Sunday Summary at Catalunya: On the Importance of Patience, Past Transgressions, & Power Plays

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Race day at Barcelona saw three different races in each of the three classes, and each with a particular lesson to teach. In Moto3, Maverick Vinales was the only rider to understand that it is better to escape from a battling group than get caught up in all the excitement. Vinales eventually won with a massively comfortable lead, but while there is no doubt that the Spaniard’s pace was particularly tough, those in the group behind him gave him a big helping hand by turning on each other instead of banding together to hunt down Vinales for the win. Even 2nd place went to the smartest rider, rather than the most fierce: Sandro Cortese had been forced to ride more carefully due to a very painful right hand he suffered in a crash during qualifying, and by conserving his forces for when he needed them most, he bagged second spot and did very well in the Championship race. Brave, mature, and above all intelligent riding by the young German.

Moto2 deserves a chapter apart, and one which will surely be forthcoming later in the week, probably entitled “The Multitudinous Sins of Marc Marquez”. Marquez was initially punished after a collision with Pol Espargaro which saw Espargaro crash heavily. The Catalunya Caixa rider was given a one minute penalty, but his appeal was upheld, and the penalty was canceled. But the penalty was more about what had happened at Qatar than the incident at Barcelona. After the move on Thomas Luthi, Marquez was given a yellow card by Race Direction, and warned to take care in future. Race Direction appeared to have decided that this move was worthy of a second yellow card, and had therefore decided to apply a penalty. While there is merit to their argument – especially in punishing riders at the front, talk to mid-pack riders and they will tell you that it is a proper killing field further back – this particular incident seems a poor one to pick. As this incident is being viewed by the fans in isolation, rather than as part of the bigger picture, including Marquez’ prior form. Viewed separately, this pass looks too much like an ordinary racing incident to be worthy of such severe punishment.

Up front, Andrea Iannone had one of his days. When the Italian is good, he is utterly unbeatable, showing the style, ability, intelligence and ruthlessness to seal the win. Unfortunately for Iannone, those days are few and far between, with too many days where the Italian ends up miles off the pace.

The MotoGP lesson was perhaps the most interesting of all, because of what it told us of the relative strengths of the Hondas and Yamahas, and how they use the tires. In both practice and race, the Hondas went with the harder rear tire while the Yamaha riders preferred the softer option, because of the way the bike uses the tires. The difference was visible in the stunning 2000 fps video that Dorna provided from some of the corners, proving once again that though Dorna may have a bunch of stuff horribly wrong, their TV coverage is absolutely top notch. Shots of the Hondas showed the rear spinning, and sliding around the corner to get more drive, while the Yamahas looked to be wheels in line, driving out of the corner with less power, but getting it down earlier in the corner.

In the end, this would prove decisive, the cooler temperatures on race day meaning that Honda’s strategy – spinning the hard rear to help get the bike turned – meant that the harder tire did not deliver the same performance as the softer option, which behaved broadly similarly in both hot qualifying and cooler race. Jorge Lorenzo would be the main benefactor of this, putting himself in the shop window very nicely, though the price that Lorenzo will be asking whomever he signs for will be rather higher than most goods shown in shops. Rival Dani Pedrosa would describe Lorenzo’s year as “a perfect season” in the post-race press conference, a qualification it certainly deserves. In five races, Lorenzo has dropped just 10 points, his worst result finishing 2nd.

Lorenzo is helped in part by Honda’s continuing struggle to get to grips with the 2012 Bridgestones. The Hondas have chatter, and they don’t get on with the new spec front tire, which is slightly less stable than the old spec tires. The Yamahas, on the other hand, have chatter, but only as an item a long way down their list of priorities. With the old-spec tire due to be dropped from Silverstone onwards, things have not been made easy for Casey Stoner’s title defence.

Stoner seemed relatively unruffled after only managing to finish fourth, his worse finish since being taken out by Valentino Rossi at Jerez last year. His equanimity prompted some to speculate that retirement may have made the Australian a little too relaxed for his own good, but Stoner said that he knew fairly quickly that this was all that the bike was capable of given the tires available.

What to make of Ducati? The Bologna factory is still testing parts and throwing everything they can at building a bike to Valentino Rossi’s taste. They are yet to succeed, however, the new aluminum swingarm being tried for a day before being dropped in favor of the existing carbon fiber option. The aluminium had worked well at Mugello, but the benefits were gone in Barcelona, causing Rossi to postpone testing the swingarm again until Monday. Seventh place on Sunday was all that the Ducati is capable of in the dry, Rossi said after the race, and it is hard to disagree. Until Ducati get the radically updated engine expected at Laguna Seca, progress is going to be hard to come by.

If Jorge Lorenzo boosted his market value with yet another win at Barcelona, his teammate Ben Spies saw his bed moved one step closer to the door. A strong start, a fantastic pace, but a massive mistake in the early laps saw Spies crash and then rejoin, fighting his way forward to score a top 10. It is podiums that Spies needs, though, and he will only score them if he stops making mistakes. Spies is clearly still fast – his lap times show it – but being fast and finishing 10th doesn’t buy you much in this market.

And the market is very much open. Right now, it is still at the talking stage, but everyone appears to be talking to everyone. No sensible conclusions can be drawn yet with respect to next season, other than it is going to be a long and complicated process.

Photo: Yamaha Racing

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.