Drama-seekers had full measure on Sunday at the newly renamed Circuito de Jerez-Ángel Nieto. Surprise was the only constant. Popular Cal Crutchlow set pole on Saturday with Marc Márquez fifth. The track, repaved in 2017, was smoother but, as so often happens, its grip went away as rising afternoon temperature summoned oily mixing agents to the surface. The Yamahas of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi, always more dependent upon grip for their lap times than are the hard-braking, quick-maneuvering, but slow-at-the-apex Hondas, appeared headed for nowhere. The Suzukis of Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone continued to improve.

Then the house of cards that is practice tumbled down. Jorge Lorenzo, lately closeted in furrowed-brow meetings with Ducati heavies over the failure of that man/machine marriage, rocketed into the lead pursued by last year’s winner, Dani Pedrosa. Lorenzo, leading? On a Ducati? Meanwhile, where was last year’s challenger, Andrea Dovizioso, the only man who truly seems to understand the indefinable Ducati? Is it a point-and-shoot bike? Its powerful braking, strong corner exits, and weak apex speed say yes. But Crutchlow, speaking two weeks ago at Circuit of The Americas, came close to lumping Ducati with the Yamahas and Suzukis. Maybe only Dovizioso knows for sure.

Meanwhile, here came Márquez, whose pace was stronger than his second-row qualifying. His words: “I realized that it was nearly impossible to overtake Lorenzo. He was braking so late and exiting so well from the corners. I was a little bit patient. When I saw that his tire started to drop, I thought, ‘Now it’s time to lead the race.’ I was able to open a gap, step by step.”

Márquez has used this same method against Lorenzo for years: Push until the other man's tire drops, counting on his own remarkable ability to conserve tire grip, something he brought to MotoGP from his experiences in Moto2.

Lorenzo had led seven laps when the pass took place. Also during lap 8, Crutchlow fell and remounted last. “Our setup for the race was just not good enough,” he said. “The front tire was overheating, and I was struggling for more rear grip compared to the others. The pace was yo-yoing a lot. I had to make it all up under braking, and that meant the front tire was getting hot. I had to try and stay out of the slipstream [see the heat waves that billow from these bikes and you know why]. I leaned the bike a little too much in turn 1, and I might have touched the white line. I was on the throttle, and if you do that on the white line on full lean…”

Marc Márquez
One finished, three didn’t: After passing Jorge Lorenzo (99), Marc Márquez opened a two-second lead on the factory Ducatis and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa (26). Andrea Dovizioso (04), Lorenzo, and Pedrosa crashed in the same corner on lap 18 of 25.Courtesy of Honda

On lap 18 of 25 came the biggie, a triple crash taking out Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Pedrosa. “I braked right on the limit because I had been trying to pass Jorge for a few laps,” Dovizioso said. “I went wide and made Jorge go wide a bit as well. Dani saw an opening and jumped in too quickly, and in the end bad luck would have it that when they came together they also took me down with them.”

It was a classic “crossover,” complicated by the presence of Pedrosa, looking for any way forward. To pass Lorenzo, Dovizioso carried extra speed and that speed naturally took him wider than the normal racing line. The rider being passed then cuts under his opponent to repass on exit. Except that Pedrosa had dived into that space.

We know that policemen sometimes let minor offenders go rather than face the paperwork. In this case, after the repercussions of Márquez’s Argentina triple penalty, the riders involved hastened to nod, smile, and make up rather than to trigger anything tedious from Race Direction.

Dovizioso seemed to think Pedrosa was a bit quick to fill the hole, but Pedrosa had his own view. “I asked them how [Race Direction] judge. Was I on the correct inside line? Yes. Were the other guys on the outside, coming back from a mistake, rejoining the inside line? Yes.” According to that view, Pedrosa had right of way and Lorenzo ought to have looked.

Asked if he wanted to appeal the decision that the crash was a “normal” racing incident, Pedrosa said, “I didn’t want that, as I don’t want Jorge to be penalized. Only for [Race Direction] to understand correctly what is happening on track.”

Lorenzo’s view: “We were for sure very unlucky and it was a racing incident. Pedrosa went in very hard, but I don’t think we can blame anyone except for bad luck. I’m really sorry for Andrea and for Ducati.”

Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha had been fifth until this and had the job of staying gathered up for the seven laps to the end. He said, “Lorenzo was very good in the initial phases of the race. He had a great pace.” After Saturday’s qualifying, he had noted, “I’m happy because I found a new limit on the bike and thanks to that I have the third position, which is important for Sunday.”

Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone
Johann Zarco (5) and Andrea Iannone (29) inherited the final two podium positions. Zarco is now second in the championship, which Iannone is fourth, having benefited from two consecutive top-three finishes.Courtesy of Michelin

Andrea Iannone was third, 8.2 seconds out of first. “We switched from medium to hard,” he said of his rear-tire choice, “and I think it was not a really good decision because for all the race I struggled a lot on the acceleration point. I have a lot of speed, but I could not reduce the speed very well. I’m not happy with third, and I want to recover the gap to the best riders completely. That’s the goal for me and Suzuki.”

The factory Yamahas finished fifth and seventh. Rossi said, “This track is famous for making the tires slide. The new asphalt helped a bit but not enough, and we struggled in that area. The rear slid around a lot, and after a few laps we had to slow our pace.” When asked how Zarco consistently gets more from his satellite YZR-M1 than the factory team can, Rossi said, “In general, it looks like he stresses the tires less. It is also about size; he is lighter and smaller.”

Asked about his race result, Rossi said, “Unfortunately this is our potential now. If we want to fight for the podium and the victory, we have to speed up our development process. I hope we can do so soon.” I suspect he is pining for the close creative relationship he had with Yamaha engineer Masao Furusawa, who retired some years ago.

Rossi
Valentino Rossi (left) salvaged another top-five finish, his third in four outings this season. After finishing second at COTA, Rossi’s Movistar Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales (25) struggled at Jerez, adding lack of grip to his criticism of the Yamaha’s electronics.Courtesy of Yamaha

Rossi had moved up to race with the Pramac Ducatis of Danilo Petrucci (fourth) and Jack Miller (sixth). Petrucci had been third for a time, but he was displaced by Iannone’s advance. Miller said, “My speed wasn’t bad, but then Valentino came past. I was trying to pass Iannone, but I was starting to run out of the right-hand side of the front tire. I said, ‘Okay, this is enough.’ ”

Viñales reviewed the Yamaha: “Braking has improved but we struggle in turns, particularly going through the corners. When the ‘M’ is dialed-in, I am able to be fast, whereas now we have problems even in terms of the tires, no matter whether hard or medium. Before we only had problems with the electronics [but] now with grip too.”

Mika Kallio
Jerez wildcard Mika Kallio was the top KTM, finishing ahead of series regulars Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith on the R&D version of the Austrian V-4. “The other guys were spinning out of corners more than me,” Kallio said. “This was a really good point of the new bike.”Courtesy of KTM

Topsy-turvy is the new rule. Márquez has overcome his zero-points finish in Argentina to lead the championship by 12 points, pushing post-COTA point-leader Dovizioso down to fifth. Márquez currently has an edge that the others acknowledge, just as in 2010 they acknowledged the advantage of being Casey Stoner.

As at COTA, Márquez danced on his Honda after the flag. “It’s a dance that is very trendy in Spain. It’s called ‘Swish, Swish.’ I tried to do it because, after all, I’m still just a kid.”