Marc Marquez returned to form this season with a crushing display at the Circuit of the Americas, to claim his sixth win in a row at the Texas venue.
It was a simply faultless ride from Marc Marquez and it will go some way to putting a controversial fortnight behind him. Having been demoted to fourth place on the grid after impeding Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) during qualifying, the defending world champion refocused on the task at hand. When the lights went out, Marquez launched off the line, and found himself at the front of the field with Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone. For the early laps the two exchanged positions and traded fastest laps as they pulled clear from the field. On Lap 4 Marquez overtook the Suzuki rider for the final time and never looked back. What followed was a relentless display of commitment, precision and speed. Lapping close to half a second quicker than anyone else could manage, the 4x MotoGP champion quickly established a gap that he could not lose. In the conventional sense we did not have a classic race as a result. We did however witness a classic demonstration of how to ride a 240bhp prototype machine to the very limit. Job done for Marquez. 25 points in the bag, and a timely reminder to his critics of the sheer talent and control he possesses.
The race therefore became a battle for best of the rest. That honour went to the Movistar Yamaha factory team. Vinales (P2) looked competitive all weekend – a far cry from the situation at the season opener in Qatar just a month ago. It was also the Spaniard’s first podium finish of the year, and his first since last October at the Australian Grand Prix. The new found performance of the Yamaha M1 was backed up by Valentino Rossi (P4). To say it has been a difficult early season for the team would be an understatement. In Qatar they were experimenting with different setups to try and give their riders any kind of feel through the front tyre. In Argentina they had a nightmare. Rossi was taken out by Marquez and Vinales could not find any competitive setup. At COTA they were back to form. Although the lack of top end straight line speed prevented the riders from having any chance of sticking with Marquez, the numerous medium-speed long flowing corners played to the strengths of both the bike and the riders. Although Rossi bemoaned a degreading tyre as his reason for not being able to fight for a podium finish, he was quick to remind everyone that the next two tracks (Jerez and Le Mans) traditionally favour Yamaha. The highly satisfied looks from Vinales and his team in parc ferme confirmed this newfound optimism. A corner has been turned, and Yamaha will be back fighting for victories again soon.
Rounding out the podium was an inspired Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Perhaps it was motivation having seen his teammate Alex Rins score a podium finish last time out in Argentina. Or perhaps is was the growing threat of losing his ride with the team in 2019 which spurred him on. Either way, the Italian produced a timely reminder of his ability to be a front running contender throughout the weekend. Fastest of everyone after Friday practice (the only man in six years to be quicker than Marquez at any point at this venue), and continued to defy belief by qualifying on the front row. When the race started, it was Iannone who got the holeshot from the line, and briefly led for the early laps before Marquez inevitably found a way by. A wearing front tyre conspired against the Suzuki rider’s ambitions for second place but he was not to be denied third place, holding pace with Vinales and pulling out a gap on Rossi over the closing laps. The celebrations in parc ferme were telling: Both team and rider expressed a mixture of jubilation and relief. Sunday April 22nd. The day the real Andrea Iannone stood up.
It was a difficult, but by no means disastrous, weekend for the Ducati team. Andrea Dovizioso (P5) produced a solid ‘damage limitation’ ride. The team knew this weekend would be difficult as, aside from the long back straight, the rest of the 3.4 mile circuit does not play to any of the Desmosedici GP18’s strengths. We were therefore treated to the unusual sight of Dovizioso racing with the full aerodynamic fairing this weekend, to help the Ducati turn through the fast switchbacks in the first sector. Fifth place however was enough for Dovi to regain the lead in the Riders’ Championship following Cal Crutchlow’s non-scoring finish. Jorge Lorenzo (P11) however, had to endure another wretched Sunday. As has become somewhat a formality now, the triple premier class champion finished a long way adrift of his factory teammate. To add insult to injury, the Majorcan rider finished behind the likes of Tito Rabat (Avintia Reale Ducati) and Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati) on older satellite machinery.
Rabat (P8) finished the race as the second best Ducati rider. The former Moto2 champion has looked completely re-energised this season aboard the Desmosedici GP17, and secured his second top ten finish of the season. The Spaniard held off a late charge from Australian ace Miller (P9) in the closing laps. Miller had to dig deep to get a strong result, after a troubled qualifying session left starting on the grid down in 18th place. He kept out of trouble on the opening lap in the scrum up at turn 1, before quickly settling into his rhythm and picking off one rider after another. A particular highlight was his double overtake of teammate Danilo Petrucci and Aleix Espargaro (Team Aprilia Gresini) around the outside of turns 16-18. With rumours ever increasing that Lorenzo is going to leave the factory Ducati team at the end of the season, Jack Miller is certainly getting his audition in early to the Ducati Corse bosses.
A word must be given to Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), who produced the performance of the weekend. Two weeks ago he was launched from his bike on the opening lap in Argentina after contact with Johann Zarco (Monster Tech3 Yamaha). His right wrist was broken to such an extent that an operation was required to bolt the fragments of bone back into place. To make matters worse, the wrist in question operates both the throttle and front brake lever. During Friday practice, one of the Dorna camera crew captured images of Pedrosa’s hand. The evidence of surgery clearly visible along with a considerable amount of swelling – forcing the rider to wear a much larger glove. Additionally, perhaps most telling to the pain Pedrosa was in, every time he returned to the garage a bag of ice was immediately secured to his injured wrist. Having somehow managed to qualify in 10th place on the grid, few (if anyone) would have expected much from him over the 20 lap race distance on the calendar’s most demanding track. There is a reason why Pedrosa is nicknamed the ‘Little Samurai’. One can only imagine the increasing pain he was in as the laps ticked off. Nevertheless, Pedrosa found himself still running inside the top ten and battling with the likes of Dovizioso and Zarco in the closing stages of the race. Although the pain eventually forced him to abandon the fight and settle for P7, it was a truly heroic display from the Spaniard.
The 2018 MotoGP World Championship resumes at Jerez for the Spanish Grand Prix, May 4th-6th.