The winner's circle, or parc fermé as it's known to MotoGP insiders, is a place as mysterious as it is magical. At the end of a long hard race, after they've just given their all for the past 45 minutes, the first three riders to cross the finish line are escorted to a separate roped-off section of pit lane. Here, they park their bikes in a specially preordained order, receive the congratulations and plaudits of their teams, give interviews to various TV companies, and wait to make their way to the podium. Parc fermé is the one place which every motorcycle racer hopes to be as he sits on the grid waiting for the flag to drop.
But if a MotoGP rider is skilled enough to be finish in the top three, any romantic notions they may have had about the atmosphere in parc fermé are quickly dispelled. For the fact is that the winners' circle is a much more complicated place than it seems at first glance. After all, the lucky souls who roll their bikes in there have just spent the previous 70-odd miles doing everything within their power to defeat the other occupants of that hallowed piece of tarmac as thoroughly as possible. And to achieve that goal, they may have engaged in some forceful and sometimes downright dangerous moves, applied intense psychological pressure, or attempted to scare the others into making a lapse of concentration.
And as if this wasn't bad enough, the riders who make it into parc fermé are usually the same riders who are chasing the title, which means that not only have they just spent this Sunday trying to beat each other into submission, but they probably did the same thing the last weekend, and the weekend before that. These men are often deadly rivals, engaged in a battle which for most of them is even more important than life and death.
So when a rider's skill, luck and machinery finally collide to allow him to enter parc fermé for the first time, what greets him is a strange and vaguely sinister mixture of elation, frustration, hatred and despair. If you're lucky enough to win, the overwhelming emotion is one of sheer joy, and there are few experiences greater than to share this joy with your team, who have worked just as hard as you have to get you there. But if you weren't the first person across the line, then the feelings can be very much more mixed: joy at a good result, certainly, especially if you were able to put some points between yourself and a title rival. But also regret at a small mistake you may have made which allowed the people who beat you to get ahead or get away; anger, at yourself or at your team, for bike setup changes which didn't work, or tires or parts which didn't perform as expected; anger also at the riders who beat you, for harsh passes and dangerous moves, either real or imagined; resentment, too, at the winner, for having the temerity to beat you and take the trophy which you feel rightfully belongs to you, for all your hard work; and sometimes even a sense of awkwardness, as you are forced to share the space - and tiptoe around - riders who you may feel genuine hatred for, after incident upon incident has piled up between you, reinforcing your mutual dislike.
The Hate Zone
The previous two MotoGP races have been perfect illustrations of the point. At Qatar, there was Casey Stoner's obvious joy at getting his title defense off to the best possible start, Dani Pedrosa's pleasure at taking third, and Jorge Lorenzo's joy at getting on the podium in his first MotoGP race. And at Jerez there was Dani Pedrosa's delight at winning in front of an ecstatic home crowd, and Valentino Rossi's pleasure at being able to compete for wins once again.
But both podiums also showed their darker side. Pedrosa may have been pleased to take 3rd in Qatar, but he was not at all happy to be sharing the podium with Lorenzo, a man he hates with a passion. And at Jerez, it was Lorenzo's turn to show his displeasure, seemingly angry at finishing only 3rd in front of his home crowd. The situation was only highlighted by the King of Spain, present to hand out the trophies, forcing the two rivals to shake hands, a gesture which Pedrosa underwent as if having a tooth extracted.
So with Jorge Lorenzo on pole, after setting a truly stunning time during Saturday's qualifying practice, with Dani Pedrosa beside him on the grid, and feared to be nigh on unstoppable if the tiny Spaniard managed to make a break from the start, there was every chance that the podium ceremony at Estoril could end up more resembling Classical Greek tragedy than a formality for distributing silverware. There had already been a dress rehearsal during the low-calorie version of parc fermé put on after qualifying, with Lorenzo and Pedrosa, numbers 1 and 2 on the grid, studiously ignoring each other, while Valentino Rossi, the last man on the front row, looked on in bemusement. If the two Spaniards managed to end up on the podium together, then the atmosphere in parc fermé after the race would be anything but pleasant.
