Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini
After the fire and thunder of the last two rounds, the most dramatic thing about the first Misano round was its magnificent quad-barrelled name – Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino della Riviera di Rimini.
The race itself was a marvellously well-mannered and drama-free affair, though it did serve up some tension – especially if you’re a Rossi fan like me.
The peanut gallery began its squealing early. Yamaha had chosen not to test at the circuit, and there were questions from Fabulous and Rossi regarding the whereabouts of Jorge Lorenzo, ostensibly Yamaha’s test rider.
A check of Jorge’s Instagram account would have revealed Jorge was happily ensconced in Lugano, adding hypercars to his collection and shopping for shoes. He may well have fired off a few emails to Lin Jarvis regarding his views on how all the Yamahas might do better, but as far as actually throwing a leg over one of them and smashing out some laps…well, not so much.
As it turned out, it didn’t really matter.
Rossi and Morbidelli ride the track constantly – as part of the VR46 Academy curriculum, and since it has been resurfaced, none of the testing by the other teams would have counted for much anyway. The proof of that was when Yamaha grabbed the first four spots on the grid – Vinales, Morbidelli, Quartararo, and Rossi, with a hopeful Miller in fifth and another VR46 graduate, the limping Pecco Bagnaia, finishing off the second row.
The Ducati garage was reportedly full of angst and tension, with Dovi given to staring blankly into the distance and muttering things about how he has a job to do for Ducati while his team goes through the motions around him. His future is entirely uncertain, as the only vacant seat for next year is not actually vacant until WADA brings the hammer down on Iannone’s head and Aprilia makes a call.
Honda, despite Puig’s ongoing insistence all is sweetness and light, has found itself in a most unfamiliar situation. MotoGP’s greatest team is actually a pile of very-hard-to-ride motorcycles entirely dependent upon the supernatural skills of Marc Marquez to win them constructor’s championships. LCR Honda’s Crutchlow is a broken mess, having undergone a recent bout of surgery to relieve arm-pump, then finding himself at Misano with an open wound that had stopped leaking “fluid”. He was ruled unfit to race.
Apparently, the fluid needs to leak, because when it doesn’t leak, Cal’s arm turns into a swollen sausage and he can’t use it. And no, it’s not the arm with the recently repaired scaphoid. It’s the other arm which he was over-using to compensate for the broken scaphoid.
That leaves HRC with Takaaki Nakagmi, who despite being given all of Marc’s set-ups and showing some promise, still cannot get his satellite Honda near the podium with any regularity.
And the final ignominy for Honda is Marc’s younger brother, Alex, who seems doomed to wobble around the back looking at Tito Rabat’s arse despite everyone staring at him and wondering why he isn’t securing the championship like his brother did in his rookie year.
Only KTM and Suzuki seem to be working hard at securing a championship which is so ridiculously close, it is impossible to predict – though the next 11 gruelling weeks of back-to-back races with only two short breaks will certainly sort the wheat from the chaff.
This round was the first round to include spectators. Though only a measly 10,000, which is less than 10 per cent of the usual crowd. The tickets sold out in less than five hours, prompting Rossi to draw a comparison with Pink Floyd.
The Doctor then followed up with a blistering FP3 time, my heart sang, and I was seriously thinking he would win the race. It was his local track, after all, and he can ride it in his sleep.
Qualifying saw him relegated to fourth on the grid, but I was still optimistic – especially when he sat himself behind a hard-charging Morbidelli in the opening laps.
Vinales once again rode backwards from pole position. No-one knows why. Not even him.
“I don’t know what happened today,” he muttered after the race. “I’m really disappointed. I don’t know why I lost grip in the race.”
Miller also faded after a very strong start – and he put it all down to weirdness, which is probably spot-on.
“It was another weird race – Franky’s first win, Pecco on his first podium and Mir on his second… I think it will start to become more consistent this season with who is up front, but then I’ve thought that before too. It’s been pretty hard to read, hasn’t it? Six races, 12 different guys on the podium, five different winners, four guys winning races for the first time now Franky won here … there’s never a dull moment this year, that’s for sure.”
Consistency does seem to be the key. And Morbidelli was consistency incarnate in the race. He led from the start and Rossi made every effort to chase him, the hugely likeable Petronas rider just piled it on and ended up winning by over two seconds.
Great things were expected from Fabulous as well. He had been super-fast in practice and qualifying, but he managed to crash his bike twice in the race, and thus removed himself from the championship lead.
That’s where Dovizioso is now, despite having come a lackadaisical seventh in the race. Consistency, huh?
The two shining lights of the round were Joan Mir and Pecco Bagnaia, who both put in stellar performances which were quite breath-taking.
Bagnaia, who still uses a crutch to hobble to his bike, started in sixth and chased Rossi and Miller in what was rather a processional race.
But as Miller and Vinales faded, Pecco hammered on just behind Rins, who was making a very decent showing as well, and it was mid-race before things started to get their funk on. With 14 laps to go, Rins and Pecco had moved to within half-a-second of Rossi in second.
Mir who had started in eighth, had just passed Miller to secure fifth place and was the fastest bloke on the track.
The tension began to mount as Rossi tried hard to make himself impossible to pass, but it was obvious he was struggling to keep the kids at bay.
With eight laps left, Pecco howled past Rins at Curvone (Turn Six), which was about the time Fabulous crashed again at the back of the pack.
Mir was then almost three seconds behind the battle for second place, but he was not slowing down.
On the next lap, Pecco passed Rossi and Rins had closed up on the Doctor.
If it was a fairy tale, Rossi would have been standing on the podium at the end of the race with his two VR46 protégé’s, Morbidelli and Bagnaia.
But MotoGP is a fairy tale for some and a nightmare for others. And Mir was Rossi’s nightmare, as well as his team-mate, Rins’s, who ran wide and let Mir pass him.
Mir then immediately started to push Rossi hard, and I sat on the edge of my couch in my underpants, cursing the Spaniard for finding form now, of all times.
Rossi defended doggedly, my hopes soared…but then on the last lap, with less than two kilometres to go, Mir courageously ducked hard under Rossi in Turn 10, and The Doctor was off the podium – beaten by his two VR46 students, one of whom still uses a crutch, and a Spaniard whom I’m predicting will be a world champion sooner rather than later.
Morbidelli was, quite rightly, overawed by his very deserving win – and because his English is outstanding, we were treated to a very humble and heartfelt post-race interview with Simon Crafar.
Last week’s winner, Miguel Oliveira, got to race with the Giraffe King Binder, also a previous winner, for an indifferent 11th place.
Nakagami was demoted a place for exceeding track limits, which gifted Jack eighth, and Iker Lecuona, after stalling on the grid and being penalised with a long-lap for not starting in pitlane, still beat Zarco.
Alex Marquez almost beat Petrucci, who seems to have ceased to give a shit about racing anything, and managed to finish ahead of Bradl and Smith, which someone will tell him was a great thing. But it won’t be me.
Next week, we’re back at Misano. And I really hope it gets even weirder.
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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