Movistar Yamaha idol Jorge Lorenzo, he of the two fairly recent world championships, has a steep hill to climb to set up a climactic finale to the 2015 season in Valencia. Which, in turn, necessitates opening a can of whupass on his legendary Italian teammate and rival, Valentino Rossi this week in Australia and next time out in Malaysia. It’s hard to envision Rossi, at this stage of his career, allowing an 18 point lead to disappear in two weeks. Sure, I know, that’s what Marquez almost did last year; my money’s on the old guy anyway.
Recent History at the Australian Grand Prix
2012: Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, pressing, trailing Lorenzo by 23 points with two rounds left, in full “win or bin” mode, crashed early, his day and season over in one fell swoop. Casey Stoner won for the sixth consecutive time at Phillip Island. Lorenzo finished a comfortable second and clinched the title, becoming the first Spanish double world champion. Other than Stoner’s Honda, it was two/three/four for Yamaha, as Lorenzo captured second, Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 Yamaha took third, and his Tech 3 teammate Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line fourth.
2013: Lorenzo won comfortably over Pedrosa, with Rossi, Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista gripped in a hair-raising battle for third that saw Rossi beat Crutchlow by 0.11 seconds while Crutchlow pipped the Gresini Honda pilot by 0.053 seconds, the blink of an eye. The first Australian Grand Prix in seven years not to feature Casey Stoner at the top of the podium. Marc Marquez took the cheap DQ when he failed to pit in time, as Bridgestone struggled mightily to provide the teams with safe rubber up against a new, abrasive and untested racing surface. Even Race Direction was unable to keep Marquez out of the title in his rookie year.
2014: Marc Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to glass. 23 riders start the race; 14 finish. Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan wonder, Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium. Ever. None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.
A Little Perspective
That Phillip Island is a Yamaha-friendly track is virtually beyond dispute, now that Casey Stoner has retired. Both Rossi and Lorenzo have enjoyed success in Australia, Rossi’s mainly coming in the pre-Stoner days until winning last year. Jorge Lorenzo is capable of winning at any track in the world. He is MORE capable of winning at a circuit like Phillip Island so well-suited to his riding style. If he gets out in front on Sunday, and the creek don’t rise, he’ll probably take an easy win. Rossi doesn’t need to win; he just needs to figure out how to stay close to the front. In front of Lorenzo, as always, is better than behind Lorenzo.
It is easy to imagine this being a race Marquez wants to win badly. After a ho-hum fourth place finish in Japan on Sunday, Marquez remains winless at Motegi in the premier class, followed this week by Phillip Island as the only two venues where he has yet to win in the MotoGP class. At Motegi, the story was the weather. This weekend the story will probably be the track, as Phillip Island is the fastest track on the calendar, and the Yamahas love it here. The intra-team battle at Movistar Yamaha promises to overshadow any other considerations. Beyond the weather, it will pay to watch tire degradation, as the Yamahas suffered last time out. The new surface at Phillip Island is highly abrasive; the Hondas, especially the minute Pedrosa, may enjoy an advantage late in the day when fuel loads have dropped and tires are going south.
In dry conditions, it still seems that the Aliens – Lorenzo and Rossi, Marquez and Pedrosa – continue to dominate the proceedings. Pedrosa made Lorenzo’s job harder last week by winning at Motegi, taking the win away from the Mallorcan and pushing him to shred his front tire early, allowing Rossi to go through late in the day.
Up until Sunday, Lorenzo was telling the world that all he needed to do was to win the remaining rounds to be world champion. Now, even that daunting task will not be enough, as he needs a Repsol Honda between him, winning, and Rossi, dropped to third place in this scenario, the only one that presents a realistic shot at this thing. Unless Rossi crashes … In short, Lorenzo has now lost control of his destiny. He needs to run the table and hope Rossi suffers some misfortune.
I can’t speak for everyone here, but what I want this season is for Lorenzo and Rossi to head to Valencia tied. Winner take all in Spain. The neatest, most simple way for this to occur is for Lorenzo to win, Marquez or Pedrosa to place and Rossi to show in each of the next two Pacific rounds. I don’t want Lorenzo (or Rossi, for that matter) to arrive in Valencia with some mathematical chance of winning, any kind of slim possibility or puncher’s choice.
I want them going there dead even.
That would be a race.
All of which means Lorenzo needs to win in Australia and hope for help from one, or both, of the Repsol Honda guys, who are clearly capable of providing such help. They’re equally capable of winning the daggone race, which would make Lorenzo’s job even harder, trying to stretch 20 points to reach as far as 25 would go. As is almost always the case, all Lorenzo can really do is go out and try to win the race. Any effort to control what might be going on behind him, by, for example, coming back to the pack, is unlikely to pay great dividends.
Alex de Angelis
After watching Alex de Angelis go handspringing through the gravel in practice at Jerez in 2010 along with the remnants of his bike, I thought he was indestructible. (Search YouTube for “Alex de Angelis practice crash Jerez 2010”) And he walked away from that one. We read yesterday that his condition following his crash in FP4 at Motegi was rated “critical,” and that he has blood on the brain, broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, and more. His condition has since been upgraded to “stable,” though he remains under observation.
These guys risk their lives every time they suit up. We have noted in this space often in the past that the difference between the best and the worst in this sport is razor-thin, a couple of seconds per lap. This is the chosen profession of every rider out there; only a handful get to compete at literally the highest level in the world. Alex de Angelis has been one of those men. Add him to the list of people we must try to be nicer to.
We presume that Alex will recover and return to racing, if not this year then next, and send our sincere best wishes to his family, his team and his fans.
Your Weekend Forecast
High temps will be dropping from the 90s on Thursday to the low 70s on Sunday, with the best chance of rain on Saturday. The wind, as always, will be blowing hard from a different direction each day of the weekend, possibly becoming yet another factor in a pivotal contest.
Valentino Rossi, enjoying life with the lead, can afford to be strategic this weekend. No need to ride the wheels off his bike to take a win unless it’s Lorenzo in front of him and he just can’t help himself. For Jorge Lorenzo, the playoffs begin this week. Staying close to the front is no longer an option. He needs to run the table, praying for good weather and all things Spanish.