2014 Brno MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Breaking The Streak
The hot-hand fallacy finally caught up with Marc Marquez. His amazing streak of consecutive wins stays at ten, the Spaniard being beaten for the first time this year. In his twenty-ninth race in the MotoGP class, Marquez and his crew finally failed to find a good enough set up to win, or even make it onto the podium. The Repsol Honda man has only missed out on the podium twice before, once at Mugello last year, when he crashed, and once at Phillip Island, when he was disqualified from the tire fiasco race.
Defeat had been waiting in the wings for Marquez for a while now. Look solely at the points table, and his dominance looks complete. But go back and look at his winning margin, and his advantage has not looked quite so large. Of his ten wins, only two were by a considerable margin: one at Austin, where he has always been better than the rest; one at Assen, where rain created large gaps. His advantage at Argentina and Indianapolis was 1.8 seconds, at Jerez, Le Mans and the Sachsenring under a second and a half. Marquez could only eke out victory at Qatar, Mugello and Barcelona, races he won by a half a second or less. At most races, Marquez was winning by a slender margin indeed, lapping on average just five or six hundredths of a second quicker than his rivals. It was enough, but it was really not very much at all.
Marquez' slender advantage over his rivals was a sign of just how close they really were. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had all come close to beating Marquez, and in the case of Pedrosa at Barcelona, Marquez had been forced to delve deep into his bag of tricks to beat his teammate. Marquez' talent may have loaded the dice he was rolling, but eventually they would fall another way. "People said winning was easy for me," Marquez told the Spanish media, "but I know how hard it was."
What went wrong? All weekend long, Marquez and his crew had struggled to find rear grip in acceleration. Try as they might, they could not find a solution, during practice, during qualifying, even during the warm up. Out of sheer desperation, they tried a big change ahead of the race, but that didn't work either. With no grip, Marquez was losing ground out of the corner, and trying to make it up in braking. He was pushing right to the limit for as long as possible, but the risks he was taking were not sustainable. "You can do that for three, four laps," Marquez said, "but not for the whole race." It was visible on TV throughout the race, Marquez repeatedly losing then saving the front in corner after corner. His assessment of why he lost was honest, and simple: "Today, we were not ready to win the race." But he also acknowledged it was bound to happen one day. "In a championship over eighteen races, you can always have a day like this."
Was it easier to accept losing to his teammate rather than either Lorenzo or Rossi? "I lost to all of them," he said. If he was forced to choose, then at least it was good for the team that Pedrosa won. But really, all that mattered was that the other three had ended the race ahead of him. If there was an upside to losing the race, it meant there would be a little less pressure on him. In press conferences and interviews, he wouldn't face yet more questions about the record books, and how long he thought the streak would go on. Instead, he can just focus on winning races again. If anything, he will return with a new fire in his belly. Marquez is unaccustomed to losing, and even less accustomed to not finishing on the podium. The only time he was not on the podium when he finished a race was in Mugello in 2012. Before that, it was Estoril in 2011. That is quite the streak.
That it should be Dani Pedrosa to break Marquez' streak was both well deserved and unsurprising. The Spaniard has almost won at Barcelona, and had been viciously quick all weekend. Pedrosa's strength slipped under the radar, as all eyes focused on Marquez. Pedrosa had a strong start, but ended up stuck behind the two Ducatis on the early laps alongside Jorge Lorenzo. When Lorenzo pushed past Andrea Dovizioso and then Andrea Iannone, Pedrosa knew he had to follow quickly. He seized his chance as soon as it presented itself, and set about chasing down Lorenzo. It took him three laps, and was soon past. From that point on, he eked out a gap, fast enough to manage his advantage over Lorenzo. It was only in the final stages that the Movistar Yamaha man started catching him again, but in the end, Lorenzo had left it too late to launch an attack.
Lorenzo had gambled on using the softer front tire, after setting a blistering pace on it in the morning. The cold morning temperatures saw Lorenzo string a whole host of low 1'56s together, and he felt that this was the better option for the race. The medium front tire – the tire of choice for the rest of the grid, with the exception of Bradley Smith – was too stiff over the bumps which surround the track, the softer tire providing the grip as well as absorbing the bumps. Under overcast skies with a cold wind cooling the track, Lorenzo got a strong start and could push hard in the early laps. Once the tire dropped off a little, and as the fuel level dropped, Lorenzo found he could not maintain the same pace. He was forced to let Pedrosa by, unable to match the Repsol Honda man's pace. Only in the final laps, with the tank nearing empty, did he once again find a burst of speed, but it came just a fraction too late.
Could the weather have been a factor? Possibly, Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg postulated. "If they sun hadn't come out for ten laps, maybe we would have been faster," he said. "In the morning, when the asphalt was cold, we were much faster." When I asked him if this performance meant that the old Lorenzo was back, he replied it was a little more complicated than that. Yes, Lorenzo's improved fitness had helped, but the work that Yamaha had done also needed to be taken into account. "The total package wasn't as good early in the season as it is now." Now, Lorenzo had a bike he was much more comfortable on, and capable of riding to its limit. With Silverstone coming up next week – a track that suits the Yamaha even more than Brno, and where he beat Marquez in a most satisfying way – Lorenzo is going to be a threat.
