When the air reaches a certain temperature, tires are no longer very effective. When the asphalt drops to below 20ºC, their performance is greatly compromised and, more importantly, riders’ safety is at risk. So in extreme weather conditions, MotoGP riders take extra precaution. The same thing occurs with carbon brakes, which are less effective in cold weather, as they need to work at a high temperature, which is why protectors are usually attached to the brake discs as soon as it starts to rain.
The engine can also be affected in cold weather as its temperature drops below the optimal for performance. In the past, mechanics battled the problem by installing strips of duct tape on the radiators to protect them so the engine’s temperature wouldn't drop. A clever and simple system allowed the rider to pull a string or a zip tie to remove the tape when they felt the engine was in danger of overheating. This trick is still used today, although there are also very practical systems with thermostats that avoid the hassle of the tape. Riders already have enough to worry about with all the devices they have to control on their bikes.
The World Championship calendar is prepared taking into account the climate of each country: for example, scheduling races in northern Europe in spring or autumn carries a risk, so it is normal for these races to be held in the middle of the calendar. The same happens with Australia; its unique conditions are a serious factor when it comes to scheduling the Grand Prix. Located in the southern hemisphere, there is nothing between the island and the inhospitable and frozen continent, Antarctica. When the wind blows from the south, the temperatures drop to freezing on Phillip Island, where the MotoGP World Championship race is held.
The race there is held in October at the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere, when the last days of winter are still being felt. If the weather turns, Phillip Island, which in the summer is ideal for holidays by the sea, can feel like an ice box! That’s why, sometimes, the Grand Prix takes place under extreme conditions, really putting tires to the test and forcing riders to use very soft compounds that guarantee grip as they are at risk of excessive wear.
The first edition of this race in 1989 was held in April. It used to be at Eastern Creek, the Sydney circuit, but since 1997 the Australian Grand Prix has been hosted on Phillip Island, about 200 kilometers from Melbourne; and that created a local conflict of interest. The race has the support of the capital, which usually organizes the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Albert Park in March, but did not want to hold two high-profile events, F1 and MotoGP, in a such a short span of time. That is why one of the two had to be changed; and since F1 has been based in Melbourne since 1995, MotoGP has had to accept being moved to October.
Other chilly destinations
This season, if there are no setbacks and circumstances allow, the World Championship will return to Finland, to the new KymiRing circuit. The Scandinavian country hosted the World Championship from 1964 to 1982 in Imatra, right on the Russian border. Along with Sweden, it formed the Scandinavian tour of the World Championship; and given the cold conditions in these Nordic countries, both races used to be held in August, but riders were still exposed to frequent storms and unpredictable weather.
In addition to the long and expensive trip there, the bad weather was another incentive to skip Anderstorp (Sweden) and Imatra. Not everyone could afford it, only the champions. That’s why, if their sponsors allowed it, both Ángel Nieto and Giacomo Agostini tried to have their titles wrapped up before the Scandinavian tour, in order to avoid those unpleasant races. Although sometimes, despite having already been crowned champions, they had to secure the manufacturers' title for their sponsor at one of these races.
Another problem that used to come up in the northern countries and the extremely long circuits of the past was that the ever-changing weather could result in different conditions at different points along the track. The Mountain Course, the main circuit on the Isle of Man, is 60-kilometers long. A race can start in the capital Douglas in glorious sunshine and then turn into hellish rain and fog in Kirk Michael, to the north in the mountains, then turn around again in Ramsey.
The same thing happened in Nürburgring on the Nordschleife stretch, the original 22.8-kilometer long circuit with 90 bends. Together with its complex layout, there were also changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure. During training sessions, many riders used to carry a spare spark plug for when the weather changed. So when they returned to the pits, the technicians back then were able to "read" both spark plugs and understand what type of carburation was best to withstand these types of conditions. Ángel Nieto once had to change his spark plug in the middle of the 50cc race in order to finish and at least get a result instead of risking breaking down.
Canada was another country which brought extreme conditions to the Grand Prix. The only time the World Championship traveled there was in 1967 to Mosport, located near Toronto. The race was scheduled for September 30, which was already far too cold, at least by European standards, as they were unaccustomed to the weather at those latitudes. The race was hell for the riders due to the cold, and the Grand Prix was never scheduled there again, although later between 1989 and 1991, the Superbike World Championship passed through Mosport, but this time in June, with riders experiencing far better conditions for motorcycling.
But if we are talking about truly cold and unpredictable weather, we have to mention the 1980 Austrian Grand Prix, scheduled for April 27 at the Salzburgring circuit. The warm up took place in horrible conditions, but rain and cold wind was nothing new for the riders. The testing went off without any major setbacks, and on Saturday night everyone went to sleep focused on Sunday's race. When the sun came up over the Salzburgring, they discovered a circuit buried under a meter of snow!
The rain from the previous days had turned into heavy snowfall that trapped everyone in their caravans, and those less fortunate in their tents, who had to spend the night clearing away snow to prevent their roofs from caving in. Some riders chose to sleep uncomfortably in the truck next to their motorcycles to protect themselves from the cold. The Grand Prix, logically, was suspended due to the bad weather. This type of situation wouldn’t happen again until 2018, when the rain that fell at Silverstone flooded the track, making it impossible to ride on.