MotoGP: A New Surface Means New Opportunities

This weekend the 2019 MotoGP World Championship crosses the English Channel and heads to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix – round twelve of the season.

For the first time since he took the championship lead in Jerez, Marc Marquez’ (Repsol Honda Team) points advantage was trimmed in the last round, as Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) defeated him in another one of the pair’s classic last-lap duels. Whilst Dovizioso knows he needs a dose of bad luck on the side of Marquez for him to challenge the Spaniard for this year’s title (the gap is fifty-eight points with eight rounds to go) he arrives in Silverstone with his confidence re-discovered after some negative races in Italy, Catalunya, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. Austria was an important moment for Dovizioso, because he reminded himself that he can beat Marquez in the right circumstances – he just needs those circumstances to be more frequently occurring.

Both Dovizioso and Marquez have one premier class win in Silverstone, Marquez’ coming in 2014 in a classic duel with Jorge Lorenzo – round two of their ‘Battle of Britain’ – and Dovizioso’s arriving in 2017, when he beat both factory Yamaha riders and benefited from a rare expiration on the #93 Honda.

In the past, Silverstone’s uneven surface has disturbed the Honda almost uncontrollably, the RC213V’s aggressive and unstable nature not suiting the bumpy British asphalt. However, this year the bumps are reportedly gone after the circuit was resurfaced earlier in the year. The Formula One race was the first to take place on the new asphalt, and the reports were generally good. The one negative place was the entry to Brooklands, although this area was known to the circuit beforehand and has been rectified since. Of course, the main reason for the second resurfacing in just over one calendar year was the non-existent drainage on the previous surface which caused the cancellation of last year’s British MotoGP. It seems this, too, has been rectified with the new surface.

Rubber Ducks at the 2018 MotoGP British GP. Silverstone 2018. Image courtesy of Suzuki Racing

A smoother asphalt should suit Marquez and his Honda, with the Spaniard able to explore the areas beyond the limits of the 2019 RC213V with less risk than in the past, where a hole could tear the bike from his grasp whilst over the aforementioned limit.

This is worrying for his opposition, although for several of Marquez’ rivals the smoother surface for this year could in fact be even more beneficial.

Suzuki and Yamaha live on the edge of the tyre, especially Yamaha. Their (relatively) easy-to-use frames meant they were more comfortable than other bikes over the bumps, but the removal of those means they can greater exploit their mid-corner speed advantage which, at a circuit as fast as Silverstone which has many long corners, can potentially be a greater advantage than the one they perhaps held previously on the older surfaces.

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also has one win in Silverstone, coming in 2014 in the Moto3 class. He also finished second in 2013 to Luis Salom and second in the 2015 Moto2 race to Johann Zarco. In 2017, Rins finished ninth in the MotoGP, an impressive top ten from what was a rookie enduring a tough season blighted by injury. Last year the weekend was more complicated for the #42, however, finishing eighteenth in the combined free practice times. Still without a podium since Jerez, Rins will be hoping to return to the box this weekend, and continue to close the gap on Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) in the battle for third in the championship.

Both Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP riders, Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, will also be hoping to make the best of the new surface, with the pair hoping the new grip offered by the juvenile asphalt will work well for their M1s.

For Rossi, a podium this weekend would be his fifth in Silverstone and, discounting last year’s cancellation, his fifth in succession. When the British GP was held in Donington Park, Rossi won seven times, but its transfer to Silverstone in 2010 presented problems for Rossi, who always felt behind the eight-ball when arriving in Northamptonshire due to missing the 2010 GP through injury and spending the next two years on the Desmosedici. However, with four podiums in the last four British GPs it is perhaps fair to say that the Italian should be in with a decent shot of the top three this weekend.

Whilst Rossi’s recent history in Silverstone is good, Vinales’ is – below the surface – quite particularly good. A dominant win in 2016 on the Suzuki showed Vinales’ potential around the British track and, in the following two years with Yamaha, he showed a strong pace. He finished second to Dovizioso in 2017, beaten by the Ducati’s power, and last year his pace pointed towards a podium challenge for what was then the #25 M1. The Spaniard was unable to pass his teammate two weeks ago in Austria, and before that in the Czech Republic a difficult start off the wet half of the grid caused him difficulties. However, with the short run to the first corner in Silverstone, a good qualifying and an okay start could see the #12 M1 in the fight.

Outside of the factory Yamaha team, Petronas Yamaha SRT’s Fabio Quartararo will surely be in the fight, too. The Frenchman has never stood on the podium in Britain, but showed strongly last year in free practice for the Moto2 class. Regardless of previous form in Silverstone, Quartararo arrives in Britain this year having the time of his life, riding better than he ever has and is off the back of an unlikely podium in Austria which took his podium tally for 2019 above that of Rossi. Although he misses speed, there is a chance this weekend for Quartararo to take his first MotoGP win.

At Suzuki, this weekend there will be no Joan Mir, who is replaced at Team Suzuki Ecstar by test rider Sylvain Guintoli as the Spaniard continues to recover from injuries sustained in his Brno testing crash.

Elsewhere, Jorge Lorenzo is back in the Repsol Honda Team, and is another rider who could benefit strongly from the smooth surface, although his fitness is of course questionable after nearly two months off the bike and now almost one year of being constantly injured. Lorenzo is of course without a top ten in over one year, so breaking that particular duck will be probably fairly high on the #99’s list.

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