Luck has always played a role in racing. Sometimes the rain falls just after you set pole position. Sometimes your main rival has a technical problem at a track where you knew they would beat you. Sometimes the rider ahead makes the smallest mistake and opens up the perfect gap for you to aim through. Things happen over which you have no control, and you have to hope the dice will roll in your favor.
Perhaps you can load the dice a little, sometimes. Bear in mind the saying attributed to golfing legend Gary Player: "the more I practice, the luckier I get." Luck can be made, on occasion, opportunity recognized and seized. If you tackle the conditions you find, rather than the conditions you wish you had, you at least have a chance.
Conditions at Barcelona put everyone on the back foot. Temperatures rose from relatively cool to typically scorching, after a week of heavy rain. That rain brought down the dust and sand blown north from the Sahara by the Sirocco winds, leaving the track dirty and green. No grip and constantly changing conditions made consistency an illusion. Finding the right race tire was more guesswork than science, Sunday morning warm up being critical. The Barcelona race looked to be a lottery.
The wildly changing conditions seemed to discombobulate Marc Márquez. At home, on a track where he has struggled in the past, the Repsol Honda rider was under pressure. Sure, he was leading in the championship, but Ducatis had won at Montmelo for the past two years, and were looking better than ever. There was the added risk of others getting involved too: qualifying saw four Yamahas populate the first two rows, with Fabio Quartararo at their head. Alex Rins threatened too, though the Suzuki Ecstar rider had crashed and lost the chance of a start on the front row.
Márquez had secured his spot on the front row, but come up short in pursuit of pole. But he had had to resort to unusual tactics to obtain it. All weekend, the championship leader had been following riders, during practice and during qualifying. He had spent less time going out a lone and chasing a fast time, and more time in the slipstream of other riders. When asked about it, he had responded with uncharacteristic tetchiness – though it's possible that the third question on the same subject tested his patience.
Was this a sign of weakness? Though the changing grip of of the weekend made interpreting lap times in practice even more like reading tea leaves than usual. Sure, Marc Márquez looked like he might be quick, but he had only been on race pace for a few laps. It was the Yamahas who looked quick, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo leading the charge, Valentino Rossi fast and comfortable, Andrea Dovizioso right on the pace. If there was an opportunity for luck to turn against Márquez, Barcelona could be it.
Luck – with a large helping of skill – looked kindly on Márquez at the start. The Repsol Honda rider got a good drive off the line when the lights went out, powering past the Petronas Yamahas who flanked him on the front row. But he had company as he charged toward the first corner. Andrea Dovizioso used the drive of the Ducati and its holeshot device to good effect, firing off the line and into the lead as they braked for the first turn.
Márquez held his line, hoping to snatch back the lead as they flicked back left for Turn 2, but Dovizioso was already too far ahead. Slower than the Ducati and the Repsol Honda, Fabio Quartararo had slipped to third from pole, while Danilo Petrucci got a strong drive after a poor start to enter Turn 1 in fourth, sliding past the two factory Yamahas of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi. Petrucci lost out when they flicked back right for Turn 3, Viñales sliding back inside of the Ducati.
Viñales was now on a charge. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider held a tight line through Turn 4, as Márquez outbraked himself and nearly ran into the back of Dovizioso. It was the strongest start Viñales had made for a long time, since he first arrived in the factory Yamaha team. He was on the tail of Dovizioso, and lining up to challenge for the lead.
Viñales was not the only rider to have a strong opening lap. Jorge Lorenzo, fresh from a trip to Japan to help fit the Honda RC213V better, looked like the rider of old. From tenth, he was already up to eighth by Turn 3, and pressing all the way through Turn 4. On the short run to the sharp left at Turn 5, he was harder and later on the brakes than he had been since he had moved to Honda, a sign that progress was being made.
By the time they exited Turn 5, Lorenzo had passed Quartararo, Rossi, and Petrucci, and had taken over fourth place. It gave him hope, but it was also a portent of things to come.
At the front, Viñales harried Dovizioso, but he was unable to force a move past the Ducati. Along the front straight, the Yamaha was outgunned by the Honda RC213V of Márquez, who had closed up the gap. Márquez flew past along the front straight, demonstrating the weakness of the M1 which its riders have complained about so often.
