2017 Austria MotoGP Sunday Round Up: A Race For The Ages, For Some

All the old certainties about MotoGP are gone. A few short years ago, MotoGP had a consistent, simple internal logic that made it easy to explain. All that is now gone. The things we believed were universal truths about racing have turned out to be mere mirages, disguising an ever-shifting reality. And that has made racing mind-bogglingly good.

A case in point. The Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria has a pretty simple layout. Straight, corner, straight, corner, straight, corner, long loop which comes back on itself, straight, corner, short straight, corner, and we're back at the beginning. The track is all about horsepower and the ability to accelerate hard, then brake hard. The racing here should be rubbish. The rider with the fastest bike should be able to escape and cruise to victory by tens rather than tenths of seconds.

Yet on Sunday, we saw three gripping races, where the results were long in doubt. The winner of the Moto3 race may have been well clear, but the freight train behind it scrapping over second made for compulsive watching. Moto2 cooked up another cracker – the fourth in a row, a sign the class is changing – which only really settled in the last four laps. And the MotoGP race became an instant classic, one which make any collection of top ten races of any era. It truly had everything: a large group battling for the lead, then a smaller group slugging it out, three abreast heading towards a corner. There were hard passes, missed passes, and a wild last-corner lunge to attempt to snatch victory.

Not supposed to happen

It wasn't just the race track which deceived. The things we thought we knew about bikes turned out to be false as well. Ducatis are supposed to have great drive out of corners, making them unbeatable down the straights, yet the two Repsol Hondas consistently gained ground on the factory Ducatis in acceleration, flying past them on the straights. The Hondas are supposed to make up for their weak acceleration by being demons on the brakes, yet time after time, the Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo stuffed the Hondas into the corners, outbraking them with ease. The Ducatis are supposed to be rocketships, untouchable in terms of top speed, yet Jorge Lorenzo was second-slowest overall, down by 6 or 7 km/h on the rest of the field.

Then again, the fact that the old certainties have gone is surely a good thing. The racing has become unpredictable again, and though we did not get a sixth winner of the season at the Red Bull Ring, we did get a surprise one. All eyes were on Marc Márquez, as the Repsol Honda rider had dominated practice and laid down a searing pace in all of his race preparation. Instead, it was Andrea Dovizioso who had half snuck under the radar, beating Márquez at his own game. There were two Hondas on the podium of what was supposed to be a Ducati track, and the Yamahas, the only bikes capable of following the Ducatis last year, were nowhere to be seen.

How did Andrea Dovizioso win this race? Experience and guile, a deadly combination. Ducati teammate Jorge Lorenzo streaked into the lead from the start then took off like a scalded cat, opening up a gap in the first few laps. "I just had a better feeling than the rest with cold tires, with new tires, and I could take this advantage," Lorenzo explained after the race. But Lorenzo's lead would only last until shortly before the halfway mark. Márquez had closed the 1 second gap Lorenzo had opened by lap 5, and 6 laps later Lorenzo would be swallowed up by both Márquez and his teammate Dovizioso.

Saving for later

Lorenzo had a pretty clear idea of what had happened to him. He had had two main problems to deal with. "We were very close with the fuel," Lorenzo said. "So from lap 3, I needed to put the last switch of the fuel setting, the lowest power one, and my bike was slower than normal. I lost so much on the straights compared to the three guys. And then from lap 12, 15 I started losing a lot of traction on the right side, and I needed to slow down."

Neither Dovizioso nor Márquez had had that problem, they told the press conference. "Fortunately my speed was very good and at the beginning I didn’t push," Dovizioso said. "I saved the tire and when you save the tire you save also the fuel." Márquez had been forced to save fuel. "In the beginning the pace was slow," the Spaniard said. "He was saving the tire. I was saving fuel."

Saving the tire was something which Dovizioso had learned from last year. In 2016, he had been beaten here by his teammate after Andrea Iannone had held back for most of the race conserving his soft tire. In 2017, Dovizioso had also gone for the soft tire, instead of the medium he had chosen last year. It was also a skill which had stood him in good stead in Barcelona, when he won his second race of 2017. Putting that all together put him in a position to enter the final lap in the lead, with only a hard charging Márquez to fend off.

