It is a dangerous thing to write a rider off. We learned that with Valentino Rossi, the old man currently leading the championship after two terrible years at Ducati, one tough year at Yamaha and then the first sign of resurgence from the middle of 2014.
Rossi adapted, learned, progressed, and came back stronger. After the first seven races of 2015, the wolf pack in the media center had written off Marc Márquez and HRC.
The Honda RC213V was too aggressive an engine to be tamed by electronics, the chassis too stiff to contain the stampede of horsepower contained in the 90° V4. The bike span, wheelied, and worst of all, slid the rear wheel unpredictably when it touched down ready for braking into the corner.
Márquez was trying, but perhaps a little too hard, riding every lap as if it was his one shot at pole, overloading the front tire to compensate for the lack of braking at the rear.
Márquez was pushing his luck, and it kept running out during the race, the Repsol Honda man either finishing down the order, or ending up in the gravel once the front cried enough.
The Sachsenring treated us to its usual surprises on Thursday, with rain and squally winds blowing through the paddock in the morning, and the sun coming out as the day went on.
Fortunately, the only people out on track were the riders doing reconnaissance laps on the scooters, and safety officers cutting fast laps during their usual pre-weekend track inspection.
As an observer, it is hard to tell the difference between a circuit safety inspection and hooning round the track in one of the many high-end BMW sports cars that the German car-maker provides to Dorna, but I’m sure that as ex-racers, both Loris Capirossi and Franco Uncini know what they are doing.
Weird weather has already had its effect on the tire allocation. Originally, Bridgestone had brought three specifications of front tire, the soft to deal with the cold mornings, the medium to deal with the warmer afternoons, and the asymmetric tire with soft rubber on the right and a compound closer to the medium on the left, to handle the wind gusting to cool the right side of the tire.
What makes for great racing? Many things, but great last corners really help. A great last corner, or sequence of corners, allows riders to attack the bike ahead of them, and take one final shot at victory.
Even better is when the option to attack offered by the final corner comes with some risk attached: getting ahead is one thing, but staying ahead to the line is quite another.
MotoGP moves from one track with a last corner which guarantees spectacle to another. The final GT chicane at Assen produced fireworks with the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, and the last two corners at the Sachsenring offer similar opportunities.
At Assen, the hard-braking right corner is followed by a quick flick left, giving the defending rider the chance to counterattack if he is passed.
At the Sachsenring, the long drop down the steep, steep hill provides the ideal platform to launch an attack from, diving up the inside on the brakes on the way into the penultimate left hander.
That line comes at a price, though, as it forces the attacker to run wide on the exit. That opens allowing the defending rider to strike back up the inside on the approach to the final turn, the last left uphill towards the line.
Even entering that corner ahead is no guarantee of the win: like Turn 12, Turn 13 offers two lines, inside and outside, both of which can be used to pass.
You would think with the deluge of words that has washed over the incident between Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi in the last corner (and to which I contributed more than my fair share, I must confess) that there were only two riders and one race at Assen on Saturday.
Beyond the clash at the GT chicane, there was much more to talk about after Holland.
Whatever the immediate aftermath of the clash between Márquez and Rossi, the longer term implications of the result have made the championship even more interesting.
Márquez’s decision to switch back to the 2014 chassis for his Repsol Honda RC213V has been proven to be the correct one. Though the engine is still as aggressive as ever, the old chassis in combination with the new swingarm and new forks tested at Le Mans has made the bike much more manageable.
Márquez can now slide the rear on corner entry in a much more controlled way than before, taking away the behavior the reigning champion has struggled with most. The Spaniard showed he could be competitive from the start of the race to the end, instead of crashing out as the tires started to go off.
The bike is still a long way from cured, however. Márquez switched to the medium front tire rather than the soft, the only rider to do so. The medium provides a bit more support under braking, compensating for the reduced braking from the rear wheel.
That support comes at the cost of extra grip provided by the softer front. Whether Márquez will be able to employ that same strategy for the rest of the season remains to be seen.
If the Honda is so bad, why are two RC213Vs at the top of the timesheets? That seems like a very valid question, given the public struggles that all of the Honda riders have had with the bike this year. Has the 2014 chassis finally fixed the Honda’s ailments? Is Márquez back?
If only it were that simple. Firstly, of course, Marc Márquez never went away. The double world champion still possesses a gargantuan talent, and the desire and will to use it. He was hampered by many aspects of the 2015 bike, including both the engine and the chassis.
The 2015 chassis, he explained at Assen, was more precise and could be used more accurately. Unfortunately, the only way to get the best out of it was to ride it like every lap was a qualifying lap. That level of intensity is just not sustainable over race distance.
At some point, you will make a mistake, and the 2015 chassis punishes mistakes mercilessly. So HRC have reverted to a hybrid version, using a 2014 chassis and the new swingarm which Márquez first tested at Le Mans.
Barcelona was the place the champions emerged. In Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP, riders laid a solid claim to the titles in their respective classes.
Danny Kent rode with heart and head, and won the Moto3 race with a plan, extending his lead in the championship to 51 points.
Johann Zarco pulled back a big gap and made the right move when it mattered most, extending his lead to 31 points.
And Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi demolished all-comers to make it a Yamaha one-two, and push their lead out to 44 and 43 points respectively, the Movistar Yamaha men separated by a single point between them.
A lot can happen in the eleven races which remain, but the chances of the three titles not bearing the names of three of those four men are getting slimmer by the race.
The fat lady is still a long way from starting to sing, but you get a sneaking suspicion that you just heard her taxi pull up at the artists’ entrance.
What did we learn from Friday practice at Barcelona? We learned that things are not quite what they seem. Does the fact that the Repsol Honda riders are second and third overall mean that HRC’s travails are behind it? Certainly not.
Do the two Suzukis in the top five – and Aleix Espargaro setting the fastest overall time – mean Suzuki have found the horsepower to match the Honda and Ducati? Absolutely not.
Will the Yamaha’s lowly positions on the grid put them out of contention on Sunday? Leaving aside the fact that it’s just the first day of practice, with another full day on Saturday, definitely, absolutely, certainly not.
Are all these assumptions completely baseless? That’s where it gets interesting. In fact, there is a kernel of truth underlying them all.