The British hope Cal Crutchlow lost the chance of a fourth front-row MotoGP start of the year here yesterday when he mysteriously plunged off his 1000cc Yamaha YZR-M1 on a slowing-down lap during a practice session and was taken to hospital with foot and ankle injuries.
The 26-year-old, who has been the sensation of the season in only his second year of MotoGP racing, was initially treated at the circuit's medical centre before being transferred to hospital in Oxford for further analysis of the damage.
If Crutchlow is fit to race a machine that delivers around 280 horsepower, and will be allowed to start at the back of the grid, he will be left to scramble for only a handful of points.
It is the second consecutive year that Crutchlow has fallen in front of his home crowd before even reaching the Sunday race, inevitably provoking both criticism and sympathy in the paddock. Was the slip the result of too much pressure to perform in front of his home fans? Was he being too negligent on cold tyres on a chilly day?
But the German Stefan Bradl and the Colombian Yonny Hernandez also fell during the session, and even the experience of nine world championships could not prevent Valentino Rossi from crashing in the subsequent qualifying session. Rossi's Ducati team-mate, Nicky Hayden, also plunged off.
"The problem was not a cold tyre, because we always heat the tyres with tyre warmers," Crutchlow's team owner, Herv Poncharal, said.
If Crutchlow is able to start today, his aim will surely be to conduct a damage-limitation ride and continue his tradition of scoring in every MotoGP round so far this year. Points are awarded down to 15th place, and there will be only 20 starters, so he may yet have an opportunity to thread through the tail-end of the pack on a machine that will be touching 180mph on the fastest parts of the 3.6-mile Northamptonshire track.
The 27-year-old Spanish rider Alvaro Bautista will start in a surprise pole position today after a rain shower came down with only eight minutes of the one-hour qualifying session remaining.
Crutchlow's spill comes at a critical point in his career, as his contract with the French-based Tech3 team expires at the end of this year, and there only two vacant seats left on the four bikes Yamaha field in their official factory team and the satellite Tech3 squad.
Even if he can't ride at Silverstone, Crutchlow will want to be back in the saddle for the Dutch MotoGP on 30 June to reinforce his claim to be one of MotoGP's brightest future stars.
The rain that forestalled the usual flurry of hot laps in the closing minutes of yesterday's qualifying session left Bautista to revel in the first pole position of his career, finishing ahead of seven factory bikes on his privately entered Honda Gresini. Also capitalising on the chilly and gusty conditions was the American Ben Spies, who recorded his best qualifying performance of the year to finish in second place on his factory Yamaha YZR-M1. Reigning champion Casey Stoner completes the front row on his Repsol Honda.
The current MotoGP championship leader, Spain's Jorge Lorenzo on the second factory Yamaha, will start from the second row alongside his title rival Dani Pedrosa on a Honda. Both will want to bustle past the front-row occupants, especially the enigmatic Stoner.
At only 26 years of age, with clear potential to increase his existing tally of two world championships, his decision to retire at the end of the year has not prompted him to treat this year as a kind of high-speed gardening leave. He is urging on his engineers to cure a tyre-chatter problem on the Honda RC213V, and aims to climb back to the top of the podium in today's 20-lap contest.