On Saturday night, I wrote that it was impossible to make sense of the times set in practice, to judge who had pace and who didn't, who could be fast for the full length of the race, and who could only be quick for a few laps. There were too many confusing factors: different riders running different tires at different times. Distilling that into a clear picture of what might happen was impossible.
I was right: it turned out to be impossible to predict how the race would turn out. But I was not right because of some great skill in reading between the lines of the timesheets. I was right because of something I had completely overlooked. Sometimes, weird stuff happens and throws everything into disarray. A wildcard, a joker, and any predictions you might have made go right out of the window.
Nobody predicted Jorge Lorenzo would get a fantastic start and lodge himself in the group fighting for the lead. And nobody predicted Jorge Lorenzo would try to outbrake Maverick Viñales, lose the front and a crash. Above all, nobody predicted that when he crashed, he would take out Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi as a result, and in doing so, hand his teammate a massive lead in the championship, making Marc Márquez' job much easier for the rest of the season.
Teamwork makes the dream work
When Marc Márquez arrived in Parc Fermé after winning the race by a comfortable margin, he thanked his team and Honda, and expressed his gratitude in the following way: "The whole Repsol Honda team did a really good job during all this weekend." It was a statement made with entirely innocent intent, yet it was all too easy for the hardened cynics in the press room to read it in another way. After all, by taking out Márquez' main opposition in the championship, and creating a gap which Márquez could exploit and extend to win the race with little opposition, Repsol Honda team rider Jorge Lorenzo also did a really good job. For Márquez' title aspirations, perhaps, though it certainly feels like he has killed the championship stone dead.
Márquez now leads Andrea Dovizioso by 37 points after 7 races. Sure, there are still 12 races to go, and a lot of points left to be earned, but the one thing you can't afford to give the reigning champion is a comfortable lead in the championship. The lesson Márquez learned in 2015 was that you win when you can, and settle for as many points as possible when you can't, hoarding points to create an insurmountable lead. That approach has earned him his last three titles, and he looks well on his way to taking a third now.
That lead has now devastated Dovizioso's and Ducati's approach to the championship. "The really bad thing is Marc in this situation is smart, and normally like last year, he races the second rider on the championship. So he will be maybe not on the limit like now and he had to push 100% of the time." That was the strategy they were using to try to force Márquez into a mistake, Dovizioso said. "That is bad. That is what we wanted this season. Before this race, we were there to put him on the limit and everybody can make a mistake."
Márquez acknowledged this vulnerability in the press conference, "Thirty-seven," he corrected a journalist when he suggested Márquez had a lead of thirty-five points. "You never know, these two points. Now it looks like everything is easy, but it's not easy. We are pushing. Today I took a risk. Today I nearly lost the front in turn five. Today I was riding in a good way, but even like this were some riders there that were pushing me."
What happened in the crash? Jorge Lorenzo braked right at the limit, lost the front, and just happened to be on the inside when he went down. His front wheel first clipped the rear of Andrea Dovizioso's Ducati, already close to full lean, spinning the bike away from the Italian. Maverick Viñales was next in the line of fire of Lorenzo's bike – ironically, Viñales almost always struggles at the start, dropping well behind the lead group before finding his pace and coming forward again – and was flipped off his Yamaha.
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