Silverstone is a proper race track. It does everything a race track is supposed to do. It challenges the bikes, with high speeds, fast corners, and some hard braking. It challenges the riders, rewarding courage and skill, and allowing riders to make up for any shortcomings of their machines. The new surface at Silverstone has only magnified this: the pole record tumbled by 1.7 seconds, the race record fell by 1.5 seconds, entering sub-two-minute territory for the first time, and the race was 33 seconds faster than the fastest previous edition of the race on this circuit layout. And to top it off, we had glorious weather at a glorious race track.
We had glorious racing to go with weather. The winning margin of all three races combined was 0.799 seconds, the races in all three classes keeping the fans on the edge of their seats. If you needed to persuade someone of what makes motorcycle racing so great, just point them to the Silverstone weekend. It was worth it.
It was redemption for the circuit as well. After last year's debacle, Silverstone needed a boost, to get its reputation back on track. Three great races helped, as did the weather, though the weather is not something the circuit can take credit for. It paid off, though: some 50,000 fans came to Silverstone to watch the racing, just 4,000 down on last year's rained-off edition. Those numbers are still worryingly low, of course: only Qatar, Phillip Island, and Austin get fewer spectators, and it is down by over 20,000 on 2015 and 2016. Silverstone has committed heavily to MotoGP. The question is whether British fans are as committed as the circuit is.
A modern classic
They are missing out. The MotoGP race was a classic, a battle between Marc Márquez, balancing his desire to win the championship against his hunger for victory, against Alex Rins, a man with no love of Márquez and a bike which does everything well, and some things exceptionally. Márquez tried to defend, Rins attacked aggressively, using the strength of the Suzuki to put his bike where Márquez couldn't defend, both men using the strong points of their bikes to attack the weaknesses of their opponent.
A case in point: Lap 9. Alex Rins has closed the gap to Marc Márquez through the final three corners, from Brooklands and round Luffield and Woodcote. The Suzuki is right on the tail of Márquez, and then Rins rides round the outside of Márquez through Copse, the fast right hander at Turn 1. That is in itself a move of insane bravery and skill, and utter confidence in the ability of the bike to hold the line at the very edge of the tire for a long time.
Márquez follows closely through the Maggotts/Becketts complex, biding his time to counterattack. He gets good drive out of Chapel, and fires his Honda down the Hangar Straight, using the horsepower of the bike to close on the Suzuki, before getting hard on the brakes and sliding under Rins to take back the lead at Stowe corner.
For most of the race, this cat-and-mouse game played out, Rins holding onto the back of Márquez and pondering where best to attack. Márquez trying to lead for as much as possible, and maintaining the gap back to third. When you are fighting for the championship, there is less risk involved in a duel than in a battle where three or more riders are involved.
With two laps to go the battle exploded, Rins first getting past Márquez at Aintree, holding a ridiculously tight line to slide underneath the Honda. But he sacrificed drive to do it, and Márquez used the horsepower of the Honda to outdrag the Suzuki into Brooklands and take back the lead.
If the move at Aintree was breathtaking, Rins' next move was positively outrageous, trying to go round the outside of Márquez at Woodcote, the final corner, an aggressively optimistic move that is almost impossible to pull off. He nearly made it too, but ran a little wide and off onto the outside of the track, losing ground to Márquez once again. It turned out that Rins' optimism was the result of a mistake: he thought that was the last lap, and this was his last chance.
That skirmish had allowed Maverick Viñales to close up behind, so Márquez turned it up again to try to stretch away from the Yamaha, at least. That worked, but he could not shake off the Suzuki. He was back into defensive mode through the Loop and Aintree, to try to stop Rins from trying the same move again.
To do that, he had to sacrifice speed, and they entered the final straight heading back to Brooklands with Rins right on the tail of the Honda. Márquez looked to have it in the bag, but he had used up too much of his tire trying to hold off Rins in those final laps. In one of the most spectacular finishes we have seen for years, the Suzuki carried more corner speed through Brooklands, ran a wider line through Luffield, then cut back aggressively to get drive through Woodcote for the drive to the line. He pulled it back and wound it on, hugging the inside of the corner as Márquez drifted to the left. That gave Rins just enough drive to slip ahead of Márquez and take his second win of the season. A spectacular end to a breathtaking race.
The intensity of that moment was captured in a photo taken as the pair crossed the line. While both are hard on the gas and leaned well over, Rins is looking over at Márquez front wheel. Rins wanted to savor this victory, to stick the knife in to a rider he has a burning hatred for. There is a long history between Rins and the Márquez family which makes victory over Marc all the sweeter.
A sign of weakness, or a sign of strength?
Silverstone makes two races in a row in which Marc Márquez was beaten in a last-corner battle, another defeat in a long line of lost battles. Another way of looking at this is that Marc Márquez equaled his worst finish of the season by crossing the line in second. These two facts are not unrelated.
On the face of it, seeing Márquez losing out in straight one-to-one duels with other riders might suggest that this is his Achilles heel. After all, Silverstone was just the latest in a growing line of defeats. Márquez lost out to Andrea Dovizioso at the Red Bull Ring two weeks ago, to Danilo Petrucci at Mugello, to Andrea Dovizioso again in Qatar, making it three races this happened in 2019. He lost out at Austria, Brno and Qatar in 2018 as well, and in Motegi and Austria the year before.
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