Of course, the podium isn't a place they hand out season tickets for, and results from the past are no guarantee of admittance to the secure confines of parc fermé. First, there was a race to win, and Lorenzo and Pedrosa faced 16 opponents with a hunger for glory which matched their own. What's more, Estoril's notoriously unreliable weather was playing up, with spots of rain starting to appear on visors and cameras. The two Spanish youngsters were almost unbeatable in the dry, but during the two wet sessions, they had been well down the running order.
As if the threatening rain hadn't made the situation tense enough, as the starter held the bikes on the line, panic broke out on the third row of the grid. As Casey Stoner rolled up to the grid to take his spot at the end of the third row, he found it already occupied. In his eagerness to fight his way forward from 12th position on the grid, Loris Capirossi had accidentally lined up a row further forward than he had qualified. Stoner tried gesturing to race direction, but then quickly solved the problem by tapping Capirossi on the shoulder. The Italian veteran immediately realized his mistake, and both men leapt off their bikes to manhandle their machines to their proper starting positions.
For Casey Stoner, it was just another item to add to the list of misfortunes the reigning champion had suffered at Estoril. Only in cold and damp conditions had we seen any of Stoner's former dominance return. Once the track dried, the Australian was in trouble, suffering simple crashes and his Ducati GP8 constantly threatening to get completely out of control. It had been a long weekend so far, and Stoner's bitter cup was not yet empty.
With the grid now correctly formed, all eyes were on the starting lights, and on Turn 1 beyond. With rain spotting visors, and grip unknown, would all 18 men be able to fit through the tight right hander of Turn 1? The question did not linger long, for moments later, the lights dimmed and the bikes howled off the line to settle the matter for good.
The battle of Spanish pride commenced almost immediately, with Dani Pedrosa landing the first blow, firing off the line as he now seems to at every race. Pedrosa had just got the drop on Valentino Rossi, who had edged out Jorge Lorenzo into the first turn. Lorenzo was in peril of losing yet another place to Pedrosa's Repsol Honda team mate Nicky Hayden, but Hayden had the outside line at Turn 1, and as they flicked left to head towards Turn 2, Lorenzo had the better line, and was back up to 3rd.
Hayden's choice of line into the first corner would cost him more dearly yet. Andrea Dovizioso had also gotten a fantastic start, and had forced his way level with Hayden and Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards into Turn 1. As the three of them picked their bikes up out of the right hander, Dovizioso followed Lorenzo's lead, and stuffed his Team Scot Honda ahead of Hayden and into 4th.
At the front, the lesson of Jerez was still fresh in Valentino Rossi's mind. The Doctor knew he could not allow Dani Pedrosa to lead from the front, as with a clear track ahead of him, the Repsol Honda man would be almost impossible to catch. So Rossi lined the Spaniard up out of Turn 2, and as they dropped down the hill towards Turn 3, the Italian barged his Fiat Yamaha up the inside of Pedrosa and into the lead.
A move that forceful has a price, and Rossi looked right to find another Fiat Yamaha inside his own, team mate Jorge Lorenzo having taken advantage of the squabble for 1st. But Rossi is a multiple winner at Estoril, and knew he only had to hold his line to get back inside Lorenzo into the next left hander of Turn 4. Two can play at that game, though, and Lorenzo held his own line out of Turn 4, and getting hard on the gas, was perfectly placed to snatch back the lead as the bikes heeled over right for the fast kink of Turn 5. The lead was settled, at least for now.
Behind Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso was on a charge. As the bikes got hard on the brakes for Turn 6, the Italian rookie forced his satellite Honda inside of Dani Pedrosa's factory machine to grab 3rd, and close on Rossi. Dovizioso wasn't the only worry which Pedrosa had, as once the Team Scot Honda was past, John Hopkins was almost upon the Spaniard, with Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards in hot pursuit. But Hopper couldn't capitalize on his position, and as they raced around Orelha and towards Turn 8 and then the chicane, the American had to let Pedrosa go.
