MotoGP brings its act from the bucolic French countryside to the hills of Tuscany as Round 6 of the 2015 season arrives. Within the top tranche of the premier class food chain, the standings are scrambled, while the rest of the top ten reside pretty much where we expected heading into the year. Team Yamaha has been hot of late, and this trend could continue in Italy unless Repsol Honda double defending world champion Marc Marquez gets himself together. Right now would be a good time to do so.
Valentino Rossi, surprisingly sitting in first place, observes that Marquez would be in the thick of it today were it not for his decision to go for the win in Argentina rather than settling for second place. The resulting crash cost him 20 points that he would dearly love to have in his treasury, the price of youthful exuberance combined, perhaps, with a sense of entitlement. Reverse the standings at the top – Marquez, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Rossi – and you’d have pretty much what we expected back in March. Of course, it was I who, after Catalunya 2013, wrote Rossi off, suggesting he had already won his last MotoGP race. When it comes to consuming racing news, you get what you pay for.
Recent History at Mugello
Going back to 2012, Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo has had things pretty much his way here. Having won rather easily in 2012 and 2013, he got involved in a cage match with Marquez last year that left most people breathless, the young champion eventually “pipping” the not-as-young former champion by 12/100ths at the flag after half a dozen laps of shoulder-to-shoulder combat.
In the 2012 affair, Lorenzo gave us one of the performances he has recently turned in at Jerez and Le Mans, leading from Turn 1, metronomic in his consistency, his pace untouchable. Dani Pedrosa took second that year, with Andrea Dovizioso providing the home fans with their only sunshine, punking LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl at the line, back when Bradl was relevant. Rossi, in his second and final year flogging the Ducati GP13, ended up an exhausted fifth, while countryman Dovizioso was celebrating his third consecutive podium that season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha.
2013 proved an eventful weekend at Mugello. That was the year rookie Marquez, during practice, calmly stepped off his RC213V at roughly 150 mph seconds before plowing it into a concrete wall, setting a record for getting unseated at the fastest speed ever and living to tell about it. At the start of the race, the excitable Alvaro Bautista, starting ninth on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, went into Turn 2 on the gas while all around him were braking, sending himself and Rossi into the hay bales. Bautista was able to avoid an off-track beatdown only by virtue of the fact that the concussed Rossi was seeing double and couldn’t figure out which Spanish dumbass to whip.
Later in the race, Marquez crashed out of the lead unassisted, handing the win to Lorenzo, second place to Pedrosa, and third to Tech 3 ruffian Cal Crutchlow, who crashed so many times in practice his medical report ran to seven or eight pages. The Italian crowd went home disappointed, having only the pleasure of seeing Marquez with road rash on his leathers as consolation.
Last year, Lorenzo, despite having led for 21 of 23 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, with Rossi third, less than three seconds behind. The win made Marquez six-for-six in 2014, looking invincible, while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, was unable to take the desperately-needed win at Rossi’s home crib. Marquez left Italy with a 53 point margin over Rossi, a lead which was to prove insurmountable despite a great second half of the season from The Bruise Brothers.
Honda Suddenly Lousy? No.
Take one bad decision and a broken finger by Marc Marquez, add discernible improvement from both the Yamaha and Ducati camps, and suddenly everyone wants us to believe the RC213V is an un-rideable piece of crap. Let’s not forget that Casey Stoner swung his right leg over it in 2011 and won a world championship, and that Marquez did the same thing in 2013 and 2014. The naysayers overlook Stoner’s relative struggles on the Ducati between 2008 and 2010, and claim it is only Marquez’s shimmering brilliance that has made the orange, red and white bucket of bolts competitive over the last two years.
Crutchlow and Scott Redding have added fuel to this fire by asserting that the Honda is much harder to ride than they had anticipated. This sounds like Redding making excuses for a slow transition to new equipment. And, as readers of this column know by now, we have heard little other than complaints and excuses from Crutchlow ever since he arrived in MotoGP from World Superbike in 2011. Anyone wishing to cite Bradl’s lack of improvement in three years on the Honda need only look at what he’s managed to accomplish on the Yamaha this year to dispel that thought.
It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Honda was a more advanced bike than the Yamaha, and a world ahead of the Ducati, for a number of years heading into 2014. Advances by the other two factories have closed the gap significantly. With all the Honda pilots (except Pedrosa) complaining about a lack of rear grip, it may be that some modifications are necessary; it does not mean HRC needs to go back to the drawing board. Take away the crash in Argentina and the busted finger; Marquez would be battling Rossi for the 2015 title and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
All of this may reflect a decision from HRC that, with the standard ECU going into effect next season, there is less incentive to improve the bike than has existed up until now; add in the Michelin factor, which will change everything, and it may be that what we’re seeing is Honda engineers marshalling their efforts in the calm before the storm. If you had asked any of the riders graduating to MotoGP in the last five years what their first choice of bike would have been, almost all of them would have chosen the Honda.
Two Quick Hitters and the Weather Forecast
OK, we get it – the Espargaro brothers are as close as, well, brothers. This past week’s news, that each had surgery after Le Mans, suggests they may be taking this whole filial thing a little too far. With only four points separating them for the season, the Pol and Aleix Espargaro make me regret having been an only child.
I’m constantly irritated by how race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt bang on and on about former world champion this and 250cc world champion that every weekend. Not wishing to sound negative, but it’s difficult to ignore the hard times a number of former world champions are currently having in MotoGP, especially compared to the standings of the collection of “mutts” who haven’t won anything:
|Former World Champions||Rank||No World Championships||Rank|
|Nicky Hayden (MotoGP 2006)||16th||Andrea Iannone||5th|
|Hiro Aoyama (250cc 2009)||19th||Brad Smith||7th|
|Alvaro Bautista (125cc 2006)||20th||Aleix Espargaro||9th|
|Stefan Bradl (Moto2 2011)||22nd||Danilo Petrucci||11th|
I won’t even mention Yonny Hernandez and Scott Redding. Just sayin’.
With sensational weather forecast for the greater Mugello environs this weekend, the riders should be able to dial in perfect race day settings. One would think that Rossi, racing in front of his homeys, and Lorenzo, on a hot streak, at a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, will dominate the proceedings. Personally, my imaginary money’s on Marquez. And, in the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback. The 2015 season has a long way to go.