Qualifying doesn’t tell you the whole story. Which is a good thing, as otherwise they could just hand out the trophies after qualifying and be done with it. A lot of things change in the 24 hours between qualifying and the race – weather, temperature, set up – but most of all, qualifying is just a couple of laps, while the race means spending a long time on the track. Mugello turned out to be a perfect example of this.
Dani Pedrosa had been getting faster every session, especially as the temperatures rose and the grip of the track improved. The Repsol Honda man blasted to pole, just pipping Jorge Lorenzo at the end of qualifying and setting a new lap record in the process. With race day looking warmer, and the track cleaning up every session, Pedrosa looked the hot favorite to dominate at the Italian track.
Defending titles is not easy. In the last twenty years, only Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi have managed to win successive championships, despite both Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner winning twice. Why is it so hard? A lot of reasons. Nothing motivates a rider, a team or a factory like losing.
Winning a championship requires a lot of hard work and talent, but also a smattering of luck, and at some point, luck runs out. Winning a title means always looking forward, eyes on the prize, while defending a title means looking back, at everyone out to get you. All these things combine to make winning the second title in a row much, much harder than winning the first one.
We’d been wondering how long it would last. Nobody had started a formal pool yet, but we knew that at some point in the season, Marc Marquez would try something that would generate a mountain of controversy. The question was not if, but when, surely.
It took three races, which is positively restrained measured by the standards of his 2012 Moto2 season. Then, he managed to embroil himself in controversy in the very first race when he ran Thomas Luthi off the track at the end of the straight at the beginning of the final lap.
Yet while Marquez’s pass on Jorge Lorenzo is already generating enough print copy to wipe out a small forest, it is totally different from his move at Qatar in 2012. That was a cynical slide to the left which saw him edge Luthi off the track and out of contention.
This was a dive up the inside of a gap left by Lorenzo in the final corner of the final lap, after Marquez had spent the previous five or six laps making it perfectly clear to Lorenzo that he was hell-bent on finishing ahead of him.
Another day, another record. Marc Marquez now takes the place of Freddie Spencer as both the youngest rider ever to take a premier class pole, and the youngest rider ever to win a premier class Grand Prix.
If you had any doubt that Marquez is something special, then the inaugural round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas should have removed it.
Marquez is on the path which all great riders take, scoring a podium in his first race, pole and a win in his second. This is what preternaturally talented riders do: learn fast, race fast, and win soon.
What was the big story of the MotoGP season opener in Qatar? It’s obvious: The Doctor is back. After a failed pass on Andrea Dovizioso, in which he ran wide and hit his brake lever protector on the back of Dani Pedrosa’s rear tire. “The protection saved me, because for sure I crash [without it]” he said afterwards.
He upped the pace and chased down the group containing Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Cal Crutchlow, passed them all, and after a thrilling battle with Marquez, went on to take second place in his first race back with Yamaha. If anyone thought that Rossi might have lost it, this was the race in which he proved that he was still capable of being at the front, the only condition being that he has a decent machine underneath him.
That reading of the race, though both attractive and seductive, is not the complete picture. Viewed with a more jaundiced eye, Rossi was comprehensively thrashed by his teammate – “In this weekend, I think it is impossible to beat Lorenzo,” he admitted.
Closing down on a group being held up by a struggling Pedrosa, who had been troubled by a lack of rear grip all weekend, Rossi then had enormous difficulty dealing with a MotoGP rookie, racing for the first time in the class. Is that beautiful palace on the horizon real, or was it just a mirage, a trick of the light in the desert?
Valentino Rossi being fastest in a dry MotoGP session brought joy to the hearts of his millions of fans, but also relief to the writers of motorcycle racing headlines. For the past two years, with the exception of a damp and freezing session at Silverstone, the media – especially in Italy – have spent many hours puzzling over how to shoehorn Rossi’s name into a news item without it appearing overly clumsy. With little success: “Pedrosa grabs pole, Rossi to start from ninth” sounds, well, as awkward as it does dispiriting.
On Sunday, there was no need for tricky sentence construction. Valentino Rossi grabbed the headlines the way he would want to, on merit. Under a warm sun, and a dry track – well, relatively, but more of that later – Rossi just flat out beat his teammate, and the factory Hondas, and all the other 24 MotoGP machines that took to the track for the second day of the test at Jerez.
Beating his teammate, even if it was by just fifteen thousandths of a second, was crucial. That hadn’t happened in any of the previous tests, and the gap between himself and Jorge Lorenzo stayed pretty constant: at least three tenths of a second.
So the 2012 MotoGP season is over, and someone with a great deal of courage and a little bit of money to wager could have ended the year rich beyond their wildest dreams at Valencia. If you could have found someone to take your bet seriously, you would have got a very, very good return on one race being won from the back of the grid, and the other from a rider starting from pit lane. Just one of those events is highly unusual, having both of the happen on the same day is unheard of.
The odds on Marc Marquez winning from the back of the grid were probably disappointingly short. By now, every bookmaker in the world will have seen the onboard clip of Marc Marquez stalling his bike on the grid at Motegi, and the way he disposed of twenty Moto2 competitors in the space of half a lap.
The first lap at Valencia is likely to create as much of a sensation – or at least it would, if Dorna would either resist the temptation to take down YouTube videos before they go viral to keep their TV rights holders happy, or make the videos available free of charge on the MotoGP.com website so that they can go viral while retaining control – as Marquez passed another twenty riders in the space of five corners.