On Sunday, the Moto3 race was delayed until 1pm BST. Or, at least, that’s what you would have thought if all the bikes and riders were blacked-out. A better race you are unlikely to see, than the 2018 Dutch TT, at least outside of Phillip Island. Mind you, even the thrillers we have seen in Australia in 2015 and 2017 probably don’t come close to last weekend’s MotoGP race – it was almost perfect. The only thing this race missed was a final lap, final corner battle for the victory, but there is only so much you can do about someone being faster, smarter and more superhuman than everyone else. Yes, it was Marc Marquez who won the TT but that does not tell nearly half the tale.
Jorge Lorenzo saved the race, early on. He had not had much pace all weekend, relatively, and didn’t look as though he could have fought for the win. However, he made nine passes on the opening lap, including about four in the first corner where he rode around the outside. That put him in the lead, once he had passed Marquez for first position in turn ten. At this point it would have been hard to find an onlooker who was not thinking: “three in a row?!” And Lorenzo led well, leading a total of thirteen laps in this race where it seemed impossible to maintain position in that first group of between six and nine (depending on the point of the race). In fact, Lorenzo led more laps than anyone, even more than Marquez who led only eight in comparison. But the two laps between lap fourteen and seventeen were the ones which ruined Lorenzo’s race because they broke his often impenetrable rhythm. They were two intense laps of tough battling between Jorge ad Ducati teammate, Andrea Dovizioso, who was after getting past the #99 and trying to stretch the group at this stage in the race. But Lorenzo didn’t give up, he passed Dovi in almost every corner until a misjudged pass at the final chicane by the Spaniard saw him run slightly wide, and ultimately out of contention. From there, the winner of the past two races dropped to seventh, his dim championship flame seemingly ultimately extinguished by Assen. Well, what else should it have been?
But, even at this point, Marquez was not home and dry for this victory; still Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow were in the running. All had looked strong the whole race, put strong moves and showed both their strengths and weaknesses. But the critical thing was that the only rider who was able to build a rhythm had been dropped from the leading group.
The next big talking point came when Marc Marquez and Maverick Vinales touched heading into De Bult, both running way wide, out of the track, allowing Dovi and Rossi through, the #04 leading the #46. Rossi made his move for the lead at the chicane, where he had been strong all day, but missing the run out of the chicane made The Doctor vulnerable to the acceleration of the Desmosedici on the way out, and Dovi re-assumed the lead at turn one. That was over the course of the half-lap which spanned from lap 21 to 22. And it was lap 22 when Marquez made his break.
Rossi moved to the inside of Dovi on the entry to Osserbroeken, and although the cameras cut away, the assumption you can make is that: Rossi went to the inside of the Ducati, Dovi held it around the outside of the M1 to have the inside for De Strubben; they both suffered on the exit of De Strubben and Marquez capitalised. Dovi took second place, Rossi slipped to third, and Marc ran. Rossi knew if he wanted to win, he had to pass Dovi quickly, especially because Vinales, Rins and Crutchlow were arriving behind. But it took Rossi until the end of lap 24 to make a pass on Dovi, by which time Marquez was gone but a podium was still possible for the Italian pair. But, as happened two laps previous, Rossi was beaten on the run out of the chicane by Dovizioso, who matched the #46 on the brakes. Both were strong on the anchors but Dovi had the line, and forced Rossi out of the track and back to fifth spot. This was a talking point immediately after the race, Rossi questioning the intelligence of Dovizioso’s move, whilst Andrea defended his decision by explaining that he had the line. It is worth pointing out at this point that had the positions been reversed, and Rossi been on the inside of Dovizioso, the nine-times World Champion would have done precisely the same thing as his compatriot. If anything, Rossi should have let Dovizioso go, and tried to undercut the Desmosedici rider on the exit of turn one. But, everything is very easy to say in hindsight, and from your sofa.
Anyway, that put Rossi definitely out of podium contention, and Dovi pretty much out of it too. It was now Vinales and Rins who would fight over second, and finally it was Rins who took it on the final lap at Ramshoek, forcing Vinales out in an entirely fair, but still suitably aggressive, manner.
So, over the line for the 26th and final time it was Marquez to win from Rins and Vinales.
