There are only those three summer weekends where you have to sneak downstairs at an ungodly hour to watch the Malaysian, Japanese and Australian Grands Prix.
This past Sunday's race at Laguna Seca only provided slight inconvenience with its 10pm start (British time), but anyone looking to pop off to bed early could have just watched a recording of last year's US GP.
Despite the change of engine capacity and a turn in the tide of the current season, the 2012 race was nearly identical to the 2011 contest. It was obvious right from the opening practice session that this was going to be between Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, but even at his most dominant, the Australian likes to keep us guessing right up until the lights go out. His disinterest in running race simulations at least creates an unknown for tyre wear, on the face of it making him the third favourite of the trio on race day.
The choice to use the soft tyre was a daring, last-minute move from the reigning world champion, who hasn't always made the right decision in this regard (think back to the disaster at Donington in 2009, for example).
Stoner had run the harder Bridgestone compound en route to victory at Laguna Seca in 2011 but was struggling to get the new hard slicks up to temperature in the colder-than-it-looks conditions this time around. Going with the soft was a plan made on Saturday, but only set out as the definitive direction after warm-up and a quick check of the asphalt with the laser thermometer.
Legendary lower cylinder class champion Angel Nieto had pinpointed lap 27 as the time in which the soft tyre would go off (coincidentally the same point at which Stoner had passed Lorenzo in 2011), but whilst the Australian's laps did dip into the low 1'22s before the end, this was more to do with managing the lead than any problems. Even without the grandstand finish of last year, the end result was the same: Lorenzo establishing an early gap, Stoner passing Pedrosa (this time much earlier than last time) then making a move on Lorenzo in the first sector to take the win.
The positives from an entertainment point of view? Firstly, the tyre strategy isn't going to work at every track, as the Bridgestone front brought in for Silverstone continues to provide problems for Stoner. At the colder tracks like Phillip Island, the chattering issue can be ridden around with the soft. At the expected scorchers in Aragon and Malaysia, that is unlikely to be an option.
Secondly, we have enough equality in the premier class that the breakaway victories have an air of suspense about them. The top three riders can be reeled in, with the right strategy and the right conditions. You couldn't say that about a lot of the 800cc races. Yes, there was only one pass for the lead and it was not the classic three-way tussle that had been a possibility when looking at qualifying, but it was a decent enough race and a near-perfect result for reducing the gap in the overall standings.
On-track activity was so central to the United States Grand Prix that it is only fair to dedicate some inches to it. This race was meant to be key to the rider roundabout and it certainly was, if fact and speculation are anything to go by.
Valentino Rossi was waiting on improvements from Ducati at this round, had identified the weekend as a key one for his future and had set aside the summer break as a time for decision making. A hefty contract - albeit lower than his 2012 salary - delivered by Ducati's Gabriele Del Torchio and acknowledged by the rider himself, may sway his decision one way. An inexplicable crash and yet another tough weekend will likely swing his opinion in the other, Yamaha shaped direction. There is apparently a week remaining for Rossi to decide. I'm staying out of the speculation until then.
Hayden re-signing with Ducati? Good for him, and a good opportunity for me to clarify a column from two weeks ago: I never said 'The Kentucky Kid' deserved to be discarded, nor that Cal Crutchlow was a better rider; instead, my point was that a factory choosing a different direction is their prerogative and no reason for uproar. Great to see Hayden staying in MotoGP, rather than losing him to Superbikes -as appears likely with Ben Spies.
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- Casey Stoner
- Jorge Lorenzo