When Valentino went out on slicks in qualifying with the track still wet, many rubbed their eyes in disbelief. It had stopped raining and there were some dry spots on the asphalt, but the risk seemed to be too great. Rossi had a go, two timed laps and then back to pit lane to put on rain tyres with just one lap left to try for at least a decent time.
Had the Doctor gone temporarily mad? Not exactly. “I made that choice for two reasons - he explains - The first is that after FP4, I realised I was struggling too much with a little water on the asphalt. The second is that, all told, it was a move that could have worked.”
“In some points the track was still too wet. The tyre temperature dropped and there was no way to get it back up. I decided to risk and I could see some dry trajectories, but it wasn’t enough.”
Everything is simpler in hindsight.
“It seemed like the asphalt was close to drying out, but it was too cold and even after a half hour the track was still wet. It’s like a dog chasing its tail; if you go slower on the slicks, they cool down and don’t work. Marquez tried too and the same thing happened to him. It was the wrong choice.”
Couldn’t you have gone in earlier instead of doing two timed laps?
“Yes, but I wanted to see if there would be a progression, but there wasn’t. Marquez was also way off the times done with the rain tyres.”
Couldn’t qualifiers with rain tyres have brought a better result?
“Maybe, but I still wouldn’t have been able to do too much better – maybe a 9th place. It’s a pity because in the morning I had done well. We had managed to improve the settings a lot and I won’t say that surprised me, but I was happy. But the track was in different conditions, much wetter. In FP4 I crashed too, fortunately without hurting myself. I was on the bike with the better setting. I did everything I could to get it back to the garage for the qualifiers, but then I discovered that it had sustained too much damage to be used.”
What are you hoping for tomorrow?
“A wet race. In those conditions I could be competitive. Starting 12th complicates things. I think the right strategy will be to stay calm and figure out what conditions we will have to face.”
Is it salt in an open wound to see the old Yamaha on pole position with Zarco?
“Johann did a very good job. He took advantage of a bike that is fast in those conditions. I still wouldn’t have been able to do his time.”
A provocation: if you had started the season keeping the 2016 M1…
“I do not believe that we would have more points at this time of the season. Anyway, the goal is to continue improving year after year, so we need to do a good job and work hard for the next one.”
Working on which areas?
“Both on the electronics and on the chassis architecture. The goal is to wear the rear tyre less and we have a few ideas about how to do that. The point is that, compared to last year, both Honda and Ducati have taken a big step forward, so that is also why I say that if we had used the old bike we would not have won anyway.”