Monday, September 1


IN another closely fought British Grand Prix at Silverstone, two Spaniards went head-to-head for the full 118 kilometres.  Last year Marc Marquez chased fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo for 17 of the 20 laps of the 5.891 kilometre English circuit before making his move.  But he only led across the line once before Lorenzo put his factory Yamaha back in front.

This year was almost a carbon-copy.  Lorenzo led the first 13 laps before the now defending world champion struck, putting the Repsol Honda in the lead for the first time with the fastest lap of the race.  To some it appeared that Lorenzo had ‘accidentally’ run wide allowing his young rival through and after pressuring the young Honda man for two laps,  Lorenzo dived through to lead once more.  He immediately opened a gap and for a while it looked like déjà vu all over again.  Faced with a similar situation at the Italian GP in June, Marquez found something extra and pounced with a lap to go.  At Silverstone he did not wait for the last lap, he got back in front to lead the final three laps, and scored his eleventh win from 12 starts this season.

When the chips were down, Marc Marquez had marginally better grip than Lorenzo and was able to dart and parry - and pull away.

Going into the race, the portents were for another Marquez win.  The 21-year-old had topped the time sheets in every practice session, was fastest in qualifying and fastest again in the warm-up session on race day morning.

Yamaha struggles
In contrast Lorenzo had struggled.

In Friday morning’s first practice session, Lorenzo’s Movistar Yamaha was a second off the time Marquez set, and, depressingly, that put the double MotoGP world champion down in seventh place on the time sheets with Andrea Iannone (Pramac Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (factory Ducati), Alvaro Bautista (Gresini Honda), Aleix Espargaro (Forward Racing Yamaha) and Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) in front of him.

The only potential front-runners who weren’t ahead of Lorenzo were his Yamaha stable mate Valentino Rossi and Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa.  Yellow Leader was eighth fastest in that first session, while Pedrosa was tenth quickest.

It got worse.  In Friday’s second practice, Lorenzo was 11th on the time sheets, with Rossi 13th.  Worse, Lorenzo was now 1.3 seconds adrift of Marquez, from being a second slower in the first session.

And Pedrosa had found some settings he liked to go ninth fastest.

Lorenzo said the situation was down to the tyres.

“We only have one problem: it seems Bridgestone has brought the same tyres that we had in the first races so we have the same problems as then. We have no grip to stop the bike, no grip in the middle of the corner and no traction so we have a lot of spinning and the negative point is it creates problem on the front,” he said.

 “No grip on the rear doesn't give us the balance in the middle of the corner which means we have to lean less and have lower speed.  All the Yamaha riders are the same, we have similar problems.  It seems that with this tyre we have now it's very difficult for us.  Of course we are going to try everything to solve this problem, we have to try to manage the situation, the tyres will be the same all weekend so we have to adapt to it.”

Overnight the Movistar Yamaha team found something that helped.  In Saturday’s morning practice the Yamahas were fourth and fifth fastest with Rossi a fraction quicker than Lorenzo. 

Pedrosa, who had also languished on Friday, was now third fastest.  Ahead of him was Dovizioso on the factory Ducati, and of course, his perennially fast team-mate, the seemingly indomitable Marquez.

Ducatis improve
The second session on Saturday saw Dovizioso and Pedrosa again second and third fastest with Rossi again fourth, then Iannone on the Pramac Ducati just ahead of Lorenzo in sixth place on the timing monitor.

Clearly the Ducatis had made a step forward, getting closer to the level they had been at in the Stoner years.  The question was, would they be able to keep up the pace for the full 20 laps?

On the strength of the foregoing, Lorenzo’s chances of winning the race for the second year running looked slim.  But the Yamaha team took another look at their data, made some more changes and suddenly Lorenzo topped the timing screen in the early stage of the 15 minute qualifying session.

Dovizioso raised the bar with a lap time two tenths faster, then Marquez shot to the top with a 2m 01.259s effort, three tenths faster again.

But Lorenzo was not quite done.  With less than a minute remaining, he stopped the clocks at 2m 01.175s.   What would Marquez do?  Thirty seconds later: bam!  Marquez scorched to pole position with a 2m 00.829s effort while Dovizioso racked a 2m 01.140s to grab second spot on the grid.

Lorenzo was third, but significantly, on the front row of the grid.

