Phillip Island is a glorious race track, in a glorious setting, with a history of serving up glorious racing, especially when the weather plays ball. On Sunday, it did just that, the circuit bathed in warm sunshine, almost taking the edge off the antarctic chill which can still hit the circuit in very early spring.
And great weather brought fantastic racing, starting with a spectacularly insane Moto3 race, followed up with a thrilling Moto2 race, and finally topped off with an intriguing and incident-packed MotoGP race.
The MotoGP grid arrived at Phillip Island mindful of the lessons of last year. In 2017, a large group had battled for the win for 20+ laps, until their tires were shot. Marc Márquez, having been mindful of his tires for much of the race, made his move in the last five laps, opening a gap over the chasing group of a couple of seconds. Everyone Márquez had beaten last year had spent the weekend concentrating on tire preservation for the last part of the race.
“Last year we lost the race because the last five laps, we didn’t have anything more,” Andrea Iannone said after practice. “Everybody had one or two tenths more than us, and at the end, finished in front of us.” Jack Miller, who had led the race for the first four laps in 2017, finishing seventh behind Iannone, made a similar point.
“What I learned from last year is try to manage the tire a little bit better,” the Australian said. “We’ve been playing a lot with the maps and setting up for the race. It’s not going to be a crazy fast race, almost from the get go, but it’ll wind up sort of five, six laps to go.”
Man with a Plan
The trouble with airing a plan, of course, is that other riders can read what you have been telling the media and adjust their strategy accordingly.
If you are confident of your early pace, you might chance it, gamble on making a breakaway and leave the others to fight it out among themselves. There’s a risk – if others join you, then you’re left fighting in a big group anyway – but it’s an option. If you’re confident in your pace.
After practice and qualifying, the one man who was truly confident of his pace was Andrea Iannone. And rightly so: the Suzuki Ecstar rider was at least two or three tenths quicker than anyone else in FP4, and he was fast on old tires too. The question was, would Iannone have the nerve to go it alone, or would he try to save his tires for a final push?
Maverick Viñales was quick too, not as fast as Iannone perhaps, but just as consistent. Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi had some speed, and of course Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso were on the pace as well, as they have been all year. Though everyone had Andrea Iannone as favorite going into the race, it was obvious there was plenty of competition.
Out of the Window
There certainly didn’t seem to be a lot of strategy in play when the lights went out. The entire grid seemed desperate to lead, the pack heading into Turn 1 eight abreast. The one exception was Maverick Viñales, who got an abysmal start from the front row, seeing bikes fly past him left and right as he got off the line, entering Doohan Corner having dropped from second on the grid to tenth.
Danilo Petrucci did the opposite, firing off the line from the third row and into Turn 1 in the lead. His good fortune would not last into the second corner, however. A sticking clutch when changing gear for Turn 2 locked the rear wheel briefly, forcing him off and into the grass. He lost 20 seconds getting back on track, his race effectively over.
It was a shame for the Pramac Ducati rider, as he had the same pace as the front runners for the first half of the race, fighting his way back up to finish twelfth. With Cal Crutchlow out through injury, those 4 points could well prove to be precious in the battle for best independent rider at the end of the year.
With Petrucci out, it was Andrea Iannone who took over at the front of the field, the Suzuki rider pretty much perfectly placed to execute an escape plan, should he have one up his sleeve.
What he had instead was the second Pramac Ducati diving up the inside at Honda Corner. Jack Miller took over the lead from Iannone, bumping the Suzuki rider down to second, and then third when Marc Márquez came past.
It was not a lead Miller particularly wanted. “I didn’t really feel comfortable out the front there,” the Australian said after the race. “I was just trying to be calm. I didn’t exactly plan to be leading that early but the opportunity arose. I put myself there but you saw from the outside I was really trying to save the tire.” He would relinquish the lead to Marc Márquez at the start of the second lap.
In typical Phillip Island fashion, there was a freight train forming behind the leader. Separation was hard to create on the first couple of laps, keeping the field together. The circuit’s front straight provided the perfectly platform to make up ground and pass others out of their draft, creating the kind of slipstreaming battles seen in all three classes.
