His streak had to come to an end one day, and it turned out to be at Barcelona. Marc Marquez' run of pole positions stopped at seven – Valencia last year, plus the first six races of this season – after he was forced to concede the place to his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. For a change, the front row press conference on Friday afternoon did not feature a jubilant Marquez (well, actually, it did, but more that later) and a couple of dejected rivals, wondering what they can do about the Repsol Honda man. Both pole sitter Pedrosa and runner up Jorge Lorenzo were, if not exactly buoyant, at least rather perky. Hope has returned.
And rightly so. Pedrosa took pole completely on merit, posting a blistering lap that was only just off his own lap record set last year. Given how the track has deteriorated since last year – more bumps, less grip – Pedrosa's time was deeply impressive. So impressive that it forced Marc Marquez into a mistake. The Spaniard and his crew attempted a repeat of their strategy at Jerez, to attempt three runs for pole. It worked rather well, up until the very last run. Marquez was pushing hard, aware that Pedrosa had taken pole, but got into Turn 1 a little too hot, ran a little too wide onto the kerb, then had to push the front a little too hard to try to make the corner. He failed.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying on Saturday at Barcelona:
Results and summary below:
After yesterday's KTM domination of Moto3 - the Husqvarna of Niklas Ajo is just a KTM in disguise - it was Honda's turn to strike back in FP3. Alex Marquez ended the third session of free practice on top of the timesheets, pulling a gap of over half a second over the competition. Brad Binder ended in 2nd on the Mahindra, the South African having a very strong run at Barcelona. Two more Hondas followed, with Efren Vazquez finishing ahead of Alex Rins, while Niccolo Antonelli ended the session in 5th as the first KTM rider.
Niklas Ajo has put his Avant Tecno Husqvarna on top of the Moto3 timesheets at Barcelona, the Finnish youngster taking over the lead at the end of the session. Ajo edged out Red Bull KTM's Jack Miller, the Australian just fourteen thousandths of a second slower than the Finn. Miller held off Isaac Vinales by the very slimmest of margins, one thousandth of a second, while the Italian duo of Niccolo Antonelli and Romano Fenati took 4th and 5th respectively. Alex Marquez was the first Honda home in 6th, four tenths behind Ajo.
Romano Fenati kicked off the Barcelona round of MotoGP in the same style which he left Mugello, topping the first session of free practice for the Moto3 class. Fenati led a trio of KTMs, finishing a little ahead of Isaac Vinales and Jack Miller. Fenati and the KTMs took over after a late charge, the Hondas of Alex Rins and Alex Marquez leading early, before succumbing to the KTMs.
Surprise of the early morning session was Brad Binder, the South African topping the timesheets at one stage, before being overhauled by the KTMs and Hondas. The Ambrogio rider ended the session as first Mahindra in 7th.
It is becoming customary for any MotoGP preview worth its salt to begin with a single question: can anyone beat Marc Marquez this weekend? That same question was put to the riders during the pre-event press conference, to which Valentino Rossi gave the most obvious answer. Of course it was possible, he said. 'It is nothing special. What you have to do is do your maximum and improve your level.' The only trouble is, every time Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo or Dani Pedrosa improve their level, so does Marc Marquez. But it is still possible, Rossi believes. 'We are not very far. It is not easy, but nothing special.'
Barcelona, like Mugello, is one of the tracks where Marquez is perhaps more vulnerable. It is a circuit where the reigning champion has always struggled – though for Marquez, 'struggling' means only managing podiums rather than wins – and where the Yamahas, especially, have been strong. Valentino Rossi has won here nine times, and Jorge Lorenzo, who has been either first or second at the track for the past five years. The track flows, and has a little bit of everything. A long, fast front straight, some elevation change climbing up into the two stadium sections, the two 'horns' of the Catalunya bull which the Montmelo circuit most resembles, a couple of esses, and long, flowing combinations of corners. Those corners more than compensate for the front straight. Jorge Lorenzo reckoned that the Yamaha had a top speed deficit of perhaps 4 or 5 km/h on the Honda, but that at Barcelona, this was less of an issue than at other tracks. After all, he pointed out, there are some 3.7 kilometers of corners in which to catch a Honda ahead of you.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona:
At the Barcelona round of MotoGP – or to give it its full title, the 'Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya' – title sponsors Monster Energy are to unveil a new flavor of their product, called 'The Doctor', marketed around Valentino Rossi. This is not a particularly unusual event at a MotoGP weekend. Almost every race there is a presentation for one product or another, linking in with a team, or a race, or a factory. If anything, the presentation of the Monster Energy drink is even more typical than most, featuring motorcycle racing's marketing dynamite Valentino Rossi promoting an energy drink, the financial backbone of the sport.
