Repsol Honda wonder Marc Marquez won today’s Czech Grand Prix by 3/10ths over teammate Dani Pedrosa, with Yamaha double-champion Jorge Lorenzo another two seconds behind. Once again making it look easy, Marquez now leads Pedrosa by 26 points and a disheartened Lorenzo by 44 with seven rounds left in the 2013 season. Had the rookie not crashed out of the lead at Mugello back in June, this thing would be over already.
Marquez is now smashing all-time records every time out, a proverbial bull in the 65 year-old MotoGP china shop. He became the first rookie ever to win at Laguna Seca in July. Last week, ignoring the footnote, he became the first rider ever to win three rounds in the United States. And today he became the first rider ever to win five races in his rookie season, having prevailed in the last four rounds. The sky appears to be the limit for the young Spaniard, as he does not appear quite fast enough to enter a low earth orbit.
22 Masterful Laps
During the practice sessions leading up to qualifying, it was the usual suspects at the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo, LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, Monster Tech 3 defector Cal Crutchlow and Marquez taking turns leading a session. Q2, the main qualifying event, was a little weird, as most of the riders could only manage four laps over the long Brno circuit, and resulted in a front row of Crutchlow, GO&FUN loose cannon Alvaro Bautista and Marquez. The second row featured Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Tech 3 rookie Bradley Smith, with Valentino Rossi, the now-former Alien, in seventh.
Once things got underway, Lorenzo got off to an impressively fast start, with Marquez and Pedrosa in hot pursuit. Crutchlow started poorly, immediately back in fourth position, tangling with Bautista and Rossi most of his truncated day, his hopes of a maiden premier class win shattered in the first lap. Adding injury to insult, the Brit, with seven races left until his self-imposed exile with Ducati for the next two years, crashed out on Lap 9 and eventually finished out of the points in 17th. So much for sitting on the pole.
Lorenzo led the first group for most of the day, but was unable to get away, while the two Repsol Hondas were relaxing in his slipstream, biding their time, probing for signs of weakness. Marquez feinted several times before going through for good in the final turn of Lap 16, a replay of what Pedrosa did to Lorenzo on the last lap in 2012. Three laps later, Pedrosa himself went through on Lorenzo, hoping to overtake his thoroughly annoying rookie teammate in the last three laps. It was not to be, as Pedrosa didn’t have enough left to mount the late charge he desperately needed.
Before the race, it was generally acknowledged that crunch time had arrived for Yamaha and Jorge Lorenzo, that another loss to either Repsol Honda at the flowing Brno circuit would spell ruin for the 2013 season. Similarly, for Pedrosa and Lorenzo, allowing Marquez to work them again would be another sure sign of the career apocalypse looming before both. The two veterans, masters of their craft, gave this race everything they had, but it wasn’t nearly enough. To the casual observer, the all-Spanish podium would appear to spell joy for the three honorees. In fact, for two of them, it spelled despair.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Once Crutchlow went walkabout on Lap 9 (joining teammate Bradley Smith in the Tech 3 DNF party) the battle for fourth place between Bautista and Rossi raged all day, a measure of how much Rossi’s game has slipped in the past few years. While Rossi would eventually prevail, a hollow victory to be sure, he finished 10 seconds behind Marquez, which would have been unthinkable as recently as 2010.
At 200 mph, things can go downhill in a hurry. In fact, it may not be much of an overstatement to suggest that Rossi is on his way to becoming Colin Edwards, the thoroughly faded Yamaha veteran, other than the fact that Rossi has 80 premier class wins to zero for Edwards.
Stefan Bradl spent a lonely day in 6th place, turning laps, finishing 10 seconds behind Bautista and 15 seconds ahead of the factory Ducati duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden. Dovi and Hayden, after their latest close encounter at Indianapolis, had been hauled in front of both Race Direction and Ducati brass over their tendency to trade paint with one another, and refrained from doing so today.
[Before the season started, a Ducati mouthpiece told the media the company expected the two to challenge for wins this season on the ever-changing Desmosedici, providing further evidence, as if more were needed, that the Bologna factory is hopelessly out of touch with reality.]
Andrea Iannone, onboard the Pramac Ducati, ended the day in 9th place, followed once again by Aleix Espargaro, the top finisher in the now non-operative CRT class. The only other result of note was that of Michele Pirro, subbing for the now-finished Ben Spies, who managed a respectable 12th place finish. Looks like Pirro will finish the season racing, rather than testing, for Ducati Corse. Spies, who had surgery on both shoulders this past week, should now be spoken of only in the past tense when discussing MotoGP.
The Big Picture
The standings tell the story. For Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, their only remaining hope is that Marquez will crash out of a race or two, and it’s bad racing karma to wish such things for your rivals, especially a teammate. Crutchlow’s gaffe today puts him 16 points behind Rossi in 5th place, but serves as valuable preparation for the next two years of his career. After an outstanding weekend at Laguna Seca, of all places, Bradl has now settled back to earth and looks beatable by Dovizioso, assuming Dovi can resist further opportunities to mix things up with his teammate.
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||213|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||187|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory||169|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory||143|
|5||Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||127|
|6||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||103|
|7||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory||96|
|8||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||92|
|9||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory||80|
|10||Aleix Espargaro||Power Electronics Aspar||62|
On to Silverstone
Shakespeare’s “winter of our discontent” has now become Pedrosa and Lorenzo’s summer of nausea. The nagging apprehension they likely felt toward Marquez heading into the season has now been replaced by fully-formed dread, as the Honda rookie has proven himself to be, as it were, truly re-Marc-able. It is impossible to imagine that he will not destroy yet another all-time record next week, eclipsing Rossi’s rookie record of 10 podiums in a single season.
Since moving from Donington Park to Silverstone, Jorge Lorenzo has won the British GP twice, sandwiched around Stoner’s win in 2011. As such, it would appear that this year’s tilt represents Lorenzo’s last gasping breath of hope for a third premier class championship in 2013. Pedrosa has a lousy history at Silverstone, and his chances for anything more than a podium finish would appear dubious at best. Crutchlow and Smith will be completely geeked up for what surely must be a disappointing homecoming weekend. And Rossi will flash his trademarked smile all the way to the bank while trying to remain within an excuse or two of the podium.
Going forward, a number of interesting questions remain, most of them having to do with who will be riding what for whom in 2014. The one I can’t get out of my head today has to do with what might have happened had Marquez been running against Casey Stoner on identical bikes this year. Had it been Stoner and Marquez on the Repsol Hondas this season, the world might have seen some truly epic racing. The late Robert F. Kennedy captured this sentiment perfectly when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘why not?’”