Márquez used that slipstream to fire past Miller into Turn 1, and Andrea Dovizioso located himself perfectly to slide up the inside of Miller at the Southern Loop.
Marc Márquez took a couple of laps to realize he would not shake off Dovizioso, the bellow of the Ducati GP18 ringing in his ears as the bike closed in along the front straight each lap. Understanding he would not be creating a gap, the Repsol Honda switched tactics.
“I was really concentrated, really focused,” Márquez said. “Just the start was not so good, but then suddenly I was in the front. I led for 2 or 3 laps, and then I said, now it’s time to be back in the group, and I went wide on purpose. I went wide in Turn 4 just to be behind, because I didn’t want to lead the group.”
That may have made sense strategically, but fate had other things in mind for Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider had let Dovizioso through at Turn 4, and saw Jack Miller try to force his way past. He held the line through Siberia, keeping the Pramac Ducati behind him through Hayshed.
But Miller is no stranger to Phillip Island, and had Márquez lined up round the outside at Lukey Heights, ready to dive inside before MG. Behind him, Johann Zarco had slid through on Andrea Iannone at Hayshed, taking fourth and sitting right on Márquez’ tail.
Fear and Surprise
Disaster lurked. Dovizioso led the onto the straight, the superior power of the GP18 putting ten or more bike lengths between himself and Jack Miller on the GP17. Marc Márquez fought a wheelying Honda RC213V out of Turn 12 before the acceleration kicked in properly. Johann Zarco used the corner speed of his Yamaha M1 to close in on Márquez and Miller out of the final turn and onto the front straight.
Zarco moved left as he crept past the back wheel of Marc Márquez, and into the slipstream of Jack Miller. Márquez’ Honda accelerated back ahead of Zarco, and Márquez slid left to prepare for Doohan Corner, the right hander. He was in front of Zarco, but there was only a few centimeters in it. Despite being hard on the brakes already, Zarco was sucked forward as Márquez started to brake.
Disaster struck. The front wheel of Johann Zarco’s Yamaha M1 clipped the rear of the Marc Márquez’ Honda, the friction from the two tires rubbing causing smoke to start pouring off, and knocking Zarco off his bike at 280km/h. With enormous presence of mind, as he fell, Zarco assumed a protective position, sliding on his back with his arms tucked in to prevent himself from tumbling at such speed.
Freed from the burden of a rider, his M1 fired into the air, the front wheel slamming down on the tail of Márquez’ RC213V, breaking the carbon fiber subframe and leaving the seat wobbling from side to side. It was impossible to continue, and he pulled in at the end of the lap.
Amazingly, neither rider was injured, Zarco walking away with a sore left hip. “I have some pain anyway here but I had an X-Ray and nothing is broken,” the Frenchman said afterwards. “I am relieved nothing is broken as I was touching it and had no feeling at all. I was just hit really strongly but nothing else.”
“Finally, I slid so fast that the feeling was that it would never stop, and I tried to be so stiff and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t hit something.” He had slid along the grass beside the track, been flipped over pit lane exit, rolling once before coming to a halt.
Both riders agreed it had been a racing incident, though at first, Márquez had been angry at being hit so hard. “When I was on the bike, first of all I didn’t understand anything, and honestly speaking, I was angry, because I felt some contact from the rear,” he said.
He changed his mind once he could see the footage of the incident. “When I arrived in the box and I saw a little bit the situation, the images, the video, then I understood. It was completely a racing incident because at that point in the track we arrive really fast. Miller was in front, I was in the slipstream behind Miller, because we arrived at over 300 km/h.”
When Things Happen at Speed
The problems started when he applied the brakes, Márquez explained. “I braked even a little bit late, and I just tried to stop more, but then I felt the contact, because Zarco takes the slipstream from two bikes.”
Should Zarco have taken this into account? “Of course, you can say but maybe he can consider this, but it’s a racing incident, I already speak with him. I feel really lucky today because even me and him, we are OK so this is the most important thing.”
Zarco saw the incident in a similar light. “I had a great exit out of the last corner, and I was next to Marc, and then I got the slipstream of Jack,” the Frenchman said. “He also got his slipstream, but when we have to brake it was so close, and I touched his rear wheel. So at this speed touching the rear wheel of somebody else means I totally flew away.”
