged by the bantamweight Pedrosa. A fight immediately ensued between the Spanish rivals. with Pedrosa making a firm but fair challenge to take the lead partway through the lap before being rebutted by Lorenzo a few corners later as the Honda rider ran wide. Indeed, that error cost Pedrosa dear as first de Puniet and then Dovizioso both slipped through while he regrouped. Stoner got an appalling start, dropping right to the back as he bogged the Ducati down and gave himself a mountain to climb. But Marco Melandri had a worse time, getting a good start to settle in ninth place before sliding out on the penultimate corner, not even completing a lap.
Lap two saw de Puniet bully his way past Dovizioso in a spectacular piece of late braking to take second, chasing Lorenzo hard. But the factory Yamaha has a lot of power, and Lorenzo knows how to use it. The championship leader made the most of the empty track and ruthlessly extended his lead. A third of a second at the end of lap one was over half a second by the end of lap two and over a second and a half by lap four. Lap five saw him stretch to over two and a half seconds, and there really was nothing that anyone could do. In fact, Lorenzo's lead became so dominant that the television coverage rather left him to it - for sure it was a real masterclass in fast, smooth riding but it was also somewhat unexciting to watch. Especially with what was going on behind him.
Because those last couple of podium slots were rather in demand. Pedrosa, Dovizioso, de Puniet, Hayden and Spies were all in the hunt, and while the relative positions didn't change that dramatically for a while there was a heck of a lot of argy-bargy going on. To put it into perspective, by lap ten there was three seconds between de Puniet in second place and Pedrosa in seventh. It seemed that the Spanish rider was suffering more than he'd originally let on, as his lap times gradually decayed. And Casey Stoner was finally getting back to grips with the Ducati after languishing at the back of the pack for far too long as well.
Further back and Barbera and Bautista were busy beating each other up - a fight that Loris Capirossi unwisely joined in, the veteran Italian departing shortly afterward in a shower of gravel and bits of carbon fibre. A disappointing end to a weekend that really never looked as though it was going to be good for the Suzuki team.
Lap sixteen and things seemed to have settled down a bit, with Lorenzo about eight and a third seconds ahead of Dovizioso, de Puniet a third of a second behind him, Hayden a further tenth back and Spies half a second behind the Ducati. Stoner was just over a second behind having despatched Marco Simoncelli, who was having the ride of his career while Pedrosa was fading fast with what later transpired to be nearly terminal grip issues. But things can change quickly, and de Puniet's soft front tyre suddenly went off, ruining the Frenchman's corner speed and relegating him to fifth in just one lap. Stoner passed him a lap later but sixth was still an impressive result for the privateer Honda rider.
Up at the front and while Lorenzo had taken the chequered flag, done the post race interviews and had his bike scrutineered, Nicky Hayden was making a last lap mistake that cost him the second podium position and gave Tech3 and Ben Spies their first MotoGP podium. The end result saw Hayden fourth from Stoner by just a tenth of a second, and de Puniet a second and a half back in sixth. Then a five second gap to Simoncelli and Pedrosa, with Colin Edwards a disappointing twelve seconds further back in ninth. The top ten was completed by Aleix Espargaro on the Pramac Ducati, fifteen seconds further back.
So there we have it. Jorge Lorenzo extended his championship lead in masterful way, which would probably still have been the same even had Rossi been racing. Dovizioso has taken second by dint of being consistent and relegated Pedrosa to third. Rossi remains in fourth place, obviously scoring no points. Ben Spies has done well, though, leaping up to seventh.
We're at Assen next weekend. The racing is on the Saturday, so it doesn't even clash much with SBK... See you there!
Silverstone MotoGP Results
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
2. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
3. Ben Spies (Yamaha)
4. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
5. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
6. Randy de Puniet (Honda)
7. Marco Simoncelli (Honda)
8. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
9. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
10. Aleix Espargo (Ducati)
MotoGP standings (after five rounds)
1. Jorge Lorenzo 115
2. Andrea Dovizioso 78
3. Dani Pedrosa 73
4. Valentino Rossi 61
5. Nicky Hayden 52
6. Randy de Puniet 46
7. Ben Spies 36
8. Casey Stoner 35
9. Marco Melandri 32
10. Marco Simoncelli 32