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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.
Unpredictable is defined in the dictionary as something being difficult or impossible to foresee or foretell.
It’s a word that perfectly sums up the last two MotoGP™ races, which have been crazy and chaotic and have turned this year’s World Championship battle on its head.
Who could have predicted that Danilo Petrucci would lead the last two yet not score a point? Who would have backed Scott Redding to come within 0.3s of back-to-back podium finishes? And who dared back Jack Miller to become the first Independent Team rider to win a MotoGP™ race in a decade?
As if they weren’t big enough shocks, Jorge Lorenzo has gone from looking like a world-beater to a first year novice.
Valentino Rossi’s hopes of a 10th world title are hanging by a thread and Marc Marquez is putting his feet up on a beach somewhere in Spain wondering how he found himself in such a position of supremacy going into the summer break.
The transformation in the title chase has been intriguing.
When Lorenzo narrowly defeated Marquez at Mugello to take a second successive win in 2016, he looked at his invincible best and moved 10-points clear in the title chase.
2016 Italian Grand Prix: MotoGP™ Full Race
Fast forward three races and Lorenzo looks at his most vulnerable since the crash-happy days of his rookie season in MotoGP™ back in 2008.
To see him struggling in the rain in Assen and Sachsenring was not an unfamiliar sight. Ever since he smashed his left collarbone in wet conditions at Assen in 2013, he has struggled to fully exorcise the demons of that day.
But to see him so off the pace in the wet and dry at Sachsenring made for uncomfortable viewing.
He suffered three crashes in the dry in Germany, which was the same number of crashes he had in the whole of 2013 and 2015 and one more than he suffered in 2014!
He’s now on eight crashes for the year, which is the same number he's had in the last three.
Cool track conditions in the wet and dry on Michelin rubber exposed a weakness in his silky smooth riding style. He doesn’t load Michelin’s front tyre like Marquez does, which means he’s not getting the tyre up to temperature to give him the feedback and trust he needs for his precision braking and high corner speed style.
Just how much he has capitulated in the last two races has been alarming.
In the last three races Marquez has out-scored him by 58-points. Lorenzo has collected just seven points in the last three races and his 15th place in Germany was only the second time in 147 premier class appearances that he’s finished outside the top 10. And he hadn’t been in the last point scoring position since the Spanish 125cc GP at Jerez way back in 2003.
Lorenzo’s next task is to rebuild his shattered confidence and get a grip on how to extract the best potential out of Michelin’s front tyre. It’s not only in cold conditions that he’s struggled this year when you think how he quickly he dropped out of contention in Jerez and Barcelona in hot conditions. It seems Marquez and Rossi can cope in a broader range of conditions with the different feel that Michelin gives compared to Bridgestone.
As bad as Lorenzo was in Germany you have to say Marquez was a genius both on and off the track.
He was the fastest and the smartest and his win in Germany was a triumph for inspired tactics and jaw-dropping bravery.
His challenge was fading badly, as his aggressive style quickly overcooked his extra soft wet front tyre choice.
In anticipation of a soaked Sachsenring track rapidly drying, Marquez had dismissed the notion of pitting for his Honda RC213V fitted with Michelin’s new intermediate tyres.
Highlights: Marquez makes it a magnificent seven
That was too much of a voyage into the unknown. Better to dance with the devil you know and go for slicks than intermediate tyres he’s hardly ever taken out of the warmers.
His decision put him into a perilous situation. Getting temperature into the slicks on a cool track with a narrow dry line would take skill and courage.
But they are two of attributes that Marquez possesses in abundance.
Marquez has an incredible knack of instantly understanding constantly changing track conditions and quickly finding the limit when he has switch to a different machine and tyres.
Since his disastrous disqualification in the enforced flag-to-flag race in Phillip Island in 2013, there have been five further flag-to-flag races.
Four have been weather affected in Assen and Aragon in 2014, Misano last year and Sachsenring last Sunday.
The other one was in Argentina earlier this year that was like Phillip Island in 2013 where the field had to make a mandatory pit stop due to concerns about tyre life.
Of those five, Marquez has won four. His only blemish was in Aragon in 2014 when he tried to stay out on slicks in the pouring rain. It mattered little though as by that stage of the season, 10 successive wins earlier in the year saw him have one hand on the trophy at that stage anyway.
Aragon 2014 - MotoGP - RACE - Full
In the last two weather-hit flag-to-flag races in Misano and Sachsenring, Marquez and Honda have got their strategy absolutely bang on the money.
The same can’t be said of Yamaha.
With radio communication prohibited in MotoGP™ the decision on when to pit is purely down to the rider. But Germany was proof of the pivotal role the team can play in helping the rider make his mind up on when to change machinery.
It is the team that can see the bigger picture of what is going on throughout the field and they can help the rider make an informed decision on when to come in.
Yet for five laps Rossi ignored a signal from his Movistar Yamaha crew to come in.
His crew could clearly see the pace that Marquez had on full slicks and repeatedly showed him a pit board that said ‘BOX’. The reaction of his crew when he didn’t come in on one lap though spoke more than a thousand words and after Sunday, it seems necessary to express the need to pit in a different fashion than just ‘BOX’.
It is easy to say with hindsight that Rossi badly blundered after he limped home in eighth place for his lowest finish since Texas in 2014.
His mind was occupied enough in the heat of an intense five-rider battle at the front but the lessons haven’t been learned form Misano, when Rossi and Lorenzo both stayed out on track too long.
Rossi and a few others simply needed to trust the instructions they were getting from the pit lane more.
Having said that, had Rossi come in earlier then the outcome of the race would not have been any different.
Rossi was in so much trouble with a lack of feeling from Michelin’s slick front tyre earlier in the weekend that in a pre-race discussion it was agreed that his second bike should be fitted with intermediates.
That wasn’t an error of judgment. It was just the safest and most viable choice, as he had struggled to even get the softest front slick tyre up to temperature earlier in cold conditions on Friday.
He was too slow on intermediates, which also lacked front-end feel early on and the Yamaha clearly doesn’t create heat in the tyres as quickly as Honda when you look at the pace of Marquez and Cal Crutchlow on slicks.
Rossi has led the last three races but come out with just 33 from 75 points and a deficit of 59 to Marquez might now just be too hard to overcome.
Marquez will love his summer break, while Rossi and Lorenzo will be hoping they can just catch any kind of break soon.
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