The MotoGP San Marino Rimini Riviera Grand Prix was set to get underway in blazing sunshine after a changeable weekend in regards to the weather, and after the washout that was the British Grand Prix race day two weeks previous, the glorious Italian sun was more than welcome (for most).
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati) was starting from pole position for the second time this season, and looked strong heading into the 27-lap race (shortened by one lap compared to 2017). Meanwhile, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and the two factory Movistar Yamaha riders – Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales – looked as though they could contend for the podium.
Sure enough, Lorenzo made the holeshot. Misano is in many ways the birthplace of Jorge Lorenzo’s lights-to-flag victories, after he made one of his best ever back in 2013, igniting that stunning championship fightback which led to the title being contested all the way down to the final race in Valencia.
Marquez also made a good start, moving up from fifth on the grid to be third after the opening corners with Jack Miller (Alma-Pramac Ducati) ahead of Dovizioso. Dovi dealt with Marquez almost immediately, on the first approach to turn eight, and then made quick work of Miller to take second place. Marquez also quickly dealt with the Australian, knowing he couldn’t afford to let his rivals escape if he wanted to have a chance at victory.
Dovizioso then studied Lorenzo, with a safe distance to Marquez behind, for the next four laps, finally making his move for the lead in turn eight on lap six, and this move would go without reply. A look at the lap time analysis from the race and you can see the control that Dovizioso had over the race. He passed Lorenzo on lap six, setting the race lap record (1’33.224) in the process. It was a masterfully controlled race from Dovizioso, managing the time gap to his pursuers. Although Lorenzo began to close the gap down late in the race, the Italian was not flustered and upped his pace to negate any serious inroads. Crucially, this result has elevated him back into contention for the championship.
In total contrast to Dovizioso, championship leader Marquez was over the limit keeping up with even Lorenzo, let alone the eventual race winner. As has been commonplace throughout the season, the Spaniard elected to run the hard front tyre because the medium was too soft for the Honda riders. However, the left side of the hard front was not giving enough grip, making a race distance difficult to manage. However, if anyone is capable of riding over the limit for forty minutes, it is Marquez. Even though he could not pass Lorenzo outright, he was able to pressure his future teammate into a couple of mistakes.
The first error of Lorenzo came in turn fourteen on lap fourteen, and allowed Marquez through for second place. A decent fight between the pair then erupted, with Lorenzo making several attempts to pass Marquez, especially in turn eight. Finally, the Ducati rider made it stick, but whilst the pair were trying to close back down on Dovizioso, he pushed too hard in turn eight and folded the front. He wasn’t off line, he was simply in too hot, and trailing too much front brake. Lorenzo blamed the medium front tyre for his crash – the same compound which Dovizioso chose – and described it as “rock-like” after the race. Lorenzo would have preferred to use the soft front tyre, just like Marquez would have like to have used the medium, but quite simply the track temperature was too high, they made the only choice they could; for Marquez it cost him the win, for Lorenzo could well have cost him his hopes of being the 2018 world champion.
Lorenzo’s crash let Marquez ease off, knowing he had a safe second place. It also allowed Cal Crutchlow onto the podium for the second time this season, as he gave LCR Honda a trophy in their home race. It was another solid ride from the Briton. Knowing he did not have the pace to challenge for the lead, he consolidated fourth position and ensured he profited from Lorenzo’s misfortune. Crutchlow’s first podium at Misano, continuing his highly impressive season.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was first home of the chasing pack in P4. Early on in the race, the Spaniard was told to go to “Mapping 2”, and the lap after he lost his position to Crutchlow. Exactly what this setting is (a traction control setting, engine mapping, engine brake etc.) remains unclear, but Crutchlow commented on his surprise at the ease with which he was able to pass. It is possible that Rins let Crutchlow go, knowing he couldn’t match the Honda rider’s pace, and chose to ride the fastest race he could, with minimal interference. Whatever the tactics were, they worked extremely well, as he took his fourth top five finish of the season and heavily out-performed his out-going teammate, Andrea Iannone, finishing seven seconds ahead of the Italian.
1.4 seconds back of Rins was the first Yamaha, the factory bike of Maverick Vinales, who was 16.016 seconds from the leader after the 27 laps. After Saturday, things looked good for Yamaha, and especially Vinales. They had a strong test in Misano three weeks before the GP, and after a strong Silverstone weekend were hopeful of a good result in San Marino. However, from Saturday to Sunday, something changed for the M1, as both of the Movistar bikes went from being podium contenders to being slumped in the pack. Both Vinales and Rossi – who finished seventh, a further three seconds behind Vinales – were at a loss to explain the loss of pace. The fact that Yamaha do not know what the problem is, why they always seem to struggle more on a Sunday – even with minimal changes in track temperature – is alarming. They are now twenty-two races without a win, and as Rossi pointed out after the race, the Yamaha is likely to struggle more at Aragon next time out.
Sandwiched between the two Yamaha riders was Dani Pedrosa. The retiring Spaniard had seemed to find something over the course of this weekend, posting some decent results, especially in morning warm up. But his usual problems of corner speed and acceleration remained in the race. Spending the race around a pair of M1s is perhaps not the best way to allay fears of corner speed issues, but to feel like you’re missing out on acceleration when you are racing against a motorcycle which – according to its riders – has acceleration as its weakest point is rather alarming. There was positive news for Pedrosa this weekend, though, as he was confirmed to be riding the KTM from next year as a test rider.
Nearly three seconds back of Rossi was Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), who appeared in Q1 for the first time in 2018 on Saturday, and also missed Q2. His race didn’t go much better, as he was unable to get the speed nor the life out of the soft rear tyre that Rins did on the sister Suzuki. A home weekend to forget for The Maniac.
Alvaro Bautista took yet another top ten in ninth place, further affirming the notion that what is MotoGP’s loss at the end of 2018 is most certainly WorldSBK’s gain.
The top ten was rounded out by Johann Zarco, who suffered similarly to the factory Yamaha riders on Sunday, being unable to get out of corners, nor hold onto the tyre.
Danilo Petrucci’s race was done before it started. His pace was nothing special throughout the weekend, but his race day got worse when mechanical problems on the grid forced him to fall behind he safety car on the warm up lap, and thus he had to start from last. He made a decent race, though, and climbed to eleventh where he finished. But his day became even worse when he got back to the garage and discovered his pushbike had been stolen. He and the team will be praying that the next round at Aragon is less stressful.
Bradley Smith took sixteenth place, but even still it was a positive weekend for the Brit, who announced he will be Aprilia’s test rider next year, in a deal that includes the potential for five wildcard rides throughout the season. On the subject of Aprilia. It was another difficult weekend for Scott Redding, on his RS-GP18. He said after the race that he was missing the line by “5 or 8 metres” due to the front tyre collapsing whilst under braking.