The MotoGP World Championship may only be two rounds old but there’s already a ring of familiarity to it with Marc Marquez leading the way from regular adversary Andrea Dovizioso. The duo have shared the wins in Qatar and Argentina but whilst the opening race was as close as you could get, the second was anything but as Marquez, quite literally, disappeared into the distance.
The corresponding race in Argentina twelve months ago was a disaster for the Spaniard. First of all, he stalled on the grid and reversed his bike back into his start position when he should have been forced to move off the grid and start from pit lane. That resulted in a ride-through penalty which dropped him outside the top 15.
He then carved his way through the field, barging his way past Aleix Espargaro before doing the same to Valentino Rossi. The Italian crashed out and although Marquez finished fifth, he was subsequently hit with a 30-second penalty – for over-aggressive riding – which saw him eventually finish in 18th place.
He arrived this time around eager to make amends and he, quite simply, destroyed the opposition. With no weather issues like 2018, Marquez grabbed the holeshot and never looked back, his lead at the end of the first lap already more than a second. Lapping almost a second a lap quicker than anyone else, it was Marquez at his flawless best as he put in a high-speed demonstration. He was untouchable.
Whilst it has to be said the Rio Termas de Rio Hondo track is one of the Spaniard’s favourites, never before had he dominated at the circuit in such a manner and his eventual winning margin of 9.8s – which would have been a lot higher had he not taken the chequered flag at walking pace – is something we’re not used to seeing in MotoGP.
Although it’s very early in the season, the rest of the field must be concerned especially as the next circuit, Austin in Texas, has seen him win every race since 2013. And if Marquez gets up a head of steam, and opens up a substantial points lead in the title race, it could spell trouble for Dovizioso and co.
Arguably the biggest talking point at Argentina though was Cal Crutchlow and his alleged jump start. The Brit had looked strong all weekend and, despite a couple of mistakes in qualifying leaving him eighth on the grid, his pace looked like it would see him take a second successive podium. Indeed, much of the paddock thought he would be Marquez’ closest challenger and second, at least, would have been his.
Alas, it wasn’t to be as he had to serve a ride through penalty which saw him lose 25 plus seconds effectively ending his race. Television replays showed Crutchlow’s movement had been miniscule, something like 2cm, and to say the punishment didn’t fit the crime would be an understatement. No advantage was gained and, in this instant, it would surely have been better to have applied some common sense and not enforce the ride through penalty – if any punishment was to have been dished out, which continues to be debated, surely a one place or five second penalty would been more appropriate?
As it was, Crutchlow finished 12th, an heroic ride given the circumstances, with a war of words taking place afterwards as Crutchlow and his team vented their anger at Race Director and triple World Champion Freddie Spencer.
Rossi on form
Having failed to win a race in 2018 and having turned 40 in February, a lot of attention, perhaps more than usual, has fallen on Rossi this season and although his season got off to a terrible start with 14th in qualifying in Qatar, he rode a fine race to finish in fifth. And in Argentina, he was most certainly back to his best.
Strong in qualifying, the multiple World Champion clearly had the Yamaha M1 dialled in and a podium looked a certainty almost from the start. Shadowing the faster Ducati of Dovizioso for much of the way, he knew his overtaking opportunities would be limited but when they came he had to make the most of them and that’s exactly what he did in the closing stages.
He overtook his fellow Italian on the final lap and promptly opened up enough of a gap whereby Dovizioso never had the chance to regain the runners-up spot. It was a masterclass from the Doctor once more as he proved he’ll still be running at the front and challenging for the race wins this season.
With four previous MotoGP seasons under his belt, years which have seen him show fleeting form but also inconsistency, pressure had begun to mount on Jack Miller with 2019, perhaps, being seen as a make or break year for the Australian. A mixture of inferior machinery and his own over exuberance led to a mixed bag of results – fourth one week, 12th the next – so he came into this season with a point to prove.
Crucially, he’s started this season with a 2019-spec bike, the first time he hasn’t been riding a year old bike, and early indications are that he’s grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Fast in qualifying in Qatar, the 24 year-old was forced to retire from the race through no fault of his own but he bounced back well at round two and after placing fifth in qualifying, he converted his pace into a result with fourth place, only one place behind Dovizioso and two places ahead of the second factory Ducati of Danilo Petrucci.
It’s the third time he’s finished fourth in the premier class with his only podium coming in 2016 when he sensationally won the wet Dutch Grand Prix. Getting a podium at present in MotoGP is no easy task but Miller has the ability to do so and, at the very least, must now be targeting top six finishes week in week out.
Argentina wasn’t a happy hunting ground for the five-strong British contingent with 12th place for Crutchlow the only points scoring finish. John McPhee looked a good bet for a podium in Moto 3 after strong form in practice and qualifying but a crash early in the race put paid to his chances and he could only manage 21st place. It was a similar story for Sam Lowes in the Moto 2 race when he failed to convert his front row start into a rostrum after also crashing early on.
The only slight joy came for rookies Jake Dixon and Tom Booth-Amos who took 17th and 18th respectively in the Moto 2 and Moto 3 races, marked improvements on their round one results. However, all five will be hoping for better fortunes in North America with the Austin circuit hosting round three in a weeks’ time.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.