Five laps into today’s Australian Grand Prix, four of the top riders in the world had become spectators. The residue of this carnage produced a bizarre top ten, headed by Maverick Viñales on the factory Yamaha, cracking a non-win streak for the brand extending back to Assen 2017. Alvaro Bautista finished fourth on Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati GP18. Even Bradley Smith made a KTM top ten appearance. All in all, a mell of a hess.

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Finally, a sense of some relief for Yamaha, as Maverick Viñales ends the manufacturer’s winless streak.

Back in the ’60s there was a TV genre known as the “military comedy,” Hogan’s Heroes being the first that comes to mind. In many of these shows, ten men, usually American and British prisoners, would be ordered to stand on a line. The laughable guard (“I know NUT-TINK!”) would demand a volunteer, and immediately nine of the men would take a step backwards. Presto, a volunteer. These were the thoughts going through my mind as Franco Morbidelli was being asked how it felt to finish eighth. This was a red-letter day in the lower tranches as Scott Redding, Taka Nakagami, Karel Abraham, Aleix Espargaro and even the hapless Xavier Simeon all finished in the points. This is what happens when Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco are DNS or DNF.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday, The First Day of the Rest of the Season, demonstrated the psychology of the riders. Marquez, justifiably exhausted and with nothing on the line, mailed it in. The remaining top ten rightly viewed this as an opportunity to win a frigging race, and went after it. FP1 was topped by Viñales on the Yamaha, followed by a bevy of determined Ducati chasers – Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso – and the Hondas of Crutchlow and Marquez. Valentino Rossi could do no better than 10th. Alex Rins found himself 15th with Aleix Espargaro 22nd. Andrea Iannone barged his way into first place in FP2, followed by Petrucci, Viñales, Dovizioso and Cal. Miller dropped to 8th behind Marquez, while Rins jumped into the top ten, with Vale running 10th again. Bad news as Crutchlow broke an ankle later on that will require surgery. So much for 2018 for the Battling Brit, perhaps with a slim chance of a cameo in Valencia.

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Cal Crutchlow’s season may be over after breaking his ankle in a Free Practice crash. LCR has already named Stefan Bradl to ride in his place at Sepang and likely at Valencia as well.

On Saturday, the weather gods, bored to tears, decided to mix things up a little, weather-wise. Neither fish nor fowl, it was cold, windy, with intermittent rain to keep things interesting. FP3 ended with Viñales second and Rossi fifth, not to mention Rins in 13th and Danilo Petrucci sliding down to 17th. Iannone led the usual suspects directly into Q2, with Hafizh Syahrin crashing the party despite finishing 12th, 11th and 19th in the three practice sessions. Bautista, with Lorenzo’s GP18 on loan, and Pol Espargaro on the factory KTM emerged from Q1, Bautista on strict instructions not to wreck JLo’s sled.

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Filling in for Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Ducati team, Alvaro Bautista crashed during qualifying. Bautista later attributed the crash to a difference in feeling during gear changes on the GP18 compared to his usual GP17.

Q2, with weather threatening, ran the reverse of its customary save-everything-for-the-last-three-minutes form. Riders were out early trying to put down fast laps before it rained, producing a highly entertaining session. It ended with the prodigious Marquez on pole by half a second, the sheer unfettered joy of youth propelling him, nothing to gain, unburdened by concerns about old age and infirmity. Viñales and Zarco put two Yamahas on the front row. Rossi would start Sunday from the top of the third row, joined by Petrucci and Dovizioso. Miller, in sixth place, was the top Ducati qualifier as the brand suffered Down Under. Meanwhile, Suzuki, starting to flex its muscles a little, put both guys in the top five. My boy Alvaro Bautista, though, showed Gigi Dall’Igna why he’s losing his job this year, as he bailed from Lorenzo’s GP18 and could only watch as it continued, beautifully balanced and fully upright, as far as the tire wall, at which point it came to a sudden stop. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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With the championship in the bag, there’s little incentive for Marc Marquez to push too hard. Nonetheless, Marquez powered through qualifying and claimed his fifth pole position of the year

Marquez’ fifth pole in a row reminds us once again how much fun it would have been to watch him square off with Casey Stoner for a few years. Had Stoner decided to stay in the game, he and Marquez likely would have been teammates. That would have been a spectacle, especially here in Australia.

