There wasn’t much happening for much of the time, with tenths of a second movement here or there being about the only talking point, but the threat of rain kept matters alive.
It’s a great pity the heavens didn’t open above the Circuit de Catalunya because Valentino Rossi, riding for PUMA’s partner team Ducati, finished second fastest in morning warm-up on a streaming track. I got the distinct impression that throughout the race Valentino was hoping for rain to help him get on terms with the leading bunch.
He made a great start from seventh on the grid to run fourth in the early stages, but the pace to sustain the place was simply not there, and he fell into the clutches of Andrea Dovizioso’s Honda. The pair had a fine battle as they warded off pole starter Marco Simoncelli, who fought off-track battles all weekend after allegations of dangerous riding in the wake of the incident in France a fortnight ago which put Spanish hero Dani Pedrosa out of his home grand prix.
Ahead of the trio Casey Stoner absolutely dominated the race. The Honda rider, world champion in 2007 for Ducati, started from second to lead the field into Turn 1, and was not headed thereafter. In the process the Australian reduced his points’ gap to Yamaha’s reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, who finished second at home. Third was Lorenzo’s team-mate Ben Spies, who rode a consistent race behind the leading duo, being neither a threat nor threatened.
Nicky Hayden, on the second Ducati, also made a superb start to take fifth place from eighth on the grid, but again the pace was not there. Nicky is a very talented rider, as proven by his 2006 championship, but things haven’t come together for him recently, and I can’t wait to see his season turn around.
After five races Jorge has 98 points to Casey’s 91, followed by Andrea (63) and Dani (61), with Valentino in fifth place on 58. It seems Casey and Jorge will take the fight all the way to the end, but it is still early days, and 13 races remain.
Ducati has been hard at work developing both the engine and chassis of the GP11, and it has paid off. The revised engine has a heavier crankshaft and flywheel, which makes the bike more tractable and easier to ride. That should help at Silverstone, where we now head for next Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
I think the race should be a good one for Ducati, particularly as the revised layout means the riders have little data. That is where the experience of both Ducati’s world champions will come to the fore. I’m also told that Valentino has taken a powerful road bike around the track in preparation for the grand prix, so at least he will be up to speed on all the changes.
But spare a thought for the teams: they need to break up camp in Barcelona, get all the stuff packed, then truck it 1400 kilometres to Silverstone, where everything needs to be spick and span, ready for Thursday. That is a task about as challenging as winning a grand prix...