The field was still tight. Behind the leading trio, Lorenzo still held onto fourth, Danilo Petrucci's Ducati not far behind. Valentino Rossi followed, while Jack Miller led Alex Rins and Fabio Quartararo, the polesitter having dropped back all the way to ninth.
Dovizioso looked to be employing his normal strategy of holding up the pack, keeping everyone together so that he could conserve his tires for the end of the race. That kept the leaders bunched up behind him, Márquez and Viñales swarming all over his tail, while Jorge Lorenzo closed the gap to the front.
The best laid plans
A critical moment approached as the exited Turn 9 and headed down the hill to the hairpin at Turn 10. Dovizioso braked early, holding the outside line, which opened the door for Marc Márquez. But it was something of a trap door: Dovizioso knew that if Márquez came past on the inside, he would be forced to brake as hard as possible to make the corner, and would run a little wide on the exit. Dovizioso's line gave him the option to cut back early, and get maximum drive out of Turn 10 and regain the lead before the long right handers of Turns 12 and 13.
Though flawless conceived, Dovizioso's plan would not succeed, through no fault of his own. The factory Ducati rider had not reckoned with Jorge Lorenzo's excitement at finally being back at the front, and in among the leaders. Seeing a chance to get as far forward as possible in the early stages, Lorenzo used the power of the Honda to close in on Viñales down the back straight, lining up on the inside to outbrake the Yamaha on the way into Turn 10.
Ambition outweighs talent
He was a little too optimistic. As he tipped the bike in to make the corner, still holding the front brake to make the turn, he asked too much of his front tire, the front end folding underneath him. It was a silly mistake, common enough on the Honda, and would normally have passed without comment. But the laws of physics were arrayed against Lorenzo this Sunday, and that overly optimistic pass would unleash a chain of events which had a profound impact on the championship.
Ahead of Lorenzo, the leaders were almost three abreast into Turn 10, Márquez diving up the inside of Dovizioso, Dovizioso hauling up his Ducati to turn tightly to the apex and get Márquez back on the exit. Viñales was sweeping around the outside, his front wheel closely aligned with Dovizioso's rear.
When Lorenzo went down, his front wheel was just on the inside of Dovizioso. As the bike slid straight, the front wheel of his Honda clipped the Desmosedici's rear tire, taking the bike down and spinning it around. Lorenzo's RC213V carried on, slamming underneath Viñales' Yamaha M1, and taking the Spaniard down as well. Three riders were already down, and one more would follow.
Into the firing line
Valentino Rossi had used the exit of Turn 9 to try to get some drive and slingshot past Danilo Petrucci. He did not quite get the speed he was hoping for, but was close enough to take a wild stab on the brakes into Turn 10. But that meant entering the hairpin hot, and hoping to haul the bike back on the brakes and get it turned ahead of Petrucci.
That extra braking effort would prove to be Rossi's downfall. As he slammed on the anchors to pass Petrucci on the inside, he had no margin left to cope with the chaos unfolding ahead of him. If he let off the brakes, he would be going too fast to try to avoid the carnage, and with the brakes on, his ability to steer the bike was severely restricted. He did what he could, but he found the Honda of Lorenzo directly in his path, spinning on its axis and making an even more treacherous target.
Momentum and the laws of physics conspired against Rossi. As Lorenzo's bike span, the front wheel rotated underneath Rossi's bike, wiping out his rear wheel and throwing his bike into a massive weave. It bucked left and right, before the rear tire gave up the ghost and slammed both bike and rider to the ground.
In one fell swoop, Lorenzo had taken out three other riders. Even worse, the riders were key players in the championship. Andrea Dovizioso had come to Barcelona hoping to reduce his gap of 12 points to Marc Márquez. Maverick Viñales and his team had found the right setup direction, allowing him to get a good start and be competitive right from the first laps. Ironic, then, that his reward should be to end up on the floor. Valentino Rossi had lost ground in the championship, but with a front row start and strong pace, was sure he had a shot at a podium. The two Yamahas had the speed to cause trouble for Márquez, and aid Dovizioso in his title bid.
