For factory Yamaha double world champion Jorge Lorenzo and the Repsol Honda duo of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix was going to be a statement race. Lorenzo’s intent, clear from the outset, was to beat rookie Marquez at any cost. Pedrosa, the victim of plain bad luck at Aragon, looked determined to prove that he was still a force at the top of the MotoGP food chain. And Marquez, on his way to the 2013 title, wanted the world to know that his brain is bigger than his balls.
How, you’re wondering, do I know these things to be true? Pure deduction, based upon things that were said during the week, and the actions of the riders during the race. At the Thursday press conference, Jorge Lorenzo went OFF, delivering a scathing critique of Marquez’ relentless risk taking and Race Direction’s lame season-long response thereto. To paraphrase Lorenzo’s tongue-in-cheek outburst, he claimed that Marquez approaches MotoGP as if it were NASCAR, bumping and grinding his competitors every time out, with but three “penalty points” to show for his behavior. Actually, three penalty points and likely a World Championship. Lorenzo, it seems, is put out over how Race Direction has rewarded bad behavior on Marquez’ part with a trophy and a bit of toothless punishment. Thankfully, he didn’t play the Marco Simoncelli card as an example of what can happen to the fast and the reckless.
Dani Pedrosa gave us one of his trademarked “slingshot” starts today, moving from fifth position on the grid to sitting on Lorenzo’s pipes in the middle of Lap 1. He and Marquez had been fast all weekend in practice, but Pedrosa looked determined not simply to podium today, but to win. On Lap 5, having just received a mapping change from his pit crew, he bumped Lorenzo out of his way — just racing! — and took over first place for the duration. Never looking back, he won by almost three seconds, for the first time since Le Mans. Two years ago, when he had this kind of pace, Pedrosa would win by 12 seconds, and would have felt great afterwards.
Two years ago he had no Marc Marquez to deal with.
Marquez, for his part, looked mainly interested in staying out of trouble today. He seemed surprised at Lorenzo’s Thursday outburst, and tried to make light of it, before figuring out that Jorge was seriously furious with him. Settling into third position at the start, he joined Pedrosa in slipping past Lorenzo on Lap 5. The Yamaha icon was simply not having it today. He came right back at the rookie and gave him a good bump on Lap 6, briefly moving back into second place. The two went at each other tooth and fang through Lap 7, when Marquez went through for good, pushing Lorenzo out onto the candy stripes exiting a late corner, and essentially sealing the 2013 championship in the process.
Having put Lorenzo away, you expected Marquez to go after Pedrosa in the hunt for another gratuitous win. Instead, he appeared to lay back, content to simply manage the gap between himself and Lorenzo. In addition to being his teammate, Dani Pedrosa is absolutely no threat to his title aspirations. The mountain of criticism piled upon Marquez after Aragon, most of it undeserved, clearly had an effect on the young Spaniard. Thus, he was able to emerge from today’s race with no further damage to his reputation, and with a bigger lead in the championship race than he had at the start of the day. All in all, a good day’s work.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Valentino Rossi on Saturday enjoyed his best QP since 2010, starting from the second spot on the grid. On Sunday, this advantage lasted all of 10 seconds, as both Lorenzo and Pedrosa blew by him on the way to the first turn. Rossi spent the entire day — all 20 laps — in fourth place, and appeared to be hanging around, waiting for one of the leaders to fall, or run wide, something, anything, in the hope of securing yet another hollow podium. I get it that Rossi is a marketing machine who makes cash registers ring for Yamaha, but his diminishing presence on the team means Lorenzo is getting double-teamed every week. And as the standings show, the result is going to be another world championship for Honda.
With the bulk of the field strung out in a ghastly premier class procession, the only real contest of the day involved Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow and GO&FUN pilot Alvaro Bautista, who spent the day jousting over fifth place. Crutchlow, with the slower bike and zero motivation, eventually succumbed to Bautista, losing out by a couple of tenths. While LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl missed today’s race due to a broken ankle suffered in FP4 on Saturday, Bautista moved past Bradl into sixth place for the season.
With two of the four Ducatis on the grid retiring with mechanical problems — Andrea Iannone with exhaust issues, Nicky Hayden with a blown engine — factory rider Andrea Dovizioso nabbed his third-consecutive 8th-place finish while Yonny Hernandez made a respectable showing on his Pramac Ducati, finishing 10th after starting 16th. Hector Barbera, riding for the Avintia Blusens team, weathered a ride-through penalty for jumping the start and still managed 14th place for the day. Fellow jumpers Colin Edwards and Michael Laverty fared slightly worse, with Edwards coming home in 15th place and Laverty crashing out on Lap 13.
The Big Picture, Heading to Australia
The season has developed what feels like a grinding inevitability, as Valenciana draws closer and Marquez’ lead in the standings grows larger. The rookie demonstrated today that he is not, in fact, compelled to try to win every single round, that he appreciates where he sits in the standings and what he must to do stay on top. He showed a little respect (or was it pity?) for his teammate by laying off and not trying to out-race him yet again today, when there was nothing to be gained from such showboating but a few more haters.
With Phillip Island looming, the Magic Numbers are now clearly in focus. Lorenzo trails Marquez by 43 points; Pedrosa trails by 54. Unless Pedrosa wins in Australia, he will be eliminated next week. If Marquez wins and Lorenzo finishes third or worse, the fat lady will be singing “Advance Australia Fair” next Sunday afternoon. The moment it was announced that Bradl would miss Round 16, rumors started circulating that Casey Stoner would return to try for a seventh (!) consecutive win at his home track, a rumor both Honda and Stoner currently deny. But the alignment of the MotoGP stars and planets is such that Stoner’s appearance on the LCR Honda next weekend wouldn’t surprise, or disappoint, too many fans. With three rounds left, there is precious little else to cheer for.
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||298|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory||255|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||244|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory||198|
|5||Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||166|
|6||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||136|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||135|
|8||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory||120|
|9||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory||102|
|10||Bradley Smith||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||89|