He, too, viewed it as a racing incident. “For sure it was an accident as we are going so fast and there was not a lot of space on the left side,” Zarco said. “He was close to Jack and he came back on to the racing line at corner one, but I was also there. So I crashed.”
He had gone and spoken to Márquez about the incident, Zarco said. “I went to him to say sorry because I totally destroyed the back of his bike, and he told to me the most important thing was that I didn’t injure myself. As two racers and sportsmen we totally understood each other.”
Andrea Iannone had had a front-row seat of the entire incident, and, wide-eyed with wonder that neither man had been injured, described what he had seen. “Really scary, because in this point we are really fast,” Iannone said. “So when I see the bike of Johann fly in the air, it’s a really big, big crash.”
His main priority was avoiding getting sucked into the accident himself. “I braked really strong to not have contact with the Yamaha of Johann. So I’m really lucky because in the first moments, I’m really, really close.”
What went through Zarco’s mind when he realized the crash was inevitable? “You just say ‘oh ****’. You cannot say many things! You say ah! You have this moment that you crash and it would be better not to crash, and you also realize in this moment you are losing the race. Many things go through the mind, but also I think the main thing is to survive and keep yourself well and cross your fingers.”
It was a terrifying crash, happening at enormous speed, and illustrates the dangers of Phillip Island. When you crash, you are going fast, and that means trouble. But the thrill of the speed outweighed the dangers, Marc Márquez said afterwards. “Most of the riders, if you ask which is your favorite circuit, which is your favorite corner, they will say a fast corner, or a fast circuit.”
“Because we enjoy it more. But it becomes more dangerous. Why? Because the speed is so high. A small mistake, for example today with Johann, becomes a big mistake, because the speed is double the other tracks. Yes, it’s a very nice circuit, it’s one of my favorites, but it’s true that when you crash, you get injured.”
Remarkably, the carnage had little effect on the field. Apart from Zarco’s bruised hip, and Márquez being forced to withdraw, Aleix Espargaro had been hit on the hand by some debris, displacing a plate previously placed there to fix a bone. It was truly a miraculous escape, though a sobering reminder of how quickly things can go horribly wrong at high speed.
Time to Attack
Even the running order in the race had been barely affected. A small gap opened up behind Jack Miller back to Andrea Iannone and Valentino Rossi, but that gap had disappeared again before the end of the lap. Andrea Dovizioso still led, Jack Miller close behind, but change was afoot. After lurking behind the leaders recovering from his miserable start, Maverick Viñales was making a charge forward.
He made a move on his teammate the next lap, a brave pass through the fearsomely fast Turn 3, the aptly-named Stoner Corner. He passed Iannone at MG, then took advantage of a mistake by Jack Miller to get better drive onto the straight and take second. It was a costly mistake indeed for the Australian, as Andrea Iannone and Valentino Rossi followed Viñales through.
Next up was Andrea Dovizioso, and Viñales was quick to pounce. He lined the Ducati up through Stoner and on the way into Turn 4. He wasn’t quite close enough, but used the agility of the Yamaha M1 to hold the tighter line out of Honda, and take the lead before they got to Siberia. It was time to execute his plan.
Viñales had shown he was faster by the way he had surgically sliced his way through the field. With clear track ahead, Viñales put the hammer down. Within a couple of laps, he had a second of advantage, and was lapping faster than anyone else on track.
Five fast laps was enough to put clear air between the Movistar Yamaha and the pursuing pack. With his lead now up to two seconds, he could run his own lines and concentrate on managing his pace.
It was a perfectly timed strategy. Viñales was running a formidable pace, but it wasn’t any faster than the pace his pursuers were capable of. The problem for the riders chasing him was that there were rather too many of them, and they kept tripping each other up.
Andrea Iannone was the fastest of the group hunting Viñales down, but the Suzuki rider had a problem. He had set his bike up for the fast, flowing sections, which allowed him to execute inch-perfect passes through some of the quickest, most challenging corners.
But the ability to pass riders at Hayshed or Stoner Corner had come at the price of braking stability. He made unforced errors at the Honda Hairpin, running wide and losing places, and was unable to pass at MG Corner, the other hard braking zone where riders usually attack.