What made things worse is that Márquez escaped unscathed. He had been just far enough ahead to be out of reach of the bikes flying in all directions. Petrucci had also missed out on the mayhem, a result of Valentino Rossi's pass putting him out of harm's way. But the carnage which took place between the two had also opened up a gap for Márquez, big enough for him to be clear of the chasing group. Lorenzo had not just taken out three other riders, but he had also cleared the way for Márquez to race to victory pretty much unchallenged. And it was only lap two.
Luck plays an important part in racing, and this was a prime example. Márquez had been in the right place at the right time, a consequence of his own talent and making the right choices. But it was random chance that Lorenzo would overplay his hand behind him, take out his main title rival along with riders who could challenge him for the podium, and hold up the rest of the chasing pack just long enough for him to make good his escape. When luck is on your side, everything seems to fall perfectly into place.
The fury of the fallen
Lorenzo's rivals were far from impressed, least of all Maverick Viñales. "The back of the grid." That was where Lorenzo should start the next race from, as far as the Monster Energy Yamaha rider was concerned. "He took out four riders. If he took out somehow myself or Valentino, we are not fighting for the championship. It’s a racing incident, but not so bad. But he took out also Andrea who is fighting for the championship."
The consequences of Lorenzo's actions needed to be taken into account, Viñales said. "Today he destroyed my race, Valentino’s race and Dovizioso’s championship. It’s pretty hard to recover 25 points. I hope Race Direction is as severe as they were with me yesterday. I’m honest. I saw him on the inside. I tried to avoid the crash. I think a bike touched my rear tire and I just flew. It was impossible."
There was no excuse for Lorenzo's actions, Viñales insisted, not even the fact that he was coming under enormous pressure from Honda to produce results. "It’s not an excuse. I don’t understand it. I only did this one time in Moto2. Imagine. I never did and I was under pressure when I was doing bad results."
The worst thing was that the crash was so unnecessary, Viñales said. "He could leave the braking and go straight. He had the space to go straight. For me it’s not an excuse. He was doing a good race because he was fourth. But there is no meaning to overtake there when you can do so on the straight very easy. For sure he destroyed our race as I said."
Valentino Rossi was milder in his criticism, perhaps mindful of his own misdemeanors in similar circumstances. "For sure Lorenzo arrived from a difficult moment, he had soft-soft and he tried to push very hard from the beginning," the Italian said. "Unfortunately in Turn 4 Quartararo and Marquez touched, so everybody closed the throttle and Lorenzo overtook us from the outside, so he was in front."
Outbraking himself and taking out another rider is something which Rossi can remember all too well. In his first year with Ducati, as he struggled with a bike which he found impossible to ride, he came to Jerez and crashed in Turn 1, trying to catch Casey Stoner. The bike went down, taking Stoner with him. That memory may have given Rossi a sense of leniency toward Lorenzo.
But there was still anger, and regret at what could have been. "It's a great, great, great shame because today I feel very good because I arrive from a good weekend," Rossi said. "We work well during the practice. We learn something important and I feel comfortable with the bike. Also this morning if I have the medium I have a good pace, I was constant, I feel good in braking and I enjoy to ride the M1. So I was very optimistic for the race."
"Sincerely, in the first two laps, so the warm-up lap and the first lap I feel also better because with more temperature the medium tire was working very well," the Italian explained. "We stayed until 9pm yesterday to make the right tire choice and I think we had the right tire choice so I think that I can fight for the podium."
His attempt to pass Petrucci had come at exactly the wrong time, Rossi said. "I was behind Petrucci, I was a bit faster than him and I wanted to try to overtake but I overtake in the wrong moment because I arrive faster to Turn 10, and after I see the crash in front and unfortunately I cannot avoid Jorge's bike. I tried not to crash but the bike came below my tires and at the end I also crashed."
Can't change the past
The chief victim of the incident was resigned when he spoke to reporters after the race. Lorenzo had come to Andrea Dovizioso's garage after the race to apologize, but it made no difference to the outcome whether he accepted that apology or not, Dovizioso said. "Accepted or not accepted, it doesn't change anything. I think it’s intelligent to say, OK, it was good. He came in the box, but it didn’t change anything."
