If we put a thermometer on all the MotoGP circuits, without a doubt the highest reading would be at Losail, in the middle of the desert. Luckily, the race takes place at night when the temperatures are much lower. However, nighttime races also come with complications, namely reduced visibility due to the dark conditions. That's why Losail's lighting system includes 1000 structures and 3600 bulbs. Over 500 km of cabling connect this system, which doesn't only light up the track but also secondary reflecting surfaces to reduce shadows. It's also important to make sure the shadows are as small as possible so they don't distract the riders and make them think a competitor is coming up behind them. In these conditions, some riders prefer to use a visor with a yellow filter to improve their vision, while others opt for the transparent visors that are normally used in rainy races.
Racing at night also means that the riders need to change their routine, getting up and going to bed later than normal, but this is still much better than competing in extreme heat. In Sepang and Buriram for example, temperatures can reach up to 35 °C with around 95% humidity. To get ready for these extreme conditions, in the weeks leading up to the race riders train with more layers of clothing during the hottest part of the day. Using a sauna also helps, as it is very similar to being on a 50 °C track.
In addition, the riders follow a special diet and up their fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Riders carry half a litre of water on their backs, but even so they can lose between 1.5 and 2.5 kg over the course of a race. Dehydration can cause the riders to cramp or lose concentration, but this isn't the only aspect influenced by the heat. It affects the mechanics of the bike and can reduce its overall performance or alter the workings of some of its systems. Hot asphalt is much harder on the tyres and causes them to wear faster. The brakes are also affected as they can overheat and break if they aren't properly ventilated.
Even though it can rain during any race, it's more likely on some circuits than others. We're talking about tracks like Silverstone or Motegi, where the weather can take a turn for the worse and cloud over from one minute to the next. A wet race presents specific challenges that affect the rider's driving style and the motorbike's set-up. The rider must be extremely careful and go easy on the brake and accelerator. They can't lean on the turns as much as in a dry race as the tyres have less grip. Overall, it's more risky, meaning that riders must concentrate and remain aware to respond to each situation. Electronics play a key role on rainy race days, adjusting the set-up to ensure power is provided smoothly and preventing the motorbike from making brusque movements. Rain tyres, which are softer than slick tyres, are used as they heat up faster and offer better grip. They also have grooves that allow the water to escape and prevent aquaplaning. Finally, the suspension is softened to prevent the front part of the bike being too firm, critical when going into turns.
The riders use different equipment in wet conditions, which strike the balance between comfort and safety. The helmets used when it rains are better ventilated to stop condensation from fogging up the visor. The visors used in these situations are more transparent as rain is often accompanied by darker conditions. Knee sliders and elbow pads are thicker to help the riders calculate a safer leaning angle, and the gloves are thinner to help the rider have a better feel of the motorbike.
Riding with strong winds is always tricky, but this is particularly true in Phillip Island. The wind is cold and cools the asphalt in some sections of this Australian circuit, reducing tyre grip. This temperature change is a challenge as traction is lost, especially on the right side of the tyre. The wind can also push riders off the track, meaning they have to pay close attention to the steering. If that weren't enough, this wind can also bring unpredictable weather conditions from snow to summer heat.
Whether the weather is cold or hot, sunny or rainy, the Repsol Honda riders are true experts when it comes to handling these adverse conditions, and they have had great results even in the worst weather. Indeed, knowing how to adapt to the varying conditions is key to reaching the last race of the World Championship.