The second round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend in Argentina, at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
Termas has had a habit of throwing up controversy since it made its debut on the MotoGP calendar back in 2014 – it has seen Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez clash twice, with opposite results, in 2015 and 2018; Scott Redding blow a rear Michelin in 2016 which caused a pit stop in the middle of the race and Michelin to completely change their design philosophy for the rest of the 2016 season and Danilo Petrucci ride unpenalized into the side of Aleix Espargaro last season.
This year, though, the controversy began three weeks ago in Qatar at the opening round. Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) won from Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in another of their last lap scraps, again being decided in the final corner. Dovizioso had been using Ducati’s new aerodynamic device which attaches to the swing arm, claimed by Ducati to cool the tyre. Aprilia, KTM, Honda and Suzuki all protested the result to the Race Direction on Sunday night after the race, but it was thrown out. They then put it to the MotoGP court of appeal, which made their decision this week, a decision which ruled the Ducati to be legal, and the result to stand. With the result of the previous race being decided so close to this weekend’s round, it is sure to be a big talking point in the paddock, and it shouldn’t be long until the other factories have their own versions of Ducati’s swing arm device.
In fact, for Ducati this weekend promises to be an interesting one, regardless of appeals and protests by their rivals, as a Desmosedici has not visited parc ferme in Termas since Eugene Laverty took fourth place and top ‘independent’ for Aspar in 2016. Furthermore, Ducati haven’t had a podium in Argentina since 2015 with Dovizioso, although they should of course have had a double rostrum in 2016. The last two years have been particularly disappointing for the Italian marque in Argentina. In 2017, Dovizioso struggled for pace all weekend and in the end was taken out by Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia as the Spaniard was avoiding Danilo Petrucci and lost the front; and last year Dovizioso could manage only sixth place in the mixed conditions. Having started once more with a victory, Dovizioso will be keen to back it up with another strong result this weekend in South America.
This will be especially important for Dovizioso’s title ambitions, as Argentina is one of Marc Marquez’ strongest GPs. Of the five races run in Argentina since 2014, Marquez has won two, and taken four poles. His win count would be higher, but for his catalogue of errors last year which resulted in a thirty-second penalty and no points for the Spaniard. Marquez has always shown strongly, though, in Termas, and it is difficult to see past him this weekend, especially with rain expected.
Whilst Argentina has traditionally been strong for Marquez, the same cannot be said for his Repsol Honda Team teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, who has not found the podium in Argentina since 2014 and hasn’t scored a point there since 2015 when he finished fifth. Still suffering with his scaphoid and likely still feeling some effects from the injuries he picked up from his high side in Qatar FP3, this weekend could be another tough one for the Spaniard.
After Marquez, the most successful MotoGP rider in Termas de Rio Hondo is Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The Italian took a dramatic win in 2015, and made the podium on two more occasions, in 2016 and 2017. Last year, however, was a disastrous race for the Italian, even before the contact with Marquez he lacked pace and was lapping in eighth place – the fact that Marquez took a ride through penalty in the beginning of the race and still caught Rossi with several laps to go says a lot about both Marquez’ and Rossi’s pace at the 2018 Argentinian GP. Losail was also a disappointment for Rossi. At a track where both he and Yamaha traditionally excel, he qualified fourteenth and finished fifth, leaving him suggesting that in reality nothing much has really changed in the factory Yamaha camp over the winter. Rossi is still without a podium since Sachsenring last season and, despite a disappointing opening round of the season and difficult ace in Termas last year, his record at the Argentinian track suggests this could be his best opportunity to return to the rostrum before the paddock heads back to Europe.
With Maverick Vinales alongside Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP garage, the factory Yamaha box is the only garage on the pit lane with two winners at Termas in the premier class. Vinales’ 2017 win feels like a long time ago, and whilst practice and qualifying in Losail three weeks ago implied that the Maverick of early 2017 was back, the race proved otherwise, as he slumped to seventh place after qualifying on pole.
Both Rossi and Vinales were hurt in Losail by the YZR-M1’s lack of top speed, and that is likely to hurt them again this weekend, with the long straight down to turn five. What Termas does not have that Losail did, though, is a long run to the (start/finish) line, and that could present an opportunity for the Yamaha riders.
Argentina was the scene of Alex Rins’ (Team Suzuki Ecstar) first MotoGP podium twelve months ago, and after a strong winter and impressive ride in Qatar where he took fourth place, the Spaniard will be after his first win in the premier class this time around.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) took a spectacular win in Termas last year, fighting in a four-way scrap with Miller, Rins and Johann Zarco for the duration of the race. It was Crutchlow’s third triumph in the premier class, and after a heroic podium in Qatar – after missing some feeling with the bike through preseason, a preseason hampered by the catastrophic ankle injury he sustained in Australia last October – the Briton will no doubt be after the rostrum once more this weekend, at the circuit which he took his first podium on Honda, when he stuffed Andrea Iannone back in 2015 in the final corner.
Featured image courtesy of Box Repsol.