It is also a sign of the deep trouble in which motorcycle racing finds itself. Energy drinks are slowly taking over the role which tobacco once played, funding teams, riders and races, and acting as the foundation on which much of the sport is built. Red Bull funds three MotoGP rounds, a Moto3 team and backs a handful of riders in MotoGP and World Superbikes. Monster Energy sponsors two MotoGP rounds, is the title sponsor of the Tech 3 MotoGP squad, a major backer of the factory Yamaha squad and has a squadron of other riders which it supports in both MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks. Then there's the armada of other brands: Gresini's Go & Fun (a peculiar name if ever there was one), Drive M7 backing Aspar, Rockstar backing Spanish riders, Relentless, Burn, and far too many more to mention.
Why is the massive interest in backing motorcycle racing a bad thing? Because energy drinks, like the tobacco sponsors they replace, are facing a relentless onslaught to reduce the sale and marketing of the products. A long-standing ban of the sale of Red Bull – though strangely, only Red Bull – was struck down in France in 2008. Sale of energy drinks to under-18s has been banned in Lithuania. Some states and cities in the US are considering age bans on energy drink consumption. And perhaps more significantly, the American Medical Association has been pushing for a ban on marketing energy drinks to minors, a call which resulted in leaders in the industry being called to testify in front of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the US Senate.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Mugello:
One circuit, three races, all of them utterly different in nature. The wide, flowing layout with a long straight, fast corners, and multiple combinations of turns present very different challenges to Grand Prix racing's three different classes. For Moto3, escape is impossible, the race coming down to tactics and the ability to pick the right slipstream. In Moto2, it is possible to get away, but it's equally possible to chase an escaped rider down. And in MotoGP, the fast flicks make it possible to both defend attacks and launch your own counter attack. Mugello is a wonderful circuit, and it served up a spectacular portion of racing on Sunday.
We had expected Moto3 to be the race of the day, as it has been every Grand Prix this season. It certainly did not disappoint, but by the time the last few laps of the MotoGP race rolled around, we had forgotten all about Moto3. The Moto3 race was fantastic entertainment, but the MotoGP race at Mugello was one for the ages. The kind of race that fans will bring up over and over again, one to go along with Barcelona 2009, Laguna Seca 2008, even Silverstone 1979.
It took the return of the real Jorge Lorenzo to light a fire under the MotoGP race. Lorenzo had been looking stronger and stronger all weekend, and was coming to a track where he has previously dominated, and with tires which, he had been told, were identical to last year. Lorenzo's punishing cardio workout schedule now back on track and paying dividends. The fitness he lost when three operations during the off season forced him to abandon his normal training schedule cost him dearly.
Jack Miller has been handed two penalty points for his last-lap clash with Alex Marquez, which caused Miller, Marquez and Bastianini to crash. The Red Bull KTM rider made a very late lunge up the inside of the leading group at Scarperia, but clipped the back of Miguel Oliveira's Mahindra, which forced him to stand the bike up and into the path of Alex Marquez. Marquez ran into the back of Miller, and the two riders fell, taking out Enea Bastianini with them.
After the incident, Miller accepted full blame for the crash. 'I went in there a little bit too aggressive, trying to overtake too many people at once,' Miller said. 'There was a bit of room there, and I went for it, but Oliveira closed the door. I touched his rear tire, stood it up and almost had it, then Marquez ran in to me from behind. It was completely my fault.'