The hardest pass

That is easier said than done. It helped that Dovizioso knew the attack was coming. "Yeah, it happens every time," Dovizioso said. "In the last lap, Marc always try to do something." That something proved to be absolutely spectacular. Though he crossed the line to start the first lap right on the tail of Dovizioso, Márquez was nearly four tenths behind by the halfway mark. The Italian knew that his only chance of victory was to put as much clear air between himself and Márquez before the two long lefts at Turns 6 and 7. "In the last lap it was very difficult for me because I lose a lot in the two left corners. It was easy for him to overtake me."

Dovizioso tried to hold his line through the double left, keeping the door firmly shut. As the Italian had feared, Márquez was coming. The Repsol Honda rider gobbled up the ground between himself and the Ducati: in just a single sector, he had grabbed back three tenths of a second. Dovizioso knew that Márquez was coming, and tried to thwart what he thought would be the Spaniard's last chance by braking outrageously late into Turn 9.

That defensive moved worked perfectly, but this was not the day Marc Márquez was going to roll over and accept defeat. "I try to pass on the last corner because if I don't, I cannot go to sleep. I need to try," Márquez said. He attempted a move which was wild, risky, and absolutely at the limit of traction. "I didn’t expect the last corner he would try to overtake me because there is no space there, there is no braking area," Dovizioso explained. But that would not stop Márquez.

Dovizioso's braking maneuver had left him out wide on the exit of Turn 9, with the door open on the inside of Turn 10 if Márquez was close enough. The Repsol Honda rider saw the gap, and took a last desperate lunge, diving inside Turn 10 with his bike barely under control. "In the end, I arrive in the limit," Márquez said of the attempt. It was no exaggeration: the front end squirmed, the rear end fishtailed and slid, Márquez riding on the ragged edge of control. If you want to see what 100% looks like, I suggest you go and watch the replay a few times. Márquez had the rear wheel stepping out motocross style just to try to make the corner, searching for all available grip.

Having a plan is half the battle

But Dovi was ready. "I leave the door open because if I close the door for sure he hit me and he is able to win," he said. "I leave the door open to try to exit faster, but he was good to stop the bike and try to exit really fast, But I was faster than him in the exit." Knowing that Márquez was coming, Dovizioso let the wild man Márquez pass underneath, then focused on getting drive on exit and outdragging the Honda to the line.

The plan worked perfectly, though the adrenaline Márquez' pass had generated left Dovizioso fired up and angry. "I have a strange feeling in the last corner," he said. "I was more angry than happy because he try to overtake me in that way. That is not a corner to try to overtake a rider." Dovizioso steamed out of the corner for the win with a wild wave of his arm, a signal all too clearly made. His anger did not last long, though, quickly replaced by the joy of victory.

That last lap was one for the ages. Not just because of the excitement it engendered, but also because of the extraordinary skill on display. Márquez' pass was attempted at the absolute limit of traction. A little over it, in fact, the rear sliding out from under him before he could get it back under control. But Dovizioso's response was no less impressive: he had anticipated the attack, conceived of countermeasures, then not lost his cool when it came time to execute them. It was the most level-headed, carefully thought out, and brilliant defense imaginable.

Cool heads

In his third win of the season, Dovizioso showed just how far he has come as a rider. It was a race he won with both his brain and with his bravery. His mental fortitude, too, remaining unflustered despite an onslaught from the most determined man in the paddock. Once again Dovizioso refused to talk about the changes in his life, saying only that it had been down to small changes he had made. Those changes are more to the way he thinks about things, helping his concentration. Dovizioso is the most cerebral of riders, and this is now becoming a major strength.

A win for Dovizioso and second for Márquez have punched what is starting to look like a decisive hole in the championship. Márquez has only extended his lead by 2 points, to a total of 16. But that lead is now over Dovizioso, rather than Maverick Viñales, the two factory Yamahas finishing in sixth and seventh. Viñales trails Márquez by 24 points, now, while Valentino Rossi has fallen back to 33 points behind Márquez. Rossi's shot at a title is starting to look out of reach, despite there still being seven races left. Trailing by more than a race win at this stage of the season is a pretty big hill to climb. Viñales is still in the safe zone, though there is not much in it. Yamaha cannot afford to have another weekend like this if Viñales or Rossi are to remain title contenders.

