2018 Misano MotoGP Preview: Lorenzo vs The World

And so we leave England, and the debacle that was Silverstone, a race that was canceled due to rain in a land which is green and pleasant thanks to the generous application of precipitation all year round. It is said that the English language has as many words for rain as some Inuit languages have for snow, but I have been told that the number of words the Inuit have for snow is greatly exaggerated.

MotoGP heads south to Misano, for a late summer race on the Adriatic Riviera and the certainty of a race actually happening. The washout at Silverstone could never happen at Misano, could it? Those with longer memories will remember 2007, and the first race back at the Italian circuit since Wayne Rainey suffered his career-ending injury there. A sudden flash storm on Friday revealed a severe drainage problem, with water flooding into the garages causing teams to scramble to get everything up above floor level, and leaving circuit officials standing waist-deep in water at one part of the track looking for a blocked drain.

Fortunately, the circuit fixed the problems, and since then, rain has not stopped practice from happening. So if it rains this weekend – and the forecast is for showers both on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning – the event should be able to proceed as normal. But if the forecast is correct, then it will have an effect on Sunday's race. Any loss of practice time will benefit any rider who has tested here recently. And as it happens, a bunch of factories and teams have done just that.

The Wrong Way Round

But first, the track. MotoGP returned to Misano in 2007, after leaving in 1993, when Wayne Rainey fell awkwardly, was hit by his bike, and ended up in a wheelchair. The sport pledged not to return, but the fact that the circuit is literally within walking distance (though granted, it's a long walk) of Tavullia, Valentino Rossi's home town, made the prospect just too tempting. To assuage the doubters, the track direction was reversed, though it is hard to see what difference that would have made to Rainey's injury.

What it did do is make the track considerably less attractive as a challenge. Before the switch, the riders would exit Carro and build speed through a series of ever-faster left handers building up to Curvone, before heading down the back straight. Now, the riders come out of the sweeping right at Tramonto, and head down the back straight to hit Curvone, probably the finest name for a corner on the calendar. Curvone is the superlative of Curva, to use a grammatical term, is best translated as "big balls corner demanding massive respect". It still is, despite being approached from the wrong direction.

Once past Curvone, the riders head through an ever-decreasing series of rights until the reach the tight Carro corner. The challenge is diminished, though luckily, not removed entirely.

There are still some great sections of track at Misano. The back straight is not quite straight, and leads into Quercia (or the oak tree), a tough point for braking before the wide left leading to the sweeping right of Tramonto. This is one of the favorite passing spots on the circuit, and a difficult one, as if you get it wrong, you risk running wide and being passed back on the exit. Tramonto, too, is a good place to pass, with a couple of lines possible through the turn. Dive inside on entry and you offer your adversary better drive on exit. Run wide on entry and you risk seeing your rivals run up the inside, block your exit, and kill your drive.

Misano is not a complicated circuit, but it is a very particular one. A lot of hard acceleration from a low gear means that it is heavy on fuel. That should be less of a concern this year, as the race distance has been reduced from 28 to 27 laps. More fuel to play with should make the job of setting up the bike a little bit easier, as teams will not have to eke out the last joule of energy from the 22 liters of fuel which the tanks hold.

Head start on setup

Setup will be easier for some teams than for others. The Ducati, Aprilia, Suzuki, and Yamaha factory teams all tested there, as did Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda and Franco Morbidelli on the Marc VDS Honda. If the forecast is correct, and it rains on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, a full day of testing at Misano could be worth its weight in gold.

If the unofficial times released from the private test in Misano are correct, then Jorge Lorenzo starts the race as favorite. The Factory Ducati rider lapped at around his pole record from 2016, and according to informal reports from the track, was in a league of his own at the circuit. That should not come as a surprise, as Lorenzo loves Misano. On his first visit here in 2007, he won the 250cc race from pole. In his rookie MotoGP year, he finished second. He won the race three straight years from 2011 to 2013, and whenever he finishes the race, he finishes on the podium.

He has made some mistakes too: in 2015, while battling for the championship with his then teammate Valentino Rossi, he got flustered in mixed conditions, and tried to lap too fast after changing back to slicks. He ended in the gravel that race, though he would go on to win the championship. Last year, Lorenzo was leading the race on the Ducati and looking comfortable, but crashed out while changing a fuel map, distracted by the Desmosedici's complicated switch system.

