The key to success in motorcycle racing is to control the variables which you can control, and adapt to the ones which you can't. The British round of MotoGP at Silverstone turned out to be all about those variables, the controllable and the uncontrollable, about right and wrong choices, and about adapting to the conditions.
The one variable over which those involved in motorcycle racing don't have any control is the weather. Especially at Silverstone, especially at the end of summer. That it should rain is utterly unsurprising. That it should rain during a MotoGP race even more so. The outcome of the MotoGP race – and in fact, the outcome of all three races at Silverstone – was entirely predictable: the rider who was both best prepared and best able to adapt to the conditions won. Behind the winners – Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco and Danny Kent – came a mixture of those who adapted and those who didn't, those who had controlled the variables, and those who had overlooked some of the variables they could control.
Rain may have been predictable on Sunday, but the timing of the rain created an entirely unpredictable situation. The Moto2 race had started in the wet, the track drying after the rain eased off, wet tires getting chewed up as the laps reeled off. The MotoGP riders went to the grid on a track with a clear dry line, slick tires the right choice for the conditions, though there were a couple of corners where the riders had their doubts. Reports coming in to Race Direction from the marshal posts around the track said the track was dry, the fine drizzle falling not making an impact on the track. The driver of the safety car reported spotting on the windscreen during his lap of the circuit before the start of the warm up lap. Race Director Mike Webb declared a dry race with five minutes to go to the start, and with the keen sense of irony which the weather gods always seem to possess, that proved to be the signal for the rain to start getting heavier, especially around the southern end of the circuit.
As the riders embarked on the warm up lap, reports started coming in from the marshal posts that the rain was starting in earnest, and was starting to impact the track. The safety car, which follows the riders around on the warm up lap, reported that conditions had changed massively, and the driver was having trouble controlling the slides in the car. Race Direction got ready to red flag the race (technically, the race has started once the bikes have been sent off on the warm up lap), waiting only to see what the riders would do.
It was pretty clear what they had decided to do. The new procedure, implemented since the Sachsenring last year, to prevent the dangerous situation of a mass start from pit lane, with riders jockeying for position, is to start the riders from pit lane in single file, in the order in which they entered the pits. This creates the incentive for riders to hurry to get back to the pits, especially if it is clear that a large group of riders is going to come in, swap bikes, and start from pit lane. A race within the race broke out on the warm up lap, with everyone pushing to get back to pit lane first. It was a delicate undertaking, racing on slick tires on a treacherous track, the riders tiptoeing around the track as fast as they dared. Once the entire grid entered the pits, the decision was simple: Race Direction red-flagged the race, and ordered a restart. Race Direction's job is to ensure that the race takes place as fairly and safely as possible. Safety considerations meant a restart was the best option.
The restart did throw up a curious anomaly. After the chaos at the Sachsenring last year, the new rules had been drawn up with a situation in mind where some riders would stay out on the grid, while others would head into pit lane. With that in mind, the rule was written to state that if one rider went to the grid, the race had to be started, the idea being to reward riders who were either properly prepared or willing to take a gamble.
The rule makers did not take into account the scenario where 24 riders headed in to the pits, and only one stayed out, regarding it as deeply improbable. Silverstone made them reconsider the probability of that happening, Mike Webb told us, with safety being the priority. They still want to give riders a chance to gamble on a different strategy, and take a chance on the grid, but safety must remain the priority. Expect a rule change soon, giving Race Direction the option to deviate from standard procedure on safety grounds.
Ordering a restart was the right thing to do. Not only did it avert chaos, but it also gave the fans a race worth watching. Jorge Lorenzo got his usual lightning start, but was soon going backwards as he struggled with grip, while teammate Valentino Rossi charged to the front, his crew having found a perfect set up in the wet morning warm up. Marc Márquez went with Rossi, and they soon made a break, opening a gap to a group battling for the final spot on the podium.
The race from that point on proved the value of proper preparation. Rossi won comfortably – though at one stage his lead did not look as comfortable as he might have liked – after Márquez crashed out. The Repsol Honda rider's crash was a carbon copy of his crashes at Barcelona and Mugello, and occurred for exactly the same reason. Márquez' crew may have solved the engine braking problem in the dry, but with almost no time on the bike in the wet this year, the issue was back at Silverstone. What Márquez described as "the floating feeling", the rear not sliding predictably on corner entry, made it hard for the Spaniard to control the rear under braking. In the end, he lost the battle with physics, and ended on his backside.
Where Rossi's preparation was impeccable, Jorge Lorenzo's left much to be desired. It was not that he did not have the speed in the wet. He was not at the level of Rossi and Márquez, perhaps, but the Spaniard believed he could have finished in third. If he had not had a problem with his visor fogging, that is. While Lorenzo was battling with Dovizioso for third place, his visor fogged up and he couldn't see properly, forcing him to give up any hope of the podium. It also meant giving up three extra points in the championship, which could yet prove to be invaluable come the end of the season.
This is the second time this year that Lorenzo's helmet has cost him points, after the lining came loose at Qatar causing him to drop back down to fifth. So is his helmet manufacturer to blame? There certainly appear to be both quality control and design issues with the HJC helmets, at least at the level of professional racing, as this is not the first time which helmets have caused problems in the race. Ben Spies suffered a loose visor, and then fogging of the visor in the rain. Lorenzo has had two issues this year which have cost him points, as well as previous problems with fogging. Some of that is down to Lorenzo himself, as at Silverstone, Lorenzo did not fit the breath deflector, which is part of the solution to keeping the visor from fogging.
