SILVERSTONE, England – Four first-time winners in the last five races, seven different winners in the last seven – you have to say this is a pretty spectacular year for competition in the Moto GP series. This time it was the turn of Maverick Vinales, the 21-year-old Spanish Suzuki rider becoming the first racer to collect victories in Moto 3, Moto 2, and now his first in Moto GP.
It was also a special day for Suzuki in only their second year back in the series after taking a break to reduce costs after the 2008 global financial melt-down. The company’s last premier-class win came in the rain at Le Mans in 2007, with Aussie Chris Vermeulen behind the handlebars.
Vinales’ win was pretty spectacular. Starting from the front row, he grabbed the lead on the first lap and simply checked out – nobody else could stay with him and he ended up with more than a four-second advantage at the end. After the race, he said, “It is an awesome feeling. For sure, it is the best moment [of my career]. [I’m] so happy for the team … they worked so hard, and [even though] I’m leaving Suzuki, this is one of the best things I could do to give to them.” He’ll be joining Valentino Rossi at Yamaha in 2017.
Second went to a delighted Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, over the moon with finishing so well in front of his home crowd. That’s two seconds and a win in the last three races for the Isle of Man resident; those results plus the recent birth of his first child have had him smiling probably more than in his entire previous Moto GP career.
Third came the old master, Valentino Rossi (unbelievably, his 250th premier-class start), finishing his Yamaha just behind Crutchlow after a titanic battle, the two of them facing off against Marc Marquez (Honda) and Andrea Iannone (Ducati), with Dani Pedrosa (Honda) and Andrea Dovizoso (Ducati) just behind and ready to grab an advantage from any mistakes.
At 3/4 distance Marquez and Rossi were swapping paint, pushing, shoving, passing and re-passing each other in a manner eerily reminiscent of their nasty clash at Sepang in Malaysia last year, where Rossi accused Marquez of deliberately impeding him. “No, no,” said Rossi. “This was a great race, a great battle, I enjoy very much … Marquez is always very aggressive, but compared to the Sepang battle this one was a lot different, because both riders had the same target, to try to arrive in front and try to go faster.”
Iannone pushed to the front of the group but then crashed (again – one must think that his next year’s employer Suzuki must be constantly revising its projected 2017 crash budget). Marquez finally got past Rossi and headed after Crutchlow, but he’d pretty much fried his front tire and had to run off in a failed braking attempt, actually hitting the Brit as he sailed past. He kept the bike up and rejoined, passing his team-mate Pedrosa for fourth, but was out of contention for the podium.
The top 10 was completed by Andrea Dovizioso, bravely riding the second factory Ducati despite damaged ligaments in his right knee; the second Suzuki of Aleix Espargaro, the second Yamaha of 2015 world champion Jorge Lorenzo, then Danilo Petrucci on a Pramac Ducati and Alvaro Bautista on his Aprilia.
Lorenzo’s non-event weekend – he called it “a race, a weekend, to forget” – saw him qualify ninth and finish eighth, no doubt spending most of the race making up the excuses about bad tires and poor suspension set-up that he trotted out later. His poor result helped Marquez solidify his lead in the title chase. Although he lost three points to Rossi this time, the Spaniard still has a healthy 50-point lead, with Lorenzo now in third and slipping even farther behind his team-mate.
One of the most impressive performances of the weekend came from World Superbike regular Alex Lowes, filling in for two races for the injured Bradley Smith in the Tech 3 Yamaha garage. Despite having only a few test laps on the bike prior to the weekend, he was within half a second of regular rider Pol Espargaro, and finished in the points in 13th place.
While the Moto 2 race initially featured the expected protagonists up front – championship leader Johann Zarco, third-place Sam Lowes in his home GP, and the likes of Franco Morbidelli, Takaaki Nakagami, Jonas Folger and Tom Luthi – things took more than a few odd turns in one of the best Moto 2 races of the season.
For starters, Alex Rins, second to Zarco in the series, qualified a sad 14th, suffering from a broken collarbone received in a training accident only 10 days previous. Second, Lowes, fastest in every session all weekend in constantly-changing weather conditions, took off from pole and led the first half of the race with Zarco stalking him until a surprising Tom Luthi, who was in hospital only two weeks ago with a major concussion, charged past both of them and held the lead until the end.
Zarco and Lowes battled each other while chasing the Swiss until Zarco made a rare dim-bulb mistake, running up on the curb inside Lowes on a failed passing attempt and knocking the British rider off track and off his bike, while Zarco recovered but well back in the top 10. By the end of the contest, Race Direction penalized him 30 seconds, knocking him out of the points and allowing a delighted Rins, after an amazing and gritty ride to seventh, to close up to within 10 points in the championship.
With Zarco and Lowes gone and Luthi managing a healthy lead, Nakagami, Morbidelli, and a surprising Hafizh Syahrin of Malasia to squabble over the remaining podium spots. In the end, Morbidelli beat Nakagami by a couple of tenths, Syahrin just a couple more farther back in fourth, equaling his best previous result.
Championship leader Brad Binder and his KTM won again, with Francesco Bagnaia on the Mahindra continuing his recent from with pole position and second place. Third went to Binder’s team-mate Bo Bentsneyder, who collected his first-ever GP podium, and was definitely in a position to win but rode to help defend Binder’s title lead, something he confirmed after the race. It was a mature and capable ride from the young Dutchman; no doubt we’ll be seeing more of him at the sharp end of the finishing order.
Stating the results that way doesn’t come close to describing the race action, however, which even for Moto 3 was a pretty spectacular battle. Even Binder said “It was crazy out there today!” Jorge Navarro, for example, the only rider with a chance to catch Binder, started from a poor 14th spot and was in the lead by lap six. Joining him were 17-year-old Italian wild card Stefano Manzi, who came from 34th to finish fouth, and Fabio Di Giannantonio, who went from 25th to sixth. The usual leaders were obviously startled to find these relative strangers in their midst, particularly poor Navarro who tangled with Manzi and crashed out, leaving him 86 points behind Binder and realistically out of contention for the series title.
Moto GP Championship Standings after 12 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 210 points
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 160
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 146
- Maverick Vinales, Spain, Team Suzuki Ecstar, 125
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 120
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Ducati Team, 96
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 89
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 86
- Pol Espargaro, Spain, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 81
- Hector Barbera, Spain, Avintia Racing Ducati, 78
Next race September 11, Misano, Italy