Round 13 evocatively styled itself as the Grand Prix of Europe. Which is a Dorna marketing ploy to make you think it’s not really Valencia Part One.
That aside, it was a hugely important round for a few very important reasons.
The first is, of course, Mir’s brilliant win, which not only cemented his grip on the championship with two rounds to go, but also put paid to the noises coming from the cheap seats about how he’s not a worthy champion because he hasn’t actually won a race.
And now he has, and he did it with precision and elan, so the peanut gallery can go back to predicting when Marc Marquez will return.
I’ve always rated Mir, and he is quite unique in terms of his emotional equilibrium. Unlike so many excitable Latins, including his own team-mate Rins, who are literally almost bursting with joy when they win, Mir was merely his usual reserved and rather intense self following his maiden win. And he has that look about him – if he wins this championship, which is highly likely, it won’t be his last.
The second reason Round 13 was important was that it marked the utter and complete collapse of Yamaha’s attempt to secure a title this year.
Hedgie’s already detailed the sanctions imposed on the factory and its satellite team HERE. So I don’t need to go into it, other than to maybe say it was some serious valve-bouncing bullshit, and while Yamaha can play ingénue all it wants, I’m not buying it. It should consider itself lucky its riders weren’t also docked a truck-load of points for its efforts to circumvent the rules. I think the riders should have been penalised, because that’s the kind of sanction that really sends a message. And I’m struggling to think of a time a rider has not been penalised for his team’s chicanery.
I do get it. There is not a team out there that doesn’t seek to gain an advantage via a creative interpretation of the rules. MotoGP history is strewn with such things. And there’s a school of thought which says it’s only cheating if you get caught. And Yamaha got caught.
As it turned out, the sanctions haven’t actually impacted on Fabulous’ or Maverick’s chances of winning the title.
The former crashed out in the race and the latter had nuked all of his allotted engines, and was forced to open another one and thus had to start from pit-lane. So that’s them done.
Rossi, already damned by a bunch of DNFs, which were followed by two DNSs thanks to a dose of the Plague – he actually only appeared for FP3, then qualified in 17th and bowed out early in the race, later saying: “The engine is not broke, it just stopped.”
All of Yamaha’s hopes were on Morbidelli, who was the fastest Yamaha in the Free Practices and Qualifying, where he ended up eighth on the grid, but 11th in the race.
As Maverick correctly observed: “All of us are in trouble.”
I think the only positive for Yamaha was the performance of young Garrett Gerloff, who replaced Rossi for FP1 and FP2, and who, despite never having ridden Valencia or a MotoGP bike, put Rossi’s weapon through some pretty decent times in fairly trying conditions.
Ducati has also seemingly thrown its Italian arms up in the air and reconciled itself to its riders not winning another championship this year.
Zarco was the fastest Ducati in Qualifying (fourth on the grid), followed by Miller in sixth. Dovi was in his now comfy 12th, Petrucci was back in 18th, Bagnaia (who also crashed out in the race yet again), in 16th, and Rabat stone motherless last and out of the championship next year. He will be replaced by Luca Marini in VR46 colours.
Everybody struggled a bit with the sketchy conditions of the Free Practices. They were wet, but with promises of a dry race. Still, even when the lights went off, and Pol Espargaro launched off pole and into Turn One, he had to avoid a big wet patch, as did the others.
Pol made it through Turn One in the lead, followed closely by Rins and Taka Nakagami.
Behind them, the weekend got all that much worse for Fabulous, who had once again struggled in the wet conditions prior to the race and started his race in 11th. Pol’s brother Aleix lost the front beside Fabulous, who baulked, and one nanosecond later lost his front-end as well. Fabulous remounted and ended up in the points, despite crossing the line as the last rider still circulating.
He can thank a raft of DNFers for that.
Savadori, Marquez Junior, Tito Rabat, Peco Bagnaia, and Cal Crutchlow all felt the kiss of the Valencian gravel, while Rossi’s bike just failed to proceed.
The race itself was rather processional, but very tense, like a very noisy and dangerous chess game.
Alex Rins sailed past Pol on the second lap, Mir waited two more laps and passed him as well, and a hard-charging Oliveira kept the KTM rider sweating for most of the race until Taka managed to get passed the Portuguese ace, but not quite past Pol, who finished in fourth.
Up at the front, it was all Rins and Mir, and Davide Brivio wired to a heart monitor back in the pits.
The two Suzuki boys were metronomic precision, while Mr Brivio’s ageing heartbeat rose and fell with often alarming rapidity.
With 13 laps left, Rins, Mir, and Pol had eked out a 1.5-second lead on Miguel Oliveira, who was falling into the clutches of Taka, Zarco and Miller. This was when Taka made the pass on Miguel for fourth place, but it made no difference to the blokes out the front.
Mir doggedly pursued Rins, who ultimately ran wide on Turn 10 and let his team-mate through – and that was pretty much that. Mir then set about winning the race in superb fashion while Brivio’s heart monitor recorded exciting numbers.
And Mir just went faster and faster, much like Brivio’s ticker. Nine laps from the end, Mir recorded the fastest lap of the race.
Binder was also hammering his way along despite copping a long-lap penalty for belting into Miller at the previous round. The South African finished a glorious seventh, ahead of Dovizioso, Zarco, Petrucci, and Morbidelli.
Young Marquez’s crash six laps from the end almost ended Dovi as well. Dovi out-dragged him down the straight – which is pretty much all the Factory Ducati’s seem to be doing these days – and in a valiant attempt to pass the Italian back, young Marquez flew into the gravel outside Turn One instead.
Mir was uncatchable. He just piled it on, gapping Rins by almost a second-and-a-half, and only slowed a little on the last lap when his victory was inevitable.
Brivio’s joy at a Suzuki one-two was palpable – you could here it in his voice when Simon Crafar spoke to him immediately after the race.
“It’s been an unbelievable race,” he gushed. “I’ve been dreaming of a Suzuki 1-2 for a long time and today we managed it! Thank you so much to all the Team, and to Joan and Alex of course! We’re doing something fantastic this season – we’re leading all three championships and our riders are so strong in the races. I would like to have this wonderful feeling forever, but we still have two races to focus on, so we will stay calm and keep our heads down. Let’s try to continue in this way!”
Two races remain – another Valencia, where the weather will once again play a part in the outcome, and the mystery of Portimao – where anything is possible and probably likely.
But it looks like what it looks like from where I’m sitting.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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