Maverick Viñales has added another chapter to the history books, taking victory in Argentina. He becomes the first rider to win the two opening rounds of the premier class after switching teams since Kenny Roberts Jr in 1999, and most remarkably, he becomes the first Yamaha rider to win the opening two rounds since Wayne Rainey in 1990.
A win looked a very distant prospect at the start of the race. Marc Marquez got the holeshot, and exploiting a setup change they found in the warm up, the Repsol Honda rider started to put a second a lap into the opposition. Cal Crutchlow made it two Hondas in the top two, unable to follow Marquez but easily holding off Viñales and Valentino Rossi for the first couple of laps.
There was drama behind the leaders in the very first corner. Andrea Iannone got a jump start, then closed his line into the space where Jorge Lorenzo was trying to put his Ducati, Lorenzo's front wheel hitting Iannone's rear wheel, the Spaniard crashing out in the first corner. It was a typical racing incident, the kind of first corner clash that happens in mid pack, when two riders are aiming for two different lines through a tight space. The intersecting lines ended in the gravel for Lorenzo. But Lorenzo would not be the last rider to crash out of the race in Argentina, though.
At the front, Viñales disposed of Cal Crutchlow on lap 3, and went in pursuit of Marquez. But the Repsol Honda rider had pulled a gap of over two seconds by now, so the Yamaha man had his work cut out for him. On lap 4, Marquez threw all his hard work away by crashing on the entrance to Turn 2, the front end washing away as he tipped it in on the brakes.
That handed Viñales the lead, and the Spaniard immediately seized the opportunity. He quietly upped the pace, inching away from Crutchlow and Rossi as the laps clicked off. Though the gap grew slowly, taking until lap 8 to exceed a second, there was little Crutchlow or Rossi could do to resist. Viñales powered to a comfortable win, and a considerable margin in the championship.
Though first place went unchallenged, second would be a settled in a tense duel between Crutchlow and Rossi. Crutchlow held the upper hand for most of the race, but he had to contend with a stalking Rossi throughout. On lap 19, Rossi struck, sliding up the inside at Turn 5, and holding on to take second. It was Crutchlow's turn to stalk, but the LCR Honda rider could never get close enough to pounce. After a string of DNFs, the Englishman settled for third.
Rossi's second place was a remarkable achievement for the Italian. To end on the podium on his 350th Grand Prix start is a peerless feat, and marks the drive, ambition, and sheer talent of the veteran Italian.
If the battle for podium places played out in slow motion, the fight behind was a good deal more hectic. A group consisting of Dani Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista, Danilo Petrucci, and Johann Zarco were fighting it out for fourth, with no clear favorite early on. Danilo Petrucci led the group early, but he was holding the rest of them up.
Zarco and Pedrosa worked their way past first, then Pedrosa passed Zarco and started to open a gap. But disaster struck for the Repsol Honda rider in the same place as his teammate, Pedrosa losing the front end as the bike got unsettled over the bumps on the exit of Turn 1 and he started to brake for Turn 2.
That left the fight for fourth in the hands of Zarco and Bautista. Zarco put up a stout defense, but he was burning up his tires in the attempt, smoke streaming off them as he spun them up parrying Bautista's advances. Bautista went on to take a superb fourth place, ahead of Zarco and his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger, who had closed in on Zarco in the final laps. Petrucci finished in seventh, while Scott Redding took eighth after a major battle with Jack Miller and Karel Abraham.
Lorenzo, Marquez, and Pedrosa were not the only factory fallers. Andrea Dovizioso missed the corner at Turn 5, and distracted Aleix Espargaro behind him, who then lost the front and wiped the pair of them out. Espargaro, a true gentleman, then went over and apologized and comforted Dovizioso. Alex Rins also fell on the Suzuki, then remounted, but had to withdraw because of the pain. Sam Lowes had to withdraw with a gearbox problem.
The crashes allowed both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith into the top 15, meaning the two KTM riders both scored points for the Austrian factory, the first of the season.
Viñales' victory and the crashes by Dovizioso and Marquez leave the Movistar Yamaha rider comfortably ahead in the championship. He has a 14 point lead over his teammate Valentino Rossi, while Dovizioso is in third, 30 points adrift. Defending champion Marc Marquez is in eighth, 37 points behind Viñales.
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati||11 Laps|
|41||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia||11 Laps|
|26||Dani Pedrosa||Honda||12 Laps|
|22||Sam Lowes||Aprilia||14 Laps|
|42||Alex Rins||Suzuki||14 Laps|
|93||Marc Marquez||Honda||22 Laps|
|99||Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati||0 Lap|