Over 75,000 paying customers came oto watch the races at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, and each and every one of them got their money's worth. Three classes, three winners, battles to the very end, and serious consequences for all three championships, with two thirds of the races done.
The day got off to a great start for the home crowd with a calculated and determined performance from Scott Redding to win the Moto2 race. Redding had come to Silverstone with two goals: to win the race, and to further demoralize his main rival for the title Pol Espargaro. He succeeded totally in both objectives, much to the relief of the British fans.
When Redding turned up at his home track with a special patriotic livery, the Union Jack splashed all over the fairing of his bike, fans feared the worst. Bad memories of previous years when British riders had sported patriotic color schemes were imprinted fresh on their minds, and they feared that Redding had jinxed himself. Redding disagreed, and demonstrated his point by running in the top 3 in every session but one. He made sure that he always finished ahead of Espargaro, and once he qualified on the front row, posting a stunningly consistent string of fast laps in the process, he had the job half done.
In the race, Redding had trouble shaking off Takaaki Nakagami, the Japanese rider coming past when Redding made a mistake shifting down through the gears. But three laps later, Redding was back past, and this time determined to pull a gap. He was helped a little by the fact that Nakagami was caught up trying to hold off Thomas Luthi, but in reality, Redding was not going to be stopped. A third win of the season was important, but extending his lead by 17 points to 38 points over Pol Espargaro was much bigger. There are still plenty of races left, but Redding can now concentrate on defending, attacking when he can, but not risking anything when he can't, much as he has done all year. Redding is close enough to taste his first title, but he is refusing to get ahead of himself. 'It isn't over until Valencia. Anything can happen,' he said after the race.
The Moto3 race was a carbon copy of the previous race, and of many of Luis Salom's wins throughout the year. The Red Bull Ajo rider is using his experience and maturity to get the better of his rivals, taking it cautiously in the first part of the race, happy to follow when he can't lead. Then, with a couple of laps left to go, Salom attacks, and opens just enough of a gap to hold the the advantage all the way to the line. While Maverick Viñales is displaying some beautifully naked aggression, Alex Rins showing an undying will to win, and Alex Marquez a precocious talent, Salom is giving a masterclass in how to win a world championship.
And then there was the MotoGP race. If the race at Brno was tense, the race at Silverstone was positively asphyxiating, the tension making it hard to breathe to the end. The last two laps went from asphyxiating to electrifying in short order, when battle commenced in earnest between Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, Marquez attacking with typical flair and aggression, Lorenzo defending and attacking again with brutal determination and skill, and Lorenzo coming out on top in a penultimate corner pass. Lorenzo clawed five precious points back from Marquez in the title race, but Marquez extended his lead to 30 points over Dani Pedrosa. It was a big race for all involved.
Both Marquez and Lorenzo were sublime, pushing one another to another level. I asked Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg if he thought Marquez and pushed Lorenzo to improve, and he said he believed Lorenzo had pushed the rest to improve. With Lorenzo going so hard from the line, Marquez, Pedrosa and the rest of had to step up their game to catch him. Marquez' passes on Lorenzo were typical, tough and fast dives up the inside at Brooklands to seize the initiative. His last pass was just a fraction too hard, Marquez running wide at Luffield and leaving just enough of a gap for Lorenzo to dive back underneath. 'I think Jorge would have liked to pass "porfuera" (round the outside),' Zeelenberg joked. But he was happy enough just to make the pass and get the win.
It was one of his most emotional wins, Lorenzo said afterwards, and that was obvious from his body language and reaction after the race. The sense of relief - and release - was palpable, Lorenzo finally getting back some of the initiative he felt he had lost. What is clear is that the Yamaha can barely compete with the Honda at the moment, unless things go Lorenzo's way. Lorenzo once again noted the Yamaha's weakness in braking, saying that although they had an advantage in corner speed in the fast corners, it was almost impossible to pass the Hondas on the brakes. There were still ways round, though, as Lorenzo so clearly demonstrated.
