In order to understand what we are currently witnessing in MotoGP, it is necessary to examine some semi-recent history in Formula 1 racing. (You know, the four-wheel set.) I am reluctant to do this, in that I believe contraptions with four wheels should be going 400 mph to match the terror of traveling 200 mph on two wheels, which F1 most certainly does not. But a short primer on F1 between 2000 and 2004 will shed some light on what we may have to look forward to for the next few seasons.
Between 2000 and 2004, known to fans as “The Schumacher Years,” German driver Michael Schumacher won five F1 championships, dominating the competition like no driver before or since. During the period, he started 85 races, finished 77 and won 48. While this was going on, interest in F1 and race attendance dropped significantly; ten years later, both have recovered, but needless to say this utter dominance was bad for the sport. (It is interesting to note that it was a rule change concerning tires prior to the 2005 season that leveled the playing field, or at least pissed in Ferrari’s gas tank. Otherwise, the procession could have gone on years longer.)
Meanwhile, over in MotoGP, between 2001 and 2005 Valentino Rossi was doing roughly the same thing – five championships, 83 starts, 78 finishes and 51 wins. So why, then, when one Googles “The Rossi Years” does the top article in the search talk about the Ducati Desmosedici in 2011 and 2012? I think it’s because, compared to F1, MotoGP was a cute little boutique sport followed mainly by Europeans with next to no TV coverage outside of Italy and Spain. The first race in North America this century wasn’t held until 2005 at Laguna Seca at the end of Rossi’s run of consecutive titles. Compared to today, there was essentially no audience to lose. But the marketing machine that Dorna has constructed over the past decade is at risk due to the phenomenon that is Marc Marquez.
A number of writers, myself included, have complained about Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta’s constant tinkering with the rules, the upshot of which is that by 2016 all the bikes on the grid will be using the same electronic control software. But perhaps we should be more circumspect in our criticism. Rather than trying to simply make MotoGP less expensive, at which he seems to be failing, his plan may be to avoid a decade of The Marquez Years that could effectively bring the sport to its knees, financially. Honda may bail on MotoGP, as it’s been hinting, but MotoGP will likely continue to exist. Rather than simply dumbing down MotoGP, Ezpeleta may, in fact, be saving it from itself.
Post-Argentine Excuse Fest
In case you missed it, the Grand Prix of Argentina resulted in Repsol Honda riders Marquez and Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha stalwart Jorge Lorenzo claiming the podium, with Yamaha #2 Rossi, LCR Honda German Stefan Bradl and Pramac Ducati heartthrob Andrea Iannone capturing spots four through six. Perusing the racing media on Monday, I made note of the blizzard of excuses offered by many of the top riders following their performances on Sunday:
- Pedrosa suffered from a slow start and blamed himself, believing that his trademarked slingshot start from, say, 2010 might have given him the win, which is rubbish;
- Lorenzo called Sunday’s third place finish the sweetest of his career, but blames the rules prohibiting in-season engine development for what will likely be his worst season since he was a rookie in 2008. More rubbish;
- Rossi claimed he would have beaten Lorenzo to the podium had he not been pushed wide by a late braking Bradl when they were busy slugging it out on Lap 5. He had nothing to say concerning the other instances when he ran wide and lost time all by himself;
- Bradl himself offered no excuses for finishing fifth, despite having returned from his Q2 crash with his brains scrambled, convinced he was Iron Man;
- The Tech 3 Yamaha guys, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, both complained that their YZR-M1s didn’t perform as well with a full fuel load as they did later in the day. Not exactly a news flash there;
- Andrea Dovizioso blamed his fall from second place to ninth on a shoddy front tire and reduced engine power which resulted from “losing some oil” early in the race. As he vividly demonstrated on Saturday when he blew an engine to Kingdom Come, it could have been worse;
- Iannone blamed HIS fall from third place to sixth on tire wear, which only happens to every rider in every class in every race;
- Finally, Aleix Espargaro, after crashing out on Lap 2, was only able to recover to finish 15th due to a broken handlebar, proving that it’s always something when you don’t have Repsol or Movistar stamped/stitched on your leathers.
Wasn’t This Supposed to be a Jerez Preview?
Right. Back in 2011, then-Ducati pilot Rossi’s low-side on Lap 8 took Repsol Honda icon Casey Stoner out of a race he looked very capable of winning, leaving the door open for Lorenzo’s Yamaha. 2011 was the year that marked the low water mark of MotoGP, as only 17 riders started the race and but 12 finished. Repsol Honda bridesmaid Pedrosa took a lucky second after both Ben Spies and Colin Edwards “retired” late in the race, but trailed Lorenzo by 19 seconds. Ten seconds farther back was the plucky Nicky Hayden, who earned his annual podium on the Ducati.
The Jerez round in 2012 was a barnburner, with Stoner edging Lorenzo by a second and Lorenzo, in turn, “pipping” Pedrosa at the flag by 4/10ths. The wet conditions that hampered the Moto2 race gave way to sunny skies and a great win for Stoner in a year that ultimately belonged to Lorenzo. 2012, you will recall, was the year Stoner discovered he is lactose-intolerant. Gag me.
Last year, late in the day, Pedrosa held a slight lead over rookie Marquez and Lorenzo, who were battling furiously for second place. Neither was giving an inch, Spanish machismo firmly in place, until the last lap, as reported here: “Finally, though, at, of all places, the Jorge Lorenzo corner, its namesake went a shade wide and Marquez, lizard brain firmly in control, dove inside. As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, with Lorenzo being forced wide into third place both for the day and the season.” This marked the beginning of the Lorenzo-Marquez rivalry that continues today, with Marquez in command, and Lorenzo able to muster little more than brave smiles and repeated vows to, somehow, do better next time.
Jerez is a Honda track. Is there anyone out there who doubts Marquez and Pedrosa will end the day 1 and 2?
What about the Weather Forecast?
Right again. Weather.com calls for hot and sunny conditions for all three days, temps in the upper 80’s, and the crowd full of tall, tan, scantily – clad Andalusian beauties. The Honda RC213V likes it hot, so check off another advantage for the Repsol team. Can Jorge Lorenzo or Valentino Rossi pull a rabbit out of his hat? Will Aleix Espargaro’s homecoming feature a podium parade? The race goes off at 8 am EDT on Sunday, and we’ll have results, hi-res photos and analysis right here later in the day.