Up until that happened on Lap 17, Rossi, who started from second on the grid after Marquez was relegated to seventh from pole for annoying Iannone during Qualifying, had led from Turn One.
I was cheering and quietly confident he had found a good set-up, liked the track, and his tyre choice.
It was a masterful and classic display from Vale. He had eked out his lead to some one second at times and seemed to be managing that, less a few tenths, each time his pit-board told him Marquez was closing.
Certainly, Marquez, who began kicking arse and taking names as he stormed from seventh on the grid to second, pursued relentlessly. There is no doubt that handing Rossi his arse is as satisfying to the young Spaniard as winning the World Championship. Just making up numbers for the rest of season after being crowned World Champion is just not in Marc’s nature. Or any true racer’s nature. So his pursuit and possibly eventual overtake of Rossi was as sure as Crutchlow spending 50 per cent of the season eating gravel, both foreign and domestic.
So did the pressure of Marquez’s pursuit contribute to Rossi’s crash? I doubt it. The Spaniard wasn’t that close, and Rossi is Rossi. He is as unlikely to be intimidated into an error as I am into suddenly deciding I am a Marquez fan. It was a mistake, for sure. But I don’t think Marquez is responsible.
Sadly, the world was cheated of what might have happened on the last few laps between the two champions, and the race was altogether rather processional.
Jack Miller, who had started fifth on the grid certainly showed some flair early on dicing for the front positions, but almost predictably faded back to finish in eighth.
Zarco and Rins – especially Rins – covered themselves in all sorts of almost-glory, and for four laps Zarco sat in second behind Rossi, until he got to sit in third behind Marquez who passed him on Lap Five.
Rins produced a great ride. He had come steaming up from eighth on the grid to score second, and the paddock is really starting to notice just how sweet-handling those factory Suzukis have become. Both Rossi and Marquez have commented on that in recent times. Sadly, Iannone sweet-handled himself off the track on Lap One, so it was all up to Rins and he didn’t disappoint. And this was despite one of his bikes bursting into flame in the pits on Friday.
Ducati test-rider Michele Pirro, drafted in at the very last minute to ride Lorenzo’s Ducati after the Mallorcan deemed himself unfit to race following a few slow practice laps, was the latest bloke to crash Lorenzo’s Ducati for him.
Vinales sailed home in fourth after his now usual dismal start (one swallow does not a summer make, huh, Maverick?), and Dani Pedrosa had a wonderful second-last race of his career, ending the day in a solid fifth, some five seconds ahead of Dovizioso. Dovi seems to have come off the boil over the weekend, but looks certain to grab second in the championship after Rossi binned it.
To me, the season is coming to an end with a whimper rather than a bang, which is what happens when a rider so dominates and secures the championship with several races left to run.
I take nothing away from Marquez, and I am as in awe of him as everyone else. He is the best rider in the world and he demonstrates this every time the red light goes out.
But in terms of the championship hinging on the last race…well, there’s none of that. And maybe the wind has gone out of a few sails.
Of course, they will still bang at the last round. They can’t help themselves, but in terms of risk versus reward, I think only Marquez will continue to astonish us all.
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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