As Round 12 of the 2013 MotoGP season looms, it becomes easier and easier to imagine the unimaginable – a rookie winning the premier class title. Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez continues to defy expectations with the composure and confidence of a seasoned veteran. Back in 1971, French humanist Rene Dubos observed, “Trend is not destiny,” but this Spanish rider may be the exception to the rule.
Sportswriters and bloggers love to engage in hypotheticals – if this hadn’t happened, if so-and-so were thus and such – and the conversation surrounding Marquez is full of this gibberish. If Lorenzo hadn’t crashed twice in two weeks … If Pedrosa hadn’t fallen in Germany … If Marquez hadn’t crashed at Mugello … (this last one is my own work, sorry to say.) But here we are, in the midst of a minor miracle. Let’s take a short look back at how we’ve arrived at this point.
The 2013 season had been running per expectations through Round 6 at Catalunya. Repsol Honda star Dani Pedrosa and factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo were slugging it out at the top, while Marquez was serving his apprenticeship, sitting in third place, with 5 podiums, a win, and a rookie crash out of the lead in Italy. At that time he trailed Pedrosa by 23 and Lorenzo by 14. Pretty much as expected. However, at Assen, things changed.
Lorenzo crashed on Friday, had surgery, returned, and ran a gutty 5th on a day he probably should have been in the hospital. Marquez finished second to Rossi, who gave us a fleeting glimpse of his classic form. Pedrosa struggled to a 4th place finish. Marquez picked up seven points on Pedrosa and nine on Lorenzo.
At the Sachsenring, the wheels came off, so to speak, for the two favorites, as both Pedrosa and Lorenzo crashed heavily in practice. Both would miss the race, which Marquez won, the beginning of his current four race win streak. That day, Marquez went from 23 down to Pedrosa to two up. As MotoGP’s summer break commenced, Lorenzo and Pedrosa entered rehab, and Marquez entered the ionosphere.
Winning at Laguna Seca took his margin over Pedrosa to 16. A third consecutive win at Indianapolis ran the lead to 22. Sunday’s victory at Brno stretched it to 26. As any rider who has won a championship will tell you, having a margin of more than 25 points over your closest challenger relieves a great deal of pressure. It means that even in a perfect storm, one in which you go ragdoll and your rival wins, you will still be in the frame. It provides a margin for error, a psychological pressure-relief valve.
Assume Marquez crashes out this week at Silverstone. So what? He will still be leading a series few expected him to win at the beginning of the season. He will still have at least three very friendly tracks in his future – Sepang, Motegi and Valenciana. Unless he gets hurt in a significant way he will still be in the mix. His confidence is off the charts. His rivals are spooked. He will retain the inside track to the title. And if he wins, or podiums, at Silverstone, well …
Marquez now enjoys not only the lead, but the freedom to relax and focus on the process of becoming a premier class champion, rather than individual outcomes. At this point, the specific result of each round is less important than continuing up the learning curve, as he was doing early in the season. He doesn’t need to run the table. He can’t allow Pedrosa to finish 2013 the way he did 2012, with six wins in eight rounds. But Pedrosa is still not 100% physically, and his spirit is wounded, too. He is in an inferior position compared to this time last year.
With 8 rounds left in 2012, Pedrosa trailed Lorenzo by 23 points. Even winning six of the last eight, he ultimately lost to the Mallorcan by 18. At this point in 2013, both Pedrosa and Lorenzo are pressing, while Marquez is chilling. It seems unlikely there will be a great deal of change at the top of the standings for the remainder of the season. But a word of caution is in order. At this point in 2011, it looked like Marco Simoncelli was going to be the next great MotoGP rider. Trend, after all, is not destiny.
Recent History at Silverstone
The British Grand Prix moved from dowdy Donington Park to sleek Silverstone in 2010, with major renovations at the Northampton circuit continuing into 2011. The 2010 race featured a master class victory by Lorenzo on the way to his first world championship that fall.
Repsol Honda pilot Andrea Dovizioso, who had won his first and only premier class race at the 2009 event, finished a gratifying second on his Repsol Honda, with then rookie Monster Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Ben Spies “pipping” compatriot Nicky Hayden at the flag for his first premier class podium. 2010 was the year Ducati flagbearer Casey Stoner qualified sixth and went through the first turn of Lap One in, like, last place, only to fight his way back to a 5th place finish at the flag, his teeth by then having been ground down to the gum line.
2011 was a head-scratcher, as Casey Stoner drove his Repsol Honda to a convincing rain-soaked win on the way to his second title that fall. Once again, Dovizioso claimed second place for Honda and established himself as a “mudder.” The surprise of the day involved American Colin Edwards, who had fractured his collarbone the previous week at Le Mans. Riding the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha on a day he should have been resting in bed, the Texan managed his only podium of the year, likely the last of his career.
It should be noted that Edwards’ remarkable day took place with Pedrosa and homeboy Cal Crutchlow out with injuries, while Lorenzo, Spies and Simoncelli crashed out. Another way of characterizing Edwards’ 2011 British GP would be to say he finished in front of nine riders. (This year, that would put him somewhere around 15th place.) The Texas Tornado would rightly insist that a podium finish is a podium finish.
The British Invasion
No, it’s not The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Kinks. It’s Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding, all furiously playing the “home race” card. Crutchlow and Smith crashed out of the points last week at Brno, putting a bit of a damper on their prospects heading home for the weekend. Redding, leading the Moto2 series and ticketed for MotoGP next year, struggled in the Czech Republic too, finishing eighth while teammate Mika Kallio won for the first time in his Moto2 career. The stands are likely to be packed this weekend, and the weather forecast is surprisingly nice, with cool clear conditions forecast for all three days.
All this homecoming stuff is, of course, a sideshow. The main event will be amongst the heavyweights at the front. For Jorge Lorenzo, as the Brits say, it’s win or bin. On the Repsol Honda team, it will be High Anxiety vs. The Boy Wonder and his sidekick, Mo Mentum. If you’re a betting person, you gotta go with the double-team.