The San Marino Grand Prix at Misano turned out to be another Marc Marquez masterpiece; he didn’t start from pole, he didn’t lead the majority of the race, but in his own words it was “one of the best races of my career”.
Will it go down as a must-see race of 2017? Maybe not, it was a wet race with 3 changes at the front and with most action coming from the gravel as the riders negotiated a circuit with a surface like an ice-rink. But when the 2017 MotoGP World Champion is crowned in Valencia will you remember it? Absolutely.
It was Jorge Lorenzo that led into turn 1 and he soon opened up a gap, this was the Jorge we’re used to seeing and he was flying at the front. Unfortunately, that lead only lasted for 7 laps before he was literally flying after a nasty highside left him sliding into the gravel at turn 6. While Lorenzo has been looking more and more comfortable on the Ducati in recent weeks, it was the Desmo’s still unfamiliar electronics that proved to be the problem.
When you’ve been with the same bike for a while you know where everything is, there’s no conscious thought process of “where is that button?”. A non-racing thing that’s similar would be when you turn your oven off without actually being aware that you have, it’s just there in your brain. But when it doesn’t come naturally to you yet, mistakes can be made. Jorge just lost concentration for a split second while changing engine mapping, while doing so he used the rear brake slightly differently to how he normally would and then he was off.
It was a shame for Lorenzo, he’d been riding brilliantly out front with a lead of over 3 seconds. But while the result is disappointing for the Spaniard, he won’t be too upset because he felt that he had a real chance to win the race and that’s exactly where he wants to be.
Lorenzo’s loss was Petrucci’s profit, he’d passed both Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez to take second, which then suddenly became first. Petrucci looked incredible out front, he wasn’t pushing 100% (although he kept trying) because he “wanted to stay up” but he was controlling his pace and riding well. Danilo had come to Misano still recovering from a bit of flu but was quickest on Friday when the track lacked grip after drying from the rain. 2 laps to go and Petrucci wanted to give it a final push with Marquez right on his rear wheel. But on the last lap at turn 1, Marc put in the perfect pass to take the lead and with it, Danilo’s hopes of a win at home.
While Petrucci was obviously disappointed to miss out on another win, after also coming close in Assen where he was beaten by Valentino Rossi, as always he was humble and realistic saying of Marquez “he was stronger.. I have no regret”. After just over 20 laps of leading, Danilo had put everything he had into the race and a second place is another really good result from the Italian, giving him his third podium of 2017.
But there’s only one lap when leading matters and that’s the last one. Marc Marquez had been in second from the start, before Petrucci passed him on lap 6, after Lorenzo’s crash he found himself back in second and rode a sensible race just managing the pace. He did, however, completely confuse everyone early on when he decided to wave his foot at his team as he went down the start/finish straight, the universal sign of “I’m coming in”. But it was still very wet, he wasn’t having any visible issues, so what was he doing? Even Petrucci who was behind him at the time said that he hoped Marquez was going to pit, knowing it wasn’t dry enough to do so.
As it turned out, it was just another example of how well the Repsol Honda team work on their strategy. Instead of meaning that he was coming in, they’d decided that he would let them know if he thought there was any chance that the track might dry enough for slicks before the end. It didn’t, but if it had, then his second bike was ready to go.
Marc Marquez often looks like he’s riding over the limit, he puts the bike in places it traditionally shouldn’t go and I’m not sure his wheels are ever inline, but in reality, he knows where the limit is because he’s already found it in practice. “I crash because I’m pushing.. I’m there because I believe.. it’s my style.. it’s given me 5 championships.” The morning warmup had been wet and after pushing hard he hit the floor, it was unsurprising but important, now he knew where the limit was and he said after the race that he’d been glad that he had crashed so that he didn’t when it really mattered.
With the championship so tight you’d forgive him for thinking of the points and not wanting to risk another gravel bath, but that was just “one moment” according to him before he decided that 5 extra points were worth it, because at the end of the season 5 points can be a lot. So he pushed and with two laps to go he was right with Petrucci, 1 lap later he passed him at the first corner, there was no response to the overtake (although Petrucci tried) and after putting in the fastest lap of the race on the very last lap, Marc Marquez crossed the line just over a second clear.
If you want to see just how important this race was, watch how Marquez celebrated in Parc Ferme with his team. This wasn’t a race where he disappeared after the first lap or one where it was filled with overtakes and battles, it was a thinking race despite the risks he took at the end. Second was the perfect position for 20 laps, he wasn’t under pressure from behind, he didn’t need to push to stay with Petrucci out front, it was manageable and he controlled it perfectly. One of the best races of his career? He thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree.
Another “thinking race” came from Andrea Dovizioso who finished third after a largely uneventful 28 laps. He was third after the first corner, and apart from a couple of laps where between Petrucci passing him and Lorenzo crashing out, third was where he stayed. Dovi didn’t have the perfect feeling with the bike in the tricky conditions so decided to play it slightly safer and think of the points. A podium at home in Italy is always nice and the weekend overall was a good one, they confirmed their competitiveness at another track that has been tricky for Ducati in the past and their pace was strong.
Dovizioso and Marquez are now equal on points in the championship, with both having 199. The last time the lead was equal after 13 races? I have no idea so I’ll tell you before Aragon, but it wasn’t anytime recently. They’re also tied on wins, meaning the count-back goes to second places where Marquez has 3 to Dovi’s 1. For the last 5 races, we’re no wiser than we were at Qatar, so press your reset button because with Maverick Vinales just 16 points behind it’s going to be a crazy couple of months.
