2013 Jerez MotoGP Post-Race Round Up, Part 2: Of Forgotten Winners, Worried Yamahas And New-found Optimism
At the post-race press conference, as he fielded question after question of his last-corner clash with Marc Marquez, and refused to give an answer, Jorge Lorenzo eventually came out with the slightly exasperated quip: "Now a lot of questions to me, and when I won in Qatar, no questions for me. It's a little bit strange." It is a common occurrence in sporting journalism, and makes clear that while the athletes believe they are involved in a purely sporting endeavor, the media understands that what they are involved is actually show business. The big story of the weekend is not necessarily who stands on the top step of the podium.
Which is a shame, as Dani Pedrosa's victory at Jerez was both well-deserved and deeply impressive. The Hondas has come to the track with a disadvantage from testing, and were expected to struggle against the mighty Yamahas. It did not quite turn out that way, the Hondas - and especially Pedrosa and his crew chief Mike Leitner - found the grip they needed to beat Jorge Lorenzo and the rampaging Yamaha hordes, despite the horribly greasy conditions of the hot Jerez track.
Pedrosa made it look easy, losing out to a brilliant pass from Lorenzo at Turn 2, but getting his revenge six laps later at the Dry Sack hairpin. Once past, he was gone, and that was the end of it. If it hadn't been for the hard charging of Marquez on Lorenzo at the end of the race, (to which I devoted my previous round up) the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez would have gone into the history books as a snoozer. That will have concerned Pedrosa very little: he needed a win to get his season back on track, and he got one in deeply impressive style.
Pedrosa's victory will be a concern for Yamaha. The pundits had already penciled Jorge Lorenzo's name on to the trophy in the press - mea culpa, mea maxima culpa - as a result of the test here back in March, and the confident assertions of the Yamaha riders. Odds were being given for a Yamaha clean sweep, not least by the Yamaha men themselves. Jerez is precisely the kind of track that should suit the Yamaha: tight, technical, with lots of sweeping corners, with few places they would suffer against the strong point of the Hondas, the immense acceleration.
It turns out it doesn't work like that. Honda has nullified the perceived advantage the Yamahas had, and beat them where they thought they would dominate. This has completely disrupted Jorge Lorenzo's game plan, of building as much of a lead as possible in the early stages of the season, then defending it by riding conservatively towards the end. That strategy was good enough to win him the 2012 MotoGP title, and seemed like a solid basis for this year as well.
Yamaha may well have to rethink, and bring some upgrades perhaps faster than they were intending. In the press conference after the race, Jorge Lorenzo fired his first salvos across the bows of Yamaha management, emphasizing the need for new parts to help in acceleration. The first target will be a seamless gearbox, to allow the M1 to drive out of the corner more smoothly, but the first time that will see the track is likely to be at either the Barcelona test, or a private test for Yamaha reportedly scheduled for Aragon shortly afterwards. From there, a decision has to be made on with the gearbox is reliable enough to be used without risking a DNF.
The new gearbox may help Lorenzo challenge for the title, but you have to wonder whether it will be enough for Valentino Rossi. Jerez is a track which he previously owned, the Italian winning here six of the previous thirteen premier class races. Rossi finished his fourteenth nearly nine seconds behind the winner, and he would have been nearly seven seconds behind his teammate if it hadn't been for that last-corner incident. Jerez was the first track at which Rossi had hoped to show his true speed. If seven seconds down on Jorge Lorenzo is his true speed, then he will struggle to win another race.
One person who will not be getting the new gearbox is Cal Crutchlow. Which is a shame, because the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man rode another deeply impressive race. During morning warm up, reporters passing Tech 3 garage reported that Crutchlow was looking very pale. He had been in a lot of pain in the morning, after his big crash during qualifying which left him with internal bruising and blood on his kidneys. The blood spot had not got any larger, to his relief, and he had not passed any blood, and so was allowed to ride. Crutchlow felt markedly better in the afternoon, and by the time we spoke to him, he seemed almost chipper, though he was clearly still in some pain.
He was pleased, though. He had finished the race in fifth, and had not crashed when he got held up by Alvaro Bautista. His only mistake, if you can call it that, is in taking too long to get past Bautista, struggling again with the superior acceleration of the Honda. The Yamahas need to maintain corner speed, whereas the Hondas brake later, dive in deeper, and get on the gas earlier. Theoretically, both are equally fast ways of going around the track, but in a scrap, the point-and-shoot method is tough to beat.
There were more performances worthy of mention: Nicky Hayden handling the pain of his swollen wrist to post his best race of the year so far, though the gap to the front remains large. Aleix Espargaro once again stunning the crowds on the Aprilia ART machine. Andrea Dovizioso and Bradley Smith were both very impressed, both by Espargaro and by the ART. Their judgement was that it looked like a machine that was easy to take to the limit and stay there. Ironically, quite the opposite of the Ducati.
Most pleasing of all, however, were the crowds. For the first time in many years, crowd numbers jumped instead of falling. Attendance was 111,000 on race day, up over 8,000 on the year before, despite the economic situation in Spain. It feels like MotoGP has reached its nadir in terms of spectator interest, and that from here on in, crowd numbers will start to grow. That is in no small part due to Valentino Rossi's return on a more competitive machine, but also due to the arrival of Marc Marquez. There is a real sense of excitement about the sport again, something which has been sorely missing.
Even the economic atmosphere felt somehow less grim. Despite the terrible numbers on the economy - over 25% unemployment, and the country struggling to meet its commitments on budget deficits - it felt more optimistic, as if the Spanish had decided that this was as bad as it was going to get, and it was time to just get on with their lives and cope. Things are clearly very bad in Spain, but it feels like they are being met with optimism, rather than despair. That has to be a good thing: better to go down singing your heart out than head bowed and mumbling.