If the big question at the Circuit of the Americas was "Who can beat Marc Márquez?" then we found out the answer on Sunday: Nobody. There were only two brief moments during which Márquez was not leading the MotoGP race. Off the line, Jorge Lorenzo was a fraction quicker going into Turn 1, but Márquez turned earlier and already had the lead on the exit. Lorenzo tried once more into the hairpin of Turn 11, but overshot and ran wide, Márquez taking back the lead immediately.
After that, Márquez was gone. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo kept Márquez honest for a couple of laps, but the Repsol Honda rider's relentless pace forced them to concede. Márquez went on to win his fourth straight Grand Prix of the Americas, and his tenth straight win in the United States of America. Since ascending to MotoGP, he has never been beaten on American soil.
There are plenty of adjectives you could throw at Márquez' performance – imperious, dominant, superlative – but perhaps the best word to sum up Marc Márquez at the Circuit of the Americas is "Unbeatable." His rivals will have to wait another year to try to find a way of stopping him.
Practice, like testing, doesn't really count for much, riders will tell you. When you talk to the afterwards, they will tell you that they didn't set a really fast lap because they were working on set up, or trying to figure out which tire will be best in the race, or working on race pace rather than one lap pace. Maybe they were saving tires, or maybe they ran into traffic, or maybe there wasn't enough time left in the session to go for a fast lap. Even the rider who is fastest will tell you they were surprised, they were not really pushing for a time, but it just came naturally.
All valid explanations, but not necessarily true, of course. After all, free practice is just free practice, and as long as you are inside the top ten, with a good chance of advancing straight to Q2, then there is no reason not to dip into your Bumper Book of Excuses to fob off journalists with. They are unlikely to challenge you on such excuses, because as long as your explanations are plausible, they have no way of countering them. It is impossible to know the mind of Man.
While the eyes of the world will be on Yamaha, Honda, and Ducati as far as MotoGP's Silly Season is concerned, the three remaining manufacturers in MotoGP will play an integral part in how this all plays out. What happens at Suzuki and KTM is crucial to how things play out at Honda and Ducati, especially, while Aprilia will also have a role to play, albeit a lesser one. As I wrote in part one of this Silly Season primer, this year's set of contract negotiations look a lot more like musical chairs than anything else.
Suzuki is at the heart of Silly Season this year. Or rather, Maverick Viñales is. Viñales is the talent Honda, Ducati, and to a lesser extent Yamaha are keeping an eye on. Viñales has two more years on his contract with the Suzuki ECSTAR team, but an option to leave at the end of this season. The Spaniard faces two choices: stay with Suzuki and build a long-term relationship, becoming the new Schwantz – a rider Viñales has identified as his hero – or switch to another factory in pursuit of instant success.
The 2016 MotoGP season hasn't even got underway yet, and there is already so much to talk about. New bikes, new tires, new electronics: viewed from this point in the season, the championship is both wide open and highly unpredictable. Testing has given us a guide, but it was clear from the three preseason tests that much will change throughout 2016, with the balance of power changing from track to track, and as Michelin bring different tires to different circuits.
All of this will also play in to what is likely to become the biggest talking point of the 2016. At the end of this year, the contracts of all but two of the 21 MotoGP riders are up, with only the friends Jack Miller and Maverick Viñales having deals which extend through 2017. Even Viñales and Miller are not certain to stay where they are, with Viñales having an option to leave, and Miller so far failing to impress HRC. And with KTM coming in to MotoGP in 2017, there could be up to 22 seats available.
That has and will generate a veritable tsunami of speculation and rumor surrounding who will be riding where in 2017. There are so many unknowns that anything is possible, from a total overhaul and general shuffling to just minor tweaking, with most of the protagonists staying where they are. The most likely scenario, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, with a few big names moving around, and plenty of shuffling among the satellite squads.
When the music stops...
