MotoGP: British Grand Prix Wrap-Up

Marc Marquez gets back on the winning track at Silverstone.

Marc Marquez leads Jorge Lorenzo race action shot

Marc Marquez said it all after Q2: “I am happy with pole position—more than anything because of how comfortable I am feeling this weekend.”

Comfortable? People watching Marquez's race-long duel with eventual second-place finisher Jorge Lorenzo described what they saw as "ragged," saying that Marquez's Honda "twitched" as he drew his trademark lines right across the painted dragon's teeth.

The others riders were not comfortable, Valentino Rossi and Lorenzo initially having chatter that forced them onto wider-than-intended lines. Weather was windy and cool, making lack of tire temperature a common complaint (even Marquez said he had trouble getting his front up to working temperature). In the old, pre-spec-tire days, Michelin simply brought in tires in 5-degree-centigrade increments. But Bridgestone's remoteness forced the company to develop tires with a wider operating range. Yet lately, the jump from hard to medium seems wide. To cope, all the factory riders chose the medium rear, yet at the end, both Lorenzo's and Marquez's rear tires were sliding.

Marquez was comfortable. What this means to me is that, like Casey Stoner before him, he finds ways to actively control tire temperature and therefore retain predictable grip. Years ago, Colin Edwards was unable to get his rear Michelin to temperature at Laguna. He tried less pressure to make heat from flexure, and he tried more pressure to make heat from increased sliding—neither worked.

Marc Marquez on the grid

But let's consider that description of Marquez's riding as "ragged." That implies that he's on the limit, not falling because "luck is on his side." Luck is a word into which we lump everything we don't understand. And what Marquez has clearly is not luck. As I've said before, Marquez falls in practice but not in races. With 12 races, each with say, 24 laps and 12 corners per lap, that's roughly 3,500 corners in which Marquez has been 100 percent lucky. It's not luck.

The word he chose—comfortable—means that he can do the extravagant sliding that keeps tires hot easily and controllably, such that in 3,500 corners he does not fall. Honda has worked hard on improving stability, and Marquez is able to use that stability to make routine the moves we see.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo was facing more fundamental issues. After FP1 he said, “We have no grip to stop the bike, no grip in the middle of the corner, and no traction so we have a lot of spinning and the negative point is it creates a problem on the front. No grip on the rear doesn't give us the balance in the middle of the corner, which means we have to lean less and have lower speed.”

Marquez topped every session, qualified on pole, and led the warm-up. He called Silverstone's bumps (the likely cause of Yamaha's "chatter," which was probably just bump-excited bouncing) "unusual." When Stoner first encountered the original rough Indianapolis pavement, he complained sharply. When that track was repaved, Marquez, who had previously described Indy's bumps as "interesting," said he'd almost liked it better before because it gave him more of an edge.

Silverstone race action shot

How to sum up? What we are seeing is probably the future of the motorcycle. In the past, losing grip—especially at the front—meant falling. As suspensions and tires improved, semi-controlled sliding became possible, but remained a job for Supermen. And now, when everything is right, extravagant, controllable sliding has become possible. When the qualities making that possible for multi-million-dollar MotoGP bikes become general knowledge, production motorcycles will take a big step up in performance and rider security.

In the wonderful slow-motion sequence broadcast by Dorna from Silverstone practice, I could see the Yamahas doing the same fore-and-aft “tire-bouncing” I had seen from the dirt-trackers at last December’s Superprestigio, which was live-streamed from Spain. You could see front and rear footprints alternately expanding and shrinking as the bike rocked on its tire flex. Think what that must do to grip. So far as I could see, Marquez’s Honda did not bounce like this. Is the Yamaha’s suspension not following this motion, and so is unable to damp it out? This is fascinating stuff that makes you stare, replay the action, and stare again, thinking all the while about which variables are at work.

Yamaha fought back and dealt with the initial problems well enough to have Lorenzo only 0.73 seconds behind Marquez after 20 laps. As in previous races, "upstarts" like Andrea Iannone could rise high in practice standings (he was a promising and sensational second in FP1). Unfortunately, his heavy crash in qualifying put him 10th on the grid, which he improved to an 8th-place finish. In the race, top teams and riders leave the one-lap wonders behind, but there is steady, incremental progress from Ducati. Marquez was first, then Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, and Dani Pedrosa (who won his duel with Andrea Dovizioso at the end), showing that top teams and riders have the most balanced set-ups and tire-management skills. But there was Dovizioso, a good 5th, suggesting that something good is happening in Bologna.

Silverstone podium shot

Lorenzo led from the start through lap 13, when Marquez got by. Lorenzo was able to retake the lead despite a fading rear tire and consequently weakened acceleration, but on lap 15, Marquez came up the inside, forcing Lorenzo to lift at the apex and lose time. Some will want to debate the propriety of this kind of push-and-shove, but there was a race to be won and that’s how it came out. These are not chaps in tweedy flat caps, out for an afternoon of sport.

Said Marquez: “I didn’t expect for Jorge to be so strong. I had the same rhythm as FP4 but he was pushing a lot at the beginning. I was trying to manage my tires at the start but I had to stay with him, otherwise he could open up a gap.”

Many Formula 1 fans hate race reports like the one above, wishing the writer could just forget about all creepy tech-talk about tire temperature profiles, downforce, and energy recovery in favor of the smell of the crowd and the roar of the greasepaint. They want the results to reflect “heart” and “who wanted it more.”

In my experience, riders are bored by “What’s it like out there?” interviews, but they become downright animated when the questions actually interest them.

So, my apologies. The finish order reflects who could do it best, not who was provoked by a hollering hometown crowd into taking foolish risks. Riders can’t hear the crowd and they can’t see it. Engine noise is all they can hear, and riders who can’t always see waving yellow flags are not likely to spend time staring up into the stands for inspiration. These are professionals, and they are extremely busy. That being so, we try to report on what interests the riders—the real problems they and their teams must solve to finish where they do.

Marc Marquez.

Jorge Lorenzo.

Andrea Dovizioso.

Jorge Lorenzo.

Marc Marquez.

Jorge Lorenzo.

Scott Redding.

Stefan Bradl.

Dani Pedrosa.

Lorenzo leads.

Lorenzo and Marquez.

Lorenzo, Marquez, Dovizioso, and Rossi.

Redding and Crutchlow.

Rossi, Dovizioso, and Pedrosa.

Marquez and Lorenzo.

Silverstone podium.

Marquez celebrates.

British Grand Prix.

Umbrella girl.

Umbrella girl.

Umbrella girl.