He had a second weakness as well. Though Suzuki have made big strides with the power of the GSX-RR, the bike is still fractionally down on top end. Time and again, after making a run on the Ducatis around the flowing part of the track, he would come up short down the front straight, the GP18s of Andrea Dovizioso and an impressive Alvaro Bautista outdragging him as they headed to Turn 1.
Between mistakes at Turn 4 and the lack of speed along the straight, Iannone’s counterattack on Viñales was stymied. The Suzuki rider slugged it out first with Valentino Rossi, then with Bautista and Dovizioso. It took him the best part of ten laps, and some clinically executed passes, to take over second place, and start to hunt Viñales down.
The Movistar Yamaha’s lead was starting to look vulnerable. From over 4 seconds, it was back to just 3.5 by the time Iannone took over second place. The Suzuki rider took another second out of Viñales on lap 24, but that was the best that Iannone had.
Viñales stepped up his pace just enough to hold off the charging Iannone, crossing the line still a second and a half ahead. Iannone had started his charge too late, and Viñales had managed his lead to perfection.
The Drought Ends
It is hard to overstate just how much the victory meant to the Spaniard. He hadn’t won a race since Le Mans last year, the best part of 17 months. He screamed and hollered, and patted the front of his bike, and eventually broke down and wept tears of joy on his way back to the pits. It has been a horrendous season for the Movistar Yamaha rider, a descent into darkness which did not look like ending this year, and with little hope for next year. This win mattered, in so many different ways.
It mattered to Yamaha too. The ignominious losing streak had finally been called to a halt. Viñales’ victory had reset the counter after 25 races without a win, the longest sequence without a race victory in Yamaha’s victory. It had been 490 days since Assen last year, when Valentino Rossi won the Dutch TT on a Yamaha.
After the disillusionment of Motegi, where a furious Yamaha senior management had been forced to watch their machines be beaten by two Hondas and a Suzuki, victory at Phillip Island brought much needed relief.
There was a rather entertaining irony when Viñales returned to Parc Ferme. There, he was interviewed by MotoGP.com’s pit lane reporter, Simon Crafar. Crafar was the man who ended Yamaha’s previous longest losing streak, winning at Donington in 1998 after 623 days and 22 races. Viñales had needed more races, but less time. More importantly, he had also ended any chance of Yamaha going an entire season without a win.
“Honestly, the season, it’s been difficult,” Viñales told the press conference. “I needed that win. We needed that win. Yamaha needed to start next year. I said on Friday, we need to be good and we need to be motivated to start next year really good. For sure, that win is going to give us a lot of motivation.”
He had almost given up hope after getting a miserable start. “First of all, I didn’t expect to start so bad,” he said. “It was incredible. When I saw myself tenth, I said, ‘You are stupid. What are you doing?'” But the hard work his team had done during the weekend had paid off. They had spent Sunday morning working on getting the right electronic maps to use, and when to use them. “I know if I feel myself good I could be fast. Actually, during all the weekend I was into the top three. So I just felt good.”
The strategy had worked to perfection. He had made the gap at exactly the right time. “I just said, okay, now I have to push,” Viñales said. “I don’t have to think about the tire. I just push, and push, and push. When I saw myself that I had three seconds, I said, “Okay, now you can relax a little bit.” Trying to save the tire.” He had just enough to keep ahead of Iannone and Dovizioso. “Anyway, it was close. It was close because both Andreas were coming really fast.”
Put It in the Hands of the Rider
They had changed their approach a little, Viñales explained, at a track where he had expected to be able to win. “In some way this weekend, we did it different. We just tried to maintain the same setup, trying to get used to the bike, and it’s something worked really good.” A strategy Andrea Dovizioso has used to good effect in the second half of the season: find a good base setup, and then leave it alone, try to extract the performance from the rider, rather than the bike.
They had taken the setup from Buriram, the last time Viñales had been on the podium. “Here, we came back to the Thailand bike. Exactly the same. I get used to the bike, trying to ride it. In Thailand I had a really good feeling, really good feedback from the bike. In Japan, in FP1, I was quite strong. Was the same bike as here. Then we start to play a little bit. We wanted too much. Maybe that was the limit from the bike.”
