MotoGP Silverstone Preview 2018
Marquez chasers hoping for, like, snow
You know things are rough in the upper tranches of MotoGP when riders are reduced to praying for inclement weather as a means of slowing down Honda’s putative 2018 world champion Marc Marquez. Iconic Silverstone is the first of a quartet of races that should bring Marquez’ magic number into view. While the weather figures to be a factor, it may not be enough to slow down the Catalan savant.
Recent History at Silverstone
2015: The year Jorge Lorenzo, with an arguable assist from Marquez, snagged the title over Valentino Rossi at Valencia. Round 12 BS (Before Sepang) that season was shaping up as a Marquez/Honda – Lorenzo/ Yamaha cage match, the countrymen and rivals hammering the historic layout during the four free practice sessions. They qualified one-two, followed by Dani Pedrosa and Rossi. Rain finally arrived just before the sighting lap, and a dry race suddenly became wet. Rossi’s outstanding win in the rain, in front of Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso, put him 12 points ahead of Lorenzo, who had predictably faded in the wet, as the flying circus headed for Vale’s home away from home at Misano. The all-Italian podium headed by #46 had the church bells ringing in Tavullia that afternoon.
2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag on Lap 1 abbreviated the proceedings to 19 laps. A Suzuki won a premier class race that day for the first time since 2007, young Maverick Viñales capping his day standing jubilant on the top step of the podium. He was joined there by Cal Crutchlow and an anxious Rossi, who won a dramatic, but pyrrhic, knife fight with Marquez for the final podium spot. Despite this, Marquez left Britain smiling as always, not a whisker on his chin, leading Rossi by 50 points, Misano-bound.
Last year, on another perfect Cotswolds après-midi, Ducati veteran Dovizioso, in the midst of what may have been his one-off dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping Viñales, with Rossi right there, too, at the flag. Disaster struck Repsol Honda on Lap 14 when Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in an impulsive plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick on a, uh, dang it, on a, something that starts with a T… Tighter than a tick on a… should be three syllables for rhythmic purposes… (testicle! You’re welcome! —Ed.).
Jack Miller at a Tipping Point
|Jack Miller’s 2018 MotoGP Season to Date|
At the start of the season Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci were locked in a duel for the 2019-20 #2 factory Ducati seat being foreclosed on Jorge Lorenzo. And over the first five rounds Miller finished in the top ten every time, including two 13-pointers and a pole position in Argentina. (This after three consecutive top-tens to close out 2017.) Mugello was held on June 3, and the announcement that Petrucci would join the factory team was dated June 6. I’m guessing Miller was told one of two things before the start of the Italian race: either he had already lost the job to Petrucci, or the result would depend entirely upon his beating Petrucci that day. The resulting pressure, or utter lack thereof, may have contributed to his crashing out; the Italian finished seventh, 11 seconds out of first. Game over. (For the record, if indeed Le Mans was the decider, Miller finished fourth. Petrucci started from the front row and almost won the race, finishing second.)
Since then, Miller’s best finish has been 10th, equal to his worst finish in the first five rounds. Finishing 18th in Austria on the Ducati GP17 is weak. I get the sense that Miller may be mailing them in at this point, wishing to save his body for next year and a fresh start as the #1 rider for Pramac. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of 2019, hotshot rookie Pecco Bagnaia is the #1 rider for the Pramac team. At this level, mailing them in, even once, is bush. Guys are risking their lives; this ain’t no game. And if Miller does lose out to Bagnaia, this will have been the high-water mark of his career; it will be downhill from there. No standing still in MotoGP; you’re either headed up or headed down. (cc: Rossi fans)
The Road to Buriram
Here are some important numbers heading to the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand, Round 14. Based upon what needs to happen between now and Valencia, Marquez has only three challengers – Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso. These three he currently leads by 59, 71 and 72 points. Let’s assume that all four riders do well between now and Buriram, that Rossi, pedaling as hard as he can and not gaining any ground, loses a little and that Lorenzo and Dovi both pick up small gains. Doing so would put the three chasers at deficits in the 60’s; plugging in my guesswork, I put Marquez around 275, Dovi at -60, Lorenzo at -64, and Rossi at -68.
What all this means, if anything, is that Marquez’ magic number – 76 after Motegi – should be clearly in view leaving Thailand. Working backwards, it appears likely the chasers are going to have to throw caution to the wind during the next three rounds to avoid getting squeezed like lemons at The Chang. Then, assuming events conspire to deny Marquez the title in Japan, this will allow them to endure the crowd reveling over Marquez’ sixth premier class title in (a dialect of) English, Down Under-style.
With Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso all well back, but all relatively bunched, it makes no sense for Marquez to challenge anyone specific in these next few rounds. All he needs to do is his usual brilliant work. But suppose at Buriram his nearest competitor is Dovi, trailing by 60 points. With a chance to clinch the title and playing with house money you would expect Marquez to push Dovizioso to the limit in the hope of forcing him to violate the laws of physics. Few of which, it seems, apply to Marquez himself.
Let’s be clear. The Three Chasers, as we will refer to them for at least the next few rounds, must finish on or near the podium at every round going forward. Not only that, but an out-of-the-points finish or DNF anywhere from here on out is the kiss of death. These three guys are on life support until Marquez starts crashing.
Your Weekend Forecast
The weather will be a factor this weekend, with temps never getting out of the 60’s and rain around on Saturday. Let’s join the riders in praying that FP3 on Saturday morning is dry, as it usually separates the lambs of Q2 from the goats of Q1.
Not quite sure that any of the leading five riders is jazzed about the weather this weekend. It will impact tire choices. It will put Dani Pedrosa squarely behind the eight ball; he may have to leave his tire warmers on during track time. Some guys – Marquez, Crutchlow – don’t mind changing conditions and cool temps. Others – Lorenzo and Viñales – like things either wet or dry but not in between. Rossi typically still has a hard time managing the 15-minute qualifying sessions on long circuits like Silverstone.
In short, it appears to be anyone’s race. Marquez needs to finish, preferably ahead of Rossi and Dovizioso; he doesn’t need the win if it’s not on offer. If Rossi, Lorenzo and Dovizioso form a troika at the front and start going after each other, young Marc would be well advised to sit in fourth place and watch it unfold. An unconventional route to another podium, for sure, but potentially a prudent one beneath the cold summer clouds of Northamptonshire.
Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez. In that order.
More by Bruce Allen