MotoGP finished the European leg of the 2016 World Championship on Sunday with another encaptivating race weekend as the story of this year’s race for the title perhaps reached its defining chapter.
Championship is Marquez’ to lose
The only place to start is with the winner, Honda’s Marc Marquez. The 23 year-old was in incredible form across the weekend at his home grand-prix, taking the coveted triple crown honours of pole position, race win, and fastest lap. Throughout Friday and Saturday he was untouchable, with nobody able to lap within the best part of a second to him. Not content with just setting a time fast enough to defeat the others in qualifying, Marquez set a string of laps, in an attempt to achieve a personal goal of taking the outright circuit lap record.
On Sunday, Marquez displayed an astonishing display of maturity during a truly chaotic opening to the race. Knowing that their only chance of beating Marquez was to completely disrupt his rhythm, his championship rivals launched a series of late lunges and block pass attempts on the opening lap. If this had happened last year, the odds are Marquez would have quickly found himself sliding sideways through a gravel trap. However 2016 has been the year when ‘the wonderkid’ grew up big time. Content enough now to briefly sit behind his rivals and decisively pick them off in succession with a series of perfectly calculated, and crucially, perfectly executed manoevres. Using the gradient of the circuit and negative-cambered corners to full effect, Marquez had the speed and control to seemingly slide underneath his rivals at will, accelerating away into the distance.
What made his performance truly stand out was how smooth and precise the double world champion was at every corner, hitting each apex, standing the bike up, opening the throttle and leaving not a trace of wheelspin. His opponents were left to trip over each other, which was nearly taken literally on the penultimate lap by the two Yamaha riders, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Whilst mathematically the championship is still open, it is now almost impossible to look beyond Marc Marquez as champion for 2016. Content enough to settle for a handful of points, rather than trying to ride beyond the bike’s capabilities, if the situation requires; taking full advantage when a win is there for the taking. It is little wonder he has accumulated a 52 point lead in the championship with just four races remaining.
A series of lucky escapes
Although the race itself was almost incident-free (only a comical collision between the two Pramac Ducati bikes on the opening lap worth noting), the weekend was littered with crashes across all the classes. The surprisingly colder temperatures during Saturday practice and Sunday’s warm up caught out many riders, particularly at the heaviest breaking areas around the circuit (Turns 1, 2, 9, 14 and 16).
Tech3’s Alex Lowes fell foul at the latter, being thrown from the machine when braking from 200mph, miraculously only acquiring a badly damaged ankle. Although ruled out for the remainder of the weekend, Lowes is expected to return to fitness in time for the next round of the World Superbike championship at Magny-Cours.
It very nearly was a different case for Nicky Hayden, wildcarding for the MarcVDS-Honda team. Although the former world champion’s own mishap was a straightforward low-side at turn 14, he (along with a number of marshals) were almost collected by the sliding machines belonging to Marquez and Pol Espargaro. Although all parties escaped, the safety commission are reviewing the marshals’ protocol after complaints from the riders that no yellow warning flags were shown prior to arrival at the corner.
Espargaro was later involved in another collision at turn 2 with Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci. Again, a lack of grip caused Espargaro’s bike to fold under him, with the machine careering into the helpless Ducati rider, who was emerging onto the track from the pitlane. Amazingly, both riders escaped injury. Again, the safety commission are reviewing the incident to see if the current pitlane exit arrangement is suitable.
Aliens on the Satellites
Once again, the factory riders did not enjoy a complete monopoly of the honours. Cal Crutchlow (LCR-Honda) and Pol Espargaro (Tech3) produced as equally impressive rides as the three podium finishers. On machines which, in pure performance terms, are a year behind the factory production teams, the impressiveness of the riders’ accomplishments cannot be underestimated. Even more so when both riders have produced these displays with metronomic consistency over the last few races.
Crutchlow was once again the leading independent rider, consistently being one of the few challengers to Marquez across the weekend, alas being caught out in the shenanigans of the opening lap which put paid to any chances of a podium this time. Once again, the Briton was the second of the Honda powered bikes (finishing in 5th place), leading home factory rider, Dani Pedrosa. Once again, more than a few commentators couldn’t help but ponder how much more Crutchlow’s talents would benefit if it were he alongside Marquez at the factory team.
Espargaro’s efforts to finish the race in seventh place showcasing his talent as well as his tenacity, having been effectively handicapped due to a significant loss of track time across the weekend. It was also a display which truly demonstrated the steely resolve of the Spaniard, who is proving a point to his bosses at Yamaha, having been overlooked for a place in the factory team next year.
When things go against you
Spare a thought for rookie rider Tito Rabat. The former Moto2 world champion has had a horrendously difficult introduction to the premier class. There have been a number of reasons for this, the most glaringly obvious is a woefully uncompetitive bike – such was the lateness in the MarcVDS team’s decision to field two bikes for this year’s campaign, that they could only acquire a 2014 prototype model from Honda. An unreliable package has only made the transition from the middlewight class all the harder – even for a rider as seasoned in grand-prix racing as Rabat.
A series of heavy crashes in the middle of the season have also clearly dented the young Spaniard’s confidence. Indeed, this was to such an extent that there was talk of him going back to Moto2 for 2017. Fortunately, a promise of an improved package for next year has persuaded him to stay in the premier class. Fans have not seen the best of Rabat this year, but for all of us who have watched his career over the past few years know all too well just how talented this young man is.
MotoGP now enters a three-week break before the three ‘fly-away’ races begin in the far east: Japan (16th October), Australia (23rd October) and Malaysia (30th October).