Spanish GP Preview: The Real Fight Begins


If the events of Argentina are anything to go by, the gloves are already off in the fight for the 2015 MotoGP world title but what we have seen so far is merely the appetiser. The real battle for championship glory starts at Jerez as the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 classes touch down in Europe.

The three flyaway races in Qatar, Texas and Argentina answered many of the questions we had been posing all winter. Could Valentino Rossi continue his revival? Was Ducati’s testing pace genuine? Would Marc Marquez face a tougher challenge for his crown this time around? The answer to all three has been a resounding yes and the stage is set beautifully for the Spanish Grand Prix as a result.

The Argentine GP was ultimately decided by tyre strategy with the cunning Rossi choosing the correct option before chasing down Marquez at a relentless pace before THAT incident two laps from home. The rights and wrongs of the incident itself can be argued until the cows come home but the flashpoint between the two does have ramifications for the season ahead.

For many years, Marquez has made a reputation for aggressive tactics while in wheel-to-wheel combat. Some may argue that he bullies other riders on track. Argentina proved one thing though in my mind, that Marquez cannot and will not bully Valentino Rossi. The Doctor’s too wily a customer for that.

This was the same lesson learned by a certain Sete Gibernau back in 2005 at this very circuit in one of the most controversial moments of the MotoGP era. Approaching the final corner, Rossi sent his Yamaha up the inside of Gibernau’s Honda before barging the home favourite out of the way and into the gravel. He may have been greeted by thousands of boos from the capacity crowd but Valentino didn’t care. A serious psychological message had been sent and Gibernau never truly recovered as far as their rivalry was concerned.

The notorious turn 13 at Jerez, now named ‘Lorenzo corner’ has decided many a race victory over the years but the man for whom it’s named after hasn’t enjoyed the greatest of fortune there either. In 2013, Jorge was elbowed out of second spot by Marquez as the young pretender demonstrated his own ruthless streak. The prospect of Marc and Valentino charging side-by-side towards the final bend on Sunday is mouthwatering to say the least. That is, of course, if Marquez is fit enough to race after breaking a finger last weekend. Friday practice will be fascinating.

We have seen enough this season though to know that the two won’t be alone at the front of the field this weekend. Neither can say they have finished in the top two at every single race so far but Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati can after three superb showings. The softer tyre has certainly been a benefit in qualifying but the new GP15 has proven itself to be a formidable weapon over a race distance too with ‘Dovi’ staying the course in Qatar, Texas and Argentina. Will it be fourth time lucky for no.04?

The Ducati threat cannot be discounted (Photo Credit: Ducati)
The Ducati threat cannot be discounted (Photo Credit: Ducati)

If anyone starts this Grand Prix under severe pressure, it surely has to be Jorge Lorenzo who must show this weekend that he hasn’t been relegated to ‘number two status’ at Movistar Yamaha. The two-time champion pointed to helmet problems in Qatar and bronchitis in Austin which prevented him from riding to his full capabilities but the excuses must stop now for no.99 and the podium finishes must start.

Cal Crutchlow opened his rostrum account for LCR Honda in Argentina thanks to a brave final corner move on Andrea Iannone and the Briton will be hopeful of maintaining the momentum at Jerez, scene of arguably his finest ride in MotoGP back in 2012 where he finished just 2.4 seconds off the lead. Another top three finish here will surely earn him top satellite honours again but Monster Yamaha Tech 3 will be eyeing a fightback courtesy of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, the latter returning to the scene of his maiden 125cc win six years ago.

Suzuki were one of the big success stories of Termas de Rio Hondo with Aleix Espargaro qualifying on the front row but a lack of straight line speed ultimately cost him and rookie teammate Maverick Vinales. That shouldn’t be such a handicap on the relatively twisty Jerez circuit so expect a stronger race performance but no track configuration seems to suit the Aprilia right now, leaving Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri likely to make up the numbers again.

Johann Zarco arrives as the man to beat in Moto2 after a sensational maiden victory in Argentina but the smart money may be on Alex Rins who has finished 4th, 3rd and 2nd in his three Moto2 races to date, proving that he is certainly a quick learner. The Spaniard will be confident of finishing off the sequence on Sunday but Sam Lowes will surely strike back on the circuit he was dominant at in testing. Don’t rule out Tito Rabat either after a horrendous start to his title defence.

There can be no doubt who has set the standard in Moto3 so far with Danny Kent ripping up the record books with the two most comprehensive dry-weather victories in class history. A repeat in Jerez is unlikely though and the dark horse could well be Fabio Quartararo who cleaned up in the CEV championship for two consecutive years and won’t be handicapped by a lack of circuit knowledge this time.

 

2015 GRAN PREMIO BWIN DE ESPANA SCHEDULE (UK TIME)

FRIDAY
Moto3 FP1 08:00 MotoGP FP1 08:55 Moto2 FP1 09:55
Moto3 FP2 12:10 MotoGP FP2 13:05 Moto2 FP2 14:05
SATURDAY
Moto3 FP3 08:00 MotoGP FP3 08:55 Moto2 FP3 09:55
Moto3 QP 11:35 MotoGP FP4 12:30 MotoGP Q1 13:10
MotoGP Q2 13:35 Moto2 QP 14:05
SUNDAY
Moto3 WUP 07:40 Moto2 WUP 08:10 MotoGP WUP 08:40
Moto3 RACE 10:00 Moto2 RACE 11:20 MotoGP RACE 13:00