Lorenzo's predicament is indicative of the dilemma faced by top level racers. His contract with HJC is rumored to be exceedingly lucrative, and Lorenzo provides important feedback which goes towards improving the design of HJC's production helmets. But when a helmet manufacturer suffers multiple problems in one year, potentially causing the loss of a championship, perhaps it is time to reconsider. At Silverstone, Lorenzo told the media that he intended to complete his contract with HJC for the rest of the season. Whether he will continue next year remains to be seen. Money can't buy you world championships.
Rossi's victory gives him a twelve point lead in the championship once again, and most importantly, it means he has either led the championship on points or been tied all season long. Rossi pointed out the importance of that fact at the press conference, while at the same time trying to downplay the psychological importance of taking the lead again. For his part, Jorge Lorenzo told reporters he was not worried. He had caught Rossi back up twice now this season, gaining back 29 points in the first part of the season, and 13 points in the last couple of races. He had shown it was possible, and there were still six races to go.
Who holds the advantage? Marc Márquez offered his view of the situation, telling reporters that he believed that in the dry weather, he would have been battling Jorge Lorenzo rather than Valentino Rossi. Lorenzo agreed, saying that he believed he was capable of victory had it remained dry. Even Rossi himself could see the truth of that statement. "Sincerely speaking, I think that is is difficult to arrive in front of Jorge in the dry," he told the press conference.
On a dry track, or under normal conditions at least, Jorge Lorenzo holds a clear advantage. Lorenzo has proven to be fast everywhere, and can grind out the laps at a pace others struggle to follow. When conditions are not perfect, or when the races throw up something unusual, or a situation Lorenzo had not been expecting, then he struggles, while Rossi uses his experience to adapt.
Each of Rossi's victories in 2015 has been down to circumstances going his way, or something unexpected happening. In Qatar, Lorenzo had a problem with the visor, in Argentina, Rossi chose the right tire, and benefited from a mistake by Márquez. At Assen, Rossi rode a brilliant race and outwitted Márquez, while Lorenzo struggled with a tire he did not like. Here at Silverstone, the rain played to Rossi's strengths. All of Lorenzo's victories have come from simply being much faster than anyone else, and taken when conditions had been what you might regard as normal.
Marc Márquez summed it up as follows: "In speed, Lorenzo is faster, but Valentino has unbelievable experience." He uses that experience to benefit where others fall short, Márquez said, giving him the ability to gain points when circumstances permit. Misano would be crucial, Márquez said, with Rossi wanting to win at home, and Lorenzo wanting to deal Rossi a psychological blow. "But I hope neither of them win, and that I can take victory!" Márquez said.
So who has the advantage in the championship? That depends on how you expect the next six races to unfold. If we have six relatively normal races, with events not conspiring to throw everything askew, then Lorenzo has to be the favorite. A couple of strange races, however, and Rossi gets the upper hand. The odds say that six fairly normal races are more likely, making a Lorenzo title a strong bet. But you never know what could happen, and it is always foolish to write Valentino Rossi off before the season is done.
Márquez' crash and Lorenzo's visor problems put two more Italians on the podium. Danilo Petrucci rode a thoroughly brilliant race in the wet to come home in second, his first podium in MotoGP immediately making a mark. Andrea Dovizioso, on the other hand, was as solid as ever, and took third on the factory Ducati.
Petrucci could hardly believe what was happening. When he was chasing Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, he found himself wondering what was going on, as it had never happened before, "except on the Playstation." When he started closing in on Valentino Rossi, he was scared he was doing something wrong. "It's not usual you gain some time on Valentino," Petrucci remarked drily. When he crossed the line, he was laughing in his helmet, while at he same time expecting to wake up from a dream at any moment. On Friday, Petrucci had joked to me that he loved England, because it always rained here, and he was very good in the rain. After Sunday, he will only love England more.
It really couldn't happen to a nicer guy, and Petrucci is definitely one of the most underrated riders in the paddock. Everybody was happy for him, the applause for Petrucci louder when he entered the press conference room than when the winner, Valentino Rossi did. On his way out of the circuit in the evening, he was greeted and congratulated by members of the IODA team, who he raced for last year. They were just as happy for him as if he was still part of the team.
Further down the field, Scott Redding crossed the line in sixth, his best result in MotoGP. Redding had no explanation for his strong weekend, saying only that the bike had felt good from the moment they had rolled it off the back of the truck. The set up was almost identical to what they had used at Brno, where Redding had struggled badly. Perhaps the piece of mind of a new contract with Pramac Ducati helped concentrate his mind.
In the Moto2 race, Johann Zarco reasserted his dominance, though the race was one of the better races this year. In difficult conditions, Zarco made a break a third of the way into the race, opening a gap which no one could follow. The win takes the Frenchman into an almost unassailable position, Zarco leading now by 85 points with six races left to go. It is not entirely inconceivable that Zarco could wrap up the Moto2 title before the paddock heads off to the flyaways.
Danny Kent's objective is to wrap up the title at Motegi, he told us after the Moto3 press conference. Taking the title on a Honda at Honda's home race would be magical, Kent asserted, and just reward for the hard work they had put in. It would also be just reward for Kent, who has dominated the championship almost from the start. He kept his cool in the wet while others crashed out at Silverstone, inheriting the lead from Isaac Viñales who crashed out from first place.
Because of the nature of the Silverstone pits, Kent wasn't sure how big his lead was, as his pit board was right at the end of pit lane, and too close to Turn 1 for him to risk anything more than a brief glance without outbraking himself into the corner. It was only really once he looked up at the big screens which line the circuit, and saw title rival Enea Bastianini sliding the gravel that he could relax. Kent added another record to his impressive list of results, becoming the first British rider to win in the lightweight class at Silverstone. But he is not focused on records, Kent told us, there is only one thing that counts: becoming world champion. With his lead in the championship now back up to 70 points, that goal is coming closer every race.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2015 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.