The Race

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Maverick Viñales fell behind at the start but eventually worked his way into the lead.

Despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. With Lorenzo and Crutchlow out and Zarco taking out Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Miller, aging legend Rossi, Suzuki defector Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis. Today, the latter would include Dovizioso and my personal punching bag Bautista who, placing bum on seat of the factory Ducati GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium today. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. My hat is off to him.

One couldn’t begin to count the overtakes today, as the incomparable Phillip Island circuit is designed to create opportunities. Iannone, Dovi, Miller, Rossi and Bautista all took sniffs of the lead and made determined efforts to end the day on the podium. Iannone, fast all weekend, went through on Dovizioso on Lap 23 and held fast. A seemingly happy Andrea Dovizioso claimed third, with Bautista closing out both Rins on the #2 Suzuki and Rossi. Miller and Smith completed the top eight.

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Iannone won the battle of the Andreas against his former teammate at Ducati, Dovizioso.

The announcers pointed out during the race that in 2014, 2016 and 2018 Marquez clinched the title in Motegi. In each of those years he went out the next week and recorded a DNF at Phillip Island. Today he was a victim of Zarco’s blunder but didn’t really care. The point here, if there is one, is that one’s mindset and reflexes react to the release of pressure opposite of the way they react to the application thereof.

Johann Zarco got the worst of it, but his bike struck the tail of Marquez’ Honda, causing enough damage to force his retirement.

For those of you keeping score at home, Lorenzo’s track record (from 2013) remain intact today. However, due to the wind and rain on Saturday, we are ignoring Phillip Island, leaving us 8 for 13 for new track records heading to Sepang. Marquez’ crash left him at 296 points for the year, meaning if he crashes out at both Sepang and Valencia my preseason projection for his point total will come true. As my friend Kevin used to observe, “Unlikely.”

New Tranches

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Marc Marquez said his seat was damaged and moving around under him, making it impossible to finish the race. With the title already secured, withdrawing from the Australian Grand Prix was an easy decision to make.

As Chief Tranchistador, I have taken it upon myself to remove Marc Marquez from the game, the residue being a number of riders who couldn’t care less, having already lost seats for 2019 or on their way, and those who care a lot, careers still in the ascendency. These attitudes should affect the standings through Valencia. I have awarded Marquez Tranche 1 for the year; it’s his to keep. Going forward, we will start the ranking with Tranche 2. Next year we’ll reinstate Tranche 1 and pretend that the results won’t be the same as this year.

After Motegi

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Iannone, Lorenzo, Miller
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin
Tranche 5: Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

After Phillip Island (The riders who have no real reason to give a rip are listed in parentheses, and the injured in square brackets)

Tranche 2: Dovizioso, Rossi, Viñales, (Zarco), Rins, Bautista, (Iannone)
Tranche 3: Petrucci, (Morbidelli), (Pedrosa), ([Lorenzo]), Miller
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, (Smith), Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin
Tranche 5: (Redding), (Abraham), (Luthi), Simeon
Done: Crutchlow, Rabat

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

Next week is Sepang, carved out of triple canopy jungle in the heart of steamy, exotic Malaysia. Another hair-raising exhibition weekend. The competition for the 2018 championship leftovers is still very much alive. Dovi and Rossi are reaching for each other’s throats, with Viñales in hot pursuit, in the fight for second. Idle Cal Crutchlow’s fifth place perch is threatened by a clutch of riders including Petrucci, Zarco, Iannone, Lorenzo and Rins. Xavier Simeon, I’m told, enjoyed the sensation of scoring a world championship point so much he vowed to try again next week.

We’ll take a look ahead at Sepang around Wednesday. Aloha, MOrons.

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It took 16 races, but Xavier Simeon is finally on the board, finishing 15th to earn his first championship point. Simeon finished one spot ahead of Thomas Lüthi who is now the only rider to compete in every round this year without a point.