MotoGP: Time for pilgrimage to 'cathedral of motorsport'
MotoGP is in the Netherlands this weekend for our annual pilgrimage to 'the cathedral of motorsport'.
Assen is a wonderful place, steeped in history, and it's the only circuit that has featured in every season since the start of the World Championship in 1949.
It causes confusion for some fans every year, though - don't forget that the race at Assen is on Saturday, not Sunday.
The organising body has been trying to get it changed to a Sunday for years, but it's steeped in tradition and seems set to stay as it is - despite the grumblings of TV companies across Europe and beyond.
Assen has always been traditionally well attended by British bike fans, for MotoGP and World Superbike races, and we should have plenty of travelling supporters this weekend.
It's an easy track to get to on the ferry, with some lovely towns nearby. Nearby Groningen is a university town with some great nightlife and should keep the fans entertained.
Assen is a peculiar circuit. It is the most flowing circuit we have got; there is no real heavy braking and it's about high-speed cornering.
Jorge Lorenzo won in Spain last time out to close in on Dani Pedrosa at the top of the standings, but Lorenzo was taken out at the first corner at Assen last year by Alvaro Bautista - and this year he was ruled out of the race after breaking his collarbone in a high-speed crash during second free practice.
Things like that can decide the title when it's as close as it is.
Marc Marquez was so close to taking out Pedrosa in the last race. He locked the front wheel up as he tried to stop himself and if those two had gone down then Lorenzo would have been cruising at the front. It's about who keeps the bike upright and it's not always their fault when they don't.
Bradley Smith has had operations on his hand and should be fitter this weekend, and he will be buoyed by his career-best finish of sixth in Barcelona.
Smith's team-mate Cal Crutchlow crashed last time out, which was his first mistake all season, but the good thing is he knows why he crashed and has been working on it. He has had issues with stopping the bike in the first few laps when it has a full tank of fuel and was working on that in testing last week.
A full tank adds about 18kg in the wrong place and it's a lot of ballast going into a corner. If you think about it, in touring cars they put 20kg of weight as ballast into the cars as a handicap. It affects the performance of a big car, so you can imagine how much impact it has on a bike that weighs far, far less.
It's the same for everyone, of course, and Cal will hope to get it mastered.
Mid-June is usually the start of contract talks between riders and teams but it's fairly quiet so far this year. Ducati's Nicky Hayden is out of contract at the end of the year and will be looking over his shoulder while Crutchlow is likely to be at the centre of things after his continued fine form.
However, the feeling in the paddock seems to be that Cal is likely to stay with Tech 3 Yamaha next year. Yamaha would be fools to let him go and, if they can give him the full factory bike he craves, then everyone will be a winner.
I expect Scott Redding to make the move up from Moto2 next year. He has shown for the past few years that he has got what it takes to be a MotoGP star and it just depends whether he stays with his current team or moves on.
All will be revealed in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
Netherlands Grand Prix
- Assen, Netherlands
- Thursday, 27 June:
- MotoGP Free Practice 1: 08:55 BST. MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3 Free Practice 2: 12:10 (both BBC Sport website and IPTV)
- Friday, 28 June:
- Qualifying: 11:30 BST BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website, 14:00-15:05 (IPTV) & 15:35-16:35 BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website (replay)
- Saturday, 29 June:
- MotoGP, Moto2 & Moto3 races: 11:05-15:00 on BBC Sport website and BBC Red Button
- Sunday, 30 June:
- Race 10:30-12:05 BBC Two (repeat)