It's the last chance to get it right. On Wednesday, the wheels start turning for the final tests of the year, with Moto2 and Moto3 hitting the track at the official test in Jerez, while the MotoGP teams assemble at Qatar. At this stage of the preseason, the teams and factories should be running through their final tweaks ahead of the opening race in just under three weeks' time. There is not enough time to make any major changes of direction. If you haven't got it right for this test, you are in for a very long year indeed. Just ask Honda about 2015.
Aprilia's got a brand new bike
Of course, some people don't have the option of working on the final tenth of a percent. Aprilia brought their brand new MotoGP prototype to Qatar last week, to give it its first run out in the hands of factory riders Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista. That test was blanketed in secrecy, prompting the most entertaining headline of the year so far: "Aprilia in Qatar: no photos and no information."
Press releases issued after the private test held at Jerez last week:
2016 PREPARATIONS FINALLY BEGIN FOR SAM LOWES IN SUNNY JEREZ
If you thought the MotoGP race at Phillip Island was thrilling, you should have seen Moto3. Phillip Island is a track where it is almost impossible to escape on a Moto3 bike, the long fast straight, usually with a headwind, allowing a chasing group to draft each other forward and catch anyone trying to get away. The only hope is for something to happen, to split the group and force a break.
Boy, did something happen. There was only one crash all weekend in the MotoGP class; there was the grand total of seventeen crashes in Moto3, with just nineteen of the thirty five starters actually making it across the line to finish the race. The reason? The heady mixture of close racing and youthful exuberance inevitably leads to people taking too much risk, and taking either themselves or someone else out. Add in some tension over the 2015 Moto3 title, and you have an incendiary mix indeed.
And tension there was. Danny Kent started the race in Australia with a simple goal: finish ahead of Enea Bastianini if possible, and within five positions of Miguel Oliveira. That would see him finally wrap up the Moto3 title he could have had his hands on already, if he hadn't made a silly mistake at Aragon and crashed. Beating Bastianini should be easy: the Italian had a nightmare weekend at Phillip Island, unhappy with the bike from the very beginning, qualifying 28th and starting from 25th due to penalties for other riders.
The unexpected rival
While the world of motorcycle racing is still buzzing with the outcome of the MotoGP race at Aragon, it is easy to overlook a couple of exciting and important races in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. In both cases, the championship leaders came to Aragon with the chance to put one hand on the title, and in both cases, they leave Europe empty handed, having failed to capitalize on the opportunities which presented themselves. The races also provided a couple of extremely deserving winners capping great battles in both classes.
The Moto3 race turned out to be the thriller everyone expected. A modest (by Moto3 standards) group made the break, Miguel Oliveira taking the initiative and the lead. He was joined naturally enough by the two rivals for the title, Enea Bastianini trying to push forward as much as possible, Danny Kent keeping a wary eye on Bastianini. Brad Binder tagged along at the back, while a strong start from Romano Fenati took him from his usual poor qualifying position to the fight at the front. Efren Vazquez was in the fray, as were Niccolo Antonelli and Jorge Navarro, both looking very strong. Jorge Martin impressed in the group, putting the Mahindra right in among the leaders.
When different riders agree on a subject, it is worth listening. Summing up the 2015 championship, both Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso independently came to the same conclusion. When asked in the press conference who was stronger, Valentino Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez explained that it wasn't as simple as that. "It's difficult to say," Márquez said. "If you ask me, I would say Jorge is faster because his speed is really good. On the other side, Valentino is doing his 100% and he always finishes in front these last two races."
Earlier in the day, Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso had been asked if he could become one of the wild cards which could help decide the championship. "In a normal situation, it's quite difficult. But not impossible," Dovizioso replied. But the championship was far from decided, Dovizioso went on to add. "I think that the points gap between Valentino and Lorenzo is quite big now, and Valentino is really good at managing the points. But I think Lorenzo has the speed to fight and to gain the points. Still there a lot of races left. I think he has the speed and is strong enough thinking about himself to try to win the race, and anything can happen."