By any measure, today’s Austrian Grand Prix was an eventful race. The starting grid featured an all-Italian front row for the first time since Motegi in 2006. Andrea Iannone, late of the factory Ducati team, won his career first premier class race, several whiskers in front of teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Ducati bikes finished 1st and 2nd for the first time since Phillip Island in 2007. But once the celebration dies down, the Bologna factory may need a reality check, as explained below.
First Things First
The practice sessions on Friday and Saturday made it seem like the world had been turned upside down. Maverick Vinales, on the Ecstar Suzuki, and the factory Ducatis dominated the proceedings in cool weather, while the Aliens of the factory Honda and Yamaha teams were loitering in the middle of the pack. Marc Marquez trashed his RC213V early in FP3 and got a free helicopter ride to the local hospital to have his shoulder and head examined, pronouncing himself fine a bit later. “Fine,” in this instance, meaning only a dislocated left shoulder and a near concussion.
A bracing Qualifying 2 saw the top four places change completely in the final 30 seconds of the session. Jorge Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and, finally, Iannone topped the timesheets, with Rossi having owned it for roughly two seconds. Ducs finished 1st and 3rd, Yamahas 2nd and 4th. Repsol Hondas in 5th and a discouraging 12th for Dani Pedrosa, a full second off the pace. Suzuki Ecstars in 6th and 9th. Overall, the factory Ducatis must have felt gratified; the Yamahas relieved; the Hondas (with a wounded Marquez) lucky, and the Suzukis disappointed, especially Vinales, who was a blur during the first three practice sessions before backing off in FP4.
Confusion at the Start
Moments before the red lights went out, four back markers jumped the start, including WSBK defector Stefan Bradl, satellite Ducati pilots Yonny Hernandez and Hector Barbera, and malcontent Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda. Three of the four took their ride-through penalties like men. Barbera, lacking some spatial awareness (Pitboard? What pitboard?) and with a faulty “Call Home” light on his dashboard, failed to realize his sin until he was black-flagged around Lap 11. Jack Miller, who had pronounced himself fit for the first time this year on Friday, suffered his third fall of the weekend during the morning warm-up and was held out of the race with hairline fractures to his wrist and several vertebrae, a mudhole in his chest, his customary limp back in place. Those of us who thought his win in Assen was a fluke are being proven right. Monty Python fans worldwide are starting to call Miller The Black Knight.
Marquez, hurt but not injured, approached the race in damage control mode. The lead group materialized early, consisting of the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams. With Marquez settling into fifth place and Vinales into sixth, Pedrosa showed up out of nowhere in seventh; these three riders would hold their respective spots all day. The action, and plenty of it, would be amongst the front four.
The setting was ripe for drama. The factory Yamahas had recently experienced two rounds of hell on wheels, a “black period” in Lorenzo’s words. Rossi had crashed out at Assen and finished eighth in Germany, while Lorenzo had a tenth and a 15th to show for his last two rounds. The Ducs, meanwhile, started the race with bad history and completely different tire configurations, Iannone opting for softer options on the front and rear than Dovizioso. With the track as hot as it had been all weekend, a number of viewers, myself included, suspected The Maniac off being overly aggressive in this choice. We would be proven wrong.
Racing Gods Wore Red Today
The first quarter of the race featured a lot of jostling, a verb we seldom use, as all four lead riders took faint, uncommitted runs at one another. By Lap 7, the Ducatis had established a slight margin over the Yamahas, who were trailing but well within striking distance. For most of the next 13 laps, the order consisted of Dovizioso, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rossi. Anyone who had watched the race in Argentina early in the season suspected this alignment would not last. Iannone’s reputation as a destroyer had many of us expecting the worst for the Bologna factory’s representatives. These expectations were magnified by his tire choice.
Iannone proved everyone wrong. He went through cleanly on Dovizioso on Turn 9 of Lap 20, cementing the final finishing order in the process. The expected challenge from Rossi never materialized; he appeared satisfied to simply finish in front of Marquez, unwilling to flirt with disaster by trying to go through on Lorenzo. Lorenzo appeared capable of challenging Dovizioso and probably would have at any other circuit. But the Red Bull Ring is just too fast, the fastest track on the calendar. The superb handling of the YZR-M1 never came into play today. At the end, the lone remaining challenge left to the four riders was the same as it always is – beat your teammate. In this, Iannone and Lorenzo prevailed.
In their post-race comments to Dylan Gray, Dovizioso sounded like he had finished 13th, so great was his disappointment at not having been able to track down perhaps his least favorite rider on the track. Lorenzo, on the other hand, was jubilant, having emerged from the “dark days” and taken five points out of Marquez. Now, if he can take five points out of Marquez every round through Valencia, he will only lose the 2016 title by three points. An unlikely prospect, to be sure, as Marquez is a quick healer, and there is a chance of rain between now and November.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Early in this writing, I alluded to the notion that today’s celebration in the Ducati garage should be tempered slightly by the context in which it was earned. Certainly, with 100 races between today’s win and their last at Phillip Island in 2010 a celebration is justified. But consider:
- The circuit layout was ideal.
- The weather was ideal.
- The Michelins were superb.
- Marc Marquez was off his game.
- Jorge Lorenzo, coming out of his funk, trailed Iannone by only 3.4 seconds at the finish.
Certainly, a win is a win is a win. I’m just sayin’ that it was facilitated by a confluence of conditions unlikely to repeat themselves until, well, next week at Brno, with Phillip Island another more remote possibility. Ducati has put themselves back in the winner’s circle. To assert they’re all the way back is premature.
The Big Picture
So the top five riders for the season remain unchanged. Iannone and Dovizioso leapfrogged their way into Tranche 2 past Pol Espargaro who, now sitting eighth, remains the top satellite rider on the grid, and Barbera, who got KO’ed today. Scott Redding, the top Brit finisher today in eighth place, remains the top Brit for the season, completing the top ten.
Eugene Laverty, the Urgent Ulsterman, was running comfortably in 11th place when disaster struck in the last turn of the last lap, where he crashed. Based upon his lap time, it appears he hoisted the bike on his shoulders and carried it across the finish line, finishing 18th but doing nothing to hurt his merit for a premier class ride somewhere next season.
One of our readers, who had predicted an all-Ducati podium, was closer to being right than I expected. This same reader is, at this moment, expecting me to crack wise on Cal Crutchlow. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m confident Cal will come out with something in an interview today or tomorrow far more embarrassing than anything I could dream up. Something questioning the parents’ marital status at the time of his birth of the wanker who claimed he jumped the start of the Austrian Grand Prix. In a gesture of conciliation, I have decided to ignore Cal’s scurrilous 15th place finish today and promote him to Tranche Four.
At MO, we are determined to keep things fair and balanced.
|2016 MotoGP Austria Results|
|1||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||–|
|2||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+0.938|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+3.389|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+3.815|
|5||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+11.813|
|6||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||+14.341|
|7||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+17.063|
|8||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+29.437|
|9||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+29.785|
|10||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+37.094|
|11||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+39.765|
|12||Michele Pirro||Ducati Corse||+39.766|
|13||Loris Baz||Avintia Ducati||+44.284|
|14||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+45.004|
|15||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||+1:03.246|
|16||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||+1:12.448|
|17||Yonny Hernandez||Aspar Ducati||+1:14.517|
|18||Eugene Laverty||Aspar Ducati||+1:36.510|
|19||Stefan Bradl||Aprilia Gresini||+1 Lap|
|–||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||4 Laps|
|–||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||0 Laps|
|2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 10 Rounds|