“Here I just concentrate on the lines. I know if the bike wouldn’t be perfect I could make it perfect because I have some good lines here and I can be fast. I have a lot of speed. I think the team did also a good job. We’ve been working really hard on the electronics. I start, the electronics wasn’t working really good, but as soon as we got the electronics in the correct place we were fast.”
Keeping It Real
The win did not mean that Yamaha have solved their problems, however. “We have a great chassis, but we have to improve the electronic and the engine,” Viñales said. “I really love the chassis because as today I can ride really fast when I have the chassis for my riding style.” This was a point that he made sure to emphasize. “For Yamaha, I proved I can win races. They need to try to provide a bike for my riding style, especially in the middle of the corners to turn. If we have that, we have the chance to fight.”
That there is a war going on behind the scenes at Yamaha is becoming increasingly obvious. Maverick Viñales has been more and more open about wanting Yamaha to listen more to his feedback, and build a bike which suits him.
Though he has so far refrained from saying so directly, the insinuation is that Yamaha listen too much to Valentino Rossi rather than Maverick Viñales. The two have different styles, and different requirements: Viñales wants more weight transfer so he can brake harder; Rossi wants to carry a little more speed into the corner.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out at the end of the season. With Jonas Folger – much younger, much faster than Yamaha’s current veteran Katsuyuki Nakasuga – coming in as test rider, development should be both faster and more efficient. The question is, will Yamaha’s engineers listen, and respond? And how will Folger’s style affect the development direction?
So Close He Can Taste It
The man Viñales beat was disappointed and angry when he arrived in Parc Ferme. The frustration was clear to see on Andrea Iannone’s face, in the angry discussions he had with his entourage. As Viñales congratulated him, he could be heard to say, “If I could have gone with you…”, the implication being that Iannone believed he had the speed to match Viñales.
But he had got caught up with the Ducatis, and only managed to break away when it was too late. Perhaps he had got stuck behind the Ducatis because of an inability to pass on the brakes.
Iannone put a brave face on it in the press conference, acknowledging that he had made a couple of costly mistakes. “I am really happy because we made a really good weekend,” the Suzuki rider said. “We started really well. We worked in a good way. In every practice we improved a little bit. This is the most important. So, I arrived on the race with a really strong feeling.”
A win had been possible, Iannone said. “For sure we have really good potential to try to win the race, but when I made a mistake on corner four and I arrived a little bit long with high speed, so I lost four or five positions. I started to recover, but in this moment I think it’s not really a good situation.”
“I tried to recover but I felt the tires start to drop a little bit more than I expected. So I decided to remain in this group. I controlled the tires at the best. At the end, I think it’s the best situation. I have a little bit more on the last four laps. I try to push at 100%.”
“I improved, but also on the last lap I arrived another time at corner four and made a mistake. So Dovi almost overtake me. But at the end it’s a really great fight with Vale, both Ducatis, Marc and Zarco. It’s a difficult race, but at the end we got second position. I’m happy. We will see in the future.”
The fact that Iannone was so frustrated is good news for Suzuki. Riders tell you their real feelings with their body language, and in Parc Ferme, Iannone demonstrated that he really believed that he could have won the race. After a miserable 2017, the Suzuki has been much better this year, garnering sufficient podium points to lose their concessions status, allowing them extra testing and engine development.
This was the first time that a Suzuki came into the race as a clear favorite. Though the Suzuki is not quite at the same level as the Ducati or the Honda, they are very, very close. With a little more horsepower, the GSX-RR will be a genuine threat at every single race.
Ducati’s Dark Days Are Over
Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line in third, and genuinely pleased and relieved with a podium. Phillip Island has been the Ducati’s kryptonite for some time, so this race was going to be a litmus test for how much the GP18 had improved. Plenty, was the answer, with both Dovizioso and Alvaro Bautista, standing in for the injured Jorge Lorenzo, fighting for the podium.
Since Casey Stoner left Ducati in 2010, the Italian factory have only had one podium at the circuit, by Andrea Iannone in 2015. On Sunday, there were Ducatis queuing up to take a shot at the podium.