Last man on the podium was a personal triumph, snatched from the jaws of defeat. Valentino Rossi had made a mistake at a crucial point in FP4, crashing out just as he was about to test an important set up change. Even worse, he had injured his little finger on his left hand, taking the skin off and creating a very painful injury. He had tried to ride in the morning warm up without any pain killers, but that had been almost impossible. Pain-killing injections for the race had made the difference, Rossi getting stronger as the race progressed. He had been unable to match the pace of Pedrosa and Lorenzo, but he could at least shake off Marquez.
That in itself had been pleasing for Rossi. During the press conference, he was asked about Marquez' streak coming to an end, and the credit given to Marquez for those wins. It was difficult to understand, Rossi said. When he was at Honda in 2001, 2002, 2003, people said he was winning because of the bike, the Italian said. Then, when he went to Yamaha, it was because his rivals were weaker. Rossi could not pass up the opportunity to have a dig at his arch rival, Max Biaggi. "Sincerely, we are better rivals than I had, because more or less we never complain about the bike. In the past, especially when I beat Biaggi, he always complained it was because of the bike!"
There was also an odd moment in the press conference from Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard was asked if the rumors that he was considering replacing his crew chief, Mike Leitner, were true. In response, Pedrosa muttered some platitudes about the importance of a good atmosphere in the team, and it still being a long way to the end of the season. It was a very long way from being an outright denial. That will only fan the flames of the rumors, which suggest that Jorge Lorenzo is considering getting rid of Ramon Forcada, and Dani Pedrosa would want to take Forcada to replace Mike Leitner. None of these rumors have been verified, and it would be a very strange move indeed by both men, given their long and successful histories with their respective crew chiefs. One can only speculate that Valentino Rossi's example has raised a few question marks in their minds.
There was good news and bad over at Ducati, the good news being that once again, the gap to the front had been cut. Andrea Iannone had an excellent race, taking a very strong fifth position and finishing ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. Afterward, Dovizioso said he had been hampered by a loss of power from his engine, and unable to use his strength in corner exit to shake off the Pramac Ducati. Dovizioso's loss of power is a bit of a concern, given that this was the new-spec engine which he had first started using at Indianapolis. Dovizioso was phlegmatic, however, saying it was one of the risks of doing so much development during the season. Sometimes you try something, and this was the result, he said.
It was another weekend to forget for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman crashing out of the race. He pulled something in his shoulder after running off the track and trying to hold on to the bike. It had not prevented him from crashing, and once he returned to the track, the Ducati's electronics lost their way after being switched on and off. Not knowing where it was on the track, it was supplying the wrong levels of power at the wrong points in the track. It is a common problem with the Ducati, the electronics getting confused if it can't locate itself using the timing loops under the track, and the second time this happened to Crutchlow after Qatar.
If the MotoGP race was intriguing, the Moto2 race was eminently forgettable. Tito Rabat's victory was utterly deserved, the Spaniard riding inch-perfect to claim the win. He beat his teammate by a comfortable margin. Mika Kallio, in turn, was over three seconds ahead of Sandro Cortese, the German finally starting to show some of his promise. Cortese explained that his problems this year had started in Qatar, where he had injured himself. He had continued to ride, despite not being fully fit, and it was only over the summer break that he had sorted himself out physically. A strong result at Indianapolis and a podium at Brno were the start of more to come, he promised.
Rabat's victory over Kallio allowed the Spaniard to extend his championship lead to twelve points. There are still seven races to go, so the championship is far from over. It should be a close and thrilling race, yet Moto2 lacks all of the excitement it had in previous years. Whoever wins the Moto2 title will be a worthy and well-deserved champion, of that there is no doubt. Yet they face the undeserved fate of their title soon being forgotten. It is cruel, and inexplicable, but Moto2 simply lacks any buzz this year.
The same cannot be said for Moto3. Almost always the race of the weekend, and Brno was no exception. A group of seventeen battled all the way to the end, the race decided in the final corner. Jack Miller placed an attack at Turn 13, but Alexis Masbou defended stoutly, putting Miller wide, and dropping him down to fifth. Masbou went on to take a well-deserved first win, with Enea Bastianini finishing second. That was quite the performance from the young Italian, who had to be carried into the press conference room on piggy back, Bastianini having fractured his heel earlier in the week. Danny Kent made a welcome return to the podium, taking third. Having such a large group allowed Kent to take his time, the Husqvarna rider struggling with grip on new tires all season. Hanging in left him in a strong position towards the end of the race, and he capitalized on his position.
Alex Marquez finished in fourth, and ahead of Jack Miller, but Marquez' mission had failed. He came to Brno hoping to pull back as many points as possible from Miller, but had managed to recover only two points. Miller still has a twenty three point lead over Marquez, though there are still a lot of races left in the year. The biggest mistake of the Moto3 race was by Alex Rins, who sat up a lap too soon thinking the race had finished. The Spaniard just inched across the line ahead of Miller, then flung his arms in the air. What he didn't realize was there was one lap left to go, and he was lucky not to be hit from behind by the other riders.