How to lose a championship

What went wrong for the factory Yamahas? Plenty. First of all, they finished with too many bikes between themselves and the championship leader Márquez. Secondly, they finished with the satellite Monster Tech 3 Yamaha of Johann Zarco ahead of them, and out of reach. The biggest problem both Rossi and Viñales had was a rear tire which dropped too quickly. "After twelve laps I had a big drop from the rear tire and I have to slow down a lot," Rossi said. "The bike become very difficult to ride and I did also one mistake in braking."

This has been a recurrent problem in recent races. For some reason, the 2017 Yamaha M1 is incapable of making a rear tire last. Which is odd, as that is precisely the objective the bike had been designed to achieve. When the bike has grip, it is fast, but it runs out quickly after wearing down the tires.

Where are these issues coming from? A bit of everything, it seems. Mainly, though, the other bikes are better than the Yamaha, with the Honda especially having made a massive step forward. "I think we improve because today in the first ten laps I have a good pace, but the degradation of the rear tire remain the problem," Rossi explained. "I think mechanically the other bikes use less the rear tire and also they find some better solution for the electronics to make good acceleration without spin."

Is reverting to the 2016 chassis an option? Johann Zarco finished ahead of both Rossi and Viñales in Austria. On the other hand, Zarco only finished a couple of seconds ahead of Valentino Rossi, but he also finished seven seconds behind the winner. The aim of the Movistar Yamaha team is not to beat the satellite team, of course, but to win them MotoGP races and championship.

Getting there

Sandwiched between Zarco and the podium was Jorge Lorenzo. If anything, Lorenzo was frustrated with himself after the race. "We must be satisfied, but not happy," Lorenzo put it succinctly. "It's not the best result, because in Jerez I finished third. But in Jerez I finished 14 seconds from Dani, in Montmelo I finished 9 seconds from Dovi, but this time is the lowest difference. Also I lead more laps than ever, ten laps. Again I was in the first row."

Where does this leave Lorenzo in his quest for glory on the Ducati Desmosedici GP17? The Spaniard believes he is close to being competitive. "Every time I am more natural on the bike, I'm getting more experience, more knowledge, and sooner or later we will make it happen," Lorenzo said. When will we see this final breakthrough? "It can happen any time … it depends on the track, there are some tracks that are better for you or for your riding. I don't consider Austria the best one for me. But it could happen in Silverstone, could happen in Misano. The important thing is that we reduced a lot the gap with the fastest riders."

Is this another false dawn? Lorenzo has had a couple since his switch to Ducati. Yet this one feels more real than the others which have come and gone. Lorenzo has been putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, and just a few holes remain. He will need help from Ducati Corse boss Gig Dall'Igna. But it is up to him to actually make the breakthrough.

Johann Zarco finished in fifth, ahead of the Movistar Yamaha riders once again. His secret weapon was his smoothness, which allowed him to run the soft rear tire and make it last for the race. With each new race, Zarco is establishing himself among the serious title contenders, and staking a claim for a full factory onslaught in the near future.

Extra benefit

Beyond the leaders, there were extraordinary achievements up and down the field. Loris Baz, who looks like he is set to lose his ride at Avintia Ducati, rode a superb race to finish ninth, just behind an equally impressive Alvaro Bautista. Baz remains one of the more underrated riders in the paddock, his height all too often held against him.

Special mention must go to Mika Kallio on the KTM. The Finnish test rider for the Austrian factory crossed the line in tenth, in a completely dry race. The bike is making fast leaps and bounds forwards as the focus switches from just throwing new parts at the problem to actually refining what they have. Kallio finished less than 20 seconds off the pace, their closest result so far this season. There is still a lot of work to do, but the home stretch is finally starting to appear.


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Total votes: 46
Total votes: 34

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Comments

That MotoGP race was such fun to watch. This season is completely opposite the processionals we had to sit through just a few years ago. 