“I’m very satisfied and very proud of my lap time. I pushed to the limit and I improved six tenths of a second on the last lap compared to my first try,” he said. “The soft tyre on the front is much better for our bike. I would like to use it tomorrow, but it will be a long race, so we have to improve the bike a little bit more during the warm-up to be more comfortable with the harder tyres. This year the engine and the clutch are different.  I don’t have the same feeling, making it difficult to make similar starts to last year. Starting from third place of the grid is not the best position, because you are too much on the inside for the first corner, but it is still better to be on the first row than to be on the second. It’s a good position. Let’s try to improve the bike for tomorrow and try to stay with the front group during the race.”

Lorenzo holeshots
Clearly Lorenzo was much happier with the Yamaha and the Bridgestone tyres than he had been after the first session on Friday, but he still had one more hurdle to overcome.  Marquez.  That did not change in the race morning warm-up but when the red lights went off for the race start, Lorenzo was out of the blocks and into the first corner with a mighty holeshot.  Marquez was right with him while Dovizioso had the Ducati running third, ahead of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha.

Lorenzo got his head down and went for it, hard out.  Behind him Marquez was never more than half a second adrift and the two of them edged away from the Doviziosi-Espargaro-Rossi cluster while Pedrosa closed in after an indifferent start.

Espargaro held Rossi at bay for a lap.  And Pedrosa also got the better of the older Espargaro on the second lap.

Dovizioso held third for the first four laps, then Rossi took over for the next four before Pedrosa grabbed it and held it for another four laps.  Then, with eight laps to go, Rossi took it back and held it, despite both Dovizioso and Pedrosa maintaining the pressure right to the end.

Out front Lorenzo was looking strong.  His Yamaha seemed to behave better than Marquez’ twitchy Honda and he was able to lay down blindingly fast lap times in that ultra-smooth, apparently unfussed way of his.

“I was struggling”
Well, that’s what it looked like on the outside.  Lorenzo says it was quite different:  “I was struggling a lot with my physical condition to keep the bike on two wheels and being able to ride these lap times.”

Perhaps that is what told in the final few laps, after Marquez got back in front for the second time, twice making contact with Lorenzo as he did so.  Lorenzo tried to fight back but he no longer had the edge grip he likes and was slower off the corners as a result.

 “Knowing what this weekend was like, this race is much better than we expected.  I made a really good start and pushed 100 per cent.  The only thing is that here we probably don’t have the best package. Though we did a really good job improving little by little and practice by practice, we were not able to have the same comfortable pace as Marc.  I was pushing a lot and maybe he was able to relax a little bit more,” Lorenzo said.

‘Relaxed’ is not the term you would use to describe Marc Marquez style.  If Lorenzo’s smooth approach can be compared with that of  1980s Yamaha ace Eddie Lawson, Marquez’s riding is like a combination of the ‘grab it by the throat’ approach of Wayne Gardner combined with the ‘let it all hang out’ style of Freddie Spencer.

As a result, just when you think the Honda has used the best of its tyres, Marquez dials up some more throttle and gets even bigger slides.  His final lap was a classic case in point.  On well used tyres he banged in a 2m 02.570s effort to Lorenzo’s 2m 02.801s.

“At the beginning I tried to save the tyre a bit,” Marquez revealed, “but it was difficult because the pace was really high. I was trying to save some rear tyre because especially on the left side, as you saw on TV in the last laps, I arrived at the limit. I think everybody was the same,” Marquez said. 

“We probably expected a different kind of race today, but Jorge was really strong from the beginning but through the race we improved and at the end we were able to fight with him,” he added.

“I just attacked at the end because normally I feel more comfortable on the used tyres.”

And Lorenzo?

“We started the weekend 1.3 seconds slower than Marc and we finished the weekend just 7 tenths behind after 20 laps.  That’s fantastic!  Thanks to a very good job from my team, all together we improved the bike.  I rode well from the first corner to the last one and I did my best.  Unfortunately you can’t ride the Yamaha as aggressively as our rivals. You have to open your lines more otherwise you lose corner speed. That’s a difference,  but we have our strong points and they have theirs.  It’s just unfortunate that in the braking areas it makes it a little harder for me to fight.  But we will try to improve the bike and win races,” he concluded.

At Silverstone he was just 0.732 of a second away from Marquez in a race that took 0.680 of a second less time to run than last year.

Last year Lorenzo covered the 20 laps in 40m 52.515s.  This year it took him 40m 52.567s.

Conversely, Marquez took 40m 52.596s to cover 20 laps of Silverstone last year.  This year he did it in 40m 51.835s.  These are the fine margins by which races are won and lost, and right now Marquez’ strength is doing the business when the tyres are well past their best.

Full results here

Lorenzo and Rossi spray the bubbly after finishing 2-3 at Silverstone.  But Marc Marquez continues Honda's unbeaten run in MotoGP so far this year.