W

hether you like it or not, Marc Márquez crushed ’em like little bugs on Sunday at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Penalized three starting positions for interrupting a qualifying lap by Maverick Viñales, the Repsol Honda rider took the lead on lap one, cleared off to a margin of six to seven seconds on laps 11 through 19, then at the end began short-shifting and cruised to a 3.5-second win. Early challenger Andrea Iannone did take the lead momentarily on lap 3 but was instantly repassed. He later said, “When I try to pass Marc, I say to myself, ‘You are stupid!’ ” At first it appeared Márquez and Iannone were pulling away from the rest in a private battle, but by lap 5 the pursuing Viñales and Valentino Rossi began to catch Iannone, who in turn was losing touch with Márquez. Márquez said, “I feel from the practice [it is possible] to open a gap.”

COTA 2018
At the start of Sunday’s race, Andrea Iannone streaked into the lead from the middle of the front row. Marc Márquez led all 20 laps, also posting the quickest lap, a 2:04.605.Michelin

We could see this from the lap times in morning warm-up. Márquez was clearly ready to race, for his times were consistent and quick. Those of all other riders varied wildly; instead of Márquez’s 2:05s and 2:06s, they jumped randomly, a sure sign that the rider is trying too hard, making mistakes, and wasting time getting the bike gathered up. But consistent lap times mean the rider is in his comfort zone, with speed to spare.

Iannone was passed by Viñales on lap 6 but said afterward, “This podium is very important to me. Before, everything is very difficult in every moment.”

It is very important because it means his time in the wilderness, not yet being acclimated to the Suzuki during last year, is now at an end.

Viñales, too, has returned to himself. Last year he won races and was briefly MotoGP's wonder child. But then the combination, the state of mind, the nature of the bike changed and he was puzzled to find himself unable to realize his previous winning state. Now, with a stiffer and more responsive machine setup, and with some improvement to early off-corner acceleration via electronics progress, he finished second.

“We have a way to go to improve more,” Viñales said. “Now it’s time to improve. The bike is getting better and better—more my style.”

Iannone noted that he was losing ground on the long straight. His best top speed was 208 mph while the fastest Honda (Cal Crutchlow) was nearly 8 mph faster. Rossi's Yamaha continued that company's long tradition of sacrificing some top speed for other qualities; his best top speed was 213 mph. Iannone looks forward to the European races, saying, "Fast corner, long corner, is good for us."

Behind Viñales at the flag were Iannone and the perdurable Rossi, third and fourth. Crutchlow crashed on lap 8 and remounted to finish 19th.

Andrea Iannone COTA 2018
Iannone (29) couldn’t match the pace of either Márquez or Maverick Viñales (25), but the Italian held off countryman Valentino Rossi (46) to score his first podium on a Suzuki.Suzuki

Moving forward in small steps was Andrea Dovizioso, who started eighth and finished fifth, Ducati’s best finish today. When a journalist suggested this was a good result, with many championship points, Dovizioso said decisively, “This is not a good result. This is not a good track [for us]. But I am very happy to have taken many points.” He now leads the championship.

His teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, although episodically fast in practice, said of his hard rear tire choice, “It was spinning and moving around.” He was 11th, 31 seconds back, which translates to a discouraging deficit of a second and a half per lap. The manager of another major team had said on Friday, “Jorge has too many things on his mind.”

Alex Rins on the second factory Suzuki, third two weeks ago in Argentina, crashed on lap 11.

Johann Zarco (Yamaha Tech 3) had been a close fifth behind Rossi, but on lap 17 was passed by Dovizioso. Dani Pedrosa, fresh from surgery and a screw to hold together his radius bone, brought his Repsol Honda home seventh. If you've seen the video of Pedrosa's highside in Argentina, you'll recall that as he flew through the air head down, he extended his arms protectively. One of them broke.

The character of this race had been altered by Saturday’s rain and suffocating humidity (we all needed London Fog raincoats with air conditioning that evening). Because that rain was forecast, the opportunity of the teams to progress through the normal steps of tire and setup evaluation was compressed into Friday, and no doubt some steps had to be left out. One result was that all six of the tire alternatives—soft, medium, and hard for front and rear—were used by someone in the race, something that a Michelin representative said almost never happens.

Andrea Dovisioso
Courtesy of Cal Crutchlow’s crash and his own fifth-place finish, Andrea Dovizioso (04) now leads the championship, albeit by a single point, ahead of COTA winner Márquez.Ducati

Another result was Márquez’s last-minute decision to use Sunday morning warm-up differently. He said, “The warm-up plan was to try some small setup changes, but then I decided to change the strategy and make a simulation with the same tires as for the race.”

That was the reason for the quick, consistent laps we had seen him reel off in warm-up, while the others floundered, as shown by their lap-time scatter. Most riders chose the medium/medium combination but there were takers for the full range at both front and rear. It is fair to say that when the experts disagree, there’s a good chance it’s because nobody knows much! Nobody, in this case, but Márquez, who chose to use the warm-up for a final tire evaluation.

Some journalists in the press conferences tried to strike easy fire with questions about Márquez’s three sanctions in Argentina, but all the riders had clearly received the message: This kind of controversy does racing no good. Therefore they uniformly answered that they were looking to the future and not dwelling in the past.

On Friday, the surprising competitiveness of the corner-speed bikes and riders—the men on Yamahas and Suzukis—made it appear that Márquez might be within reach, for there was Iannone, on top after FP2. That’s not how it turned out for this, Márquez’s sixth win at COTA, was as decisive as ever.