The Assen round is like a 20-year-old full of one too many pingers. It’s never boring to watch, and while you’re watching, you know something untoward is going to happen.
It’s kinda obvious Marquez has the championship by the throat. Lorenzo’s recent Miley-Cyrus-riding-a-steel-ball-in-her-underpants homage has pretty much cemented Marc’s 785th world title.
Nonetheless, the usual gunslingers still came a-strutting into the Cathedral of Speed. None more so than the victory-free Yamaha Factory team.
Rossi declared he had “fire” in his belly for Assen. No-one ever doubts him when he says stuff like this. He has won there 10 times, after all. If The Doctor says he’s got Assen, I always believe him.
Sadly, the only thing Rossi got at Assen this year was Nakagami, and in the process chalked up his fifth DNF in the last 10 races.
I feel for Takaaki. Not only is his team-mate Cal Crutchlow hating on him because he’s hurting Cal’s championship chances by being faster than Cal, his improved showing this year has now copped a kicking thanks to none other than Rossi.
Vinales, on the other hand, did himself and his new porno-facial hair proud.
As did the new kid, Fabulous Quartararo, who’s belting around on Rossi’s hand-me-down Yamaha like he thinks he’s a playah.
And he is. The young Frenchman is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the premier class. It’s taken him a few races to find his sea-legs, but he seems to have them well in place.
Vinales won the race – hard and handsome. Marquez had a poke at him a few times, but that tooth-filled head of his is another year wiser. Vinales is not a challenger for the championship. Two years ago, Marquez would have done Maverick, or tried to do him just to break his heart, and the championship be buggered. This year, Marc is content to take second and just rack up the points.
When they lined up on the grid behind Quartararo, there had been a paradigm shift in the championship.
Lorenzo, fresh from his recent meeting with Honda HQ which resulted in his bike sprouting a winged tank, was watching from a hospital bed in Lugano, Switzerland.
His unfortunate effort the previous round in Catalunya saw him break two vertebrae (happily with no spinal cord damage) and remove the top three contenders from the round, and pretty much the title race.
Marquez won Catalunya unopposed. Behind him was Quartararo.
And at Assen, Quartararo was on pole. Vinales was next, followed by Rins.
It did not look like Marquez, who was in fourth, was going to have it all his own way among the Dutchmen. He had not dominated in Practice or Qualifying.
Rossi, who has seemingly forgotten how to race motorcycles for the time being, had flubbed his way to 14th on the grid. Not all the yellow smoke bombs from the cheese-eaters in the stands was going to change that.
And 14th was only slightly worse than Dovizioso in 11th, behind both Miller and Petrucci.
The Ducatis were always going to struggle at Assen. It was hot, and Assen is…well, bloody Assen. It’s due for a re-surfacing, and it was by all accounts bumpier than ever.
The hole-shot off the start was all Rins. His team-mate Mir was second, with Fabulous hard in third.
It didn’t take very long for Fabulous to start chewing on Mir, and Vinales to start chewing on Marquez.
And while that was going on, Rins put his head down, his bum up…and crashed out of first place.
Mir then ran wide in sympathy for his team-mate, Fabulous passed him and in the space of 30 seconds, Assen totally re-jigged itself. As it is wont to do.
So only a few laps in, Fabulous was leading, Marquez and Vinales swapped second place once, and Dovi had wedged himself past a terrified Mir to appear in fourth.
This was when Rossi crashed, taking out Nakagami.
Marquez then started to put the pressure on Vinales, showing him his front wheel every now and again.
It worked. Vinales ran wide in Turn One, and Marquez set his sights on Fabulous. Thus far, Marc’s second position was due more to other racers’ mistakes than any particular ruthlessness on his part.
There was a strong crosswind blowing at Assen. And each time Quartararo would arrive at the end of the back straight, his bike would shake its head like a kid refusing medicine. Fabulous started to look like a bloke who was going to come third from first. His hand-me-down Yamaha certainly looking more of a handful than Marquez’s Honda and Vinales’s Yammy. But then Marquez could ride a washing machine falling down a cliff with success.
With 12 laps to go, Vinales block passed Marquez into the chicane and also set out to teach the fabulous French rookie a lesson in MotoGP racing.
Behind them, Petrucci and Dovi were contending for the King of Bologna, with Morbidelli acting as a spoiler. Dovi would ultimately beat Danilo for fourth, and Morbidelli would send him yet another place back by securing fifth.
Old reliable Cal ran off the track a bit, and took his now traditional seventh place, followed by Mir and Miller.
Zarco surrendered and returned to the pit. No technical issue was evident, and his team is still trying to work out why the once-fast Frenchman retired so close to the finish.
The new hairy-faced Vinales was not to be denied. He passed Fabulous who had clearly run out of tyres, as did Marquez, and sailed home to give Yamaha a much-needed victory.
I don’t think he’ll be able to back it up in Germany.
Marquez has won at Sachsenring since time immemorial. It’s his track. Still, maybe young Bradl, who will be standing in for Lorenzo, can make a good showing on the other Honda.
It’s not long until we find out, huh?
|17||Karel Abraham||CZE||Ducati||1 Lap|
|DNF||Johann Zarco||FRA||KTM||10 Laps|
|DNF||Takaaki Nakagami||JPN||Honda||22 Laps|
|DNF||Valentino Rossi||ITA||Yamaha||22 Laps|
|DNF||Alex Rins||SPA||Suzuki||24 Laps|