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18 days ago

Can another Independent Team win at Silverstone?

Commentator Matthew Birt looks ahead to the British GP as he analyses the changes seen on the grid in 2016

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

What an eight weeks it has been in the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship.

If you successfully picked Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow to win three of the last four races, then I hope you enjoy your three-month world cruise in the Presidential Suite and the Ferrari 488 that’s now parked in your garage. If the drama were to continue and somebody other than Lorenzo, Rossi, Miller, Marquez, Iannone or Crutchlow win this weekend’s Octo British Grand Prix at Silverstone, then it will equal the longest sequence of different winners in premier class history.

So what are the chances of the current crop of two-wheeled daredevils matching a run set by Criville, Laconi, Okada, Biaggi, Abe, Roberts Junior and McCoy at the end of the 1999 and beginning of the 2000 campaign? If there is going to be more Independent Team glory then you’d think that Britain’s temperamental climate will have to play a key role. We’ve now seen two Independent Team victories in a single season for the first time since 2006 after Miller and Crutchlow both executed brilliant wins in tricky conditions in Assen and Brno.

But let’s be brutally honest. If it remains dry on Sunday at Silverstone (no, it doesn’t rain every single day in England), then there is little hope of more Independent Team success.

Hear me out.

No Independent Team rider has managed to win a full dry race since 2006 and the chances of that happening seem even more remote than ever in the present era. It was anticipated that this year’s major technical revolution, which saw Michelin replace Bridgestone as MotoGP’s official tyre supplier and controlled electronics introduced, would level the playing field and allow the Independent Team’s more than a glimmer of hope of threatening the domination of the superpower factories. The stats prove, though, that it now looks tougher than ever for a Miller or Crutchlow to take the fight to Rossi, Marquez and Lorenzo in dry conditions.

The easiest comparison to make is looking at the gap between the race winner and the top Independent Team rider in six dry races of 2016. Out of Qatar, Austin, Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello and Catalunya, there has only been one of the six where the gap between the winner and top non-factory rider has reduced compared to 2015. That was in Mugello where the gap came down from 15 to 13 seconds. In the other five races the gap has increased. The margin went up six seconds in Qatar, up a whopping 18 seconds in Austin and up eight seconds in Jerez.

And just for your information, the gap between Iannone and Redding in eighth at the Red Bull Ring in Austria was almost half-a-minute.

In the seven dry and uninterrupted races this season, there are only two where the top Independent Team rider has finished within 20 seconds of the race winner. That equates to a difference in lap times between the race winner and top non-factory rider of a second or more at some races. So it perfectly highlights why rain might be the savior of the Independent Team’s again at Silverstone.

The evidence certainly backs up the views of some non-factory talent in MotoGP™  this year that believe it is mission impossible to win in a straight dry shootout. The new technical rules do seem to have created closer competition, but not in the way many expected. The playing field has been leveled out in many respects, but only for those playing at the front of the field.

Competition between the factories has certainly grown stronger. The ban on expensive and sophisticated bespoke software strategies reduced the advantage of Honda and Yamaha and helped drag Suzuki to a more competitive level. Suzuki was lagging behind in software development and the introduction of spec software helped reduce that weakness. Ducati got a heads up on the spec-software when it took the controversial but entirely understandable decision to adopt Open class status last year. And an Independent Team  can only dream of operating on the same financial and manpower level that a factory team can.

Understanding the spec software has required an engineering army for the likes of Honda, Yamaha and Ducati to fathom it. And a non-factory team is simply outnumbered in terms of personnel that can problem-fix faster and develop at a quicker rate. If Independent Team success is to continue at Silverstone then I fear we’ll need the intervention of Mother Nature again to influence the outcome.

If it is wet and you are looking at prospects for a seventh different winner in a row then Scott Redding might have a big shout. He took a podium in Assen and raced for the podium in both Sachsenring and Brno. Redding and the Ducati is definitely a potent combination in the wet. His Pramac Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci also led in Assen and Germany in the wet and he pushed Valentino Rossi hard for the win in a monsoon at Silverstone last year.

If it is dry and normal service is resumed with a factory rider winning on Sunday, then who is best placed to be a seventh different winner in succession? The most obvious candidates are Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa, but I’m not at all convinced they can defeat Rossi, Marquez or Lorenzo.

Dovizioso has led each of the last four races but finished with just 36 points from a possible 100. It’s been a tale of close, but not close enough for Dovizioso recently. And that’s actually the tale of his entire premier class career.

Pedrosa looks so bereft of confidence that I’m more likely to succeed in nailing jelly to my bedroom ceiling than the Spaniard is of suddenly rediscovering his winning touch this weekend. The Repsol Honda rider has not led a single lap in 2016 and his struggle to generate optimum working temperature in Michelin’s new tyres is unlikely to find an overnight cure in potentially cool or wet conditions at Silverstone. Pedrosa has a proud record of winning at least once in every season he has raced in MotoGP™ since 2006. I fear that incredible run is seven races away from being ended.

I suppose we shouldn’t rule out Suzuki and in particular Maverick Viñales, as the Japanese factory chases that elusive first win since 2007. The GSX-RR has come on leaps and bounds in 2016 - but without ever looking like a serious contender for a win. If it is dry and cool at Silverstone then the Suzuki could be a real weapon because it is in hot conditions where the GSX-RR’s lack of acceleration grip is badly exposed.

If it’s wet, forget it.

Will we see a seventh different winner in a row this weekend? Will we witness a fourth first time winner in the last five races?

Who knows. 2016 has been brilliantly unpredictable and the only thing I can say about the British Grand Prix with any certainty is that Bradley Smith won’t win.