After practice and qualifying had been a Ducati benefit, Andrea Dovizioso got away first with Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo crashed out on lap one, and the Suzukis of Andrea Iannone and Álex Rins decisively took over Yamaha's former role of bringing up the rear of the lead group (they finished third and fourth). Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales, struggling with the mystery "Yamaha disease," would finish eighth and 10th. When Dovi began to push in mid-race, Márquez could see that winning rather than having to accept second-place points was possible. After some exciting back and forth, Márquez was able to get away to win by 0.648 second.

Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso
Marc Márquez pulled away from Andrea Dovizioso after some spectacular lead changes.Courtesy of Honda

Aragón raised many more questions than it answered, but riders alluded to familiar tires behaving in unfamiliar ways. Also, the insight of statistician Martin Raines and most respected journalist Dennis Noyes was given fresh confirmation: that Marc Márquez is much stronger on left-hand courses than on right-hand. The man who finished second to Márquez today, Andrea Dovizioso, said, "He was riding really…well, because on the right corners he was losing a lot for the tire he had, but on the left corners he was better, so I really couldn't fight with him."

The extreme closeness of the top riders tempts them to try something radical at the last moment. In Márquez's case, it was his ultimo minuto switch to a soft rear tire: "I started a big discussion with the team because I didn't feel good with the hard over the whole weekend, so I said, 'I want to use the soft!'

“I was able to be convincing enough to choose the soft rear because it was the only chance I had to fight against Dovi.…

“…with the hard, for [the] riding style with our bike, I wasn’t feeling comfortable, especially on entry to the corner.”

Through practice and qualifying it had been the two Ducatis of Dovizioso and Lorenzo up front.

Dani Pedrosa (fifth today), Márquez’s teammate on Honda, had a similar impression of the hard rear, “Today, because of the hard rear I was unable to be fast in turns and then accelerate quickly. I had difficulty going into turns.”

Andrea Iannone was another rider who chose a soft rear, saying, “With the hard one we lose something and have more spin…”

Andrea Iannone
Andrea Iannone also chose a soft rear tire and finished third.Courtesy of Suzuki

Why then didn’t all riders choose soft instead of 16 of them mounting the hard? Because rear grip had been a problem throughout the weekend, with even higher temperature forecast for race day (track temp was 113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Rossi: "We are not able to make the rear tire work in a proper way."

Petrucci: "I am lacking something in the rear. The problem is still the overheating of the rear."

Iannone: "We need to find a bit more traction with the rear…"

Dovizioso referred to tires needing to be treated differently this year despite being themselves unchanged from the Aragón test. “You have to save the tire more than last year. So what we did last year is this year not enough to finish the race with a good speed.”

When assured by Michelin that the tires are the same as in the test, he said, “This is a question not for me because I can’t answer why it’s different for me, and for [Michelin] it is the same.

Dovi leading the pack
Dovi led the majority of Aragón with Márquez on his tail taking shots and passes throughout the race.Courtesy of Ducati

Rossi, when asked his hopes for the race, replied, “To take some points!” He noted that while the Hondas and Ducatis have made a step here, being 10 to 12 seconds faster in total race time over last year, the Yamahas are not near that. Worse yet for Yamaha, the Suzukis are half a minute faster than last year, and in mid-race, Iannone even led for an instant.

Lorenzo’s first-lap crash will become the subject of endless yes-he-did, no-he-didn’t. Did Márquez deliberately make a “block pass” on him? Or was this just the kind of thing riders anticipated on Friday, noting how close the first turn is from the start? Yet had Lorenzo remained upright, then powered away to win, the championship point situation would be little changed. Two weeks ago, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali acknowledged what Lorenzo has done for the team: “I think that having Jorge with us on the team…has given us an extraordinary advantage...

Jorge Lorenzo going high
Jorge Lorenzo didn’t complete the first corner, high-siding after going off the racing line. The internet is ablaze with if Márquez is to blame.Courtesy of Ducati

“A lot of the work we’ve done is the result of theories that (Lorenzo) brought to the table, confirming what Dovi had already given us.”

Lorenzo will team with Márquez on Hondas in 2019.

By deciding “to take a risk” Márquez has broken the Ducati winning streak.

“When I was behind him in the race I feel really, really good, really smooth. He pushed a lot mid-race so I knew he was trying to push, but I was able to follow him and I could see that he was sliding too much—more than usual.…

“On the last two laps I was pushing and I was able to be really focused.”

Yes, Ducati has the assistance of the mysterious MegaRide analytical tire behavior software, but don’t forget how Moto2, where all engines are identical, forces riders to develop their own tire-management strategies; this was one of the strengths Márquez brought with him to MotoGP. While many have come to regard Márquez as “the hot kid who pushes the limit,” he develops and operates his own powerful analytical software.

With Rossi proposing that Yamaha’s inline-four engine might be at some inherent disadvantage to the V-4s of Honda and Ducati (not to mention the inline-four of Suzuki), it is appropriate to speculate that there could be an even more fundamental difference. What if the corner-speed riding style of Rossi and other Yamaha riders is itself an anachronism? Back in 1997 Honda built a lightweight 500 V-twin, based on the idea that, like the simple NS3 Triple on which Freddie Spencer was champion in 1983, it could counter the acceleration of the V-4s with corner speed? Yet in fact, the instant its tires lost peak grip, the V-twin had no advantage of any kind. The corner-speed riding style is completely dependent on grip, but the more pointed styles of the Honda and Ducati are less so.

Does the good performance of the Suzukis today disprove this? Maybe, but Iannone after the race said, “In the race I tried to not push a lot and [not] push the bike on the side, and I think this is a really good strategy.”

Earlier this year Lorenzo referred to doing much the same, and we could see him holding his bike as upright as possible while accelerating. Side grip is a wasting asset, yet a pure corner-speed style is absolutely dependent upon it.

Next season will be fascinating! Meanwhile, onward to Thailand.