But Lorenzo has mastered the Desmosedici now, as his three victories this year demonstrate, and the GP18 is clearly the best bike on the grid. With a day of testing under his belt at a track he loves, who is to stop him?

First, beat your teammate

First on that list must be his teammate, Andrea Dovizioso, if only to reestablish the Italian's position inside Ducati. Dovizioso's year looks much worse than it has actually been, the Italian making two very expensive mistakes at the start of the year. But he has also had a tough fight on his hands since Lorenzo got the reshaped tank support at Mugello, and struggled to match the pace of his teammate. Dovizioso was looking strong at Silverstone before the race got rained off.

But despite hailing from just up the road from the circuit – Forli is a biblical three score kilometers and ten northwest of Misano – Dovizioso has never had an easy time at the track. He has been on the podium only once, finishing third here last year. Prior to that, he had fourth place pretty much locked in, not a result which anyone would desire.

Having both Ducati riders perform well would help stir up the championship. Marc Márquez still holds a 59 point lead in the championship, and if both Lorenzo and Dovizioso could finish ahead of him, that would steal valuable points from the Repsol Honda rider. With Márquez not having tested at Misano, that is a realistic option.

Even if that were to happen, fate may still smile on Márquez. The man who trails Márquez by 59 points is Valentino Rossi, and the Italian is not set as fair as the Ducatis are. The Movistar Yamaha team did come to Misano to test, though they had a busy schedule testing parts, rather than just chasing race setup. A new engine, aimed at solving the problems caused by the 2018 unit, helped some, as did some electronics upgrades. More electronics progress was made at Aragon, which will be important coming into Misano.

Stop the streak

For Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales face an important task at Misano: to call a halt to Yamaha's winless streak, and save the Japanese brand from the ignominy of repeating their worst run of races without victory from back in 1997. The current run extends back to Assen last year, and stands at 21 races. If the race at Silverstone had gone ahead, Maverick Viñales might have stood a chance of ending it, as the Spaniard was impressive all weekend. But at least it gave them a reprieve.

Valentino Rossi will be called upon to end that run in Italy. This is almost literally Rossi's home race, taking place just a few kilometers away from Tavullia, the village in which he grew up. Mugello remains Rossi's spiritual home, but Misano is the track where he lives, and where he trains so regularly with the VR46 Riders Academy.

It is also a track where he goes well. Rossi holds the record for the most number of wins at the circuit, tied with Jorge Lorenzo at three. Buoyed by the fans who combine attending the race to a pilgrimage to Tavullia, Rossi is capable of extraordinary things at Misano. His podium at Mugello showed that he is capable of outperforming the bike on occasion, though his sixth place at Austria was arguably an even greater achievement. With a head start from the test, and a fire in his belly, Rossi looks a safe bet for the podium, and maybe more.

All in the mind

Maverick Viñales also seems to be showing a return to form. The test in Misano put him in good shape to challenge at Silverstone, a track he loves, and the test at Aragon, after Silverstone, appears to have brought further improvements. Viñales is a rider who thrives on confidence: when he has it, he can reach dazzling heights; when he doesn't, he plumbs the depths.

Right now, Viñales is on the up. With two tests and a strong outing at Silverstone before the rain came, he comes into Misano feeling positive. If the electronics improvements found at the tests can help in the final few laps, then both Movistar Yamaha riders could be in the mix for the race.

Marc Márquez, however, remains the man to beat, though Misano could be the place where he can be beaten. Repsol Honda did not come to Misano for a test, though they will have some access to data from Cal Crutchlow's test here with the LCR Honda team. If they lose any track time to the weather, the Repsol riders could find themselves on the back foot.

Show of confidence

FP1 will provide a handy gauge of Márquez' confidence. In recent races, the championship leader has not bothered with chasing a fast time on Friday morning, confident of making it through to Q2 on race pace alone. Márquez could find himself caught on the horns of a dilemma: sacrifice setup time in FP1 to ensure a spot in Q2, or focus on setup and worry about qualifying on Saturday afternoon, either directly or via Q1.

