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."
Dovizioso and Márquez echo a broadly-held opinion in the paddock: that Jorge Lorenzo is the faster of the two, but Valentino Rossi is the man who finds a way to cross the line first. Lap times bear this out as well. Combine the fastest race laps of each rider for the thirteen races held so far, and Lorenzo is the faster of the two: the difference is 0.576 seconds in Lorenzo's favor. But Rossi's fastest lap was quicker in seven of the thirteen races, while Lorenzo has been quicker in just six. That sums up the state of the championship rather nicely.
Statistics are all very well, but racing isn't done on paper. It will all come down to the race on Sunday, and how well each rider handles the pressure. The attitude of Rossi and Lorenzo to Aragon was interesting. When asked if this race was more important than usual, as the last European race before the three back-to-back flyaways, Rossi said it wasn't. "For me, this is the same as Misano, or Silverstone, or Brno." The routine was the same: fly out, arrive at the track, a set schedule, concentrate hard for four days, then go back home again and sleep in his own bed on Monday night.
It was the flyaways which were different, Rossi said. "The difference will be in the three races outside Europe, because you have a different feeling. You have to organize all the trip and try to organize your life to be ready and relaxed in the moment when you have to go on the bike. Especially it is three weeks in a row, which means it will be for sure the most important moment in the championship. Also because three in a row is more stress and a bit more difficult to manage."
Having a 23-point lead in the championship makes this weekend easier for Rossi too. Jorge Lorenzo, on the wrong end of that lead, feels the strain much more. "For me Aragon is a very important race because, depending on the result, it can be more possible or much more difficult to win the world title, so in this race it is very important that I finish in front of Valentino," Lorenzo told the press conference. The flyaways were full of potential pitfalls, Lorenzo explained. "I always have the impression that there a lot of things can happen there. I don't know why, but I have this impression."
Complicating the situation is the fact that the Yamaha has traditionally struggled here against the Hondas. Traditionally, perhaps, but Bradley Smith was adamant that this did not mean that Aragon was a bad track for the Yamaha. "I don't remember this track being really negative for our bike," he said. "A lot of people were saying this place isn't a Yamaha track. I actually enjoy coming here because you get good grip from the racetrack." Tire performance does tend to drop off quite quickly, he said, but that shouldn't really matter. Just a question of setting up electronics and adjusting the riding style.
Aragon may have suited the Honda in the past, but will it cope with the 2015 version, hampered as the RC213V is by an excessively aggressive engine? It shouldn't be too much of a problem, was the consensus of the Honda riders I spoke to. "Turn one could be more difficult," conceded Dani Pedrosa. Getting the bike to be stable under braking for the tight left hander could be a struggle. The advantage, Pedrosa explained, was that much of the braking at Aragon was done while leaned over. That is where the Honda excelled, and still excels, despite the engine issue. Braking is an area where the Yamahas have made huge steps forward this year, but they still have their work cut out in beating the Hondas. If the Hondas can outbrake the Yamahas into the corners, then the Yamahas won't be able to use their vastly superior drive to get out of the corners.
Clearly the Honda is improved since the beginning of the year, but much of that improvement has come from the riders rather than the bike. LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow was at pains to point out just how much of the improvement in Honda's fortunes was down to Marc Márquez adapting his riding style. "I think Marc has changed his riding style a lot more than everyone thinks," Crutchlow said. "That's a big key area, and he's worked it out, and he's riding better than the other Honda riders. He's not like he was at the start of the year. How many times was he off the track? How many times was he saving it on his knee, on his elbow. You don't really see that in the last races, he's a lot stronger than he was. He's able to adapt." Crutchlow was also quick to point out that Marc Márquez wasn't the only Honda rider to keep an eye out for at Aragon. "Dani is really special round here," he said. If both Repsol Honda riders get out front, the job of pulling back points gets a lot more difficult for Jorge Lorenzo.
What of Ducati? Andrea Dovizioso was cautious, pointing out once again that since their strong start at the first few races of the season, Honda and Yamaha had got up to speed and restored the normal order. The improvement had come above all from the riders, rather than the bikes, Dovizioso said. Yet Aragon could suit the Ducati, a track where the Desmosedici has suffered in the past. Where did he expect to see the most improvement over previous years? "The turning," Dovizioso said. With a very fast long back straight, the Ducati should fly at Aragon. Whether it can fly fast enough to beat the Hondas and Yamahas remains to be seen.
Andrea Iannone was less optimistic, and disappointed to turn up at Aragon with an injured shoulder. It was a track where he has performed very well in the past, having won here in Moto2, but a good result looked out of the question. He had dislocated his shoulder out running, he said, tripping as he ran with his personal trainer. He had not even fallen on the ground, he explained, his shoulder popping out as he threw his arms forward to save himself should he fall. The cartilage in his shoulder is in seven fragments, and a tendon is displaced. We could clearly see he was in trouble, keeping his left arm close to his body as he spoke to us. Shoulders are tricky beasts for a motorcycle racer. Just ask Ben Spies.
Perhaps the most interesting and instructive part of the press conference came as Johann Zarco was explaining his decision not to move up to MotoGP. "After many years, you are struggling and working to have this perfect season," Zarco said. "It's strange, because there are too many riders that after working for a long time, they do one good year, and then they go downhill for seven years. So maybe you are only happy one time in your career. I don't want to be one of these guys. I want to understand how to stay one of the good riders, how to stay on this level."
It is rare to see that kind of maturity in riders. Most are in a rush to move up as quickly as possible, often jumping at the first chance they get. It is easy to lose your way doing that, struggling to make the transition from fighting for wins every weekend to worrying whether you will get into the top ten, or even top fifteen. The confidence which you have worked so hard to build in the smaller capacity classes evaporates, and you are left to pick yourself up off the floor again. If you are not in the right environment, with the right support from the people around you, that can be very tough indeed.
Zarco's decision to remain in Moto2 with his current team run by Aki Ajo provide a mouthwatering prospect for 2016. A small group of us were discussing Zarco's choice, and realized that the 2016 Moto2 season has all the makings of a classic. Zarco will remain to defend his title (he still needs 7 points, but has five races to amass them), Alex Rins will be even stronger in his second year, Sam Lowes will move to a Kalex, a much more competitive machine, Dominique Aegerter will be back on a Suter, the Swiss chassis manufacturer coming back to Moto2 in strength. Danny Kent will be moving up to Moto2 with the Kiefer squad, as will Miguel Oliveira. Maybe Moto2 will make a return to its heyday, of close and intense on-track battles between evenly matched riders. That is something worth waiting for. Fingers crossed.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2015 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.