The splendid Ducati Ring set the scene just right with a pleasant 27 degrees, a bit of a breeze and a few photogenic clouds. And the photographers had plenty to capture, as the masterful trio of Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso danced around the track in various configurations but close together, as predicted. In the end, Ducati kept their flag at the top of the castle courtesy of Lorenzo, who just about kept a rampaging Marquez behind to take his third win of the season. Dovizioso was in the mix for most of the race but ultimately could not keep up with the Spaniards and settled for a safe podium.
Dovizioso had made an excellent start to jump ahead of the poleman but before he could make a run for it, Marquez snuck back inside and the Italian just about avoided an early incident. This allowed Lorenzo to move ahead, while Dovizioso dropped back and had to fight off Alex Rins and Cal Crutchlow before he could catch up with his favourite duo up front.
Marquez made the first of many block passes on Lorenzo in turn three of lap two to take the lead ahead of the Ducatis, with Crutchlow, Rins and Danilo Petrucci close behind and the rest of the pack not too far either. Despite a disastrous qualifying, Valentino Rossi was up in 11th position by lap two, while Maverick Viñales was losing ground at the start in familiar fashion, dropping to 16th. Dani Pedrosa also dropped some positions at the start following a tangle in turn one and was working to get his hard rear tyre up to speed from 13th spot.
Back at the front, Marquez was the fastest man on track – faster than predicted race pace – and was attempting an escape with the presumed advantage of hard rear rubber. By lap six, the Spaniard had half a second in hand and challenged the Ducatis to come in hard pursuit, while the trio already dropped the rest of the field, led by Crutchlow, over two seconds back. The LCR rider had Petrucci and Rins for company, with Tito Rabat heading a group with Aleix Espargaro, Rossi, Zarco, Andrea Iannone, Pedrosa and Jack Miller another second down the road.
By the end of lap eight, Marquez’s advantage was nudging the one second barrier and while Dovizioso was showing similar pace to the leader, he was having trouble getting past his teammate. Meanwhile, the action was hotting up mid-pack, with Rossi and Pedrosa entertaining some moves in the sizeable battle for eighth position.
The lead trio continued to post nearly identical times at the front but had slowed down the pace to more reasonable mid 1:24s. Marquez’s gap ticked over the one second gap for the first time on lap 12, while Lorenzo was taking the defensive line over Dovizioso, the two Ducatis glued to each other. Nonetheless, two laps later, they were starting to reel in Marquez, bringing down the gap to half a second. Not much was going on behind, with the rest of the pack separated by half-second to one second gaps throughout.
The pace settled halfway through the race but Marquez was yoyo-ing back and forth towards the pursuers, dangling like tempting prey half a second ahead of the red sharks. Lorenzo finally got within striking distance with 11 laps left and there was nothing to pick between the three despite different tyre choices – Marquez on the hard rear, Lorenzo on both softs and Dovizioso on mediums. Lorenzo made a move for the lead one lap later courtesy of the Ducati’s straight line speed and a very eager Dovizioso got a bit too close for comfort, running wide and losing a couple of tenths on the Spaniards. Marquez fought back when he saw a tight gap but Lorenzo retaliated in turn nine later that lap. The Honda man took a breath and bided his time behind Lorenzo while Dovizioso was regrouping, seven tenths down. Crutchlow was six seconds back, with gaps over 1.5 seconds between Petrucci, Rins, Rossi and Pedrosa behind him. Viñales had found some speed but the sizeable gaps meant he advanced slowly to 12th position.
With seven laps left, Dovizioso looked to be the first to show his hand when the Italian could no longer keep up with his two rivals, dropping one second back, into the 1:25s. The three-way became a duel between the two future teammates and Marquez had his sights firmly set on his compatriot’s exhaust. The reigning world champion saw blood red and attacked with three laps to go but Lorenzo resumed the lead on the next straight stretch of tarmac. Despite some rodeo moves in the heat of battle, Marquez retaliated in turn 13 but Lorenzo was back in front as they started the final lap and despite another valiant attempt in turn three, the Honda could not cope with the grunt of the Ducati and the Austrian circuit stayed their playground.
Dovizioso finished a lonely third, seven seconds ahead of Crutchlow. Petrucci grabbed another lonely fifth position ahead of Rossi, who made a decent recovery job having started 14th. Pedrosa got close to the Italian but settled for seventh, while Rins lost steam in the final few laps and dropped to eighth place. Zarco and Alvaro Bautista completed the top ten, with Viñales finishing in an anonymous 12th, behind Tito Rabat.
Despite the last lap loss, Marquez had plenty of reasons to smile as he extended his championship lead significantly, now 59 points ahead of Rossi. Lorenzo’s victory helped him into third in the ranking, although still 71 points behind the leader and one point ahead of his teammate.
|10||Xavier SIMEON||Ducati||18 Laps|