MotoGP San Marino Preview 2018
Chasers be advised - this is a Honda track
The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon.
The odds are against him. His last title was a decade ago. His last win was in Assen last year. The 2018 Yamaha M1 is lagging its major competitors across the board. The software doesn’t appear to have kept up with the hackers at Honda and Ducati. It has grip and acceleration issues. Rossi’s teammate Maverick Viñales appears to have thrown in the towel on 2018; wonder if he’s having buyer’s remorse over having already signed for 2019-20? But, as Nick Harris used to say about Rossi, “Write him off at your peril.”
Recent History at San Marino
As the Misano round of the 2015 MotoGP championship got underway, the fractious weather gods turned on the rain spigots around Lap 6 and turned them right off again during Lap 16, the fast-drying track forcing a double flag-to-flag affair for the first time in recent memory. When the smoke cleared, Marc Marquez had a win, Brits Bradley Smith and Scott Redding stood, incredulous, on the podium, and Rossi (5th) had extended his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points with five rounds left. Lorenzo himself was in the medical center getting x-rays, having high-sided shortly after the second pit stop on cold tires, trying desperately to catch Rossi. At that point of the season, folks bet a lot of money on Vale for the championship, at short odds. Later, they would have some explaining to do.
In 2016, Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa, mired in what was then the worst slump of his career and winless for the year, busted out on the mountainous, sun-drenched shores of the Adriatic with a convincing win over Rossi and Lorenzo. For series leader Marquez, it was just another exercise in damage limitation, running a lonely fourth most of the day, working hard enough to keep his margin over Rossi at 43 points with five rounds to go.
Last year, Marc the Magnificent delivered a last lap destined for his career highlight reel. He devoured a gutsy Danilo Petrucci by a second at the flag (with Andrea Dovizioso running a somewhat cautious third) in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he is. On a wet track, with worn tires and a championship in the balance, he put notorious mudder Petrucci away while recording his fastest lap of the race. One felt bad for Petrucci, missing out on his first premier class win. One felt good for oneself, getting to watch generational rider Marc Marquez perform at the height of his formidable powers.
Silverstone Post Mortem
Funny to me that Ducati Corse wishes to complain about the notification procedures around the riders meeting which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the race. This despite the virtually unanimous opinions from the riders that the track was too dangerous to race on. (I understand it was mostly families of Italian passengers on The Titanic who complained afterwards about the arrangement of the deck chairs on the ship’s stern at the time of the encounter with the iceberg.)
Standing water and motorcycle racing do not mix. Ask Marquez, whose premier class career almost ended before it started, in practice at Sepang in 2011 – yes, I know, the Marco Simoncelli disaster – when he hit a hidden pool of standing water, smacked his helmet on the tarmac in a violent lowside crash, and had double vision for six months afterwards. Consider not only what we lost that day, but what we almost lost, too.
As I see it, there are at least three problems with the track. There is a lack of positive soil drainage in numerous places around the circuit that will require culverts to divert rain and runoff. There are numerous places on the track where there is negative slope on the asphalt itself, which should never have occurred in the re-surfacing of the track. These produce standing water even when off-track drainage is adequate. Finally, several riders complained about bumpy sections of the track, perhaps F1 braking zones, where any bumps should have been eliminated during the re-surfacing. And if the pavement is so fragile that a single F1 race can tear it up, they should undertake a complete do-over or move back to Donington.
As my dad used to say:
Once More, with Feeling
- Marquez – 201
- Rossi – 142
- Lorenzo – 130
- Dovizioso – 129
If you drink heavily enough, this becomes an interesting problem in mathematics, probability and pressure. Conventional wisdom is that, all other things being equal, which they rarely are, Marquez will probably clinch at Motegi. Certainly, if he should record a DNF in the next three rounds all bets are off. But presuming he doesn’t, a presumption supported by the numbers, the likelihood of his claiming the 2018 title in Thailand aren’t bad.
Right, the immediate problems facing the chasers.
Look at Marquez’s record late in the seasons in which he titled in MotoGP.
Item #1: In 2013, over the last 10 rounds, he podiumed every round other than the silly rookie mistake DQ in Australia. In 2014, one DNF over the last 10 rounds. Throw out 2015, as he was out of contention and his don’t-give-a-rip factor was sky high. 2016 – one crash in last ten rounds. 2017, a blown engine at Silverstone. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes late in seasons in which he titles. As for Phillip Island, well, it’s clearly win or bin territory for young Marc. Fastest track on the calendar, most picturesque backgrounds, cold, windy, wild and wooly. Usually, by that time of the year, he’s playing with house money and can afford a loss or two.
Item #2: Crash = Fail. For Marquez, a crash simply pushes the numbers back a week. What would a native Malaysian coronation ceremony look like, in leathers and boots? For the other three, crash and it’s bye, Felicia. Psychologically, advantage Marquez.
Item #3: Going down the pecking order, as things stand now, Marquez would need to add 42 points to his margin over Rossi in the next 3 rounds, but only 17 in the next four. Should Rossi DNF, things fall to Lorenzo. If Jorge keeps things upright, he must stay within 31 points of Marquez over the next three, or within six (6, i.e., even) in the next four. Dovizioso, pretty much the same – 30 in three or five in the next four. Looking at Marquez’ historic numbers, the efforts required from these chasers in San Marino, Aragon and Thailand appear extraordinary and conditions need to be perfect.
Your Weekend Forecast
Not that it really matters, but the weather forecast for the greater Rimini area over the weekend is, in a word, iffy. Temps in the high 70’s-low 80’s, but showers in the area all three days. Not what the chasers need.
As for the race results on Sunday, I can say, without fear of successful contradiction (again, thanks, dad) that I have no clue who will end up on the podium. Predicting Marquez feels like frontrunning. Weather could be a factor. With the factory Ducati guys, like major league baseball pitchers, they will need to have their curveball working. Rossi in Italy is a wild card. Crutchlow, since 2012, has a chip on his shoulder. And if you look up “motivated” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Danilo Petrucci gritting his teeth with his name in parentheses below it.
BTW, the whole BeIn Sports thing has got to go. Dorna needs to make MotoGP accessible to the world via TV, even with the lame announcers. Unless they want to keep it a rich man’s parlour game.
More by Bruce Allen