Dovizioso was most upset by the fact that he could feel the championship slipping out of his grasp. "Very disappointed because this is what we don’t need for the championship," he said. "We know how strong Marc is, and we had a chance to fight today. He did a really good pace, but we had our chance. We did a good start. I put myself in the right position. I was waiting to prepare the rear tire because still at that moment they had not started to work. The soft takes three laps to be ready."
The factory Ducati rider also made it perfectly clear where the blame lay for the crash. "It’s quite clear what happened," Dovizioso said. "I think Jorge was in a good position. He gained a lot of positions in the start. In the pace he wasn’t too far, and he really wanted to be in front at the beginning and he did a big mistake. That corner it’s very easy to make a mistake because that corner is in first gear and you have to come back, so a small mistake at the end can be a big mistake."
Lorenzo had gotten too excited, Dovizioso believed. "He wasn’t thinking clearly in that moment, because he braked. He wants to overtake Maverick, but he didn’t look where he braked. Because Maverick brakes very late. He was a bit long, and braked later than Maverick. So this means at the end he was too fast and he was inside."
Lorenzo's error was not so much what he did, but when he did it, Dovizioso said. "The mistake if you look at this from the riders, it’s not too big, but to make that in that corner in the second lap is a big mistake. So, from a champion like him, is a big mistake and created a big change on the championship because a lot of fast riders and fighting for the championship did another zero and Marc won, so this is really, really bad."
Lorenzo accepted the blame for his mistake, though he believed the error he made was only small, albeit with major consequences. "I made a good start, recovering a lot of positions, also because in the first laps it's always very tricky and I took profit from others having to close the throttle," Lorenzo reflected. "I felt very good on the bike. Better than the warm-up and the rest of the weekend and I was recovering a lot on braking."
He had seen his chance to try to pass Viñales, and seized upon it as they headed toward Turn 10, Lorenzo said. "In the previous acceleration, Maverick needed to close to not hit Marc, so I took advantage of this, taking his slipstream and preparing an overtake, because I feel I have something more probably in the first two or three laps and I could recover some more positions."
It had been the wrong time and the wrong place, Lorenzo acknowledged. "Probably I tried to overtake Maverick in the wrong moment, in the wrong place, especially," he said. "I knew this was a tricky corner, like the first corner at Austin which is very similar. And I saw many crashes like this in all the categories, it happened to me also in 2016 with Iannone. So probably I was too excited, knowing that I was feeling good and I just felt that I could go faster and faster."
He had not been out of control, Lorenzo insisted. "I didn't make any crazy braking. I was more or less alongside Maverick and I braked quite normally, the problem was that we were too many riders. In the front was Dovi, who prepares the exit of the corner very well, opening the line. So I was getting closer and closer to Dovi and to not hit him I needed to brake more with the front brake and the front tire closed." If it had been somewhere else, or sometime else, the outcome would have been different, Lorenzo believed. "I think in the same moment in another corner it would not happen. Also if I didn't try to overtake in that moment it wouldn't happen. It was a combination of factors."
Lorenzo was contrite, but keen to proffer an explanation. "No apology is enough in that moment. You need to say sorry, you need to apologize, but I understand that any apology isn't enough and it's a big pity. But in my favor I would say this type of corner created a lot of problems in the past, created a lot of problems today and will do again in the future. Because it's the topography of the corner makes these things happen."
Sharing the blame
The Repsol Honda rider had some sympathy for the way the people he had taken out had responded. "As always there are many opinions about that, each one defends his thing. My opinion is that this type of corner, hairpins, creates these crashes and we saw many times. You just understand that as much as possible." Perhaps he had been a little over eager, Lorenzo acknowledged. "Probably today I didn't realize, I didn't remember, I didn't pay attention to that, that especially in first laps it's better to be a little bit more cautious in these corners."
"I tried this overtake, it was not aggressive overtaking but the thing was Dovizioso in front - it was my mistake." The shoe had been on the other foot in the past, so Lorenzo could see Viñales' point of view. "I understand Maverick's reaction because in the past it has happened to me and I had a similar reaction to him. So I understand completely his reaction, I cannot say anything. "
"Obviously I'm grateful with what Valentino said because he said more or less what I said," Lorenzo said. "I also spoke with Dovi and he took my apology quite correctly but obviously no apology is enough. I understand all the reactions. I had bad reactions or hard reactions in the past when it happened to me. This is racing. I'll try to learn the lesson for these types of corners in the future. I cannot change the past. Especially I'm sorry for them."
