Well, that was eventful…
The Argentina Grand Prix promised to be an exciting one, largely thanks to the Termas de Rio Hondo track which is, quite simply, beautiful; despite it also being dirty, abrasive and bumpy. It brings brilliant, fast racing while the surface has the ability to surprise everyone.
Of the 23 riders that started the race, only 16 finished it. While we began with 12 factory riders, only 5 made it to the chequered flag, with only Yamaha and KTM keeping all their bikes upright. Both Repsol Hondas fell at turn 2, both Ducatis fell, 1 Aprilia crashed while the other retired and 1 Suzuki also hit the floor. It was a day of team-mates sticking together with the factory Yamahas locking out the top 2, Tech 3 secured 5th and 6th, Pramac took 7th and 8th, and KTM took their first points in 14th and 15th.
Teamwork makes the dream work…
Speaking of dreaming; Maverick Vinales says he feels like he’s in one at the moment. While his lack of wet experience on the Yamaha held him back in qualifying, in the dry he had already shown he had the pace in Argentina. Once he inherited the lead he grabbed the chance and ran with it, eventually crossing the line 2.9 seconds ahead of Rossi.
Is it surprising Maverick won? No, but it wasn’t a certainty either. In Qatar he worked his way to the front after showing patience, in Argentina he seized the opportunity of Marc Marquez crashing and never wasted a second of it. There’s still a lot more to come that we haven’t seen yet from this new alien. His win made him only the second rider in MotoGP to win the first 2 races (the other being Marquez in 2014) and the first Yamaha rider to do the same since Wayne Rainey in 1990.
But if Vinales is the new alien, then it’s important to remember that the original was Valentino Rossi and one of his greatest tricks in recent years is the Sunday turnaround; in no small part thanks to the invaluable team on his side of the Yamaha garage.
In Argentina the weekend didn’t get off to the best start for the Italian; on Friday he was uncomfortable in corner entry, experiencing the same feeling as the pre-season tests and he wasn’t in the top 10 for any of the practice sessions, leaving him to fight through from Q1. While Saturday’s rain hampered some of his efforts to correct the issues, Sunday’s warmup proved key. He was able to find a setting that improved the balance of the bike, which in turn helped braking. Practice struggles mean little on the podium and Rossi is seems to be the comeback king.. can he keep it up? Almost certainly. Can he catch Vinales? If Michelin bring the stiffer front and if he can find a bit more in corner entry, there’s no reason to say he can’t.
But while the race was perfection for the Yamaha team, it was anything but for Repsol Honda. Marc Marquez got a storming start off the line and soon left everyone else behind; although he says he wasn’t pushing *that* hard and lap times do back that up. He was quicker and was surprised by the gap he pulled out but he hadn’t gone crazy. But despite the fairly easy lead, Marquez soon ran into trouble when he crashed early into turn 2 on lap 4. He wasn’t alone for long though, with team-mate Dani Pedrosa crashing at the same corner 10 laps later.
Why did turn 2 hate the Hondas? Well, it really comes back to the same thing; what they lack in acceleration they’re trying to make up in braking (yes, I know you’ve heard that before). A stiffer front setting to help them do so leaves them slightly less stable, so when they do hit the bumps not only is it a lot more visible for those of us watching (Pedrosa, in particular, was really wrestling his RC213V) but it means that their grip is at risk, with Pedrosa calling it “on-off” and saying the limit becomes narrow.. as shown by the fact both of them ended up in the gravel.
Of course, one Honda did make it onto the podium thanks to Cal Crutchlow, although he admitted the bike was difficult to ride. Crutchlow was hindered due to a warning light (suspected to be a fuel related warning) that meant he had to manage his race carefully. The British rider is also heavier than both the Repsol riders, which could possibly help him keep the front a little more stable over the bumps. Crutchlow kept a good pace throughout the race despite the warning light and it was a welcome podium considering he hadn’t finished a race since his win in Australia last year.
The factory bad luck didn’t just stay with Honda though, it extended to the Ducati garage as well. Jorge Lorenzo had been hoping to get some valuable track time under his belt, especially because he’d gone back to a higher seat that he tested in Valencia, which gave him a better feeling. But his grid position of 16th left him in the middle of a large pack of riders and coming into the first corner he ran into the back of Andrea Iannone (who later had to serve a ride-through penalty for a jumpstart), crashing out of the race just seconds after it started. While on paper things don’t look great for Jorge, there’s still a lot of time to get things sorted and he remains positive.
If anyone needs some positivity after Sunday, it’s his team-mate Andrea Dovizioso. In Dovi’s own words “here in Argentina, I don’t have any luck at all..I’m bitterly disappointed” which pretty much sums it up. Once again, the Italian was taken out by someone else; Andrea had been following Petrucci who braked late, meaning he had to go wide to avoid him, this, in turn, left Aleix Espargaro having to take a tighter line before losing the front and taking both himself and Dovi out of the race. Taking someone else out is almost as unpleasant as being the one taken out and Aleix went straight over to Andrea to check he was ok, apologising for his mistake and giving him a hug.. one thing MotoGP doesn’t lack is gentlemen.
Aside from the obvious Yamaha brilliance and Crutchlow determination; the standout performance of the whole weekend has to be the Aspar team. With Karel Abraham qualifying on the front row for the first time in MotoGP and Alvaro Bautista finishing 4th, the two satellite Ducati riders really impressed with their pace in Argentina and will hopefully be more permanent faces in the top 10 this season. Another special mention has to go to the KTM duo of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, who finished 14th and 15th; picking up KTM’s first points in MotoGP. The Austrian team are lacking speed on the straights so overtaking doesn’t come easy at the moment, but they’re working in the right way.
Final thumbs up goes to Tech 3. Johann Zarco took everyone’s breath away when he led in Qatar but he again showed great pace in Argentina, moving through the grid (despite smoking his rear tyre all over the place) and making some brilliant passes, particularly in his battle with Dani Pedrosa. While Jonas Folger came back from illness the night before to finish behind his team-mate in a solid 6th. The rookies are doing well.
Moto2 and Moto3 completed a weekend that saw the same winners as Qatar; with Franco Morbidelli and Joan Mir topping their classes.
From Argentina, there’s a week off (to avoid travel chaos) before MotoGP hits the States and heads to crazy COTA in Austin. Marquez has made it his hunting ground, but Vinales expects to be competitive there.. what will happen?
It’s MotoGP so just about anything.