The 2019 Argentine Grand Prix produced another dominant display by Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez. A benevolent dictator, Marquez allows the other MotoGP riders to follow him around these tracks, not bothering to charge for lessons. Today’s easy win at Rio Hondo was the Catalan’s third in Argentina, putting him on top of the championship standings and bringing a sense of foreshadowing to the rest of the grid.
Practice and Qualifying
Conditions on Friday and Saturday were clear and warm, conducive to fast times. The top five finishers at the end of the day on Friday included Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller (?), Maverick Viñales, Cal Crutchlow and impertinent rookie Fabio Quartararo, enjoying another fast, fun weekend on the Petronas Yamaha M1. Marquez, getting serious on Saturday, led the way into Q2 joined by Lorenzo, both factory Ducatis and all four Yamahas. Miller on the Pramac Ducati and Crutchlow on the LCR Honda completed the front row and rounded out the lambs heading straight for Q2.
The Q1 goatfest was dominated by ascendant Japanese heartthrob Takaaki Nakagami who was, in turn, joined in the bar mitzvah to Q2 by Pol Espargaro and his KTM RC16, who annoyingly stole the Q2 promotion very late in the session from older brother Aleix on the Aprilia. The second-most surprising report for the day was submitted by the Suzuki team of Rins and Mir, neither of whom could get anything going and who would start Sunday from 16th and 19th positions respectively. I had picked one of them for a podium the following day. As if.
Q2 took off in short order and Marquez shot to the top, working a two-stop strategy. He messed up the hot lap on his #2 tire, returned to the pit, waited while the crew mounted a third rear tire (bike #2 being unavailable after having the chain come off during FP4), and went back out to set the pole lap in front of Dovizioso and Viñales. Row 2 was comprised of Valentino Rossi, Miller and Franco Morbidelli, one of four (4!) Yamahas to qualify in the top seven. The 2019 iteration of the Yamaha M1 is better than the 2018 version in that it is able to generate at least one hot lap per session. This is big news. As is Cal slipping to 8th after being fast all weekend. And Jorge Lorenzo slipping down to 12th after his 11th place “hot lap” was deleted for exceeding track limits.
As Saturday drew to a close, the grid shared several major concerns. One, would Marquez take the hole shot on Sunday and vanish into the ether, leaving the other 21 riders to fight over second place? And two, would the weather end up being as bad as the forecast promised, tossing a major spanner into the works of most of the teams?
Finally, the first two days of the Argentine round proved one thing beyond any doubt: The Bridgestones were faster than the Michelins. At least here. No one came within a half second of Marquez’ 2014 qualifying lap of 1:37.683. Moto2 saw another track record fall, this time to Xavi Vierge, a full-size man, as the big Triumph engines appear to have considerably more grunt than the previous 600cc Hondas. Nothing new in Moto3 concerning Miguel Oliveira’s amazeballs track record from 2015. Comparing the top Moto2 qualifiers to the bottom MotoGP qualifiers in Qatar and Argentina, there is only a 2½ second difference. Last year it averaged over 4 seconds after two rounds.
A Stroll in the Park…
If only there were some way to inject some drama in today’s race for the flag. Marquez had things his way all weekend, other than the mechanical issue in FP4. Practices were a breeze, qualifying was a breeze, and the race was a laugher, over almost before it started. Under clear skies, Marquez took the hole shot at the start, found clean air on the back side of Turn 1, and was off to the races. He led the field by 2.5 seconds at the start of Lap 3. His lead got above 12 seconds late in the race before he backed off, and he still won by over 8 seconds, an eternity in MotoGP. Rossi returned to the podium for the first time since Germany in 2018, finally overtaking Dovizioso for good on the last lap and sending his thousands of disciples into paroxysms of joy, the 197th podium of his ridiculous career.
…Amidst a Confederacy of Dunces
Although he clearly won it on his own, Marquez had plenty of help from his challengers. Both Viñales and Lorenzo got completely swamped at the start, Viñales converting a second spot on the grid to his customary 8th position after two laps, The New Viñales looking much the same as The Old. Lorenzo, meanwhile, appeared to be in third gear when the red lights went out, quickly falling to last place before reaching the first turn. Lorenzo did manage to finish – 12th, 28 seconds behind his teammate – while Viñales got taken down from behind by fellow Yamaha pilot Morbidelli on Lap 25. Morbidelli’s brain fart cost Yamaha two additional spots in the top eight, and what might have been a post-race party in the factory garage may have become, instead, an inquisition.