Firstly, it is hard to ignore the irony of Honda’s favourite son, winning on a Honda, in Assen (a “Yamaha track”), one year on from Yamaha’s last MotoGP victory, on the Iwata manufacturer’s 63rd birthday which was also the last time the Dutch TT was held in July. But what a win it was, from his first Assen MotoGP pole – his 75th in Grand Prix – and in such a superb race. And, as you might expect from Marc, he threw down some big moves too, especially in De Strubben, where he was not afraid of getting some foreign paint on his factory Honda. Even when people were putting moves on Marc, he managed to make it a Marquez spectacle, such as when Rins passed him in De Strubben – having obviously studied the moves of the six-time World Champion – and they touched on the exit; Marquez fell off the side of the bike but managed to pull himself back on the RC213V without losing as much as a tenth. Furthermore, in the same way it is possible to say that Marquez saves those huge front end slides through skill and not luck, it is equally possible to say that he does not win these crazy pack races through luck, but by being clever and making sure he is always in the correct position to be both proactive and reactive, to create situations and respond to ones created by others in the best way. Just think; Phillip Island 2015, Phillip Island 2017, Assen 2018; all pack races, all won by Marquez. Perhaps the only pack race he hasn’t won was Qatar this year. He’s a special rider and with a 41-point lead now, and eleven races remaining, it is coming close to the moment to state the inevitability of his seventh GP title, especially with Sachsenring up next.
Alex Rins’ second place was a crucial one after a tough period for the Suzuki rider. Barcelona had been a disaster for the Spaniard and despite a decent performance in Mugello where he finished fifth behind teammate Andrea Iannone, every race for the number 42 had been difficult since his podium in Argentina. This podium was a good way to bounce back and also proved that at least most of the tyre drop off issues that Iannone is suffering with the GSX-RR is down to the fleshy bit sat atop the #29. Now the onus is on Rins to make sure that this podium is not quickly forgotten, but rather built upon. He needs to assume the number one role in the team from Iannone before the Italian departs for Aprilia at the end of the season.
It was a welcome return to the podium in Holland for Maverick Vinales, two-and-a-half months on from his previous rostrum in COTA. Finally, Vinales made a decent start and despite dropping two positions, he was still in touch with the leaders after the first laps and, largely thanks to the identity of the early leader, Jorge Lorenzo, the time it took for Vinales to come into his rhythm did not leave him out of podium contention as it had done in the past. He was quick to make moves, too, although when he came up to the back of teammate, Rossi, he was noticeably more gun-shy, probably out of a lack of want to endure the wrath of Yamaha head office on their birthday. Anyway, a third place is not what Yamaha would have hoped for on their anniversary but perhaps the new company record for time between wins will inspire the engineers in Iwata to producing something sufficient to allow Vinales to pursue a first MotoGP title which he believes is not yet out of reach.
The fourth place of Dovizioso perhaps does not reflect what he deserved, because he had the speed for the podium, but the ‘incident’ Rossi ended any hopes of a top three for the Italian. However, Dovi did prove that on non-‘Lorenzo’ tracks, he still has the upper hand on his teammate, especially over race distance and the pure fact that he was in the running for most of the race for the victory shows again that the Ducati has improved on its weak points. Unfortunately, Dovizioso now lies 61 points behind Marquez in the championship, so his hopes are as good as gone. It has to be ‘win or bin’ now for Dovi, he will be after race wins for the remainder of the season – no one goes racing for second place.
Valentino Rossi had the potential to win the 2018 Dutch TT but he was both unfortunate and occasionally poorly placed. But ultimately, it was the speed of the Ducati compared to the Yamaha which cost Rossi the podium; had Dovizioso not gotten the acceleration out of the final chicane that he did on lap 24, he would not have been able to force Rossi onto the run-off area on the exit of turn one – and his drive was mostly down to his motorcycle. You might say that Rossi should have passed Dovizioso in a different place to the last chicane but ultimately it was the only place he was strong enough to make a pass on the #04, since the speed of the Desmosedici put it out of range of the M1 on the pit straight, making a move into turn one impossible, and he wasn’t strong enough anywhere else. When Marquez had his contact with Rins it was Rossi who suffered, backing out of the throttle to avoid the Spanish pair and dropping a position to Dovizioso in the process. Furthermore, Rossi occasionally left himself open to attack, especially in De Strubben where he was passed by both Marquez and Rins. But what was very frustrating from Rossi’s perspective was that he looked like he had the pace to break away at the front on many occasions during the race, so a fifth is a big disappointment for the Italian. Additionally, the fifth place ended a run of three consecutive podiums for the Italian, dropped him forty-one points behind in the World Championship and thus ultimately put a tenth title out of reach for at least one more year.
