When do we reach the point of not being surprised at a Dovi win? Perhaps when they stop surprising the man himself.
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was held under bright sunshine, but it was the Italians that shined.
Lining up on the grid, it was still Marc Marquez that seemed the favourite to come out on top over the next 20 laps. But when the lights went out it was Valentino Rossi that led into turn 1 and there he stayed, with the 9-time World Champion holding the lead for 17 long laps.
It was in the group chasing Rossi where the action really took place, with Maverick Vinales making his way to third on lap 1, before then passing Marquez for 2nd on lap 3. Andrea Dovizioso was also moving up, passing Crutchlow to move into 4th, while Rossi’s lead was over a second as the Italian broke the lap record, which in turn was broken by Vinales one lap later.
Dovi continued to move forward when he passed Marquez into turn 7, using the Ducati’s acceleration along the Hangar Straight; where his top speed was 10km/h more than his rival’s Honda. As the riders reached the halfway point of lap 10 Marquez briefly passed Dovizioso at turn 17, but Dovi was back in front by the next corner. Marquez’s burst of speed was still enough for him to break the lap record with a time of 2’01.560. As the pack continued to chase him, Rossi’s gap came down to under 0.5 for the first time but he still looked incredibly comfortable out front.
Dovizioso had now turned his attention to Vinales and 2nd place. The pair battled it out for a few corners before Dovi made it stick at turn 1 of lap 12, and while the brief fight had boosted Rossi’s gap, Dovi quickly started closing it back down.
Then came lap 14 and a potentially championship changing moment. As Marc Marquez came down the Hangar Straight into turn 7 following Dovizioso and leading Maverick Vinales, there was a sudden, and quite spectacular, blast of smoke as the Spaniard’s Honda engine simply decided it had gone far enough thank you very much. There’s no coming back from a blown engine and while Marquez consoled himself and Vinales regained his composure after being smoke bombed, Dovizioso took over the championship lead as he continued to chase down Rossi.
4 laps later and Dovi passed Rossi, with turn 7 again the stage for the show. It was the first lead change in the race with Rossi having led impeccably from the start and he wasn’t giving it up easily, brake testing Dovi until the very last split second. But Rossi’s tyres were tired and wouldn’t allow him to fight and at turn 14 he was then also passed by team-mate Vinales.
Dovi pulled out a gap with ease and while Vinales was able to take the chase right down to the last corner and got pretty close, it was the man dubbed “The Professor” by his team that took the win, the 4th of the season for Ducati.
So why is Dovi winning still a surprise? Of the last 7 races, he’s won 4 of them and is riding better than ever before. He’s still the same Andrea; calm, modest and funny but on track, he seems to have an extra edge this year, the Ducati is letting him fight without compromising on his smooth style.
His first win in Mugello? He was ill, he came from behind, took the lead without a plan and completed the Italian dream; an Italian rider, on an Italian bike, in an Italian team winning at Mugello. No-one expected it. Win number two came one week later in Barcelona, again he unexpectedly took the lead with ease and won. The third came in Austria, slightly less of a surprise but it wasn’t a certainty and he had to fight for it. Not many beat Marc Marquez in a last corner battle, but Dovi did. And now number four. In his own words “I don’t know why but for me England is good luck”. Again he came from behind, having not shown the best pace over practice and qualifying, took the lead and then just eased away.
The connecting link? How Dovi manages his tyres. The Ducati’s speed allows him to stay with the group at the start of the race without having to push too hard. He keeps the pace but saves the tyre at the same time, giving him just a little bit extra grip at the key point of the race. Andrea said himself, he wasn’t faster in the race, he was just able to put his bike in the right place at the right time.
On the opposite side, it was tyre management that lost Valentino Rossi the race. Rear tyre wear is Yamaha’s biggest issue and while the test in Misano after Austria brought some relief, and undoubtedly meant Rossi was able to lead so well for so long, with 4/5 laps to go the rear was again too worn to keep him in the fight. Maverick Vinales suffered slightly less with tyre wear at Silverstone, and despite choosing a soft rear tyre for the race he was able to make it last. It was a tyre he did a lot of work on over the weekend and while it took him some time to get the right feel with the hard front, the soft rear worked well.
The differences between the hard rear run by Rossi and the soft run by Vinales are minimal. These aren’t the Bridgestone tyres where only one is a race option, Michelin has a much bigger overlap between the compound options. At Silverstone, the main difference is that the hard keeps its shape slightly better going over the bumps and provides more stability, but all options were raceable. The choice really comes down to each rider and their preference, with Rossi suggesting Vinales’ shorter height could mean he stresses the tyre less. Of course, there is the risk that if you already think you can’t run a tyre and then don’t give it a full evaluation you won’t know if you can run it or not..
Overall, Silverstone was a good weekend for Yamaha. They made a step forward and the evidence is there in the fact that Valentino led for 17 laps and that there was a double podium at the end of it. Rossi hadn’t been on the podium since Assen, and he showed he’d missed it with an affectionate pat as he stepped onto the rostrum (amazing statistic: Silverstone was Rossi’s 300th Premier Class race and his 3rd place was his 190th Premier Class podium). Vinales hadn’t been on the podium since Mugello and the last time both of them were on the podium was Argentina. With Misano next, it’ll be interesting to see how big the step is and if it can turn around their season at this critical point, especially as it’s a home race for Valentino.
