After Friday’s rain-hit free practice, the MotoGP teams faced a race against time to fine the perfect set-up for Sunday’s race.
There were two dry sessions on Saturday. Free practice in the morning it was back to basics, to get the initial setup guesses they had come to Donington with confirmed (or not) and then they set to work, where their bike was working well and not working well and to form a plan to strike a good balance.
The teams went into this season knowing they had four hours to get each bike ready, but, before the first race, Dorna cut that to two and a quarter hours – as a cost-cutting measure to shorten running time and hence prolong component life.
The teams argued that wasn’t enough, with chassis and electronic systems designed with four hours set-up time in mind, so the practices were increased back to one hour each, so now there’s a total of three hours of track time, plus race-day warm-up.
The new tyre rules introduced this year make a big difference in the dry too.
Donington suits the medium compound Bridgestone slick best in a race situation (at least that was the popular consensus going into the meeting) but that doesn’t mean that it’s the fastest round the track.
Bridgestone brought a softer option too, and while it isn’t (and never was intended to be) a qualifying tyre, it was the right one for the end of qualifying.
Just for the record a real old-fashioned qualifying tyre had a special super sticky compound that would only last one or two laps and special carcase construction that would handle the forces that the grip built up.
The soft tyre Bridgestone now have is actually designed as a possible option for the race, so it lasts an awful lot longer than any of the old qualifiers would, but equally it doesn’t grip quite like they did either.
While the teams have to be mindful of how they use their tyre allocation, the one-make tyre rule hasn’t radically altered the riders’ approach to each practice session.
Some riders just go out and blast off a fast lap or two and Casey Stoner is the king of that strategy on his Ducati.
Jorge Lorenzo does the exact opposite. He is still gaining experience and needs to understand exactly how the bike feels on fresh tyres and how it feels and responds once the initial grip has gone.
Lorenzo did a 20-lap unbroken run yesterday afternoon (Saturday), and all bar two of those laps were in the 1:29 range or better. Then he pitted for a fresh tyre and slapped in a qualifying lap good enough for third - all this with a still buggered shoulder.
The only other rider to follow anything remotely close to Lorenzo’s strategy was Andrea Dovizioso, but he was running laps nearly a second slower than Lorenzo, but isn’t carrying an injury.
Valentino Rossi’s strategy is somewhere between the two extremes of Stoner and Lorenzo. In contrast to Lorenzo, he’s experienced enough to know what the bike feels like on worn tyres so he has no need to explore that in practice.
While he might do eight lap runs – it’s rare to see him do a full race simulation.