“That was the last important test before the finish of the season, because that was a track where we were always struggling,” Andrea Dovizioso told the press conference. “We confirm from every practice our improvement from last year. The winglets, the setup is different than last year and it works. Today it was good with less wind for us, but anyway the improvement is big. I’m happy about that.”
“Still is not enough to really fight, because in the middle of the corner I was too slow. We accelerated more in the main straight, but in some of the corners I couldn’t exit with a right speed. So I was able to put myself in a right position. That gave me the chance to fight for the podium, because I really didn’t have the same speed as those two riders. So I’m happy to finish on the podium. That was very important for us.”
This podium doesn’t mean the Ducati is completely fixed, however. “We still have to continue to improve a little bit in the middle of the corners,” Dovizioso said, “because in some other parts we are really, really good, but still we are struggling in the middle of the corners.”
Dovizioso had had his hands full fighting off his temporary teammate. Had he been surprised at how well Alvaro Bautista had ridden on his first outing on the GP18? “Not really surprised, because I know Alvaro a long time,” Dovizioso said. “I think his riding style is one of the top riders.”
“I think he showed from when he raced in 250 and every MotoGP championship. With a good bike, with a good base, he just has to ride in a good track for him, because I think he’s really good in a track where the consumption of the rear tire is very high and on the long corners.”
It was a remarkably strong performance from Bautista. The Spaniard jumped on a bike he had never ridden – yes, it’s a direct descendant of his GP17, but it is also different enough that he kept crashing due to the changes to the gearbox – and finished fourth. He did so in a team he had never worked with, and with a crew chief hired to help an entirely different rider. It is a testament to how quickly the Spaniard can adapt.
It is also a testament to how good Jorge Lorenzo’s team is, it is worth pointing out. It’s no secret that Cristian Gabarrini is one of the best crew chiefs in the world, and the crew Ducati have assembled around him have helped give Jorge Lorenzo the tools he needed to win three races this season. To bring a new rider in, immediately put him at his ease, and give him a bike he can fight for the podium with is quite the achievement.
Bautista had been impressed with the level of the factory team. “It’s a bit different from the satellite team, because in the satellite team you have just a few people working for you,” he said. “But in the factory team you have the same people in the box but behind the box you have eight people more. And they help a lot.”
“In this category the small details make the difference, and those small details are better in the factory team. Also for sure the bike is different. For me, I’m very impressed by the engine, the character of the engine, the power of the engine. It’s incredible how different this bike is from the bike of last year that I’m using. The difference is quite big.” That engine is what he would miss at Sepang, he told reporters.
All this had helped him be more competitive, Bautista said, but an unfamiliarity with the gearbox of the GP18 had cost him in the end. “When the group was more like a line I was able to stay more with the front guys,” he said. “I was fighting for the podium until the end but with just two laps to go I made a mistake with the gearbox.”
“Like all the weekend, I struggled to adapt to the gearbox. With two laps to go I made a mistake and lost distance to Dovizioso and Iannone. I missed the chance to fight for the podium.”
That was not something he minded too much, however, given how many times he had crashed over the weekend. “In any case, I’m happy because I felt really good all race. It was not easy because after three crashes this weekend the confidence is not at 100 percent.”
“I could manage the situation and do a good race. I’m so happy. Thanks to Ducati for this chance. We’ll see at the next one, but I’m so happy. It’s not easy to arrive in one weekend with a new bike and a new team, and to go to the race, fighting for the podium.”
His shift in the factory squad had given him a taste of what he hoped was to come when he goes to race for the factory Aruba.it Ducati squad in WorldSBK. “Now I’m more happy than before to go to World Superbike because I know the potential of Ducati’s factory,” Bautista said.
“I know that they will make a really good bike to fight for the championship there. I’m so confident for next season. I like to race, but also I like to win. If you don’t have a competitive bike you can’t win. I’m happy. There is no meaning where you’re racing. It’s important to enjoy it.”
Two Out of Five
Alex Rins finished in fifth place, making it two Suzukis in the top five, a sign of just how competitive the bike now is. It was also Rins’ fifth straight race in the top six, a sign of the Spaniard’s improving consistency. Rins was stronger in the second half of 2017, his rookie season, as he was also recovered from injury by then. These are the tracks he has a good understanding of how to go fast, and it is showing.