Obviously, it’s Ducati that leave England the happiest; t’s their first win at Silverstone and 8 years after Dovi’s first MotoGP win at Donington Park he took his 6th. He now leads the World Championship again and Parc Ferme is definitely getting used to hearing the chant of “Dovi Dovi Dovi”. But good news also comes from Jorge Lorenzo’s side of the garage. He had a strong race, finishing 5th and just over 3 seconds from Dovi. He was the only Ducati rider to run the aero at Silverstone because despite it straining his arms more and reducing top speed it continues to give him the front confidence he was looking for. With Misano up next, both riders have a chance of another good weekend.
And if Ducati leaves happiest, Honda are undoubtedly the opposite. Can you remember the last time a factory Honda had an engine blow? It’s ok, I’ll wait… It just doesn’t happen. The engine wasn’t an old one and wouldn’t have really been under any extra strain at Silverstone, and yet it literally went up in smoke. Unfortunately for Marc Marquez that is just part of racing and while he was obviously disappointed, he still took the positives from the weekend. He’d been strongest since Friday, his pace and speed were excellent and he felt good with his bike setup. Bad luck hit in Britain but he’ll be back in Misano.
For team-mate Dani Pedrosa, the positives are slightly less although at least he finished the race. Pedrosa struggled all weekend, with the bumps making finding a setup for stability and grip hard to find. Dani wasn’t comfortable and while he was able to improve his pace in the race compared to practice, it was a difficult Grand Prix. But again, Misano is next. In 2016 he stunned everyone with brilliant tyre management helping him secure a win and he’ll be back fighting there this year.
Looking at the other factory teams, Aprilia had the worst of it. Aleix Espargaro battled bravely all weekend with pinched ligaments in his ribs making it hard to breathe and suffered cruel misfortune when on lap 19 his bike put up a warning light and switched off the engine. Aleix showed good pace on Saturday despite his injury so if he can get back to full fitness for the next race, he should be able to continue the progress. For Sam Lowes, it was a home race to forget as he crashed out on lap 6 when he made a mistake at turn 5.
At Suzuki it was a little bit more mixed. Alex Rins had a brilliant weekend, he showed great pace across practice and qualifying and took a real step forward to finish 9th. Rear tyre wear limited him towards the end but he felt comfortable and rode really well. A good performance from the rookie! Then there’s Andrea Iannone. I had hoped for more this weekend but after starting reasonably well on Friday, rear grip held him back in qualifying. In the race, he felt instantly uncomfortable and lacked rear traction and confidence. With just 3 laps to go, he crashed at turn 11, taking Danilo Petrucci out with him. Aside from the race, it wasn’t a disaster weekend for Iannone, but he still needs to take that last step forward with the setup.
KTM’s Pol Espargaro had a good weekend and showed decent pace, especially on Friday. He struggled a little bit with the higher temperatures for the race and lost some rear grip at the halfway point but 11th is still a decent result. Unfortunately for Pol, the rear locked on him as he started the cooldown lap which resulted in Pol being flicked in a nasty highside. Luckily the Spaniard is ok, but KTM will be hoping to quickly find the cause. Bradley Smith had a tricky home race finishing 17th, he admitted that the tyre choice might not have been the best for him and like Pol he lost grip at the midpoint. That then limited him for the rest of the race and stopped any chance of progress, leaving him saying “it was heartbreaking to finish a British Grand Prix like that”.
Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco had another good result in 6th, despite a difficult start. He made some good setup changes over the weekend and despite struggling with the rear tyre sliding towards the end it was a strong race. For him he says his next step is finding a way to keep a more consistent pace from the start to the finish, but it continues to be a positive first season.
His team-mate Jonas Folger will be glad to put the British Grand Prix behind him though. Folger came into the weekend unwell and really struggled on Friday because of it. Saturday was slightly better and he hoped for a decent race, but Jonas suffered a horrendous crash in the warm-up that left his bike on top of the air-fence at turn 7. Thankfully nothing was broken for the German rider and he’s relatively ok, but after feeling dizzy he was taken to hospital for a CT scan and ruled unfit.
Tito Rabat had quite a good race, he made up 5 positions on lap 1 alone before finishing 12th from 22nd on the grid, and showed positive signs throughout the weekend, while Jack Miller struggled with rear grip on Sunday. Fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow had a strong British Grand Prix, showing good pace throughout the weekend, but his race was affected by tyres with the front tyre again a bit too soft for him which in turn affected the rear.
The satellite Ducati’s had a mixed time at Silverstone. Hector Barbera almost jumped the start and then lost time trying to stop himself from doing so, while Loris Baz had a lot of sliding at the end of the race with the soft rear. Alvaro Bautista also struggled with tyres as the medium front moved a lot, but team-mate Karel Abraham felt his race went quite well despite battling shaking on the straights which affected braking.
At Pramac, while Danilo Petrucci was taken out by Iannone, Scott Redding had a good home race after showing decent pace and working well on setup with his team.
Silverstone always had the potential to be a landmark in the 2017 championship fight but while the lead took a dramatic swing from Marquez to Dovizioso, the gap covering the top 4 went from 33 points to just 26. With 6 races remaining there are still plenty of points to race for and Dani Pedrosa is still in the fight in 5th, with 9 points separating him from Rossi. If you’ll excuse the pun, Marquez’s engine giving up has blown the championship even more open than it was before.
After the race, Valentino Rossi joked that he wanted the championship top 5 to arrive in Valencia equal on points and for it to then rain on Sunday. That’s unlikely to happen, but one thing is certain… this championship fight isn’t going to be over anytime soon.