MotoGP Madness descends upon the British Midlands this weekend as Round 12, the two-thirds mark of the 2017 season, arrives. Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez maintains his lead in the series at 16 points, but only 35 points separate the top five riders. A single mishap for #93 and it’s anybody’s season. But Marquez was down by 37 points after Mugello, and has gained 53 points on the field in the last five rounds. His pursuers need to evacuate or get off the pot if they want to Let Valencia Decide.
The factory Yamaha contingent of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales are constrained in this effort by the appearance, if not the fact, that the 2016 M1 carrying Tech 3 rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger around the great tracks of the world is a better bike than the 2017 iteration. We saw this previously at Honda, where the 2014 model of the RC213V was so superior to the 2015 model that Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis midway through the 2015 season in an effort to salvage his only non-championship campaign since coming up from Moto2 in 2013.
The opinions of the riders are mixed. I have not heard Rossi complaining about the bike any more this year than in previous years, other than 2011-12 when he was exiled to what was then Ducati Island. Viñales has no frame of reference. He undoubtedly thought he had died and gone to heaven when he won three of his first five premier-class races on the Yamaha. Since Mugello, though, he has lost to at least one of the Tech 3 riders every time out. What other possible explanation can there be for two rookies snapping at the heels of a future hall-of-famer and the arguable GOAT? It’s gotta be the bike.
Recent History at Silverstone
The 2014 season was The Year of Marquez. He had reeled off 10 wins in a row to start the season, followed by his curious fourth-place finish last time out at Brno. With a lead in the championship of 53 points, many thought Brno was a bump in the road. Some thought otherwise, that somehow Marquez might have been “broken.” Silverstone, making it three dry races in a row in that wettish year, was where we would find the answer.
With a front row of Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, the two Spaniards went off to fight their own private battle, Lorenzo in the early lead. On Lap 18, after some classic paint-trading, Marquez bulled his way through on his countryman, proving that just because you haven’t started shaving yet doesn’t mean you aren’t sporting a large pair. At the finish, it was Marquez, trailed by Lorenzo (+0.7), the top five completed by Rossi (+8.5), Dani Pedrosa (+8.7) and Dovizioso (+9.2). At least Vale had the pleasure of pimping Pedrosa at the flag. Dovi’s GP14 was still difficult to ride.
2015: The year Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 that season was shaping up as a Marquez-Lorenzo cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the grid during the four free-practice sessions. They qualified one-two, followed by Pedrosa and Rossi. The weather gods got involved just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain put him 12 points in front of Lorenzo as the flying circus headed for Vale’s second home crib at Misano.
Last year, on a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 slimmed things down to a 19-lap joust. A Suzuki won a premier-class race that day for the first time since 2007, with young Maverick Viñales ending his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by my boy Cal Crutchlow and a desperate Valentino Rossi, who won a knife fight with Marc Marquez for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, leading the season by 50 points, not a whisker on his chin.
Yamaha-Friendly has become Ducati-Friendly
Andrea Dovizioso has won three times this year, at Mugello, Catalunya and now Austria. Throwing out Austria, which some say was added to the calendar for the express purpose of giving Ducati a venue they can dominate, we looked at recent results at the other two cribs. At each, Marquez won in 2014, with Yamahas taking both in 2015 and 2016. My conclusion is that Ducati’s success is coming at Yamaha’s expense. We have spoken over the years about how some tracks favor a particular brand, and for all those years it was only Honda or Yamaha. Now Ducati has been added to the mix. And Silverstone, with its long lines and fast turns, is built for speed.
Latest Rider Reports for 2018
Courtesy of a bevy of releases and reports elsewhere, we suspect or know most of the following. Alvaro Bautista will stay at Aspar. Karel Abraham appears likely to stay as well. Takaaki Nakagami will officially join Crutchlow at LCR Honda. Reale Avintia Racing appears to want to sign Tito Rabat, for whatever reason. Perhaps they suspect his fortunes will improve on a satellite Ducati versus his lackluster results on a satellite Honda. Sam Lowes, Stefan Bradl, Mika Kallio and Thomas Luthi are rumored to be contending for the second Marc VDS bike alongside Franco Morbidelli. And Xavier Simeon, late of Moto2, is in the running to displace Loris Baz at Avintia. Many of these are still in the rumor stage.
Re-Tranching for the Helluvit
After Round 10:
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Bautista, Baz, Rins,
Tranche 4: Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone, Lorenzo
Tranche 5: Redding, Rabat, Smith, Lowes
After Round 11:
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa
Tranche 2: Zarco, Bautistaꜛ, Folger, Crutchlow, A. Espargaro
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Petrucciꜜ, Baz, Lorenzoꜛ
Tranche 4: Abraham, Iannone, Rinsꜜ, Reddingꜛ
Tranche 5: P. Espargaroꜜ, Rabat, Smith Lowes
This is becoming a three-tiered Usual Suspects diagram. There are nine or ten riders consistently in the top two tranches, and another similar number regularly in the bottom two. Tranche three, the median, if you will, gets movement from both directions; there should be more variance in Tranche 3 than in the 1&2 and 4&5 combinations. Like it or not, Alvaro Bautista seems to be a Tranche 2 guy, Lorenzo a #3. Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins, Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro have joined the have-nots and not-yets at the bottom of the bowl, all moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year. Meanwhile, Tranches 1 and 2 are more or less static.
A more enterprising writer with, say, an advanced degree in economics, would model the rankings for each rider each week, compare it with the chart of their results, perform multiple regression analysis on the two curves, whip out a couple of derivatives, and lose to boredom every single reader he ever had in one chart. He would, however, have an interesting graphic representation of the relationship between a rider’s objective performance and his subjective ranking. Perhaps all this tranching stuff is just a big popularity contest.
Your Weekend Forecast
The long range forecast from weather.com shows (what else?) cool and damp conditions expected for the weekend. Temps in the high 60’s, chance of rain each day. Perfect conditions for cultivating mold, but not so much for motorcycle racing, especially for Honda, whose bikes like it hot. I expect to see two Spaniards and one Italian on the podium Sunday afternoon humming the Spanish national anthem. We’ll have results and analysis right here as soon as possible thereafter.