This was another race he felt he could have done better at, Rins said. “It was an interesting race, and I learned a lot during the first part of the race. I was feeling good in the first group but then when someone hit me on the back, I think Maverick, we then lost all possibilities. I lost the first group and then I lost a lot of time with Miller trying to overtake him. I think we need to take the positive points which were that we won against Valentino fighting really hard and well.”
More Spin, Less Drive
Beating Valentino Rossi was a result of the Movistar Yamaha rider struggling more with the tires than his teammate had. “It is a shame, because for sure we wanted to try to do better and try to ride smoothly to manage the tire better,” Rossi said, “but unfortunately after 15 laps I was in trouble because the exits from the left corners I was spinning too much. It is a shame because we want to do better for sure but we’ll see. We need to understand why and then try to improve.”
Rear grip was something which Maverick Viñales had managed better than he had, Rossi admitted, but that wasn’t down to a profound difference between his bike and the M1 of Viñales. “In general the two bikes are not very different,” Rossi said.
“We have some differences because our style is a bit different, but the problem is under acceleration we spin a bit too much but Maverick is able to have more drive. Even if he spins he accelerates, especially this weekend as he always arrived very well and is able to have less problems. We tried but sincerely I didn’t expect it, I expected to be stronger.”
Rossi had felt good on the hard rear tire, but was uncertain about the rear he had used during the race. “I felt good already with the hard tire from yesterday and I was more worried about the front, also this morning. But also from warm up I had less grip from the rear and I already was sliding a lot so I tried to ride gentle and smooth, but unfortunately in the last two laps I was too much in trouble. It was strange because it looks like when I arrived on the grid I felt good but when I restarted for the warm up lap it felt like I lost some grip. It was like the tire became harder.”
Though Rossi was pleased that Viñales had snapped Yamaha’s losing streak, he was also quick to warn against complacency. “For sure it is a good day for Yamaha because it was a long, long time that Yamaha didn’t win,” Rossi said. “So this is positive but we need to continue to work.”
“From my side I have had a lot of times on these types of problems so we need to understand why and understand the way to improve.” The Valencia test would be important, he said. “I’ve pushed very much with all the Japanese engineers and they said that we can have something and I hope to have good stuff but I don’t know what.”
Jack Miller crossed the line in seventh, behind Rossi. After leading the race, the Pramac Ducati rider tried to hide his disappointment. He had used a very soft map in an attempt to save the rear tire, which had cost him performance. “I was really trying to save the tire, especially the first three quarters of the race the bike was really slow off the corners,” he said.
“At the end there I hit the switch [to change engine maps], started coming towards them,” Miller went on. “I finally got to run with them for around two laps but I started to lose the rear and missing drive. So I went back to the other one to keep going. We just missed out on closing into those guys. I was close but no cigar: the first independent, but still seventh position. I’m not too happy but on a bike that wasn’t inside the top ten here last year, we’ll take it.”
Behind Miller, Franco Morbidelli finished as first rookie, after Hafizh Syahrin crashed out of eighth place. Morbidelli has been steady all year, while Syahrin has been very much up and down. Eighth would have been a solid foundation for the Malaysian rider to go into his home Grand Prix.
An Aprilia and a KTM finished behind them to round out the top ten, Aleix Espargaro taking ninth, while Bradley Smith finished tenth. Smith’s result put all six manufacturers in the top ten, with just under 23 seconds separating all six factories. It is a testament to how competitive the field is at the moment that all six of the factories competing in MotoGP can finish inside the top ten.
That is, no doubt, in no small part down to Phillip Island. In a magnificent, flowing layout, the rider counts more than the bike, as long as the team can give a rider a bike with which they can manage the tires to the end, and where a rider enters the race with a clear idea of strategy.
If there is the motorcycling equivalent of brains, not brawn, it is surely Phillip Island. On Sunday, Maverick Viñales won using his head, as well as his, well, whatever other part of the human anatomy is needed to ride a motorcycle at one of the fastest, most exciting, and most dangerous tracks in the world.