In MotoGP, no race is any more important than another. They all carry 25 points for the win. But from here on in, every race of the 2012 championship is going to feel especially crucial.
With 12 rounds done and six to go, just 13 points separate Jorge Lorenzo from Dani Pedrosa, so at every race the advantage will swing one way or the other.
Pedrosa is the man on a mission with three wins from the past four races. If he keeps going like that, then he will obviously win the title. Honda are throwing everything at the championship. The revised RCV that Pedrosa received at Laguna is a definite step forward. Most significantly it seems to have cured much of the RCV’s corner-entry instability, a problem that has haunted Honda for many a year. After getting beaten by Pedrosa at Brno, Lorenzo commented that he had been losing out to the RCV on corner entry. I can’t remember the last time I heard a Yamaha rider say that about a Honda. No wonder Lorenzo spent his time during the post-race Brno test working to regain the M1’s entry advantage.
At Misano this weekend the Honda’s horsepower advantage will be less important than it was at Brno. Misano is a mean little racetrack next to a nice beach. It’s infested with poky little hairpins, nothing like the grand, sweeping curves that make Brno so magnificent. In normal circumstances it’s a Yamaha track – the company has won three of the past four races there.
Misano is so tight that overtaking is a hellishly difficult trick to pull off. The start will therefore be critical, which will in theory throw the advantage to the diminutive Pedrosa who rarely fails to get the holeshot. He did, however, fail to win the drag race at Brno.
And what about the riders? In recent years it’s always been Pedrosa who has cracked first; and literally too, his bones apparently more brittle than most. But so far this year he has avoided mistakes and kept himself healthy. Perhaps the difference is that he’s now a different man on the inside – more relaxed and therefore more dangerous to Lorenzo.
It is a commonly held theory that Pedrosa lacks tactical nous, that he doesn’t do battles and that he can only win races when presented with the luxury of an empty racetrack. It’s been true for years, but is it anymore? Pedrosa fought well at Brno, and it was Lorenzo, not Pedrosa, who made the tactical error. On the dash to final esses, the 2010 MotoGP champ gifted his rival the inside line and lost the race.
Both men know how to win championships. Lorenzo may be the only one of the pair to have worn a MotoGP crown, but don’t forget that Pedrosa took a hat-trick of 125 and 250 world titles between 2003 and 2005.
During much of the past few years Pedrosa hasn’t only been held back by injuries. He also struggled to keep Honda’s usually wayward 800 on the track. Even now, the Yamaha is probably the better motorcycle, but only by a fraction. At Brno, the average lap-time difference between the RCV and the M1 was just 0.008 seconds.
What is most remarkable about this duel for the championship is the riders’ unerring consistency. Lorenzo has yet to finish a race outside the top two, while Pedrosa has only finished off the podium once, in the rain at Le Mans. Twenty years ago the measure of consistency was Wayne Rainey. People called the three-time 500 champ ‘Mr Perfect’ because he rarely used to finish off the podium. Perhaps it is easier to be consistent these days (let’s just say ‘less difficult’), because the equipment is more consistent and the tracks are more consistent, but it’s a mark of the level of these two Spaniards that they are logging the kind of results that made Rainey a legend.
And in answer to my first question: I’ve no idea who’s going to win the title. I have a slight leaning towards wanting Pedrosa to come out on top because he’s the underdog. But all I really want is this – for the duel to go down to the wire at Valencia.