MotoGP Silverstone Preview 2019
Maverick Viales needs to make hay this Sunday
It must be nice to be Marc Marquez, from a professional standpoint. He commands a multi-billion dollar industrial monolith to hand-build million-dollar motorcycles to his specifications, which are numerous and detailed. Everyone else, it seems, is always running for office, always defending their turf, always concerned about being unwillingly replaced. Even guys like Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Viñales. Silverstone is a Viñales track. If Maverick wants to keep his Alien card, for openers he needs to podium in the British Grand Prix.
To say Maverick Viñales, once the Heir Apparent, has had a difficult season would be no overstatement. In the first eight rounds of 2019 he accumulated 3 crashes and 40 points. He had a few assists on his DNFs, but he spent too much time early in races in heavy mid-pack traffic and has had difficulty qualifying on the front row. Yamaha, it is now clear, has lost a step, perhaps two. With all the changes set to occur by the end of the next silly season, it’s hard to tell whether Viñales or Yamaha would be less interested in continuing their relationship past 2020. And with Valentino Rossi nearing retirement after next year, if not before, things are looking bright for the Petronas satellite boys, Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.
Nature abhors a vacuum.
In case I haven’t mentioned it, and in order to continue avoiding the subject of Marc Marquez, my understanding of the post-Rossi era structure at Yamaha is that Petronas will become the name sponsor of the factory team, and that the satellite team will be a Rossi-driven, SKY-sponsored team. SIC (Sepang International Circuit, current co-sponsor of the satellite team) will be in there somewhere.
By my count, half of the current top ten riders are vulnerable heading into 2021, Viñales and Dovizioso among them. Dovizioso has a vise grip on second place but that’s not good enough for his bosses. Viñales has work to do if he intends to finish in the top three this year, below which contracts are a crap shoot. The 2019 silly season was a snore; 2020 promises to be anything but.
Recent History at Silverstone
2016: On a beautiful summer Sunday in the British Midlands, a red flag (Pol Espargaro vs. Loris Baz) 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 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.
Back in 2017, on another idyllic British après-midi, Ducati veteran Dovizioso (in the midst of what was, in retrospect, his one-off dream season) won the British Grand Prix, pimping Viñales at the flag, with Rossi right there, too. 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 ominous plume of white smoke. The championship headed to Misano tighter than a tick.
Last year’s race, as many remember, was cancelled due to standing water. With no race results to share, I thought we might recap the decisive moves of the Safety Commission on that Sunday morning:
0700 – 0715 Hemming.
0715 – 0730 Handwringing with track owners.
0730 – 0745 Hawing.
0745 – 0750 Had a note sent to Loris Capirossi to please do something.
0750 – 0820 Throat-clearing with Race Direction and Team Representatives.
Announced at 8:05 that the race has been delayed.
0820 – 0900 Shrugging and thumb-twiddling waiting for marshals to remove enormous self-refilling pools of water from racing surface.
0900 – 0915 Refreshments and break.
0915 – 0930 Re-convened with Race Direction and Team Representatives. Pronounced hemming, hawing and throat-clearing. Finally issued a two-word press release:
0930 Race cancelled.
KTM Bombshell – Collateral Damage
Shortly after the recent announcement that KTM would resource Moto3 and MotoGP, Johann Zarco called it a day with the Austrian team. Unable to make the RC16 work, and under a constant lashing from KTM’s Grand Gouda Stefan Pierer, Zarco requested to be allowed out of his 2020 contract and the request was granted, apparently without prejudice. It is expected that Tech3 rookie Miguel Oliveira will get his ticket punched to the factory team. Brad Binder, the fast South African on his way to the MotoGP Tech3 team from Moto2, is currently on Craig’s List looking for a garage mate. Former Honda star and current KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa has declined.
Unless something turns up out of the blue (paging Alvaro Bautista in autumn of 2011) Zarco looks like he could be sitting out 2020. Too proud to accept a role as the #2 Repsol Honda rider a year ago, he ends up with a big old dent in his career.
Ducati & Yamaha: Trading Places Since 2017
Ever since Ducati debuted their MotoGP bike in the 2003 season, Yamaha has owned them (and most everyone else) on the track. Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, mostly, whipping on guys like Capirossi, Dovizioso, Nicky Hayden, Rossi (!), etc. With the exception of Casey Stoner’s First Shining Moment in 2007, Yamaha would routinely stomp Ducati in the constructor’s championship. Here, in 2019, the tables have turned; actually, they turned last year. Honda wins these days, so the battle is, as is growing customary, for second place. Ducati won last year for the first time since 2003 and is winning again this year. It was, however, somewhat gratifying to read elsewhere that the consensus amongst Ducati engineering types is that it will take years to get the bike to turn, a notion we have thrown around here more than once. Remember the whole Bonneville Salt Flats riff? No? Never mind.
Your Weekend Forecast
The weather is not supposed to be an issue this weekend, with temps expected in the upper 70s and little chance of rain. I will continue to pound my fist on the table insisting that Marquez, Dovizioso and Viñales will end up on the podium. If Marquez doesn’t arrive in the top three, ain’t no big thing. If either of the other two fail, there will be fallout. (Between me and my bookmaker, that is.) But if either Dovi or Viñales fails to finish the race, that will be important.
In MotoGP, it’s survival of the fastest. We will be back on Sunday with results and analysis.
Oh man, just watched qualifying. We are in for a GREAT race tomorrow.
Maybe chicken shit is a bit harsh, but Marquez's move with Rossi was chicken shit. Makes me wonder if he can break records without a pacer.