Only Human After All
Jorge Lorenzo is, on paper, the best rider on the Moto GP grid today as the only rider to have won championships in both the outgoing 800cc and current 1000cc classes. He is the defending MotoGP world champion, second in the points, and one of the original four to have earned the nickname "alien". His riding style is crisp, almost unnervingly efficient, and in every interview he showcases a calm professionalism. Yet all of these were forgotten as he crossed the line 2 weeks ago in Mugello. After a successful off-season of testing, Lorenzo's return to the front in Qatar was almost anti-climatic. Lorenzo worked his way to the front early in the race and led the pack virtually from flag to flag. Then his season took an unexpected turn to the left. Plagued by a series of mishaps, failures, and downright out performances by the opposition the early championship leader found himself solidly behind last year's runner up and a series rookie. Then came Mugello, a track where Lorenzo had won twice in a row and where serious bragging rights were at stake. The goal was simple: stop the hemhorraging, save the season and claw back some much needed championship points; and Lorenzo delivered. His body language as he claimed the checkered flag for the third consecutive year was nothing short of giddy as he cast aside the professional racer and company spokesman and revelled in the joy of simply winning again. Now only twelve points behind championship leader Pedrosa, Lorenzo has a very bright carrot to chase if he hopes to retain the number one plate.
Marc Marquez, on the other hand, will be doing everything in his power to wrest said plate away. Though only a rookie in the GP class, the reigning Moto2 champion has already shown his mettle to the championship regulars. While rain is often quoted as being "the great equalizer", much can be said about the challenge of mastering a new track on race day. When the circus rolled into the United States to sample the newly opened Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Marquez gave the field a taste of what they could expect for the next few years by utterly dominating the weekend. Marquez and Pedrosa both dispatched with Lorenzo in the first third and moved on to a race of their own until the uppity Marquez pushed past Pedrosa to become the youngest rider to win in the premiere class. Unfortunately for Marc, Italy would see him set new records in a way he would not prefer. Struggling visibly all weekend, the man who held the championship lead in Austin suffered a crash that set the record as fastest ever in GP racing during practice. He recovered well, and come race day set the lap record while chasing down Lorenzo with an eye for victory. Unfortunately for him, the man leading the race holds the record for best rookie start to a season and it is a record that would remain unbeaten. While drawing Lorenzo steadily in Marquez crashed again, and the record setting rookie's weekend ended 26 points behind the lead. While this is still a strong start to the season Marquez will be looking to his home race to put himself back into championship contention.
Firmly out of championship contention, Valentino Rossi finds himself in a position that proverbial position between a rock and a hard place. After 2 years aboard a Ducati that he describes as some of the hardest of his career, Italy's star rider returned to Yamaha in the hopes of reviving a stellar career that saw him rise close to the pinnacle of virtually any MotoGP stat that you could name. After a strong burst of off-season testing, things looked great for the factory Yamaha rider as he surged to a strong podium in Qatar despite falling as far down as 7th during the race. Then he came face to face with some of the harsh realities of today's racing. Whether it has been the changes to the M1 to suit Lorenzo's more structured pace, or the technological gap to Honda, or even the added pressures to his team as technical guru cares for his family, Rossi has struggled to consistently show the form that he expected to exhibit this season. Mugello was to be a grand return for the master, where a win would be nice but at least a podium was the goal. Rossi last graced the podium at his home circuit all the way back in 2009, a race won by the now retired Casey Stoner. He was injured and did not start by that point in the 2010 calendar and for 11 and 12 he was aboard the Ducati. Unfortunately his luck continued to run true and 2013 saw him collide with another rider and, though he escaped injury, he also escaped the race on the very first lap. Catalunya will provide a chance for a little payback as the Italian takes on all of Spain's finest in their element. In 2009 he was able to reverse the standings, beating both Stoner and Lorenzo after suffering defeat in Italy. This weekend will give a taste of just how much has changed in the past few years.
One thing that has changed is Dorna's attitude towards admittance onto the grid. Dorna had previously imposed a 24 entry limit on entries to the premiere class, a most that was auspicously done to enforce quality control and provide stability to the ailing series. With the advent of the cheaper CRT regulations the remaining spots quickly filled up, despite the exodus of Suzuki and Kawasaki from the series. Following the law of unintended (or intended, depending on which flavor of conspiracy theory you subscribe to) consequences Dorna was therefore left with a sticky problem when Suzuki announced that they were bidding for a return to the championship. There is little doubt that an additional manufacturer would only aid in the exposure, prestige and competition of the series, all good things working in Suzuki's favor. Working against them, however, was a full grid of contracted team and no spots available. Despite the saber rattling Dorna wants Suzuki in the series - Aprilia's ART are the only competitive bikes of the CRT experiment, and Suzuki should be at least as good having left the series with what was a competitive and podium capable bike. The initial plan seems to have been for Suzuki to assimilate an existing team, however all of the competitive teams are locked into one manufacturer or the other and the remainders do not have the infrastructure to support a factory effort. The suggestion of Suzuki fielding their own team also hit a brick wall as that would mean buying out an existing team's place, a notion that all parties involved soon found to be - predictably - exorbitantly expensive. The result? Dorna will now have to abandon any efforts of sanctions against the Japanese manufacturer and instead open additional slots to allow them to participate. The new question becomes which riders will grace the blue machine.