And David: "The Italian knew that his only chance of victory was to put as much clear air between himself and Lorenzo before the two long lefts at Turns 6 and 7." Or perhaps Marquez? ;-)

Total votes: 11

Another awesome write up for an amazing race. One small typo tho

The Italian knew that his only chance of victory was to put as much clear air between himself and Lorenzo.
Should be Dovi?

Total votes: 15

I think it should be Marquez.

Total votes: 12

Great race. Also I feel a mention should be made of Pol Espargaro who had a great weekend and was looking like battling in the top 10 until he got hit at the start of the race. The KTM is getting there!

Total votes: 16

... that the Italian wanted to get away from on the last lap, not Lorenzo (and certainly not himself, as suggested elsewhere).

Total votes: 11

ah! what a race! made even more exciting by the fact that of all the racers it was Dovi who outfoxed MM ! the guy who has the reputation of thinking not twice but ten times before making any move. The quiet guy, never called alien, and very often unlucky... Now they call him "The Professor", well deserved moniker.  If there is a lesson to be learned is that in the Ducati garage there must be a big bunch of beautiful minds who seem many steps ahead in strategy. The way Dovi explained the tyre choice is the perfect exemple...

I don't know what changed in Dovi, i see it as a virtuous circle, the bike is better, he feels better, and together him and the bike are mutually getting better, growing together. On a side note, without stirring any unneccesary controversy, I think that MM move on that last corner was way too overconfident. Strike that. It was outright bullish in perfect MM style. I see an Assen 2015 : he goes all in using the other bike as a berm, thinking he could still hold the inside advantage and push the other bike out... i'm so glad that instead he found nothing to stop him, his trajectory almost taking him off track and thus being beaten not on sheer bullism, but on perfect smartness. MM did not like it one bit. And honestly, how many times we've seen Dovi, waving someone f*** off? I just loved it.

One sad note: i was hoping for a battle of 5 until the very last race... but with that mess in Yamaha, it's probably become a 2+1 - i still consider that Dani has a chance. He always gets stronger in the second half of the championship, barring injuries, and MM must be slightly rattled by Dovi, therefore more prone to overdo it. I admit my yellow heart is bleeding, but more importantly as a fan of the sport i find it sad to see talents like MV and VR not being able to fight for the top spots. How long has it been since Yamaha got it so wrong? 

and yes David, you are right : on paper the racing on this circuit should be "rubbish"... but all 3 races were so thrilling ! thank you for the write up. entertaining as usual.

 

 

Total votes: 78

My sentiments entirely...
Really glad Dovi out foxed MM and hence helped avoid the social media melt down that surely would have come if MM had managed to shunt Dovi off the track and won.
I've seen mention of the new wings reminding people of the Red Baron's Fokker Tri-plane...
I would love to see 'Fokker' or 'The Red Baron' across the back of Dovi's leathers  :O)
.
(David - If you do an article on Dovi, could you title it 'The Red Baron' and we can see if it gets picked up on and sticks ?)

Total votes: 12

Amazing how far MotoGP has come, the first half of the race a lead grop of 7?  Since when has there even been a group of 7 fighting for the lead?  Moto3 sure, but  MotoGP?  Awesomeness. 

Is Suzuki still racing?

Total votes: 16

At the start Petrucci's odd blurt at the sky announced a race that would not allow a bathroom visit. Lorenzo made his dash and a statement from the front, and we awaited his precious edge grip to release his grasp. This is a Ducati track. Lorenzo has changed some, but what changed most significantly is the Ducati upper fairing aerodynamics. The front sticks, and outright top speed has dropped. This is a Ducati track in the sense we know for their bikes w/o the new fairing. Change is afoot.

Perhaps part of what the Factory Yamaha is struggling with IS the step forward made by Honda, Ducati...AND Zarco. We ought to see Zarco's contributions here in their proper light. And soon. He may be the Vinales that we await battling Marquez. But first we have this Vinales and a Yamaha that needs some sorting. It won't take much to do so. Neither have shown a fundamental problem, but rather an obscuration of their true nature.

