MotoGP heads to the Netherlands this weekend and the Circuit van Drenthe for the 70th Dutch TT at Assen, round eight of the 2019 World Championship.
Normally, arriving in Assen means uncertainty over the weather, but 2019 seems as though it will be as 2018, with no threat of rain and warm conditions throughout the weekend in stark contrast to the snow-affected Saturday of the Dutch World Superbike round back in April.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) arrives in Assen as the championship leader, having won four of the seven races so far in 2019. The Honda rider’s points lead grew much healthier last time out in Barcelona, when two of his three proposed rivals for the title failed to finish whilst the #93 took a comfortable win. Indeed, the reigning World Champion also won in Assen twelve months ago, in what was one of the most thrilling races of recent times with a group of eight riders battling it out for the win almost from lights to flag. But it was Marquez who made the escape, and at a track at which Marquez has won five times in his Grand Prix career – including twice in the premier class, 2014 and 2018 – stopping him from doing the same this weekend will be a tough ask.
Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) has ten wins in Assen, the last one coming back in 2017. Indeed, that 2017 triumph remains his latest, and ending the two-year wait for victory will not be easy this weekend. Whilst Marquez will surely be contending for the win on Sunday, things are less obvious with The Doctor, who has struggled for consistency with his YZR-M1. Only two podiums have come Rossi’s way in 2019 so far, the most recent at round three in Texas and, whilst it looked as though he would be in the fight for the rostrum last time out in Barcelona, his retirement on the second lap meant it was impossible to tell.
However, if the Yamaha works well this weekend, expect not only Rossi to be fighting at the front, but also his Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate, Maverick Vinales, to be there as well. The Spaniard has only two wins in Assen, and they came back-to-back in 2011 and 2012 – the last ever 125cc Dutch TT and the first Moto3 World Championship race in the Netherlands. That said, in 2017 – when Rossi was victorious – Vinales had arguably the stronger pace, but a poor qualifying meant he was pushing hard to come through the field – too hard, and he crashed at the final chicane. Vinales’ poor qualifying has been a trait of his time at Yamaha, as have his poor starts. He finally made a good one in Barcelona, and looked to have the potential to fight for the podium in those early stages before his race was cut short, like Rossi’s, on the second lap.
Perhaps the biggest star of Catalunya was Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who took pole in qualifying and finished the race in second place. The Frenchman’s first podium came arguably six weeks later than it should have, considering his pace in Jerez, but it came at the right time. Quartararo was on the podium in Assen in his first race there, back in 2015 in the Moto3 class as well as last year in the Moto2 race. The #20’s silky-smooth riding style has gelled well with the Yamaha this season, and after taking his fist podium in Montmelo, the first trip to the premier class top step will be on Quartararo’s agenda this weekend.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) has only three podiums in Assen, but that includes one last year when he was second only to Marc Marquez, and stuffed Maverick Vinales in the Ramshoek on the final lap. Rins had podium pace but not the straight line speed to get there in Barcelona – Danilo Petrucci’s Mission Winnow Ducati proving an intense annoyance for the Spaniard – but with the lack of emphasis on straight line performance in Assen there is a chance for Rins to return to the rostrum, and perhaps even add to his win tally this weekend at a circuit which should suit the Suzuki as well as the Yamaha, and for all the same reasons.
Whilst the low top speeds and limited number of hard accelerations, combined with the long, fast, flowing corners of Assen suit the Yamaha and Suzuki, they in theory work hard against the Ducati. The last podium for Ducati in Assen was 2017, with Petrucci – then on the satellite Pramac machine. In comparison, though, their last win in Holland was back in 2008 with Casey Stoner, and Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) has only three premier class podiums in Assen – one on Honda, one on Yamaha, and his only Dutch TT Ducati rostrum came in the mixed conditions of 2014. Last year the Desmosedici’s superior acceleration kept it in the podium fight, as Dovizioso was able to respond to overtakes in the final chicane immediately into turn one. This could prove the bane of Yamaha this year, but for Honda and Suzuki perhaps not, such have been their horsepower gains since 2018.
Featured image courtesy of Box Repsol