Silverstone is facing a humiliating backlash over its recent track resurfacing after Saturday’s rain-hit MotoGP practice session left riders in doubt over whether a similar downpour on Sunday would make the British Grand Prix possible to run.
Jorge Lorenzo took pole position in a delayed qualifying session that took place on a drying track, but it was the multiple pile-up towards the end of free practice that caused the biggest concern as a number of riders went off at the Stowe corner, resulting in Tito Rabat being hit by Franco Morbidelli’s bike as it careered into the gravel trap.
Rabat was heard to be in pain on the world television feed and was airlifted to University Hospital Coventry with multiple fractures to his right leg, the Avintia Racing team announced on Saturday evening.
Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro had already gone off after hitting a rain shower at the end of the Hangar Straight - the fastest point on the Northamptonshire circuit - before Alex Rins jumped off his Suzuki at more than 100mph as he aquaplaned off the track.
Morbidelli also fell, with his Marc VDS Honda hitting Rabat who was already in the gravel trap.
The controversy comes after Silverstone's owners, the British Racing Drivers’ Club [BRDC], had the track resurfaced in a multi-million deal earlier this year in a bid to iron out the bumps that the MotoGP riders complained about last season.
Speaking after qualifying, a number of riders expressed their concern at the conditions and said that the track quickly became unrideable. With heavy rain predicted from early on Sunday, race organisers Dorna agreed with the International Road-Racing Teams Association [IRTA] to alter the schedule and move the MotoGP race to the earlier time slot of 11.30am, swapping places with Moto3.
However, with showers expected to start in the area from 06.00am, there are genuine fears that the race could be cancelled altogether.
“"I don't like to say this, because I love racing, but if conditions are like FP4 we cannot race,” said reigning champion and current series leader Marc Marquez, who on Friday criticised the track resurface as “worse than last year” due to the bumps that are in the tarmac.
"Tomorrow the forecast is for much more water. The aquaplaning was amazing. The problem is the bumps. The water gets inside the bumps, then you have aquaplaning where you don't expect it, because you don't have the same amount of water everywhere.
"Where the bumps are, there is much more water."
Marquez was one of many riders to criticise the track on Friday, with Britain’s Cal Crutchlow another to note that the track was worse than when he visited earlier in the year in testing.
“We’ve seen today that it’s worse than last year, even though the track’s been resurfaced,” Crutchlow told The Independent on Friday. “I’m a great supporter and very fond of Silverstone so I never like to say anything bad about it but it is true. I came here three months ago and the track was like a millpond, there wasn’t one bump in it at all, then it seems to have got worse. I have no idea why but there’s a lot of bumps on the track.”
Crutchlow, who is due to start his home race from fourth, also said during Saturday’s free practice session that he had no control of the bike in a straight line in sixth gear, such was the problem with aquaplaning, and that the best course of action could be to move the race to Bank Holiday Monday when no rain is currently forecast.
"It could be a disaster, because today under one millimetre of rain was forecast," Crutchlow added. "Tomorrow 15mm, 16mm of rain is forecast. So either we'll be racing on the Monday or we'll see you in Misano.
"If you want to see a race, it's a bank holiday Monday, just stay here. Honestly speaking I don't think you can ride on a circuit that was like Turn 7 for the rest of the circuit - you wouldn't even make it round."
Pole-sitter Lorenzo admitted that he was concerned for Rabat’s well-being, and that race organisers would need to consider the safety of the riders as their main priority when considering whether to give Sunday’s schedule the go-ahead.
"We are worried about Tito and let's hope it is not serious,” Lorenzo said. "We will see how much water falls tomorrow and what happens in the race.
“It was really difficult and really tricky conditions because you didn’t know if the rain would arrive in the middle of qualifying.
Moto3 is now due to start at 1.00pm, with Moto2 following that at 2.30pm, but the heaviest rain is due to hit Silverstone in the early-afternoon, with both races also at risk of cancellation.
The BRDC decided to resurface the track in order to correct “a few bumps, uneven surfaces and different age asphalt sections” with the new tarmac designed to “help improve the racing by providing a much smoother surface”, they said in a press release in February this year.
Aggregate Industries were responsible for laying the “high performance asphalt”, and Silverstone’s managing director Stuart Pringle said at the time of the announcement: “I’m hugely excited about the enhanced and, importantly for motorcycles, consistent grip that the new Aggregate Industries asphalt will provide.”
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