We may have waited four months for it to arrive, but the opening instalment of the 2018 MotoGP season didn’t just live up to the hype, it far surpassed it. After a gripping title battle that featured two nail-biting head-to-head tussles that had us guessing all the way to the final corner, Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso delivered yet again in Qatar. One round in, and battle has already been joined.
The rivalry between MotoGP’s premier riders has been built on mutual respect, a refreshing change from some of the sport’s more bitter rivalries of recent years, including the one that ignited here three years ago. The Marquez-Dovizioso dynamic has been the perfect advertisement for a sport in the rudest of health, so much so that the prospect of another shootout between the two in Argentina this weekend is a mouth-watering one.
Without question, the circuit characteristics of Losail favoured Dovizioso and Ducati with the long straights and heavy braking zones playing beautifully to the strengths of the GP18. In the end, that title the balance against Marquez who knew full well that his RC213V wouldn’t out-drag the Ducati to the finish line, even allowing for the improved acceleration of the 2018 machine.
Armed with this knowledge, Marc’s only realistic shot at victory was to lead Dovizioso onto the final straight, forcing him into a speculative dive into the last bend. The move didn’t succeed, and Dovi eased through to win, but don’t be fooled into thinking Dovizioso has some kind of mental stranglehold over the world champion. This move was a shot to nothing from Marquez’s point of view. Follow Dovizioso onto the home straight? A sure-fire second. Outbrake him the corner before? Maybe, just maybe, he could turn 20 points into 25. Dovizioso’s coolness under pressure ultimately ensured he didn’t.
Looking on to the Argentine Grand Prix then, the Termas de Rio Honda circuit certainly seems much more Honda-friendly. A notoriously low-grip surface, especially early in the weekend, and unsettled weather conditions should play beautifully into Marquez’s hands. The reigning champion has won two of the four GPs to be held here, a tally he would have added to but for a crash out of a comfortable lead twelve months ago and as for 2015, well, you all remember what happened there. In short, Marquez could quite easily have won all four Argentine GPs held here.
As for Dovizioso, luck has deserted the Italian on his last two visits here. Ever since inheriting second following the Rossi-Marquez flashpoint in 2015, Dovi has been skittled out of a podium by his then-teammate Andrea Iannone in 2016 before last year’s race was cut short by an errant Aprilia that Aleix Espargaro had just vacated. If your glass is half-full, at least you can say that Ducati have always been podium contenders here in the past. If it’s half-empty, you can’t truly argue that the Bologna-based outfit have ever looked like winning here before with only one long straight for the red machines to stretch their legs.
This factor could open the door for Yamaha to end a victory drought that stretches all the way back to Assen last year. Termas de Rio Honda was actually the scene of the Movistar squad’s last 1-2 finish but the team arrives in very different shape this time around. The air of invincibility around Maverick Vinales was shattered soon after his 2017 victory here and the Spaniard struggled for much of the Qatar weekend. The second half of the race itself may have seen green shoots of recovery with Maverick’s race pace as strong as anyone’s, but he cannot afford to start another weekend so far on the backfoot.
True to form, Valentino Rossi salvaged a podium for Yamaha with a typically dogged Sunday performance. Ultimately, the Doctor didn’t have the late-race pace to keep Dovizioso and Marquez in check but, like Losail, this a circuit that the Italian appears to enjoy. Rossi has never been outside the top four in four visits to Argentina and will have the rostrum in his sights again.
Although the winner is likely to come from the big three factory teams, it would be dangerous to rule out an upset. After all, this was the race which saw Karel Abraham qualify on the front row last year. The greatest threat of a surprise could well come from the rejuvenated Suzuki team who showed signs of real promise in Qatar, especially courtesy of Alex Rins. Such a well-handling bike should particularly enjoy the infield section of the lap at Termas de Rio Hondo and we know Andrea Iannone goes well here, just as long as he keeps his machine upright. Cal Crutchlow is another dark horse having stood on the podium in two of his last three outings in South America.
KTM announced themselves on the Moto2 stage with their maiden pole position in the intermediate class here last year but the headline from Qatar was the underperformance of the Austrian manufacturer. Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder could only manage fifth and sixth as Francesco Bagnaia took his first win and this weekend will surely see a more representative showing from the KTM runners. They will certainly be hoping so.
The Moto3 championship picture already looks to have taken shape, already at this stage of the season, with Jorge Martin, Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini clearly the class of the field. Bastianini would ultimately crash out, leaving Martin to win from Canet, and the Italian will need to get his championship challenge up and running in Argentina. The lightweight class also boasts the one and only Argentine rider in the paddock, RBA’s Gabriel Rodrigo.
As always, The Checkered Flag will have full coverage of all three classes throughout the weekend.
Argentine GP: Previous Winners
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