The FIM MotoGP World Championship has seen an unlikely turn of events over the past two races. Amid talk of Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales storming to the title in his first year with the Japanese motorcycle giant and whether Marc Marquez and Honda can stop him, Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati have posted two straight wins and become championship contenders.
Vinales still tops the championship standings but with wins in the Italian and Catalan Grand Prix, Dovizioso trails the super Spaniard by just seven points. The defending world champion Marquez is a further 16 points behind.
It is the first time since the 2010 season that the Italian marque has won two straight MotoGP races. That was the year when probably one of the most naturally talented riders of all time, Casey Stoner, tamed the evil handling Ducati to win three races. But the problems with Ducati were enough for the Aussie to agree to a move to Honda, which paid off in the form of title glory.
After two years of a ‘failed marriage’ with fellow Italian motorcycle racing icon Valentino Rossi, Ducati had to undergo a slow process of rebuilding to the level of 2007 and 2008 when they were title contenders.
Now, with Jorge Lorenzo in the fold and a concerted effort between him, Dovizioso and Stoner (in a technical role) they seem to be genuinely building on winning two races last year.
But is it down to a true Ducati resurgence or more a factor of how Dovizioso is able to manage the GP17 in tricky conditions?
And the conditions were definitely trickier at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya than at any round of the season so far. With a high ambient temperature leading to a track temperature in excess of 50 degrees celsius and a battered track surface that has not been relaid for over a decade, today’s race was all about tyre management.
Dovizioso has a reputation for being one of the more cerebral MotoGP riders and his analytical style paired with the straight-line speed of the powerful Ducati allowed him to best both Pedrosa and Marquez.
We saw this to a lesser degree in Mugello, mainly because the high-speed nature of the track seemed to highlight the speed of the GP17 a lot more.
But it was not just Dovizioso managing to keep pace with and then leave the Hondas trailing in his wake that got people’s attention in Spain, but also how Lorenzo managed to pick up pace late in the race.
After first managing to grab the lead following second on the grid, the former three-time champion shot through the field from eighth to finish an impressive fourth.
It was a bit like his podium charge in Jerez, where the relatively hotter temperatures seemed to favour his smooth riding style. Although, there was no such recovery in Mugello where he also dropped from an early lead to finish eighth. Around the high speed corners in Mugello, Lorenzo’s problem with the rear braking system became a lot more apparent than at the more technical Catalan venue.
MotoGP’s control tyre supplier Michelin is definitely playing a role in determining which riders and teams perform on a given race weekend but one cannot point to that alone. After all, the teams are back to using the stiffer constructed front tyre used late last year. It was a move welcomed even by Valentino Rossi who laboured to ninth place today with Vinales right one spot behind him.
How Dovizioso and Ducati perform in the normally much cooler conditions for the Dutch TT would give a much better indication of whether the Italian is geared to fight Vinales to the end of the season.