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With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
So, Dani Pedrosa is the eighth wonder of the world. Well, he is the eighth wonder of a wonderful MotoGP™ World Championship in 2016.
Not since World Championship competition began on June 17, 1949 and a 59-strong field started the Senior race at the Isle of Man TT have eight races in a row been won by eight different riders. Since Harold Daniell won that first ever premier class Grand Prix on a 500cc Norton, there have been 834 premier class races. And never in that long and glorious history have we lived in such astonishing times as the present day.
Pedrosa sees the light
The latest chapter in this MotoGP™ fairytale was written by Pedrosa, who prior to his magic in Misano had seemed an unlikely candidate to extend the record-breaking winning streak. Pedrosa had not led a single lap in MotoGP™ since his Sepang success last October and he was in the middle of his worst podium drought since he went five successive starts without a top three in his rookie season in the 125cc class way back in 2001. He had finished no higher than third in 2016 and his two previous podium finishes were underwhelming to say the least.
He was third in Argentina but a whopping 28 seconds behind race winning teammate Marc Marquez. The only reason he started the last lap in fifth was because Jack Miller, Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales all crashed and Scott Redding’s engine went pop when they were all in front of him. Third place was an early Christmas present after Andrea Iannone’s ambition outweighed his talent and he wiped out teammate Andrea Dovizioso at the penultimate corner. He was then a distant third at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and never threatened to pick a fight with Rossi and Marquez in front of him. The formbook hardly suggested he was suddenly going to start pulling up trees like he did in Misano, particularly when he fell 3.3s behind a rampant Rossi on lap eight. It looked like the world would stop rotating on its axis before Pedrosa would turn predator to gatecrash the Italian’s party in his own backyard.
Pedrosa’s historic success instantly begged one question. Where the hell has he been all season?His biggest problem has always been genetic. He stands a smidgeon above 5ft and barely tops the scales at just over eight stones (51kg) dripping wet. Marquez is the next heaviest rider on the grid, but he weighs in at 8kg heavier than Pedrosa! The former 125 and two-time 250 world champion has always extracted the maximum out of the tools God gave him, but there is no question his physical stature has been more a handicap than a help since he moved to MotoGP™ in 2006. Sunday’s sizzling hot temperatures were heaven sent for Pedrosa. Being so small in stature means generating heat into his tyres has always been the bane of his life.
Cast your minds back to an Arctic Friday practice in Austria when it was so cold that Pedrosa’s tyres were actually getting cooler the more laps he did on them. His brutal crash on a cold front tyre in practice was proof that in cooler temperatures he’s put into a level of peril that must seriously mess with your confidence and mind.
It was anticipated that Michelin’s return to premier class competition for the first time since the 2008 season would present Pedrosa with his best chance to capture an elusive MotoGP™ crown, but the dawn of the new Michelin era was initially a crash fest. Bridgestone’s front tyre was the Holy Grail in terms of braking performance; a rider could hammer the lever on at lean angle and know 99 times out of a 100 that the front was going to remain rock solid. The riding style was altered by Michelin’s different performance traits and as old Bridgestone habits died hard, many crashed hard. So many were losing the front and nearly losing their marbles that Pedrosa’s glass-smooth braking style was expected to stress the front tyre less and take him further out of the danger zone than others. Michelin has never favoured the harder casings also used by Bridgestone for its rear tyre, either. So the theory was that a softer casing would make it a less complicated process for Pedrosa to create heat and grip in his rear tyre.
I was sold. I even went as far to pencil Pedrosa in as my pre-season title favourite. How wrong can you be?
I don’t think there is any doubt that some early but inevitable teething issues in the new Michelin era impacted more on Pedrosa than his rivals. Loris Baz’s spectacular top gear crash over the finish line in the first test of the year in Sepang, which was eventually diagnosed as a puncture, had people fretting. And when Redding’s rear tyre fell apart in practice in Argentina in FP4 that led to an enforced pit stop in the race on safety grounds, Michelin was forced to make harder tyres to build some safety margin into its selection. The harder the tyres got, the harder it became for Pedrosa to be fast.
More often than not this season, Pedrosa’s speed in the second half of races when his rubber has got all hot and sticky is as good as those scrapping at the front. But he’s so handcuffed in the early laps while waiting for his tyres to build up to optimum working temperature that he loses too much ground to recover. So what swung the balance of power back in his favour in Misano? Simple. Scorching hot conditions. Give Pedrosa track temperatures hot enough to fry an egg on and he will fry the opposition.
Give Pedrosa track temperatures hot enough to fry an egg on and he will fry the opposition
Many felt it was Pedrosa’s calculated risk to race the new soft front Michelin tyre that was decisive in his victory. Only he and Ducati test rider Michele Pirro opted for the new soft, which was designed for better stability and better endurance over race distance. His finesse with the front brake and less aggressive corner entry didn’t overheat the soft front like many feared. And in the fast right-handers through turns 11, 12 and 13, the corner speed and agility Pedrosa had with the soft front was obviously far superior. He also had more feel and confidence while braking at lean angle through turns 12 and 13 to set up beautifully clinical but clean moves on Marquez and Lorenzo at the tight turn 14. And when he needed to be pushy Pedrosa to get through on Rossi, he got as aggressive as he was with the Movistar Yamaha man almost a year ago at MotorLand Aragon. Rossi had a front row seat to observe the key advantage Pedrosa had in the closing stages of a race he must have thought was his after ruthlessly dispensing with the challenge of Lorenzo and Marquez.
The Italian felt it was rear grip that had been key to Pedrosa to breaking his heart and the hearts of almost 100,000 fans - everybody went for the medium rear tyre option, which was asymmetric and much harder on the right shoulder to cope with the super-fast and demanding sweep through turns 11, 12 and 13. And this is where Pedrosa’s diminutive frame can be an advantage: he didn’t stress the softer left-hand side of the rear anywhere near as much as Rossi did. That, combined with the fact that he didn’t have to be so hesitant in the early laps while the tyres got to temperature, meant he kept his proud record of winning in every single season he has contested the MotoGP™ World Championship - since 2006.
The next time you ponder pulling apart Pedrosa’s reputation and record...
There will always be those waiting to knock and mock Pedrosa, but his back catalogue of results is pretty impressive. His win on Sunday was the 52nd of his career and tied him with British legend Phil Read in the all-time winners list. Only Agostini, Rossi, Nieto, Hailwood, Lorenzo, Doohan and Marquez have won more World Championship races than Pedrosa. That stat alone is worth recalling the next time you ponder pulling apart Pedrosa’s reputation and record.
An entire premier class career spent in the official factory Honda team without every delivering the title has inevitably led to repeated accusations of unjustified loyalty from HRC. I too sometimes wrestle with the notion that he has long outstayed his welcome in such a coveted team. But who else can come in and do a better job? Maverick Vinales has outstanding credentials but he was hell bent on joining Rossi at Yamaha. Alex Rins also seemed to tick all the boxes. He’s young, fast, hungry and Spanish, which would have pleased Honda’s long-term chief investor Repsol. Yet he has previous with the Marquez camp from Moto3™. Pedrosa is the safe bet. On his day, he can still make Marquez, Rossi and Lorenzo look distinctly average like he did in Misano. And he can play the role of supporting act to Marquez impeccably, which helps Honda run a relatively harmonious ship.
Now, can this astonishing sequence of successive different winners continue?
Can we dream of there being nine different names to win nine successive races at MotorLand Aragon?
We'll have to wait and find out.
Rossi reflects on a sweet home podium
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