2016 MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez, he of the “win or bin” countenance, crashed out of the lead in Australia on Lap 10, his testing session cut short by a crash he later graciously conceded as being completely his fault. In the process he handed a big win to Brit Cal Crutchlow, providing yet another example, as if we need it, that in order to finish first one must first finish. Round 17, the Malaysian Grand Prix, offers fans another opportunity to see Marquez climb aboard a $1 million motorcycle on Sunday afternoon and say, “WTF?”
Recent History at Sepang
Dani Pedrosa won here in 2013, beating Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to the flag as the factory Hondas handed it to the factory Yamahas. Marquez, the title within easy reach, stayed out of trouble all day, and there was little left for second place Lorenzo other than beating Rossi. Marquez would earn a DQ the following week in Australia, postponing his coronation as the boy king of MotoGP until Valencia. Lorenzo, sore about being denied his third title by Marquez, went off on him at the Thursday press conference, accusing him of dangerous tactics and Dorna Race Direction of collusion.
I was there in 2014 when Marquez added to his record collection by taking the pole and the win, with Rossi and Lorenzo giving maximum, ultimately futile chase in The Year of Marquez. The samurai celebration at Motegi the week prior, when Marquez clinched the title, gave this race a vaguely artificial feeling. Nonetheless, the grid was taking it seriously, seriously enough that eight riders failed to complete the race. Pedrosa, in the chase for runner-up for 2014, crashed twice, putting his hopes aside for yet another year. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl would finish fourth, coming close once again to a final premier class podium to go along with his unlikely second-place trophy from Laguna Seca in 2013.
The 2015 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix will be remembered and talked about for years. Not for the fact that Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa won the race. Nor for the fact that Lorenzo took second place to pull within seven points of the championship lead. The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his lizard brain to get the best of him, such that kicking Marquez into the weeds and out of the race became, momentarily, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship. Some of you, the lucky ones, have forgotten most of what occurred then and thereafter. Those of you unable to forget are not alone.
Strong in the Second Half
Here are the point standings of some notables for the second half of the 2016 season beginning in Austria:
Thus, if you thought Crutchlow was doing well of late, you would be right. Same with Maverick Vinales, who is Alienating the rest of the field while getting ready to take over a Yamaha M1 in Valencia after the season ender. And Doctor Rossi continues to pick them up and put them down, making my mild criticism of his work this season seem fatuous by scoring the most points on the grid since the Sachsenring. A huge effort every time out and he manages to gain but two points on a conservative Marquez. He appears to have broken Lorenzo, who must now worry about being overtaken by Vinales, looking stronger and more comfortable every time out.
Finally, it must be noted that Hector Barbera, whose praises I was singing last winter and during the first half of this season, has officially come unglued, water seeking its natural level. But he had management fooled, too. They were the ones who decided to put him on the injured Andrea Iannone’s GP16 instead of Ducati test rider Michele Pirro, who is reliably top ten on that machine. Of Barbera’s 19 second-half points, none have come in the last two rounds.
My friend David Emmett, who writes about MotoGP elsewhere, claims that the Alien title, credit for whose invention is generally accorded to Colin Edwards, is no longer relevant, that Lorenzo and Pedrosa are busy losing their credentials as Crutchlow and Vinales are rapidly earning their own, while the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team keep trying to bash down the door. Such appears to be the field-leveling effect of the control ECU and the switch to Michelin rubber.
A reader of this column suggests we should not be surprised to see Dani Pedrosa call it a career at the end of the season and wants Crutchlow promoted to the factory Honda team. Having observed the general stubbornness of guys built like Dani, I would be slightly staggered if he trashed his last two-year contract with Honda. That said, given the romantic feelings Honda seems to hold for Jack Miller, it would not surprise me if, after Pedrosa shocks me with an early retirement, Honda would hand the second factory seat to Miller, given the roughly 10 year age difference between him and Crutchlow.
Should such changes eventuate, wild horses could not keep me from tuning in to the press conference when Crutchlow expresses his unvarnished opinion as to the marital status of their parents at the birth of the Honda executives who made this decision. A recording of such a media event could serve as a primer for anyone interested in a quick but comprehensive course on British profanity.
Your Weekend Forecast
Malaysia has apparently entered its monsoon season early, either that or the monsoon season has lasted way too long. Either way, rain is forecast for the Sepang/Aceh region every day until at least Nov. 4th, with a 90% chance of rain all three days this weekend. Temps are only expected to rise into the upper 70’s but it’s probably going to be wet again in this, The Season of Mildew and Other Damp Conditions.
With the title already decided, the effect of rain on the grid won’t be as comical as usual. Marquez can lay up in a dry place, should he choose to do so. Rossi won’t have to worry about Lorenzo gaining on him, but Lorenzo will have to worry about Vinales. Crutchlow has his sights set on 5th place; Dovizioso has his sights set on Crutchlow, especially in the wet. Pol Espargaro appears to have 8th place to himself. The battle for the two final top ten spots includes at least six or seven riders with a credible shot, especially in bad weather.
Round 17 goes off once again in the middle of the night. We will have results and analysis right here as soon as possible on Sunday.
Airbags mandatory beginning in the 2018 season. Rossi is allegedly all over this business and will need another pole barn on his ranch to store the euros he has flowing in.
Karel Abraham, or rather his sponsor money, takes Yonny Hernandez’ seat with Aspar for next season after a year of penance in WSBK. The economics of MotoGP remain challenging and, in the lower tranches, you can still buy a seat. No evidence exists to support the idea that Abraham is a superior rider to Hernandez.