Crutchlow, another fast mover all weekend, did his part to ensure Marquez’ win by jumping the start and assuming 22nd position exiting his ride-through penalty. He ended up scoring three (3) points on a day he should have podiumed. After the race, he appeared to be in hurry-up mode on his way to Race Direction for a free frank exchange of ideas, where Mike Webb would squelch most of his ire with electronic proof of his error.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Jack Miller had his Pramac Ducati in the top five all day before finishing 4th, while Danilo Petrucci ended his day 6th after starting on the fourth row. My boy Álex Rins, who got faced in qualifying, starting 16th, got his groove on late in the day and settled for 5th place after a brief podium flirtation with a couple laps to go. His teammate Joan Mir was stuck in the mud all weekend, and called it a day with four laps left, gremlins at work in his machine. As proof that every dog has his day, KTM pilots Pol Espargaro and rookie Miguel Oliveira placed 10th and 11th, while Aleix Espargaro put his Aprilia in the top ten along with LCR Honda’s Nakagami and that pesky rookie Quartararo again. To me, when it comes to Yamaha, there’s Rossi, and then there are the other three guys.
The dynamic Reale Avintia duo of Karel Abraham and Tito Rabat found separate gravel traps mid-race within about a minute of one another. And, in another example of Not Really Giving a Rip, moody Andrea Iannone started and finished last, quickly working himself out of a job, possibly dreaming of posterizing Alvaro Bautista over in World Superbike.
All in all, the worst fears of the entire industry were realized as Marc Marquez seized the lead in the championship, dunking on the pseudo-Aliens and now heading to Circuit of The Americas. For his putative challengers at the top of the MotoGP food chain, this must feel like being duct-taped to a steel bench having to watch a video loop of Marquez passing them over and over again, each time bumping them into a trackside mud puddle. Painful, frustrating and embarrassing. No wonder everyone’s in such a hurry to get back to Spain.
First Tranches of 2019
Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, Jorge Lorenzo
Tranche 3: Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Cal Crutchlow, Tito Rabat, Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco
Tranche 4: Fabio Quartararo, Pol and Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone
Tranche 5: Miguel Oliveira, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin
After Rio Hondo:
Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Viñales
Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin
|2019 MotoGP Rio Hondo Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||41:43.688|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Monster Energy Yamaha||+9.816|
|3||Andrea Dovizioso||Mission Winnow Ducati||+10.530|
|4||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||+12.140|
|5||Álex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||+12.563|
|6||Danilo Petrucci||Mission Winnow Ducati||+13.750|
|7||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||+18.160|
|8||Fabio Quartararo||Petronas Yamaha SRT||+20.403|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||+25.292|
|10||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM Factory||+25.679|
|11||Miguel Oliveira||Red Bull KTM Tech3||+25.855|
|12||Jorge Lorenzo||Repsol Honda||+27.497|
|13||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||+31.398|
|14||Francesco Bagnaia||Pramac Racign Ducati||+1:10.628|
|15||Johann Zarco||Red Bull KTM Factory||+33.372|
|16||Hafizh Syahrin||Red Bull KTM Tech3||+35.545|
|Andrea Iannone||Aprilia Gresini||+38.238||Not Classified|
|DNF||Maverick Viñales||Monster Energy Yamaha||1 Lap|
|DNF||Franco Morbidelli||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||1 Lap|
|DNF||Joan Mir||Suzuki Ecstar||4 Laps|
|DNF||Tito Rabat||Reale Avintia Ducati||10 Laps|
|DNF||Karel Abraham||Reale Avintia Ducati||11 Laps|
|2019 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 2 Rounds|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||45|
|2||Andrea Dovizioso||Mission Winnow Ducati||41|
|3||Valentino Rossi||Monster Energy Yamaha||31|
|4||Álex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||24|
|5||Danilo Petrucci||Mission Winnow Ducati||20|
|6||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||19|
|7||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||16|
|8||Jack Miller||Pramac Racing Ducati||13|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||13|
|10||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM Factory||10|