As the pack rounded the long fast right, speed building to fire onto the front straight, Valentino Rossi made it eminently clear just how badly he wanted to lead. Parked almost on his team mate's tailpiece and gaining, Rossi was forced to take the outside line, running over the kerbs and then kicking up dust from the edge of the track. With nowhere left to go, he lost his momentum, and snicked back into Lorenzo's draft. Rossi's pursuit of his team mate found an echo behind, with Dani Pedrosa hitting the draft of fellow Honda rider Dovizioso. As the front four headed down towards the braking zone for Turn 1, both Rossi and Pedrosa pulled out of the draft in a synchronized passing attempt. But all attempts at coordination ended there. Rossi is a much stronger braker than Pedrosa, so while The Doctor surged ahead of Lorenzo's Michelin-shod Yamaha to take the lead, Pedrosa could not follow suit, and Dovizioso held onto 3rd, leaving Pedrosa to stew in 4th.
Making A Break
The front four had the beginnings of a gap. Hopkins ran alone in 5th, while more empty space separated Hopper's Kawasaki from Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden. Another gap separated Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, with Casey Stoner the Ducati filling between Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi.
Despite the rain spotting the occasional camera lens, the pace the MotoGP bikes were hitting made it clear there was no lack of grip. But with dark clouds closing on the track, race direction made a quick decision and had the white rain flags waved, indicating that if they wished, the riders could enter the pits and swap their slick-shod machines set up for racing in the dry for more softly-sprung bikes with intermediate or wet tires. A cautious, and, it turned out, premature decision, for though the declaration of a wet race sparked a surge of activity in the pits, with mechanics rushing to change tires and suspension settings on the spare bikes, any real rain never materialized. The weather confined itself to a scattering a drops around the track, just enough to keep everyone on their toes, but not put them on the floor.
The race officials may have been waving white flags, but out on the track nobody was thinking of surrender. The front four were welded together, with barely a sliver of daylight between them. They headed back towards the front straight for the second time, with Rossi pulling a hint of a gap from Lorenzo, and Dovizioso fending off Pedrosa behind. Where Pedrosa had failed at the end of lap 1, he succeeded as lap 2 ended and lap 3 commenced. Using the extra speed of his factory Honda, he pulled out of Dovizioso's draft, and was up into 3rd into Turn 1.
For the next 6 laps, Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Dovizioso were perfectly evenly matched. Each was strong in a different part of the track, and the gap between the group was never more than 0.7 seconds. At times it looked like Valentino Rossi was creeping away, but half a lap later, the following threesome would be back with him. Each time the group sped down the front straight, the better drive Pedrosa was getting out of the Parabolica allowed him to try and whip out of Lorenzo's draft and into 2nd, but each time, Lorenzo held him without too much effort. Down the back straight, Andrea Dovizioso would creep closer to Pedrosa, and try to dive up the inside into Turn 6 on the brakes, but each lap, Dovi couldn't quite get close enough to hit the turn ahead of Pedrosa. For the moment, the front four were stuck where they were.
Behind the two Yamahas and two Hondas, the Kawasaki of John Hopkins followed. On occasion, Hopper looked as if he might catch the front four, but try as he might, they were just out of reach. Running virtually the same pace as the leaders, Hopkins was starting to drop the riders behind.
The first of the followers were Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden. A second down on Hopper's Kawasaki, they were the only other riders on the same pace as the leaders. Though they were just out of touch with the men ahead of them, they were not being dropped completely. If the two Americans could hang on and step up the pace, they could reel in the front group and maybe even contend for the podium itself.