Kallio and the KTM - hats off! A top 10 wildcard. On a trellis framed bike. With in-house suspension. From Austria. And P.Espargaro, was his brake problem related to being rammed into on the right bar as I assumed? Wow. This race had it ALL.

What it did not have was significant presence from Suzuki or Aprilia. Perhaps we can say that this was in part due to the non-factory Ducati bikes that got a leg up here at a Ducati track to the front of the mid-pack. Plus, well, Iannone and his adherence to "the story of me" over exploring the Suzuki's potential.

Dovi was brilliant. The race is a lesson in defensive lines. Marquez was also brilliant. He has a dynamic balance on the bike that is a step above, loose doesn't describe what is also as wonderfully attuned to the pliable massaging of envelope in directions unseen.

He is also pressing at the limit of acceptable danger and aggression as seen in the last corner attempt at a check - pass on Dovi. Make no mistake. What occurred just before the two embarked up the stairs for the podium was as clear an assertive message as Dovisioso offers - unacceptable that you do that to me.

A race for the ages. Of any class. Enough appreciation cannot be expressed.

Total votes: 19

"But first we have this Vinales and a Yamaha that needs some sorting. It won't take much to do so."

I think you're as far out in left field as possible with that statement.  The Yamaha folks appear to have missed the design evolution of a MotoGP bike as anyone ever has. 

Total votes: 15

I can appreciate your thought spokes, in that the Yamaha has had a slight setback this year. I would reserve the emphatic hyperbole of mis-engineered underlying flaw for bikes like last year's Honda, the pre-Gigi Duc, and even the original Aprilia Cube or WCM perhaps. This Yamaha is workable and not far off the mark.

Fortunately we can just sit back and watch what it takes to make it come around, and how quickly. An electronics development and a swing arm sort of thing may just do it.

And Vinales - perhaps simply an exhuberance of expectation bonking on frustration...why believe otherwise?

Let's check in again in a few races

Total votes: 14

Even though Dovi racing was tremendous (and so Marquez's), the most important thing about this race, IMO, was the Honda's performance. It's like it doesn't have any weaknesses anymore. Last year we saw something similar, Marquez struggled (despite his wins) until Honda gave him the evolutions he was asking for. And then, bip bip...

Anyway, nobody can blame Ducati anymore. Their bike is fast, the money put on Lorenzo has helped Dovi a lot to get self confidence ;-)

About KTM. They're doing a great job, Pol and Mika are very fast. But what's happening to Bradley?

Cheers.

Total votes: 15

“Yamaha off the mark….”how long has it been since Yamaha got it so wrong?”…..
Are you guys crazy?  Yamaha were dominant at the start of the season.  There isn’t a lot wrong with the bike.  Some peoples yellow blood does a good job of tainting their eyesight. If Rossi and Vinales had not each overshot turn 1, they would have finished in front of Zarco. Yes they are a bit behind the Honda, but generally speaking they have more bikes up near the pointy end.  Where was Crutchlow and the Marc VDS boys?  waaay back. Highlights how good Marquez is.

Awesome race from Dovi.  He was a little over defensive at the start of the last lap, but there was no way of knowing that he had some breathing space to begin with.  Very lucky he stayed wide on the last corner because if Mark had of pushed him wide, you know that there would have been no penalty for it.

It’s turning out to be another great season!

Total votes: 22

Why did you forget pedrosa ?, both factory honda riders were way ahead of movistar duo at austria. Yamaha also failed so hard and losing so much point at jerez and catalunya. Now after yamaha fixed the understeer and low-grip track woes with the new chassis, last year problem resurfaced and haunt them again (excessive rear tire wear), it's like they are running in circle with bike development. Meanwhile honda and ducati improved so much this year.

