Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez' record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before. At some point, the chips will fall someone else's way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. "A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed," Marquez' Repsol Honda teammate said. "So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed." Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. "You can't plan things against Marc," Pedrosa said, "he is smart, he can adapt each time."
If it will take a whole series of events going against him to beat Marc Marquez, Brno is probably a good place to start. Though the Spaniard won here last year, it is not a track he feels comfortable at. The flowing nature of the track, with lots of changes of direction and fast and wide chicanes, plays to the strengths of both Yamahas and Hondas. The Yamahas benefit from the corner speed they can carry, and from the speed with which they can change direction. The Hondas benefit from being able to use their advantage in braking to get ahead of the Yamahas, park it in the corner, and disrupt their line. That isn't always successful, as the many combinations of corners allow a rider being attacked to take a different line in the following corner. If you lose out in one corner, you can usually attempt to strike straight back in the next.
Valentino Rossi has happy memories of the circuit, having taken his first Grand Prix victory here eighteen (count them) years ago, as well as his first pole position. Brno has also played a key role in some of his many world titles, as races where he turned the momentum of the season around. Memories will not be enough, however, Rossi is also missing some speed. His problem at Indianapolis was particularly in the second half of the race, and this was something he and his team would be working to improve. His start at Indianapolis was excellent, he even qualified well. It was just that he couldn't match the speed of Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo as the race progressed.
Jorge Lorenzo had the opposite problem at Indianapolis, getting a mediocre start and braking too early into Turn 1. That meant he got caught up behind Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso, and lost time there. By the halfway mark, once he had disposed of Rossi and Dovizioso had faded once his tire had gone away, Lorenzo was matching Marquez' times lap for lap. The problem was, matching the times was not enough, Marquez already having built a gap. At least Lorenzo showed he had the pace to fight with Marquez once more, though circumstances worked against him. At Brno, and at Silverstone in two weeks' time, Lorenzo will be doing all he can to preempt those circumstances.
Whence came Jorge Lorenzo's revival. A part came from his fitness, the Spaniard putting in long days in the gym and on the mountain bike to build his strength and confidence. Part came from the improvement in the bike, Yamaha bringing electronics updates to help make the engine response less nervous, the new, shorter exhaust pipe also helping in that area. Even the changes Bridgestone have made have helped, Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg explained. Bridgestone introduced a heat-resistant layer into all their softer option tires in 2014, to prevent problems in extreme conditions. At the beginning of the year, Bridgestone was choosing the same compounds as were used last year, but with the heat-resistant layer, the tires weren't responding the same and losing a little bit of grip right on the edge. After discussion with the teams, Bridgestone have started supplying tires with a fractionally softer compound with the heat-resistant layer. The result is to restore the feel of the 2013 tires, while keeping the protection against tire damage which the heat-resistant layer provides.
This modified approach means that Lorenzo has a bit more of the edge grip he seeks, and can push that little bit harder. With a bit more edge grip, a slightly less nervous engine, and more physical fitness, Lorenzo is back to being competitive. Zeelenberg was confident that Marquez' streak would come to an end either at Brno, or at Silverstone.
Brno also sees a hive of activity concerning next season. With Aprilia boss Romano Albesiano flying in to discuss the Italian factory's return to MotoGP in 2015, there is much jockeying for position for the remaining seats. The Aprilia seats look set to go to Marco Melandri and Alvaro Bautista, though Eugene Laverty believes he is still in the frame. Laverty has also come to Brno to talk to Pramac Ducati about the open seat in that team, while team managers mull over their options for filling empty seats. Teams like Aspar and Gresini face a quandary: do they try to attract young talent who might cause the occasional surprise, but cost a fortune in crash damage? Or do they go with a steady pair of hands, an older, more mature rider who will bring the bike home in a respectable position, keep the sponsors happy and not wreck the bike every other meeting? In other words, do they gamble on Dominique Aegerter coming good, or on Mika Kallio putting solid points on the board week in, week out? The fattest cherries have all been picked, what remains are a lot of solid riders. Choosing one rider over the other is exceptionally hard, in those cases.