Edwards and Hayden were the last of the pack to match the leaders' speed. By the end of lap 3, Hayden had a 2 second lead over 8th place man Chris Vermeulen, who headed up a pack of 6, with the Suzuki rider battling it out with Casey Stoner, Tech 3 Yamaha's James Toseland, Vermeulen's team mate Loris Capirossi, the Gresini Honda of Shinya Nakano and Randy de Puniet on the LCR Honda. Places were no sinecure, positions swapping on almost every lap.
Once Casey Stoner got past Chris Vermeulen, it looked like the reigning champion could be ready to force his way back to the front, as he had done at Qatar and attempted to do at Jerez, but though he could pass Vermeulen, he could not escape. But just as it looked like Stoner's weekend was starting to improve, ill fortune struck the Australian again. First, Vermeulen struck back to take 8th again, and then James Toseland followed, pushing Stoner down into 10th. Then, an electronic control box, part of the on-board camera and GPS system supplied and maintained by Dorna for the TV feeds, broke free of its velcro moorings and started dangerously flapping about the Ducati's steering head and clutch, occasionally interfering with the clutch and, what's worse, with the steering lock. It was exactly the kind of distraction the world champion didn't need at his worst weekend of the year.
Back at the front, the foursome, lonesome and twosome were showing the first signs of coagulating into a big group of 7. Edwards and Hayden were starting to catch John Hopkins, and the front four had stopped opening a gap. On lap 10, a mistake by Hopper allowed his two compatriots past, and the Texas Tornado and the Kentucky Kid were off to chase the Italians and Spaniards leading the race.
On lap 11, Pedrosa's drafting practice on Lorenzo finally paid off. Pulling out from behind Lorenzo with just a fraction more speed, the Repsol Honda man finally managed to outbrake Lorenzo into Turn 1, and into 2nd. Forced down to 3rd by his arch rival, Lorenzo remained surprisingly calm. Over the next two laps, Pedrosa closed the gap on Rossi, whose lap times were starting to plateau, while others dropped. Lorenzo simply clamped onto Pedrosa's back wheel, and let the Honda man do all the work of closing the gap. The leading trio crossed the line with just 2/10ths of a second between them, an almost continuous blur.
Now Lorenzo was ready to make his move. First up was Pedrosa, and Lorenzo returned the compliment of Pedrosa's pass two laps earlier, pulling out of the draft and ahead into Turn 1. One down, one to go, but Valentino Rossi is easy meat for no man. Easy or not, Lorenzo stalked Rossi round the back of the circuit, closing through the double rights of Orelha and Turn 8, before putting a tough and impudent pass up the inside of Turn 9, and into the lead at the chicane. If Rossi ever had any delusions of being treated with deference by his young team mate, they were now brutally shattered. At a track infamous for risky passes among team mates, Lorenzo had just added another perfect example.
If there is to be any criticism of Lorenzo's pass, it can be only this: Lorenzo's nickname is "Porfuera," Spanish for "round the outside," a pass he regards as his signature move. Jamming your Fiat Yamaha up the inside of your illustrious team mate is the very antithesis of the smooth, sweeping outside pass. The only thing they have in common is the enormous degree of self-confidence they require to carry them off. Lorenzo has self-confidence by the truckload, and on the basis of this pass alone, it is entirely justified.
Lorenzo's pass on Rossi also revealed something important about the Italian: Rossi was now the slowest of the front four. On lap 14, Lorenzo put 3/10ths of a second on Rossi, while The Doctor was dealing with Pedrosa's attentions from behind. Rossi's defense of 2nd lasted just shy of 2 laps. He fended off Pedrosa's first attack, in the braking zone for Turn 1, with relative ease. But as the group rounded Turn 6, Pedrosa was ready. He fired out of the double apex left to grab the right-hand line, getting inside Rossi for the next right hander at Orelha. Rossi was left with nowhere to go, and was forced to console himself with 3rd place.
With a clear run at Lorenzo ahead of him, Dani Pedrosa settled in to chase down the young upstart who dared challenge for Spanish supremacy. Pedrosa led the contest so far, his win at Jerez trumping Lorenzo's 2nd place at Qatar, and was not willing to concede defeat here. With 13 laps left to go, he could afford to bide his time.