It could have been worse for Rossi had Cal Crutchlow not run wide at turn eight with two to go. In the end it was sixth for Crutchlow, and he made the least overtakes of the front group riders, only three over the course of the 26 laps compared to Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales who both had the most with fourteen. Perhaps in that stat lies the cause of the result for Cal, who after the race explained that pack races disadvantage Honda riders because the RC213V does not accelerate, and it overheats the front tyre. This only makes Marquez’ victory more impressive. But the disadvantages of the Honda lead to difficulties overtaking and in a race of this nature, an inability to overtake is race-killer.
After his amazing start and long stint at the front of the race, Jorge Lorenzo dropped back through the pack to finish seventh, 4.462 seconds off the win. It was lucky he finished at all though. At one point whilst leading he seemed to make a mistake in Meuwenmeer, and Valentino Rossi piled into the back of him. The fact that the pair got away from the incident without crashing, nor losing a position was remarkable, although Jorge’s lunch was nearly dropped out the back of the GP18’s ‘salad box’. Apart from that, it was good to see such a big fight from Jorge in the race, fighting with 110% for the entire 26 laps and for every position. This is a Jorge Lorenzo we haven’t seen before – it’s both refreshing and worrying.
Johann Zarco was typically aggressive in the opening stages of the race, mixing it strongly with the front group, but in the end dropped back quite a lot and finished ultimately seven seconds off the win in eighth place. Anyway, it was good to see Zarco back in the front group after a period of difficulty since his home GP crash three races ago. Alvaro Bautista took yet another top ten in ninth place, whilst 2016 Dutch TT winner, Jack Miller, crossed the line tenth.
Eleventh place went to Andrea Iannone who had a messy race. He was in the front group in the early laps, but ran wide in the chicane which cost him the contact with the front group, and was later handed a time penalty for cutting the Geert Timmer Chicane.
Pol Espargaro finished twelfth for KTM. Perhaps the first signs of frustration from the Austrian marque’s riders started to show through after this weekend, when Espargaro expressed a displeasure at the lack of progress made by the Red Bull-backed constructor in 2018.
It was the other Espargaro brother, Aleix, who finished thirteenth, which would not have pleased him much, although he would have been relieved to finish; but at a circuit like Assen, which rewards a nimble chassis, it was disappointing to see the RSGP so relatively uncompetitive.
The Dutch TT weekend proved to be Scott Redding’s best of 2018. After qualifying better than he had done all season, he finished fourteenth, less than one tenth behind his Spanish teammate. Hopefully for Scott this upward turn morphs into an upward trend, and the British rider can find himself with some decent offers on the table for 2019 by when his time at Aprilia will be at an end.
The final point went to Dani Pedrosa. It was an awful weekend for Dani, which he put, at least in part, down to the speculation about his future. Whatever the issues, fifteenth place is not where Dani Pedrosa should be, but with a strong track for Dani coming up, the Sachsenring, maybe he can reverse his fortunes in Germany.
Tito Rabat will be disappointed with a non-points-scoring ride. To be honest, it feels quite good to be able to say about Rabat that he should be disappointed about not scoring points after two years of scraping the barrel on the satellite Honda. Rabat was followed home by Bradley Smith, Hafizh Syahrin, Takaaki Nakagami and Tom Luthi.
Danilo Petrucci, Xavier Simeon and Karel Abraham were the only retirements, whilst Franco Morbidelli did not start, following his FP3 crash in which he broke a metacarpal.
For round nine, the MotoGP World Championship heads to Germany, and the Sachsenring, in two weeks time – a traditional Marc Marquez stronghold.