Speaking of Vinales, it was a good weekend for the sole Yamaha rider in Misano. He found a good rhythm on Friday with the 2018 prototype chassis helping in corner entry thanks to its slightly stiffer makeup that loads the rear differently (also good for tyre wear), before taking pole position in qualifying. He didn’t have the best start, dropping 3 positions early on, but after dropping back to 7th he recovered to 4th by the last lap despite struggling with rear grip, particularly on the left side of the tyre. It was definitely an improvement on the wet race in Sachsenring and he was happy saying “it’s the best we could do.. we asked 100% of the bike”. In the dry, the feeling was getting better and his confidence is returning so he should have a strong end to the season.
Further back, Michele Pirro again showed that he’s worth his weight in gold to Ducati with a strong 5th place, his main problem was a lack of pace at the start of the race, but the extra data will undoubtedly come in handy, especially as Lorenzo crashed early on. The next Ducati was Scott Redding in 7th, who had a difficult weekend after struggling with front feel and confidence but had a great comeback from 19th on the grid and showed good pace and avoided making mistakes.
The other satellite Ducati’s had a slightly more problematic race with Alvaro Bautista (12th) struggling with grip, saying it was like riding on ice and that “when I came into a corner I didn’t know if I’d get out of it”, while Karel Abraham (17th) crashed on the first lap before rejoining, explaining the crash as “it felt like somebody kicked me from behind..I lost the bike immediately”. Loris Baz didn’t have the same rear feel that he’d found in warmup but had good front confidence and despite crashing twice he finished 16th. While team-mate Hector Barbera crashed out on lap 12 after pushing a little bit too hard.
Repsol Honda might have won the race with Marc Marquez, but the other side of the garage had a much harder time in Misano. Dani Pedrosa finished 14th, after qualifying 7th, due to a difficult race where he simply couldn’t get the tyres up to the temperature needed to work. Dani is a smooth rider and a light one, so he simply doesn’t have the force needed to heat the rubber up to its working temperature. He’d been struggling to find a good feeling all weekend, but the wet weather was just the final problem. When he did get some warmth into the tyres towards the end of the race he managed to drop his laptimes by 4 seconds, putting him at around the same pace as those in 7th or 8th. Aragon is next and Dani can get feisty there, so hopefully, it’ll be a good race for the Spaniard.
Jack Miller came home as top satellite Honda in 6th, he thought it could’ve potentially been better but he swapped his mapping a little too late to save the rear tyre and lost drive grip. His Marc VDS team-mate Tito Rabat ended his race in the gravel on lap 21 after the rear slid out on him, while Cal Crutchlow recovered from a crash on lap 7 to finish 13th despite his “handlebar touching the tank and no footrest”. I’m not entirely sure why he was allowed to restart if that was the case, but he had a decent weekend despite the inconvenience of having his finger in a splint after severing the tendon.
The KTM duo of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith both had a great race, finishing in 11th and 10th respectively. It wasn’t the easiest weekend for the Austrian team, Pol struggled with feeling throughout and lacked grip in the race, while Bradley had to negotiate the tricky spray at the start. But both stayed on and rode well, another sign of the progress the team is making.
While the race was good for KTM, it was the opposite for Aprilia who had a double DNF. Aleix Espargaro had an issue with his front tyre before crashing out, leaving him disappointed but ready to come back in Aragon, while Sam Lowes crashed after losing some front confidence as the track dried slightly.
For Suzuki, it was slightly more mixed with Alex Rins having a fantastic race to finish 8th, a great job by the rookie who worked his way up through the group from 20th, while Andrea Iannone retired on lap 18 after having armpump issues caused by his rainsuit apparently being too tight and restricting blood flow. Andrea had struggled all weekend, unable to find the right feeling and saying on Saturday “I don’t know what’s happening” despite there being some improvements with the modified chassis he was running.
The Tech 3 Yamaha team didn’t have the best race either, with Jonas Folger struggling with turning and rear grip at the end, after making a setup mistake, but while he wasn’t happy with the weekend overall he did his best in the race and 9th isn’t a terrible result. For team-mate Johann Zarco, it turned out to be slightly harder work than he’d bargained for as he ran out of fuel at turn 11 on the last lap and had to push his bike to the line (not an easy thing to do!). The Frenchman took the chequered flag in 15th position for 1 point, but deserves a trophy for sheer determination.
Raceday at Misano was all about staying on. In Moto3 there were only 15 finishers, which improved slightly for Moto2 who had 16 and then got one better for MotoGP with 17. With Sunday seeing 80 crashes across the 3 classes and Misano having 140 across the weekend (the highest of any race since 2011, previously Misano 2014 with 109) a special “thank you” has to go to the marshals who did a fantastic job despite it seeming like a never-ending list of who had crashed.
And then as a final note, the people who don’t get a round of applause. If you cheer when a rider crashes you are not welcome in this sport. If you boo when a rider is on the podium then you are not a fan of MotoGP because you clearly don’t understand. If your reason for not liking Marc Marquez or Jorge Lorenzo has anything to do with 2015 then lock yourself in a cupboard until you find some common sense. It’s not the first time, it probably won’t be the last but enough is enough. Two days after losing Luis Salom last year, Valentino and Marc shook hands. That was your cue to move on, get over it, put it behind you because there are more important things in life. So the next time a rider crashes, just use your energy to hope that they’re ok. When they’re on the podium, just be polite and applaud because you couldn’t do it. And at a circuit named after Marco Simoncelli and where Shoya Tomizawa lost his life, show some damn respect.
In two weeks it’s Aragon, but until then be like Marc Marquez and fight back with a kiss.