The hills were alive with the sound of relieved sighs as the sun shone down on the riders lining up for the headline act of the day. And what a performance it was. Ducati came to the Ring as the favourites but stumbled on a stubborn world champion that took the fight literally to the flag.
But Spielberg was to remain Italian territory, Andrea Dovizioso playing Marc Marquez at his own game and coming out on top of the rough and tumble. Dani Pedrosa recovered from a third row start to become the privileged spectator of that fight, the Honda veteran settling for the final podium spot.
Poleman Marquez got a decent start but his drive to turn two put front row starter Jorge Lorenzo in prime position on the soft rear tyre. With Marquez taking his time heating up his hard rear option, the Spaniard lost a second to Lorenzo in one lap but only just kept the other factory Ducati at bay.
Third-row starters Valentino Rossi and Pedrosa got past Maverick Viñales after the first few turns, the Spaniard fighting back soon after but making a mistake on lap three and going wide, falling behind the two of them and also behind Johann Zarco. At the front of that mini-group, Rossi was on the charge and catching up with the front row men.
Marquez got up to speed by lap five, closing the gap to his leading compatriot to two tenths of a second, Dovizioso, Rossi and Zarco close behind, Pedrosa slightly further back, Viñales eight tenths behind his fellow Spaniard.
Dovizioso took advantage of a mistake from Marquez to sneak ahead on lap eight as times and positions started settling while the Ducati duo tried to conserve their tyres at the front. That allowed Pedrosa to join the lead group. Viñales was also chipping away at the gap, while the closest group behind them was led by Loris Baz three seconds down the road.
Marquez got back past Dovizioso on lap ten after the Italian returned the favour with a slight mistake of his own taking him wide over the kerbs. The world championship leader then went on to get right on the tail of the other Ducati, whose actual tail was starting to twitch on the degrading soft tyres. The Honda struck after Lorenzo went wide into turn three on lap eleven, the two Spaniards almost touching and Dovizioso profiting to join the party. The Italian going wide in turn four helped Marquez finally get back into the lead.
Behind them, Pedrosa was past Zarco and Rossi on lap thirteen, after the Frenchman fought off the Italian, Rossi losing momentum and going wide, which also put him behind his teammate.
Back at the front, the world champion tried to find some extra tenths on the Ducatis, Dovizioso the only one able to keep up with him halfway through the race, Lorenzo already one second back on his teammate and under fire from Pedrosa. The veteran Honda rider made his move on Lorenzo stick with eleven laps to go, just as Dovizioso made his on Marquez after the Spaniard got a bit too hot in mischievous turn three.
The Ducati held onto the lead for two laps, Marquez sneaking under Dovizioso in turn seven on lap twenty. Behind them, Pedrosa was lapping slightly faster than the lead duo and getting the gap down to seven tenths. Dovizioso was still not letting the world champion get away, glued to the Honda’s rear tyre, the two exchanging positions once again with seven laps to go. Several fairing rubbing moments after, Pedrosa was right back into the fight for the win. The small Spaniard held back to watch the kerfuffle unfold in front of him and started struggling soon after.
Behind the Honda-Ducati top four, Zarco was one second back with ten laps to go and leading the factory Yamahas, neither Viñales nor Rossi making an impression on the satellite rider with a soft tyre combination, the factory bikes being both on the hard rear.
The calm before the storm set in, Marquez as close as can be to the Ducati but getting out of shape in turn one with three laps to go and losing four tenths of a second. Never one to back down, the Spaniard pulled back the advantage by the end of the lap.
Dovizioso was setting a solid pace and closing every door, forcing Marquez to try something on the final lap, but the ambitious sideways lunge in the final turn proved literally oh-so-close but not close enough. The Italian was back in front by the time they made it to the line and found time to scold the daring youngster with a waved arm.
After Pedrosa arrived in a solitary third, Lorenzo crossed the line for fourth position, with Zarco successfully holding off Viñales and Rossi to grab fifth ahead of his factory colleagues. Five seconds down the road, Alvaro Bautista made it past Baz halfway through the race to take eighth spot ahead of the French rider, the top ten completed by an excellent ride from KTM’s test rider and wildcard Mika Kallio.
Being more or less forced into a hard tyre combination, Cal Crutchlow lost ground at the start and had a pretty anonymous race into fifteenth position. Although one point was better than Danilo Petrucci’s day, whose terrible start saw him drop down to tenth and a bad day got worse, the Italian retiring on lap seven due to an issue with the oil pump. Jonas Folger and Pol Espargaro were also early retirees with various brake problems.
Following his breathtaking win, Dovizioso becomes Marquez’s closest challenger in the championship, 16 points behind the world champion. Viñales drops to third, 24 points down on the leader, while teammate Rossi follows him with a 33-point disadvantage on Marquez. Pedrosa is still fifth, only two points behind Rossi.
|43||Jack MILLER||Honda||9 Laps|
|9||Danilo PETRUCCI||Ducati||22 Laps|
|94||Jonas FOLGER||Yamaha||25 Laps|
|44||Pol ESPARGARO||KTM||26 Laps|