At Red Bull Ring, riding into pit lane, swapping bikes, and exiting pit lane takes roughly 37 seconds, a time that riders are aware of because it must be considered while deciding whether or not to change tyres. They all realized it would be nearly difficult to make up those 37 seconds in the final three laps. They also realized that remaining upright on slicks was nearly impossible, therefore rain tyres were the only option. Binder, who was near the back of the pack, had a single second to decide whether to twist or stick.
Brad Binder explains, “This wasn’t about racing.”
If he stayed, he would have raced the leaders on rain tyres, with no benefit or disadvantage. Who knows what would happen if he twisted? It may be the best or worst race of his life, but his previous races had been so disappointing that he decided to take a chance. “The gap between idiot and hero is extremely small,” the late, great Ralf Waldmann observed after winning the wet/dry 250cc British GP in 2000, despite an apparently idiotic tyre choice.
Binder’s most recent dry lap time was 1min 25sec. His first wet lap was 1min 32.7sec, which he set while the leaders were in pit lane. Then the rain began to fall heavily. Binder’s next lap, the 26th of 28, took 1 minute 34.5 seconds, followed by 1 minute 39.5 seconds, and lastly 1 minute 50.3 seconds. He was as amazed as anyone that he didn’t crash during the final two laps. Consider what would have happened if he had fallen. Everyone would have screamed, “Idiot!” Instead, as he crossed the finish line, exulting in his survival, he was acclaimed as the day’s hero.
Racing is like that. Binder remarked after his first victory and first podium since his MaotoGP debut in Brno in August, “I was having a horrible race, but I became a little more enthusiastic when it started to spit with rain.” “That’s when I realized I had a chance to really catch up.” When I observed the crowds forming on pit lane, I felt it was time to take a chance. For the next half lap, it was a great decision because I could still ride pretty quickly in the first and second sectors, more or less. Then I arrived at Turn Five, which was drenched.
“It was fine when the tyres were hot and the brakes were hot. It was manageable, and it was secure. However, once they had cooled down, it was a long two laps. I recall my brother [Darryn] telling me how much grip there is in the wet here on slicks [when the younger Binder had worn slicks in the previous Sunday’s soggy Moto3 race], and I believe that influenced my decision.
“I simply tried to make sure I stopped, turned around, and went straight up the straightaway. The last lap was nearly tough just to stay on the course. Actually, I believed it was finished a couple of times since I couldn’t stop in Turn Three and the only thing working was my rear brake. So I was pumping my back brake and the thing was sideways, so I pushed the steering lock and straightened up a little. I, on the other hand, would have cheerfully crashed.
“With one lap to go, I came across the line and saw ‘plus nine’ on my board. Is that plus nine on wets or slicks, though? Because if it had been someone on wets, they would have grabbed me. “This wasn’t a race; it was a survival situation. All I wanted to do was finish the race. I wasn’t attempting to travel quickly.” With one circuit to go, the rider nine seconds behind Binder was on slick tyres — Aleix Espargaró was another who had opted to take a chance and try to survive on slicks.
It’s just as well, because Bagnaia was the fastest man on rain tyres. The first two of laps were quite dangerous for all of the riders who had switched tyres, which is why Marc Márquez fell at the start of his first flying lap on rain tyres and others were close to joining him. Bagnaia, too, went backwards at first. With two laps remaining, he had slid to 11th, 32 seconds behind Binder, after his maiden flying lap on rain tyres! He was still eighth on the penultimate lap, 27 seconds behind the leaders. Then, as the rain poured down and his slick-shod competitors teetered on the edge, his rain tyres kicked in.
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