One of the clichés in sports is that combatants need to have short memories, so as not to dwell on previous setbacks and lose focus in the heat of the moment. Under idyllic late summer British skies today, Repsol Honda ace Marc Marquez showed no recall of the startling events at Brno two weeks ago, while shadowing Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo for most of 20 riveting laps. Marquez took a run at Lorenzo on Lap 14, but couldn’t make it stick. On Lap 18, though, after a little bumping and grinding, the young Catalan wonder went through for good on the way to his 11th win of the season.
During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, young Marquez was setting track records and generally making a nuisance of himself, while Lorenzo was desperately seeking rear grip as he skidded around the tarmac, lapping over a second slower than the reigning champion. One of the truths of this sport – a main reason riders are so determined to ride for factory teams – is that the factory crews are the best in the business. Sometime between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon Lorenzo’s group sorted out the grip issues, leaving the Mallorcan looking strong and dangerous as the second fastest rider in today’s warm-up practice.
Qualifying, a crapshoot at the longer circuits like Brno and Silverstone, was more or less routine, with Marquez taking his 10th pole of the season and the other three Aliens – Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi – lining up 3rd, 5th and 6th respectively. In between were the two riders – Ducati #1 Andrea Dovisiozo in 2nd and NGM Forward Yamaha’s Aleix Espargaro in 4th-who routinely fire their loads in qualifying, on bikes capable of generating a fast lap or two in QP but unable, generally, to maintain a fast race pace over 75 miles.
Silverstone, on its way to the dustbin courtesy of a new circuit under construction in Wales, is the longest track on the MotoGP calendar and has been Yamaha-friendly hosting the British Grand Prix since 2010. Lorenzo had won three of his four starts here during the period, and pipped Marquez at the flag last year in a similar two man slugfest. Marquez, he of the short memory, clearly had not forgotten that one, and appeared determined not to allow a stinging repeat. At the start, the two jumped out ahead of the pack, rolled up their sleeves, and prepared to do battle, Lorenzo leading the way.
Twenty Laps of High Anxiety
As is typical in the premier class, the grid divided itself into several groups, providing the 67,500 fans with stuff to cheer about all over the track. Group 1 consisted of Lorenzo and Marquez. Group 2 included Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi, joined on Lap 3 by Dani Pedrosa, who had gotten caught up in traffic at the start. Group 3 included Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Bradley Smith, Pramac Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone, Aleix Espargaro, Gresini Honda pretty boy Alvaro Bautista and Tech 3 #2 Pol Espargaro, all of whom spent the day passing and getting passed in what might be thought of as a two-wheeled zero-sum game.
Lorenzo, riding in the lead, looked exactly the way he had looked in 2010 and 2012 when he was a world champion, smooth, composed and consistent, laying down fast lap after fast lap as regular as a piston. But Marquez, on his rival like a cheap suit, never trailed by more than half a second. Matches like this, with the faster rider sitting on the rear wheel of his intended victim, consistently remind me of the cheetahs and gazelles on the plains of Africa in their seeming inevitability. I find myself feeling sorry for the leader who, at some point, will become dinner.
Meanwhile, in the second group, Dovizioso, who had started from the middle of the front row, was predictably passed by both Rossi and Pedrosa. After his winning performance at Brno, I, and probably a number of fans at the race, expected Pedrosa to take Rossi at some point in the last five laps. But Rossi, whose start today set a new record of 246 in the premier class, still had enough left to hold off Pedrosa on a Yamaha track, giving the Movistar Yamaha team its third consecutive double podium of the season, if not the first win they so desperately seek.
Drama Late in the Day
When, on Lap 16, Marquez gave up the lead he had taken from Lorenzo on Lap 14, it looked briefly as if Lorenzo might stiff-arm Marquez for his first win of the year. But Marquez reappeared immediately on Lorenzo’s tail, and the #93 cheetah looked hungry and out of patience. On Lap 18, racing shoulder to shoulder, the crowd melting down, the two touched briefly as Lorenzo ducked inside, and Marquez, who appeared to anticipate the contact perfectly, dove right back on the inside of Lorenzo, forcing him to sit up and run wide for half a moment, and that was that. Marquez put his head down and took the checkered flag by 7/10ths, while Rossi, some eight seconds in arrears, punked Pedrosa by 18/100ths.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro, continued his consistent performance this season with another satisfying 6th place finish, two seconds in front of LCR Honda lame duck Stefan Bradl, who had gone walky on Lap 4 and rode his ass off thereafter to finish in the top seven. Pramac Ducati lunatic Iannone had a surprisingly poor outing this week, managing only to qualify 10th and finish 8th. Aleix Espargaro worked his way from 4th at the start to 9th at the finish on a track not well-suited to his bike’s strengths. Brit Scott Redding on Gresini’s customer Honda completed the top ten.
One of the annoying aspects of this sport – perhaps all international motorsports – is how riders tend to play the “home race” card every single time, when there really is no discernible home field advantage, at least in MotoGP. The five (5!) British riders who started today’s race graciously back me up in this assertion, by finishing 10th (Redding), 12th (Cal Crutchlow), 16th (Leon Camier, subbing for Nicky Hayden on the Aspar Honda), 17th (Michael Laverty on the PBM nag) and, in a dismal 22nd and last place, Oxford’s own Bradley Smith, who had qualified 7th on his Tech 3 Yamaha but left the racing surface for awhile on Lap 11, returning only in order to wave at his adoring (?) fans as he crossed the finish line, a lap down.
The Big Picture
By virtue of his win today coupled with Pedrosa’s fourth place finish, Marquez has extended his lead to 89 points, with a third of the season left. While his “magic number” to clinch is something of a moving target, it’s out there, and the defending world champion has clearly returned to his dominating form after the curious outing in the Czech Republic. The race announcers today alluded to some tire and/or technical issues that plagued Marquez at Brno, but joined us in praising the young Spaniard for not making any excuses when his winning streak came to an end.
From this vantage point, there appear to be no discernible obstacles to his continued success this season, with a number of very Honda-friendly tracks left on the schedule. And while Jorge Lorenzo seems to have sorted out the issues that ruined his season early in the year, this was a race Yamaha needed to win in order to avoid a possible shutout in 2014. Lin Jarvis probably has Phillip Island circled on his calendar, because the other venues remaining on the calendar appear to favor the handsome young Spaniard with the short memory.
|2014 MotoGP Silverstone Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+0.732|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+8.519|
|4||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+8.694|
|5||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+9.238|
|6||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+24.746|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+26.717|
|8||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+26.910|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha||+30.364|
|10||Scott Redding||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+37.639|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 12 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||92|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|