The track has traditionally been good for Honda, though. The RC213V has won the last three races in a row, with Márquez winning in mixed conditions in 2015 and 2017, and Dani Pedrosa dominating in 2016. Additionally, Márquez has won in 125s and Moto2, while Pedrosa also won here in 2010, and has been a regular podium visitor.

Márquez may face the choice between his championship ambitions and his overwhelming desire to win everything. So far, a bad race for Márquez has been finishing third. With strong Ducatis, and Yamahas having had a test here, he may find himself out of podium contention. If he pushes too far, he could risk giving up too many points. Then again, Márquez seems to have an inexhaustible supply of rabbits in his hat this year, so it would come as no surprise for him to produce one on Sunday.

Dani Pedrosa will be hoping to do just that. Misano is a strong track for the Spaniard, but this has been a long and hard year for him, as he struggles with the changes to the 2018 Honda RC213V. He has won at least one race every year in MotoGP, a streak he will hope to take into retirement. Misano is one of the better chances he has to extend that streak, but there are only a few left for him this season.

Cal Crutchlow may find himself the best positioned Honda to challenge for a win in Italy. The Englishman had a strong test here before Silverstone, and has at least a ballpark setup to start with. He also has an unfulfilled ambition, left without a chance to race at his home Grand Prix, foiled by the rain. He will be hoping that tension will find a release at Misano.

Petrux redux

Other satellite riders were less lucky. Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller of Pramac Ducati, and Johann Zarco of Tech3 did not have a test here, but they will be hoping for a strong result. Miller was outstanding at Silverstone, robbed of a chance to shine by the waterlogged surface, while Petrucci returns to Misano after a podium which was so very nearly a win here last year.

Of the three, Petrucci is the favorite for a strong result, as the track suits both the bike and the rider. The Italian has always felt at home at Misano, and will be looking to add another podium here, at least. The lack of a test here could be what stands between him and a podium.

Misano will be important for both Aprilia and Suzuki. The Suzukis have been looking strong in recent races, with Andrea Iannone finding a new fire and showing his speed. This is a race which is very important for the Italian, both for himself and for his position in the team. Iannone is bent on showing Suzuki the mistake they have made, and Misano would be a good place to do that.

Fuel economy

This will be a key race for Aprilia as well. It has been tough year for the Italian marque, a lot of which has been their own doing. The bike is much improved except in one aspect: reliability. Aleix Espargaro has shown real pace on occasion, but has lost too many engines this year. They had a new engine spec at Silverstone, though Espargaro could not use it as he is already too many engines down. It's possible he could get to use it at Misano, and that could make a difference to the result.

Aprilia are also one of the beneficiaries of the shortened race. The RS-GP is probably the worst bike on fuel consumption, so having 4.2km less to travel should meaning having more power for longer in the race.

For KTM, Pol Espargaro makes his return after picking up a serious injury in a first-lap incident in Brno. He finds himself back on track with Stefan Bradl, who is once again in MotoGP as a wildcard for Honda. That is probably not the welcome which Espargaro will have hoped for.

Though it was just two weeks ago that we were in Silverstone, it feels like it has been a long time since we have had a race. Sunday can't come soon enough.


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Comments

If I was Honda/MM, I’d go into Q1 for the extra track/setup time. Why doesn’t anyone ever mention this particular benefit? Is the risk of not making the first 4 rows that great?

I've been thinking about this too, but i think going to Q1 is too risky. Riders usually use their favorite/main bike on qualifying practice instead of their spare bike. Even though the two bikes that they have has the same settings, the feeling from those two bikes are a bit different. If they crashed their favorite bike in Q1, they have to use their spare bike after that. Other than that, qualifying is physically exhausting, especially after spending the whole day riding in FP3 & FP4. It will be harder to be faster in Q2 if the rider is not in peak physical condition.

The risk of not making the first 4 rows is really big, because the start of the race is chaotic, just like what happens to Maverick Vinales when he starts in 12th position in Brno and getting hit by Bradley Smith & Stefan Bradl's fallen bike. So starting position really crucial in MotoGP because having a clear track ahead is always better than having riders that always crash in a race right next to you..

> Why doesn’t anyone ever mention this particular benefit?

I thought that benefit was offset by having less tyres for the final qualifying in Q2? That's the impression I get, FWIW.

It's also a bit hectic for subtle setup :-)