Luck On His Side
Force to let first Lorenzo, then Pedrosa past, Valentino Rossi now had more trouble approaching from behind. The final member of the front four had now latched onto Rossi's tail, and Andrea Dovizioso still had the sweet memories of his last lap pass on The Doctor at Qatar. If he'd done it once, he could do it again, the Italian rookie reasoned, and Dovi pushed his Team Scot Honda on, to catch and try to pass Rossi. His enthusiasm would not be rewarded. On the next lap, as Dovizioso closed on Rossi, he pushed too heard into the tricky right hander of Orelha, and found himself in the gravel, rather than on the podium.
Youthful exuberance had spared Rossi once, but he would need something a little bit stronger over the next few laps. Nicky Hayden had passed Colin Edwards, and with clear track ahead of him, was starting to lap faster than anyone bar the leader, Jorge Lorenzo. Just over 2 seconds down on Rossi, the former world champion had grown weary of being off the podium, his last visit dating from the Brno race nearly 8 months ago, and was pushing to get back on the box. As he closed on Rossi, he pushed too hard, losing the front at Orelha, the same spot as Dovizioso. With Hayden out of the race, Rossi had a comfortable buffer of 5 seconds back to Edwards. A podium looked secure.
The pressure from behind having disappeared almost by magic, Rossi could concentrate on hanging on to the two leaders ahead. Lorenzo had now wicked up the pace, and Pedrosa was giving his all to try and follow. But the laps which Rossi had spent leading, and the steep learning curve Rossi and his crew are still on with the Bridgestone tires were starting to take their toll. Rossi stepped up the pace for one more lap, before having to let the two Spaniards go.
It was now a straight fight between Lorenzo and Pedrosa. With Lorenzo now the only impediment on the track, Pedrosa was quietly confident, and settled down to run as fast and smooth as possible, hoping to reel his bitter rival in, if not by speed, then at least by endurance, once Lorenzo started suffering the arm pump which has plagued his early races on the MotoGP bike.
Pedrosa waited in vain. Lorenzo pulled out fractions of a second, for lap after lap, his pace barely faltering. Towards the end of the race, Lorenzo's lap times started to rise, but to underline his superiority, the reigning 250 champion ran his second fastest lap of the race on the final lap. With that final, defiant lap, Jorge Lorenzo proved to the world that he is a very special talent indeed. To take a win in only his third MotoGP race, after claiming three pole positions in a row, as well as taking the fastest lap of the race at Estoril is a feat impressive beyond words. Yamaha may have gambled on signing Jorge Lorenzo as Valentino Rossi's replacement, but so far, their gamble is paying off handsomely.
Part of the terms of Lorenzo's contract with Yamaha stipulated that he toned down some of his post-race celebrations. Lorenzo had already elected to wear his red helmet, rather than the garish gold number he usually sports during the race, but a race win is a race win, and in traditional Lorenzo style, the Spanish rookie planted his Lorenzoland flag in the gravel, claiming the track at his own. You may argue with his taste, and his sense of decorum, but after dominating at a track he has traditionally done poorly at, it is hard to deny his Lorenzo's claim to the circuit.
How Dani Pedrosa felt about the entire episode was made crystal clear as he crossed the line in 2nd place. The Spaniard punched his tank in anger, frustrated to have lost, but most of all, to have lost to Lorenzo. There is no worse fate that Pedrosa could suffer on a Sunday, and Lorenzo taking Pedrosa's place atop the championship standings just rubbed salt into the wounds.
After the race, Pedrosa put his defeat down to the wrong choice of gearing. His team had expected a stronger headwind down the front straight, and had elected to run a lower top gear, leaving Pedrosa a fraction short of top speed down the straight, and spending a little too much time on the rev limiter. But even with more outright speed, it is questionable with Pedrosa could have beaten the Jorge Lorenzo who rolled onto the grid on Sunday. If it is even possible, the rivalry between the two Spaniards just got even more intense.
