Just as importantly he was always fast when he needed to be – a huge challenge in such conditions. He was quickest in wet FP1, went directly into Q2, qualified on the front row, got the holeshot and immediately started battling for the lead.
During the chaos of the bike swaps, he dropped from first to fourth but even then he didn’t panic. In fact, he played it perfectly, allowing Marc Márquez and Fabio Quartararo to set the pace and find the limit. When Márquez tripped over it, Miller started closing on new leader Quartararo.
And then he got the news that he had been punished with a double long-lap penalty. He had no idea what he had done to deserve the penalty and many riders would’ve lost their cool and their concentration through anger and frustration. Miller didn’t. He calmly took the penalty and slowly but surely closed the gap to Quartararo.
Johann Zarco was by far the fastest man on track in the closing stages, swooping upon Quartararo with six laps remaining and then going after Miller. This was no great surprise. Point-and-squirt bikes nearly always work better in the rain than corner-speed bikes, because you can gun it from corner to corner, then tiptoe through the turns.
And neither Miller nor Zarco are risk-averse.
When Zarco took second place he was taking at least half a second out of Miller every lap, because he had chosen medium front and rear rain tyres, while Miller had gone for a medium front and a soft rear, which was getting chewed up on the drying track.
Miller had chosen Michelin’s soft rear because he knew it would give pretty much immediate grip after the bike swap, so he could be fast and safe with new rubber, then worry about what happens next later in the race.
He knew the medium rear would give better grip as the track dried out, but only if he survived that long because with new rubber he would’ve struggled to get grip and feeling, so he would’ve been skating on the edge of disaster.
Márquez chose a medium rear and didn’t survive. Zarco went for the medium and did survive but he lost time in the first few laps after the bike swap because he wasn’t getting the grip he needed.
All that changed in the second half of the race as the track dried. Miller knew Zarco was coming and had something saved for him.
With four laps to go – when his advantage was down to less than five seconds – Miller changed his traction-control map, reducing his TC to the minimum, which reduced his safety margin but increased his pace.
He had been waiting for this moment because he knew that his fast-deteriorating soft rear would spin more as the track dried, so the more TC he used the more the software would reduce torque delivery and thus acceleration each time the tyre lost traction. It was therefore time for him to take full responsibility for the tyre and for his lap times.
Immediately his lap times dropped by around half a second and that was that.
Miller’s second victory in as many weeks, Zarco’s third podium from five races and Pecco Bagnaia’s cool-as-a-cucumber ride from 16th on the grid (following an incorrect tyre choice in Q1) to fourth once again vindicated Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna’s decision to let Andrea Dovizioso walk out of Ducati without so much as a goodbye.
If Miller seemed happier than he was at Jerez then Quartararo was ecstatic with third place because last year when the rain came down at Le Mans he went backwards, from pole position to ninth. Also, he had regained the championship lead a little more than a week after undergoing arm-pump surgery.
The rain was a get-out-of-jail-free card for last year’s Le Mans winner Danilo Petrucci, who had struggled in the early dry races aboard KTM’s RC16, which has been somewhat knobbled by Michelin’s 2021 front-slick allocation.
Petrucci’s size – at 80 kilos he is by far MotoGP’s heaviest rider – exacerbates his front-tyre issues with the RC16 because the bike gets more weight transfer on the brakes, which squishes the front slick even more. His Tech 3 crew has tried lengthening the wheelbase but of course, this impacts turning.
In the rain, Petrucci had none of these worries. Indeed his weight can be an advantage because it increases load on the tyres, which increases grip. His first top five of 2021 was richly deserved.
Quartararo now leads the championship at (possibly) one-quarter distance in the 2021 championship, with Bagnaia just one point down and Zarco and Miller right behind. Three Ducati riders in the top four of the championship and super-fast Mugello next…