Total votes: 7

You seem to forget the Jerez and Montmelo debacle. Plus the mediocre performances on some other circuits. As for this last race yea they both went wide but their pace was not good enough to make up for the lost time. The fact that often there are more Yamaha at the top is simply because tech 3 boys have last year's bike which was good and both rookies have great potential.
You try to insinuate that partisanship (yellow tinted whatever) clouds the judgement: let me return the compliment : maybe it's your vision of things that is slightly clouded. Otherwise you would see that when the satellite bikes are rather often in front of the official team there must be somethimg wrong. Unless you think that both MV and VR are mediocre and should go home.
C'mon, if it were just Rossi I would agree with you. But in most races both VR and MV perform very similarly. Hence the bike.

Total votes: 33

Sure Yamaha need to improve.  Its the name of the game.  But to have comments thrown around that they have seriously stuffed up and it's been soooo long since they have got it so wrong is ridiculous.  
The riders have both tried the chassis that the Tech 3 boys are on.  They BOTH chose the new chassis over the old. Zarco and Folger finfish sometimes (not often) in front of the factory team..... because the bike they are on is known for being easy to ride, is very similar to this years bike and both new riders are riding well.  The tyres and electronics are levelling the field more than ever, why WOULDNT they be up near the factory team?
Looking at their finishing order over the races so face, the factory team have finished in front, as a pair, compared to Tech-3, 4 times (7 times if you dont figure in their crashes from strong race positions). Tech 3 have only finishhed in front once as a pair.
What’s amazing is that the Yamaha group of 4 riders have only finished in the same order once this year. 

Total votes: 10

I don't like to be misquoted, nor misunderstood. I never said "it's been soooo long since they got it so wrong". I said "how long has it been since they got it so wrong?" Anyway, IMO it's plain and simple. in a nutshell: if the official Yam cannot fight for victory and/or podium every Sunday then I call that a serious problem. 

All I'm saying is that both MV and VR should be able to fight for top spots with the other 6-7 bikes until the final laps and may the best win. But it's not the case. If you cannot aknowledge the debacle of Jerez and Montmelo, the advantage Folger had in Germany, the mediocre performance last Sunday (and the total confusion in the garage in Brno) then, there isn't much I can say. 

Both Ducati and Honda are improving by the day, (and KTM too!) on the other hand Yamaha is going backwards. 

 

Total votes: 8

I am a Honda fan first, but was happy for Dovi's win for a few reasons: Dovi is a fantastic motorcycle racer and genuinely classy guy. He's been taken out several times while running near the front and just rolls with the punches. He was a bit angry for Marquez's aggressive move on the last corner and showed it without being bitchy and ruining his and Marquez's ultra entertaining racing. 

Good for Dovi, good for Marquez for threading the needle and for never giving up, good for Dani,  another great racer and class act. Good for MotoGp, the most exciting sport for the most part, and good write-up by Dave Emmett. 

Total votes: 13

when Viñales was annointed 2017 and beyond World Champion, and Honda and Márquez were finished for good?  Seems like ancient history by now.

At least jumping on and off the bandwagon should be good exercise.

 

Total votes: 13

which is it, the bike or the rider who makes the difference? rossi has always maintained the rider as the most important factor in winning. i would tend to believe it's the bike that needs to be sorted first and then the rider takes it from there. on the other hand, marquez would be the rider who throws my armchair judgement out the window.

Total votes: 18

that Rossi said that about the fire-breathing 2-stroke 500s, and I think he was right. I also believe he is the only current rider to have ridden both flavors of bike, big props to him for still being competitive. It is very different in this day and age of ultra-complex 4-stroke machines, which require an army of engineers.

Definitely will give Marquez a tip of the hat for his machine control, it's truly amazing.

Total votes: 7

David, can you please shed some light on an external software that Ducati is using callled MegaRide which, apparently, is helping them with tyre management in realtime throughout the race?... It would be great if we can get some enlightenment regarding how critical is this software for Ducati in getting better. Also, can teams use external softwares like these that are not supplied by Magnetti Marelli?

Total votes: 7

They are not using the MegaRide external software in real time. There's no telemetry, there's no additional software allowed on the spec ECU. There's no communication possible between external sensors/ECUs and the Magneti Marelli ECU.

Looking at the press release, it is clear that what they are doing is running simulations on data acquired at the race track. This is clearly useful in terms of tire management, as they can adjust settings / engine mapping to optimize that. 

Total votes: 7