Valentino Rossi settled for 3rd, over 12 seconds behind Lorenzo. Rossi's preseason demand that Yamaha build a competitive motorcycle has been fulfilled, witness the fact that Yamaha is leading the individual, manufacturers and team championships. But a 5th, a 2nd and a 3rd is not what The Doctor wishes to be finishing, and the way his tires faded in the second half of the race leaves Rossi and his team some work to do in adapting to the Bridgestones. The good news is, at every race, the team learn more.
Another Yamaha finished in 4th, behind Rossi, Colin Edwards taking advantage of the pneumatic valve engine in his Tech 3 M1 at Estoril. From last year's laughing stock, Tech 3 have been transformed into this year's heroes, and Colin Edwards is inching closer to that elusive first win in MotoGP, which will allow the Texan to retire to the AMA with a clear conscience. At Le Mans, or Laguna Seca, Edwards could well spring a surprise.
John Hopkins ended Kawasaki's early season misery by finishing 5th, and looking capable of running at the front for the first half of the race. Hopper is still in some pain from the groin injury the American suffered in preseason testing, but both the Kawasaki and Hopkins are getting stronger every round.
The Fast And The Furious
In 6th place came a furious Casey Stoner. The world champion had struggled with the flailing box of Dorna electronics all race, forced to stuff the box back inside the fairing at close to 200 mph down the front straight every lap. And a 6th place, after the disastrous 11th spot at Jerez, is not much consolation for the man defending his world title. But at second glance, this 6th place is a pretty strong showing, after Stoner and the Ducati team struggled with grip all weekend. And despite the dangling electronics box, Stoner had fought his way through the field in a race long battle with Toseland, Vermeulen and de Puniet. A 6th place may only be worth 10 points in the title race, but getting a 6th on a weekend when everything is against you is just the kind of performance that championships are built on.
James Toseland finished 7th, another strong showing from the rookie who had never raced at Estoril before. Toseland's lack of experience had cost him dearly in the early laps, as he was uncertain just how much grip the Michelin slicks would provide in the light drizzle which spotted the track from time to time. The answer was as much as if it were dry, but once Toseland realized this, he had already lost too much time, and was left slugging it out in the pack behind the leaders. But Toseland's 7th place meant that all 4 Yamahas finished in the top 7. Proof, if any were needed, that Yamaha got its sums right over the winter.
Behind Toseland, the two Suzukis finished 8th and 9th, Chris Vermeulen finishing ahead of Loris Capirossi. Both men had been caught up in the mid-pack skirmish which had raged for much of the race, with Capirossi the first to lose touch at half distance. Suzuki still haven't found the form they had in early 2007, and continue to experiment with the aerodynamics package from last year. With the next MotoGP race being at Shanghai, where John Hopkins got on the podium last year, they will hope to have something to offer in China.
The Suzuki team headed up the Gresini Honda team, with Shinya Nakano not far off Capirossi in 10th. Team mate and rookie Alex de Angelis was nearly 20 seconds behind Nakano, but managed a brave finish, despite suffering with severe tonsillitis and the 'flu.
Behind Gresini, the current state of Ducati's misery was made evident. Toni Elias was the second Ducati home, taking 12th on the Alice satellite bike. A further 6 seconds behind Elias, Marco Melandri just held off Sylvain Guintoli to avoid the ignominy of being last Ducati home on the factory machine. With the remaining Ducatis finishing over a minute behind the winner, and 35 seconds behind Casey Stoner, there is clearly something wrong with the bike. Even the head of Ducati's MotoGP project Livio Suppo has started to acknowledge the problems, and told the Italian press that he is considering drafting in Troy Bayliss and Max Biaggi to test the bike, and try to fix its problems.
