Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi head into Silverstone tied on points, with Lorenzo only leading because he has more wins to his name this season than his teammate. With the race that close, who does the season favor? Who will emerge victorious at the end? It is far too early to make any firm predictions, but perhaps we can guess from looking at last year.
There are seven races left in 2015, and the seven left this season are the exact same races in the exact same order as the last seven of 2014. That parallel invites comparisons, and the drawing of conclusions, though such conclusions are tenuous at best. However, there are tracks which favor Rossi, and tracks which favor Lorenzo, and their performance there may yet be indicative of the final outcome.
First, the numbers. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo currently have 211 points after the first 11 races. With seven races left, there are a grand total of 175 points still up for grabs. Though neither rider is likely to run the board – they are too evenly matched for that – a look back at their performances last year can be instructive.
In the last seven races of 2014, Rossi won two, at Misano and Phillip Island, and Lorenzo won two, at Aragon and Motegi. Lorenzo took three second places, while Rossi ended in second just twice. Rossi ended in third two times, Lorenzo just a single time, and both riders scored a blank due to poor weather. Rossi crashed at Aragon on a damp track, while Lorenzo retired after a tire change at Valencia in half-wet, half-dry conditions.
Jorge Lorenzo scored a grand total of 126 points in the last seven races, to Rossi's total of 122 points. On paper, that would give the advantage to Lorenzo, but there is another way of looking at the data. Each rider also had a DNF, in anomalous conditions which are unlikely to be replicated. Rossi touched the damp astroturf after it had rained at Aragon, and ended up crashing out. Lorenzo struggled with damp conditions at Valencia, decided to go in change tires, gambling on the rain starting to get heavier. It didn't, and he pulled in. Cancel the results from Aragon and Valencia, and Rossi comes out on top, outscoring Lorenzo by 102 points to 101.
Advantage Lorenzo, or advantage Rossi? Just looking at points scored last year misses the bigger picture, of how they achieved those results. Every race tells a story, consisting of a headline narrative with hidden undercurrents, both of which contribute to the outcome. These, more than anything, offer glimpses of what may come to pass.
At Silverstone, Lorenzo finished ahead of Rossi, but he did so by a huge margin. Lorenzo was engaged in battle for victory all race long with Marc Márquez, only losing out at the end. Rossi, meanwhile, was engaged in fending off challenges from Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, some eight seconds behind Lorenzo. At no point was Rossi a real threat to Lorenzo, but then again, Silverstone has always been a bogey track for the Italian, having missed the first visit to the circuit after breaking his leg in 2010, and never really catching up after that.
Valentino Rossi took victory at Misano, the Italian making it clear from the start that he was out for victory, and brooking no opposition throughout the weekend. Rossi has spent the past six months or so lapping Misano with the VR46 Academy riders, and knows the track like the back of his hand, so there is no reason to believe that 2015 will be any different to 2014, despite the fact that this is one Lorenzo's strongest circuits.
Aragon was truly an anomaly, the weather conditions catching a lot of riders out, the track starting dry after earlier rain, then quickly becoming soaked during a downpour. Rossi crashed early, Lorenzo pitted for tires at exactly the right moment, and capitalized on the situation with the win.
Motegi was a case of Lorenzo doing what Lorenzo does best, setting a suffocating pace that only he can manage to hold. He bided his time behind Rossi, then passed and crushed the opposition. There is no reason to believe the same won't happen again, the only proviso being that Motegi may actually suit the Honda, with either Marc Márquez or Dani Pedrosa, or even both, getting in and spoiling the party.
From Japan, MotoGP headed to Phillip Island, and what turned out to be a very strange weekend indeed. The combination of a new asymmetric front tire and a precipitous drop in temperature during the race (in the region of 10°C between the start and the finish), saw rider after rider crash out of the race. From that war of attrition, Rossi emerged triumphant, Lorenzo crossing the line nearly eleven seconds behind. For 2015, Bridgestone are bringing a slightly different asymmetric front, with the transition point between the two different types of rubber at a different point in the tire. The timing of the race – around 4pm local time, around the point in the day when it starts to cool significantly – means we could see a similar race. But it's Phillip Island, so anything could happen, and both Rossi and Lorenzo are strong there.
At Sepang, Rossi once again got the better of Lorenzo, but once again slightly unusual circumstances prevailed. Lorenzo lost an adhesive tank grip, meaning that he could not grip the fuel tank with his knees. Unable to control the bike and his body as he would wish, Lorenzo had to let Rossi and Márquez go. Rossi got the better of Lorenzo, but could not match the pace of Márquez. Take away that anomaly and either of the two Yamahas could win. Both men are quick around Sepang, and the track suits the nature of the M1.
The final race of the season saw yet more weirdness, the weather intervening once again to shake things up. The race started in the dry, but light rain fell in the early laps, before a brief shower saw the track get wetter. Márquez rode a brilliant race to victory, and Rossi did superbly in his wake to take second. Jorge Lorenzo came to Valencia with just one objective, to seize second in the championship from his teammate, but could not follow Rossi in the treacherous conditions. A hangover from his crashes in the wet in 2013? Perhaps, and perhaps the memory of his huge highside in 2012, when there was only a single dry line around the track. Lorenzo gambled on the rain getting heavier, and came in for wet tires. When it didn't, and it became clear that he would struggle to get in the points, Lorenzo decided to pull in, much to the dismay of his team.
Was Valencia representative for the season? Certainly not, nor was it representative of the relative strengths of the two Yamaha men at the circuit. As a rule, Lorenzo has been superb at Valencia over the years, having won there twice on a MotoGP bike. By contrast, Rossi is anything but a fan of the circuit, the Ricardo Tormo track holding many bad memories for the Italian, including crashes and lost championships. The result was, like so many of the last seven races of 2014, something of an anomaly.
Can we extrapolate anything from the end of last year and superimpose it onto the 2015 title chase? Taking last year's results and appending them to the current state of the championship seems very rash indeed. Even a comparison of the relative strengths at each track of the Movistar Yamaha teammates looks like a rather rash step to take.
If there is one lesson we can take from the last seven races of 2014, it is this: unusual circumstances and unpredictable events are what ended up swinging the balance between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in their battle for second in the championship. With the title on the line, and an El Niño growing, ready to throw weird weather Europe's way, that same unpredictability looks set to be the key to 2015 as well. If I were a gambling man, I would find a safer bet to put my money on.
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