It is easy to get lost in the personality of the MotoGP elite. It really should be all about the racing - it is certainly what attracted racers and fans alike to the support - and the fastest racers are at the front. However, with so many on and off track shenanigans that have been building for years coming to a near climax this year, it is hard not to take stock of where some of the things affecting the strongest riders in the world are.
Silly Season: Yes, Stoner is set to retire at the end of 2012; yes this assumes that Honda doesn't make Adriana an offer that he can't refuse to entice him into at least another season; yes this put teams in something of a tail spin. This includes the factory Yamaha squad that have been struggling to capture the public's attention and has been playing second fiddle to Rossi's woes and Casey's dominance. However, at least for this week, the tables have turned as Lorenzo announces that he signed a 2 year contract with the Japanese factory. The move is shocking on several levels: firstly it bucks the recent trend of one year contracts for the top riders, and solidifies Yamaha's position on the field. Lorenzo is the only rider that can consistently challenge for a win against the retiring Stoner. With a few strokes of a pen Yamaha has all but guaranteed themselves the championship next year (and perhaps the year after) unless drastic changes happen. Secondly, the move - done brilliantly and calculatingly so early in the season, despite early statements that he would wait until after the summer break - removes one coveted seat from the pool for all other riders, making every other seat that much more valuable. Subtract Pedrosa's seat since he's pretty much guaranteed to stay on to secure the Repsol sponsorship, and the pickings get slimmer. What this means is that we can likely expect to see riders start taking chances that they normally wouldn't earlier in the season in an attempt to elevate their profile's with squads looking to play the Pilot Shuffle (yes Spies, I'm looking at you).
Weather: It's rare that virtually every event in a season can be affected by weather, yet this is exactly the situation that we find ourselves in for 2012. Qatar is, of course, a notable exception as... well... it's in the middle the a freaking desert. Bar that, however, and the pitter-patter of rain drops have been heard almost every weekend that the bikes have been on track. Perhaps Rossi paid off an unscrupulous medicine man, perhaps Preziosi sacrificed a chicken, whatever the cause Ducati have been the clear beneficiaries of a rather wet start to 2012. The real benefit however may not be immediately evident. It is easy to focus on the fact that the Ducati works better in the wet, which led to Rossi's best finish on the red brand in France.Yet the real benefit for Ducati has been the intermitency of the weather. Ironically the very thing that the riders complain about may be the one thing helping the engineers to deliver what is needed. The reason is this: the development team can run immediate comparisons on the Ducati's performance in wet and dry conditions and create an actual, usable baseline that they can take back to the shop. The importance of this should not be underestimated. Without the weather, they would know that the bike worked better in the wet but would have to guess at what effect changes would have in the dry. With the current merry go round of conditions, they can test in wet or dry - whichever comes first on the weekend - and then when the weather changes see how the bike behaves immediately. Performing a similar test without the weather's co-operation would be almost financially impossible - think Waterworld (the hugely over budget final version, including the director's cut footage). With wet weather looming yet again over Silverstone, Ducati looks to have another good finish in the books.
Tires: Don't let the single manufacturer rule lull you into a false sense of security - there is still very much a tire war going on in the MotoGP paddock; the battlefield has simply changed somewhat. When Preziosi was interviewed about how Ducati managed the feat of toppling the mighty Yamaha he credited their success in part to working with Bridgestone to build a package aimed squarely at beating Rossi. Fast forward a bit to the single manufacturer rule and suddenly the Stones have to work for a variety of bikes (all very dissimilar to Ducati) and the GP9 and 10 suffer horribly. Fast forward even more to 2012 and now even the Honda's are beginning to experience trouble in getting their tires to work. It was not too long ago, during pre-season testing, that it was a dead toss up on which bike was better. Now the Honda, particularly the factory RC212V, is decidedly good, but the M1 is definitely better. The reason for the sudden shift may be due to the new tire compounds released by Bridgestone. There are few murmurs from the Yamaha camp about tire performance, but Honda have gone so far as to cancel testing because of it. How much this will play into the season's outcome will be very interesting as Casey looks to leave his mark before retiring and Jorge seeks to make a stamp in the hearts and minds of the competition left behind.