After being treated to back to back races for the first time this season at Mugello and Catalunya, a race-less past weekend has made it feel like an age since the MotoGP paddock last convened.
Thankfully the bikes will be back out on track this weekend, and what a track it is: The Circuit van Drenthe – the only stage on the calendar to have remained a fixture since the World Championship began back in 1949.
Who would’ve thought only a few weeks ago that we would be talking about Andrea Dovizioso as a World Championship contender? Prior to his first win of the season at Mugello, the Ducati man’s best result of 2017 was a solitary podium finish at the opening race in Qatar. Yet after an unprecedented pair of back to back victories – remember of course that prior to Mugello Dovi had only won two races in the entirety of his MotoGP career – the Italian now finds himself very much in the Championship driving seat (well, riding seat.) The Ducati man though has been the first to downplay his title credentials, claiming his recent victories, in particular in Catalunya, were more a happy victim of circumstance:
“[it] was a strange race, it wasn’t about the speed. Nobody could push because the tyre didn’t have grip, and I have an advantage on the straight because my engine is stronger. So it’s not the reality, I believe, unfortunately.”
The reality is though that seven points are all that separate DesmoDovi from the top spot currently occupied by Maverick Vinales in the standings, and with confidence such a key tenant of motorcycle racing, the smart money would be on the Italian to continue his good form in Assen.
His factory Ducati teammate Jorge Lorenzo will also be looking to build on a decent set of recent results, at a track where he’s endured more lows than highs over the course of his career. A first podium in Jerez and a first front row start at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya suggest that The Spartan is slowly but surely settling into life aboard his new Desmosedici. Yet both those races mentioned took place in blisteringly hot conditions where the track and grip conditions where ones that suited the Italian manufacturer. With the conditions at Assen more likely to mirror those at Le Mans – where Lorenzo could only finish 8th – it remains to be seen how he can fare at a track less to he and his bike’s liking.
One man who will be hoping Assen is reminiscent of Le Mans is this year’s French GP winner Maverick Vinales. The Yamaha man endured a torrid time in Catalunya as his YZR-M1 characteristically struggled due to a lack of grip and, leaving him both befuddled and downright upset as he departed his home circuit in Montmelo with a mere 6 points to his name:
“I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t understand, I just know I don’t like it.”
What’s going on, according to his teammate Valentino Rossi, is that the 2017 Yamaha has in fact taken a step back in terms of corner speed and resultant grip, both of which have significantly hampered the team’s competitive edge.
“We need to get back the feelings of 2016, to be more competitive with less effort. I have raced with the 2016 M1 and I’m a good test rider: since the very first moment I went out on the 2017, I felt it’s been more difficult to turn. With this bike we have to be leaned over more and longer through the turn, and this stresses the tires more.”
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) June 22, 2017
The Doctor’s assertions would seem to ring true given the fact that the two Yamaha Tech 3 riders (Messrs Folger and Zarco), operating 2016 versions of the machinery, managed to both outpace and out manoeuvre their factory counterparts in Catalunya. Two weeks might be a long time in GP racing, but whether it’s long enough for the Japanese manufacturer to make significant changes to the setup of the 2017 bikes remain to be seen. One option they might perhaps choose is to see out this next set of back to back races with as many minor changes as they can muster, and then use the month long break in July to properly overhaul the setup for the remainder of the season. If that is the case, then these next two weekends could prove to be very long indeed for the boys in blue.
Whilst Ducati have been busy celebrating victories and Yamaha have been busy licking their wounds, the two Repsol Hondas of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa have been quietly amassing valuable podiums and points to leave them joint fourth in the standings. Despite a weekend dominated by falls in Catalunya, Marc Marquez pulled off a brilliant second place in his home race, and even better news for him, this weekend’s race in Assen will feature only symmetric tyres, not the asymmetric ones that he attributed to his multitude of crashes last time around. The Spaniard has long espoused the benefits that symmetric tyres bring to the stability of his bike, and he proved that by using them to race to the top of the timesheet in testing at Catalunya last Monday.
— Marc Márquez (@marcmarquez93) June 22, 2017
Marquez has never failed to finish off the podium at Assen in his MotoGP career, and if the conditions at the Dutch track over the weekend fail to suit either the Ducatis or the Yamahas, the five time world Champion could well be the one to succeed, particularly given his reputation as one of the best riders at adapting to whatever the track, or weather, throws his way.
The Motul TT of Assen gets underway with Free Practice 1 and 2 this Friday, before myself, Matteo Guerinoni and Cameron Donald keep you covered throughout the weekend from FP3 all the way up until after Sunday’s race. We look forward to seeing you then.