While question marks hang over the Ducati, there is very little wrong with the Honda. Except, that is, when Randy de Puniet persists in his unfortunate habit of throwing his satellite-spec Honda RC212V into the gravel. The Frenchman was lucky this time, and could remount, and continue the race. But he must be costing Team LCR a fortune in parts, and needs to stay on board and score some serious points.
If the Ducatis are suffering, they can take some small comfort in the misery of Ant West. Since arriving on a high at Kawasaki, West's fortunes have continued to slide. The official press releases from Michael Bartholemy's team are starting to sound ominous, and unless West can pick up his game, it's looking less and less likely that West will finish out the season. There is no doubt that West can do better than he is at the moment, but the difference between theory and practice is the difference between keeping your ride in MotoGP and looking for work elsewhere.
The Tire Thing
The question hanging over all of the series is how much Ducati's, and to a smaller extent, Valentino Rossi's problems are due to the Bridgestone tires. The practice timesheets at Estoril were often divided almost perfectly by tire brand, with Michelins dominating in the dry and Bridgestone sweeping the board in the cold and damp. The only exception to this pattern was Valentino Rossi, whose 7 world titles suggest that it is Rossi that is the exception, not the rest. Michelin have made a huge leap forward during the off-season, and Estoril seems to reinforce the suggestion that they have reclaimed the dominance they enjoyed in the years running up to 2007. With 15 more races to go, there is still time to see just how much water this theory holds.
At Estoril, Jorge Lorenzo won his place in parc fermé in devastating style. And this being his third trip to the podium in his first three races, he should by now be accustomed to the strange atmosphere which hangs there. Lorenzo, being who he is, took no notice of course, and celebrated his victory in parc fermé with the joy he so richly deserved. His achievement is truly remarkable, and is perhaps best compared to the arrival of another rookie on a Yamaha in the premier class, Jarno Saarinen back in 1973. The flying Fin won his first two races in the class, at the same time as setting the fastest lap, and winning the 250 races at the same events. A tragic accident at Monza during the fourth round of the 1973 season left Saarinen dead, and robbed motorcycling of potentially one of the greatest riders ever. Lorenzo looks to be picking up where Saarinen was cruelly forced to leave off all those years ago.
Lorenzo's joy was not shared by everyone in parc fermé. Despite finishing second, and extending his lead over both Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa looked like he had just found a cockroach in his sandwich. Pedrosa had not only lost the race to Lorenzo, he'd also suffered a couple of other sensitive defeats. For Jorge Lorenzo had also drawn level in points with his victory, and by dint of being faster in qualifying, had taken over the lead in the championship. What's worse, Lorenzo had also taken away Pedrosa's record as the youngest rider ever to score three podiums in MotoGP, by just a single day. That kind of record can never be reclaimed, and the pain of losing it should not be underestimated.
The atmosphere in parc fermé at Estoril was illustrative of the true nature of professional sports at the very highest level. The top three finishers spent their time studiously ignoring each other, Valentino Rossi the man least affected, making a point of congratulating Pedrosa's and Lorenzo's teams. And for the group photo on the podium, body language spoke volumes about how the protagonists felt about each other.
Before the 2008 season started, the expectations were that at some point in time the Fiat Yamaha team would explode under the pressure of the two inflated egos in the garage. But the wall put in place to divide the garages, and protect the different tire companies' data, seems to be strong enough to contain and dissipate any interpersonal problems which could potentially arise.
And so the real problems have been channeled elsewhere, mostly into the Spanish side of the Repsol Honda garage. At every race, the antipathy which Dani Pedrosa feels for Jorge Lorenzo seems to grow, and Lorenzo feels almost obliged to return the feelings in kind. Lorenzo has only been in MotoGP for three races, but already, he has managed to create a rivalry as intense and bitter as the heyday of Biaggi and Rossi. The Spanish press are intensely grateful, as the sports pages almost fill themselves. But MotoGP fans around the world can be grateful too, for two men of exceptional talent driven by mutual dislike will push each other to extremes of performance. The racing will just keep on getting better from here.