The Catalunya GP was shaping up to be just what I thought it would be, with the Spaniards looking to keep Rossi off the podium. Lorenzo launched off the line ahead of the others and was leading into turn 1 followed by Marquez and Iannone who made a good start to move up to third place. Rossi slid back to eighth and Pedrosa overtook Iannone at turn 5 to get into podium contention early on. Rossi proceeded to take Vinales and Pedrosa in one move at turn 1 on lap 2, beginning his assault on Spanish tarmac with a vengeance.
Rossi has been commended for his hunger and will to win often in the past, and he merited it for sure on this occasion. On a day that saw his more youthful rivals struggle to control their bikes, Rossi held his M1 true to the line all the way. The exuberant Vinales launched repeated assaults on Pedrosa from the inside and outside to no avail. Vinales and Rossi were a study in pace without and with the wisdom to make use of it respectively.
Rossi got ahead of Marquez at turn 4 on the sixth lap and Lorenzo at turn 1 on the next lap. Marquez too got past Lorenzo at turn 5 soon after. These were the first signs of Lorenzo’s race beginning to unravel. The famed corner speed was nowhere to be seen, and we all know that Lorenzo is a front end rider who spends a long time on the edge of the tire. Devoid of edge grip, Lorenzo seemed very ordinary indeed. Smith pitted on the same lap with a mechanical. Rossi proceeded to gap the others.
Lorenzo began to go backwards, being overtaken by a rejuvenated Pedrosa at turn 1 on the ninth lap. Lorenzo proceeded to fight a losing battle for position. Unable to carry the corner speed courtesy of a shredded front tire, Lorenzo’s inability to improvise and ride around the problem vis-à-vis Rossi and Marquez began to show plainly. He flailed mid corner, slowing down a great deal and losing a lot of time. Vinales caught up to him and a protracted battle for fourth commenced which ended with Vinales getting by on the twelfth lap. Firmly in the clutches of the maniac Iannone who hunted him down by leaps and bounds, Lorenzo was confronted with the reality of a lost championship lead.
However, it seems that Lorenzo’s pride and joy upon winning at Mugello had offended the cosmic universe. On lap 17, Ianonne tried to make a move and proceeded to ride his Ducati smack into the side of Lorenzo’s M1 at full lean. The M1 pitched him across the tarmac and he fell heavily, rolling end over end. Lorenzo was furious, cursing and swearing (presumably) and shaking his head from side to side. Ianonne’s apparent apology was refused with disdain (Lorenzo later said that Iannone had asked him if he was so slow in the corner due to an engine failure or some such issue and had not apologized). Italy however, will be more forgiving.
The last five laps had shades of an epic duel about them. Marquez actually managed to catch up to Rossi and challenge him for the win despite the obvious effort needed to keep the Honda upright. Marquez got past Rossi on the brakes at turn 1 on lap 23, only to be overtaken in turn at the same corner on the next lap. Preoccupied with chasing Rossi, Marquez ran wide at turn 7 and lost any hope of pressing Rossi further. Rossi succeeded in taking the win and sticking it to Spain once again at Catalunya.
Lorenzo went into Catalunya leading Marquez by 10 points and Rossi by 37 points. Marquez now leads Lorenzo by 10 points and Rossi by 22 points. Rossi has empathically asserted his authority and is set to carry the momentum forward into Assen. Marquez has shown great maturity and wisdom to take two second places back to back. Lorenzo is in pain after having a Ducati up his ass and watching Rossi win in Spain AGAIN. Pedrosa is again showing sparks of form, making it to the podium after a while.
Vinales was another rider who failed to make the most of the race. He had the pace to set a new record and yet, did not have the wisdom to wait and set up an effective pass on Pedrosa. He ran wide multiple times and was uncharacteristically ragged. His failure to make a decisive pass on Pedrosa cost him a chance at the podium. His impatience clouded his judgement and left him frustrated and full of mistakes. He took a long time also to get past Lorenzo who was riding well below his ability. Vinales must hone his race craft or risk being swallowed up by Rossi next year at Yamaha.
Full props ought to be given to Marquez, who endured many off the seat moments and a skittish bike when hard on the brakes to challenge Rossi and get second. His effort was nothing short of heroic. Yet, as Assen beckons, the new thaw in his relationship with Rossi as displayed by the handshake on Parc Ferme will be put to the test. A wise man knows in MotoGP, there are no friends, only pretenders. For now, Rossi reigns.