But perhaps Lorenzo's joy should be tempered a little by the condition in which Marquez was racing. The Repsol rookie had crashed in morning warm up, going down very shortly after Cal Crutchlow at Vale, both men victims of the cold conditions and the bumps at the corner. Marquez had managed to dislocate his shoulder in the crash, having it popped back in by the medical center staff, and then given a pain-killing injection to allow him to compete. Marquez lacked some strength when changing direction from left to right, and so was not quite at 100%. Would Marquez have been able to challenge Lorenzo more if he had not been injured? Who knows. But the fact was that Marquez WAS injured, much as Lorenzo had predicted he would be if he continued to take such risks.
The risks Marquez was taking left him sitting with two penalty points. At the point where he crashed there were yellow flags being waved and the oil flag shown, yet Marquez was pushing hard enough to crash. Marquez denied he had seen the flags - from the overhead footage, you can see that the marshall posts are a long way back from the track, a consequence of having lots of run off around the circuit - but Race Direction rightly disregarded that excuse. When you are on a race track in a competitive session, it is your responsibility to be aware of the yellow flags, and act accordingly.
Cal Crutchlow had a lucky escape, though his bike was not so lucky. The Tech 3 man had gone down earlier, and he and the marshalls were standing over his bike when Marquez' Honda RC213V came flying in. Crutchlow later had nothing but praise for the work of the marshalls, saying that if they had not employed a spotter to see looming danger, the aftermath could have been very ugly indeed. Other tracks could learn a lot from the standard of marshalling.
Dani Pedrosa had finished the race in third, losing important points to both Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo in the process. The Spaniard had had a mediocre start, finding himself stranded behind Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl, and taking his time to work his way past. Once done, Pedrosa put the hammer down - the letter 'T' being shown on his board, he later revealed, was short for 'Tirar', the Spanish phrase for go as hard as you can. The Repsol Honda veteran broke the lap record on three consecutive laps on his way to catching Lorenzo and Marquez, but once he arrived, his tire had overheated and he had nothing for his two rivals. There was one section where he could overtake, Pedrosa said, the fast section through Copse toward Maggotts, but he could never really get close enough to try.
For the Tech 3 team, the British Grand Prix was a disaster. It had all started to go wrong on Saturday, when Cal Crutchlow had a couple of huge crashes. Crutchlow suffered serious abrasions to his right lower arm, with his leathers tearing open and gravel and dirt getting in to rip up his skin. It is the fifth time this year that his leathers have let him down, though of course, if he didn't crash, his leathers would not be subject to such abuse. That is no excuse, however: motorcycle racing leathers should not burst at the seams, and riders should not be picking gravel out of their arms with a wire brush.
Crutchlow had destroyed one bike on Saturday morning, then badly trashed his second after getting back to the pits and getting out again. The Tech 3 man had only one bike for qualifying, then the crash in warm up did even more damage. It was not so much his crash that caused the problems, but the fact that Marquez' Repsol Honda had slammed into the bike after the Spaniard's get off.
Though the lack of time on the bike hadn't helped, the truth was that he and the team had lost their way, Crutchlow told reporters. They had gone round in circles chasing set up ideas with the new tank, running back to back with the old tank, and trying to fit it all into 45 minute practice sessions on a race weekend. It was far from ideal, so hardly surprising they would end up confusing themselves. At the next race, Crutchlow had to focus on enjoying himself again, and not worrying about set up. Just ride the bike and enjoy racing, was Crutchlow's advice to himself. What he needs is a good weekend, and Silverstone was definitely not that.
Both Crutchlow and Smith were rather humbled by the home support they received both during and after the race, despite both feeling they didn't really deserve it. They had come to Silverstone to put on a show for the fans. They had failed in that objective.
Fortunately for them, other riders had that covered. Redding's win was the best way to start the day, but then the scintillating race between Marquez and Lorenzo had been the icing on the cake. With glorious weather - late August/early September is a much better time to hold a race in England, rather than in June - it had turned out to be a fabulous day's racing. Britain needed it, but MotoGP needed it too. Here's hoping for more.