Falls into his lap
The gap opened up by Lorenzo's ambition outweighing his talent was ruthlessly exploited by Marc Márquez. When he crossed the line at the end of lap 2, his advantage was already nearly nine tenths of a second. Seeing the gap, Márquez pushed hard, and within the space of five laps, his advantage was already over three seconds. From there, he could manage the gap, pushing hard but conserving his tires.
The crash had played right into his race strategy, Márquez explained afterwards. "I was really convinced before the race to try to find the correct strategy," he said. "For that reason I chose the rear soft option. My strongest point was in the first part of the race and just I tried to lead the race as soon as possible. Tried to push, tried to be constant. I knew that the first seven laps I was very strong with the new tire, and especially when the track was more slippery. Then when we have rubber on the track everything is more equal and it’s easier to find the line and it’s easier to follow the black line. Then everybody is riding very fast. For that reason, I chose the soft rear option to push in the beginning, open a gap, and I have this."
Knowing that Dovizioso was out had given him some breathing space, he said, but he feared the march of the Yamahas, not knowing that Rossi and Viñales had also been taken out. "Honestly speaking, during the race I know that I feel something strange because I just knew that Dovi was out. I didn’t know that the others were out," he said. "Then I saw that Petrucci was second. In the papers in the practice Petrucci was not one of the fastest guys. I said, just continue pushing, even that the gap was already big but I continued pushing because I knew that this guy and especially Yamaha riders were very fast in the last part of the race. I was just trying to manage the tires in the last laps."
Márquez' assessment of his rivals was correct. Danilo Petrucci was fast, but not fast enough to pose a threat. He was fast enough to keep anyone trying to pass him behind him, however, as Alex Rins and Fabio Quartararo found out. From lap 3 onward, the Ducati did battle with the Suzuki and satellite Yamaha, knowing that he always had an ace up his sleeve. For no matter what order they entered the final corner, Petrucci could unleash the horsepower of the Desmosedici GP19 along the straight, and take back any positions he lost.
Rins was the first to set about attacking Petrucci, and to come up short in the process. His attacks got gradually wilder, running deep into Turn 1 as he tried to outdo Petrucci on the brakes, allowing the Ducati to come back round the outside of Turn 2.
On lap 14, he finally made his way past, cutting inside Petrucci at Turn 4 and bumping him out wide. But Rins' lead would not last for long, Petrucci edging close enough on lap 16 to fly past at the beginning of lap 17.
It was all getting too much for Rins' rear tire. At the end of lap 17, the Suzuki rider braked hard for Turn 1 again, but lost the rear going into the corner, and ran out wide and onto the hard standing outside the turn. He lost out to Petrucci and Quartararo, and was left to fight his way forward again.
Fabio sees his chance
The incident had caught Petrucci somewhat off guard, and that had allowed Quartararo to sit on the Ducati's tail. Positioned perfectly to exploit the agility of the Yamaha, the Frenchman clung to the inside of Turn 3 and slid past Petrucci on the inside.
Getting past the Ducati so early in the lap gave Quartararo enough time to extend his advantage and open a gap. By the time they returned to the front straight again, the gap was too large for even the naked horsepower of the Ducati to bridge. Quartararo was clear, and on his way to his first ever podium in MotoGP.
He was also able to demonstrate the pace he had, quickly closing in on Marc Márquez. Easily the fastest man on track, Quartararo was taking three or four tenths out of the Repsol Honda on every lap. But it was too little, too late: with seven laps left, the Petronas Yamaha rider was able to cut the gap from 5.5 seconds to 2.6 seconds, but he was never going to get close enough to actually challenge the reigning champion. And Márquez made sure of that by upping his pace for a single lap to match Quartararo, leaving him too much time to make up and too few laps to do it in.
