After spending two weeks on the new, high-grip Misano asphalt, MotoGP riders faced the very different challenge of a cold, windy and slippery Circuit de Catalunya on Friday.

Many compared the meagre grip levels to those of Brno, which hosted the Czech Republic MotoGP round in August.

That event ended with a shock victory for KTM rookie Brad Binder, with Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli and Avintia Ducati's Johann Zarco completing a surprise podium.

Coincidence or not, those same riders duly filled the top three places during Friday practice in Barcelona, with Morbidelli quickest by 0.109s from Zarco and Binder just 0.110s further back.

"I think it’s still early to say if it’s like Brno. It’s just Friday. But I felt strong today. This is clear," said Morbidelli, who led in the Czech Republic before winning in the high grip of Misano. "We have to wait more to say if I am as strong as Brno.

"This weekend will be interesting because the conditions could play a big part, there is a lot of wind and the grip level of the track is slightly strange," added the Italian. "We need to see how it develops over the weekend and try to make a strategy, but at the moment it is really difficult to predict."

Asked about his afternoon fall at the Turn 10 hairpin, Morbidelli replied: "I went to brake 25m later in the first lap. Not a wise idea."

But overall, "I’m able to ride the package as I like, that I can be loose with. I’m able to be fast generally. We know our strength is corner speed. I’m able to use that in order to make the lap time."

While Morbidelli was one of four Yamahas inside the top ten, Zarco was the only Ducati in the top 11.

"I cannot say really why, if it's coming from the riding style or the confidence," Zarco said of his advantage over the other Desmosedicis. "Because on tracks where there is a lot of grip, I think they know better the bike than me and they are really using it very well. And I'm missing the last step of confidence that you can trust at 100% the bike.

"Here, where it's a little bit more complicated, I think they are losing a bit more the confidence and it's helping me to catch the gap that is missing. I don’t see that I'm doing much more, but maybe they have a bit less feeling so that is why the balance [between the Ducati riders] is better [for me] and very similar to the Czech Republic.

"That's why it can be good for me if I start from the front row to fight for a podium."

The Avintia rider saw similarities with Brno not just in terms of outright grip levels, but the big drop in performance from the tyres, which he was able to use to his advantage in the Czech Republic.

"There's a big difference between new and used tyres and with this difference, in the Czech Republic, I was able to do a big improvement that helped me to stay with the top guys," he said.

Zarco still has plenty of work to do to maintain a high race pace, but his speed on new soft tyres means he is already confident of challenging for the front row.

"My last three laps with the soft-soft in FP2 were good, plus the last lap that was under 1m 40, which is positive for tomorrow. Because I don't know how the conditions will be.

"If there is less wind everybody will go much faster. But clearly the conditions are a bit difficult because there is a lot of wind and sometimes you can be surprised or you can slide. The tyres are not getting too hot and for me at the moment only the soft can give me a good confidence, the others are a bit tricky to manage.

"So let's see tomorrow if I can still keep my advantage to go fast at least for a few laps on new tyres to catch a first row will be great and then from a good qualifying find this step to have a better pace in the race.

"If I can start on the first row then I can have an advantage to catch a podium this weekend."

Zarco's hopes have also been boosted by the addition of a ride-height system on his GP19 this weekend, meaning he can now drop the rear of the bike under hard acceleration out of the corners.

"Yeah I got it, because here it's a big track and it's maybe easier to test it. We have more space and it can be interesting," Zarco said. "I was trying it and I need to get used because it can give you an advantage for the race."

Binder meanwhile made the biggest step, in terms of positions from morning to afternoon, rising from 21st to 3rd.

"This morning you cannot really use the lap-time as a reference because I couldn’t even really ride the bike," revealed the KTM rider. "I did the first exit – which was my first on the MotoGP bike here – and after that I didn’t get the tyre up to temperature and any MotoGP rider will tell you with these Michelins are either on or they are off. There is no ‘getting better’.

"Things are pretty much not working until they get some temperature or they start to work and then they are perfect. Even in my last run this morning I considered pitting because it was dangerous because you don’t expect it and it just let's go on you all the time.

"It’s a bit difficult for sure but going into the afternoon I knew it was important not to make too many mistakes or mess around too much either because when the tyre loses a bit of temperature it makes life a lot more difficult.

"In the afternoon things worked well from a new set of tyres but I didn’t quite expect the drop so quickly. Once the tyre grip dropped it took a couple of minutes to find my feet and we had to come in and change the set-up of the bike a little bit. I kept washing the front as I lost grip.

"For the last exit I had the best of both worlds by putting in the soft rear tyre and also we had improved the setting. When I did my fastest lap I felt super-chilled and like I hadn’t put a foot wrong. When I came across and saw 40.0 I thought ‘that’s crazy’ but it was cool. I’m happy with the way the bike is working, enjoying the track so far and when it is low grip like this then it works well for us.

"I quite enjoy riding when it is quite slippery to be honest."

 

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