Learning the lessons
Quartararo was anything but disappointed, however. 11 days after surgery for arm pump, the French youngster had finally secured the podium he had missed out on through mechanical failure at Jerez. He could barely control his tears, and the team were absolutely overjoyed. This felt big, and for someone so young, and with such a checkered early career, it was.
Like Jerez, Quartararo was quickly focused on the future again, savoring the moment before looking ahead to the next races. "First of all, being in the podium today is really good, amazing feeling. But of course today, we take a lot of experience and I think it’s really important at the moment."
He had learned a lot during the race which would be useful for the future. "For me the lesson was learning a lot from Danilo and Alex," Quartararo said. "We were really good in the first sector and the second, and also the last one, but we managed to try to save the tires, playing a little bit with the maps. I think today was really good of course to be on the podium, but we take a lot of experience like Jerez. Being behind Franco and Marc in Jerez, I learned many things and today we learned again."
Quartararo may have learned a lot riding with Petrucci and Rins, but he also showed some of his weakness. He may have finished second starting from pole, but he lost a lot of ground in the early laps. He was eighth by the end of the first lap, and if four riders hadn't crashed ahead of him, getting onto the podium would have been a great deal more difficult. If Quartararo can learn to be quicker on those opening laps, he could be a serious threat for a win, and not just a podium.
Three podiums in a row
Danilo Petrucci was happy to cross the line in third, a podium the maximum that was achievable at the track. "I’m really happy about this third position," Petrucci said. "As Marc said, I was not one of the fastest this weekend, unfortunately. We struggled since Friday morning with lack of traction on the rear and lack of grip. Anyway, I do my best for solve the problem."
The lack of rear grip had been complicated further by the withering attacks from Rins and Quartararo, Petrucci said. "I struggled a lot with the rear traction, and especially I had Alex and Fabio pushing me from the back. I knew Alex was fast. He tried to overtake me sometimes, but then two times at the end of the straight I was always able to respond him, but then at turn four he go into the inside and we touched very, very hard. Then I said, okay, maybe will help me to go through. But I saw him in trouble so I said, we are in the same boat everybody. So I decide to attack him again. At the end, Fabio was really, really fast. I stayed there, but he was a little bit faster around the track. Three laps to go I said, okay, third position is good. I think also for the championship is good. I’m really happy."
Alex Rins eventually crossed the line in fourth place, after recovering the ground he lost on lap 18 and getting past Jack Miller on the last lap. The Suzuki rider blamed a questionable rear tire for the positions he had lost. "It was difficult to keep the rear tire in the right way," he said. "I was faster than Petrucci going into the corners, but then on the acceleration, we lost a lot because of the tire. When I overtook him, I tried to push for two laps, but it was impossible to open the small gap because of this feeling. During all the weekend, we were very strong in the last sector, and during the race, we lost a lot of time there. So we need to analyze this well."
He rejected the idea that he had used up his tire trying to make passes on the faster Ducati. "I don't think so," Rins said. "Because in the entry of the race when I entered Turn 3, I completely lost the rear. And as I said, it was strange, because it didn't happen before during all the weekend, so I used the medium on the rear, which is three compounds in one, and when I was picking up the bike with the compound on the middle of the tire, the traction was perfect. Problem was on the right edge of the tire."
Luck be a lady
Whether it was the tire or just a symptom of a general lack of grip, Rins' fourth place finish was symptomatic of Marc Márquez' good fortune in Barcelona. Rins was in third place in the championship, 27 points behind Márquez coming into the Catalan Grand Prix. But crossing the line in fourth in a race which Márquez won extended the Repsol Honda rider's lead by another 12 points, Márquez now 39 points ahead of Rins, and 37 ahead of Dovizioso.
That puts Márquez in a very comfortable position as we head toward the summer break. Assen is next, a track where so many other riders could win – the Yamahas must be favorite, but the flowing Dutch track should also suit the Suzukis down to a tee – so even if Márquez does lose points to Dovizioso, the chances are the damage will be limited. And a week after Assen, we head to Germany for the Sachsenring, a track where Márquez is undefeated in nine years and three different classes. Anything can happen in MotoGP, but when Lady Luck is playing such obvious favorites with Marc Márquez, are you really going to bet against him?
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