It is time for the Argentine Grand Prix – one of my favourite GPs of the season. There is just something about South America that does it for me; I spent some time in Honduras and Panama this year and there is a real vibe around sport, around motorsport, around motorbikes – yes, I know they are Central American countries but the Latin atmosphere remains the same. I suppose it could be classed as one of those ‘traditional’ GPs, one of the ones where ‘back in the day’, it was a bit on the dangerous side, kind of, pushing the limits. I suppose even now, the Termas de Rio Hondo layout is a bit old school – it doesn’t have five million acres of tarmac run-off at every corner and it has some very fast, flowing sections. I love the Argentine Grand Prix and this is all you need to know, below!
Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso has never won in Argentina; his best result was a 2nd place in 2015, behind Valentino Rossi. Ducati haven’t ever really done much in Argentina, Dovi’s podium is their only one to date. However, we are witnessing something truly special in our sport and that is that Ducati don’t have to have ‘previous’ at a race circuit to go well at any more; who would’ve predicted Silverstone, Catalunya or Motegi last year? If last year’s runner up does happen to make it to the top step again, it will be the first time an Italian manufacturer has won in the premier class in Argentina since Mike Hailwood guided MV Agusta to the top step in 1963. The last time an Italian won the opening two races of a premier class championship was in 2001, with Rossi. Can Dovi do it?
Marc Marquez – beaten again. They are four words that you would never think of putting together but here we are, Argentina beckoning, Marquez once more being savaged by Dovizioso’s white horse of rationality last time out. Marquez is Argentine GP royalty, with four poles from four visits – of which two have been converted to wins and the other two converted to the gravel – as well as a fastest lap in 2016. Marquez goes well in Argentina but I think more than ever before, he is under pressure. He will not want to lose another head-to-head with Dovi. It will only be a matter of time before it does start getting to him. Remember in 2003, when Valentino Rossi was, for a while, being beaten by Sete Gibernau in last lap scraps most weekends. The unforgettable image of Rossi down in the dumps in pit lane in Germany makes me think that Marquez, no matter how hard he is on the outside, may not be far from something similar. It happens to the best of them.
Talking of Valentino Rossi, at the ripe age of 39, ‘The Doctor’ prescribed the perfect start to his 2018 campaign, with a solid 3rd place in Qatar and not too far away from a podium. The veteran Italian comes to the Argentine Grand Prix as a winner, back in THAT 2015 event. Since that race, Valentino is yet to finish outside of the top two and that is an incredible statistic, considering he isn’t supposed to like new tracks. Like I said in the intro however, the track is a bit of ‘old-school’ and Valentino likes that. If Rossi was to get the disastrous result of 3rd, then it would be the first time since Indianapolis and Brno that he would have achieved two bronze-medalist finishes on the bounce. A win for him on Sunday would place him on 90 wins in MotoGP and also, he’d become the first rider since Mick Doohan in the mid-90s to secure three Argentine Grand Prix victories. Sound impressive?
Cal Crutchlow sits fourth in the championship standings coming to Argentina and has great pace at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. A 3rd in 2015 and in 2017 make the LCR Honda rider a solid outsider for a cheeky race win on Sunday. Coventry’s Cal will look to take his first race win since Phillip Island in 2016 and I have a sneaky feeling that he may well do it. He is at 16/1 and at those odds, I may sneak a 10p piece on him. I’d bet your mortgage on it but certainly not mine. Crutchlow would be the first Brit to win in the premier class in Argentina since Hailwood in ’63 and that was some 55 years ago. We may well be seeing something a bit special this weekend. Honda and Yamaha are on two wins each at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit too; Cal, it may well be down to you.
Danilo Petrucci was a revelation last season, so I’d be wrong to call him a revelation again in 2018. However, he is once again living up to the form that we knew he was capable of prior to the 2018 season getting under way. A 5th in Losail places him in the running for a strong placing at the Argentine Grand Prix. In 2017, the Italian finished in 7th and I believe he is well prepared to finish higher than that in this year’s event. With contracts still to be signed, Petrucci may well be in the running for a Factory team ride with Ducati, should he keep beating Lorenzo. He beat him last season and in the opening race of this season, just by staying upright.
Disappointing, disenfranchised and dejected, Maverick Vinales was far from ‘in form’ at Losail. The Spaniard salvaged sixth due to late race pace and will be looking to Argentina to be his saving grace, following a bad pre-season and opening round of 2018. 2013 Moto3 champion, Vinales won the race last year so he could be a threat – then again, he won at Losail last year too. Vinales has to do something, his last podium was Phillip Island last year and quite frankly, that is too long without a podium as a factory employed rider. I think Vinales will be in the mix, however he will have to prove he is back at the front properly for anyone to consider him a title challenger again.
Dani Pedrosa makes it two Repsol Hondas in the top seven, as he goes in pursuit of returning to the podium in Argentina, something he has not done since 2016. The Spaniard has never had back -to-back seventh place finishes and will be determined to finish the race well – although he didn’t finish it at all last season.
Andrea Iannone leads Suzuki’s charge as he is 9th in the championship. He has good (and bad) form at Termas de Rio Hondo, having been nothing worse than 6th after the first two seasons there but no points at the event since 2015. His teammate on the other hand does go a bit better. Rins had been no worse than 5th at the Argentine GP until last season, when he crashed out and he will be looking to make sure he doesn’t do the same again.
Aprilia have no points on the board in 2018, something which is quite a shock to me, especially since they have Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding on board. However, it seems as though Aleix’s unusual riding preferences are causing a headache for Redding, so for now, he will have to persevere. The last time Espargaro finished two consecutive races outside of the points was in 2011 in Moto2 at Silverstone and Assen, whereas Scott Redding has failed to score points in the second round of the championship on six occasions.
KTM, like Aprilia, disappointed me a little at Losail. No points for the Austrian manufacturer mean that Argentina may well be make or break for them. Bradley Smith has finished every single Argentine Grand Prix in the points and will be hoping the run continues on Sunday. Pol Espargaro also has an excellent finishing record at the track but his recent form is not great in the championship overall. A DNF for him on Sunday would make it the first time since 2011 and Silverstone, Assen and Mugello that he has gone three straight races with no points.
Onto the satellite teams then – or shall I say Independent – and it is Johann Zarco who is in 8th. I must say, I was slightly dejected for Zarco after Losail because although 8th looks great on paper, he did start from pole and I just wish his tyres held up a bit better. Hafizh Syahrin has been nothing short of staggeringly impressive thus far and his 14th place finish in Qatar was brilliant. Syahrin will look to become the first Asian rider to score back-to-back point scoring finishes in the premier class since Hiroshi Aoyama in 2014 at Valencia and Sepang. A long time ago, no?
Jack Miller had a good Qatar GP, despite qualifying and finishing 10th. It marked Pramac Ducati’s first double top-10 since Misano in 2017, so that was progress. He and Petrucci will look to make it back-to-back double top-10s for the first time since Phillip Island and Motegi in 2016! Miller was 9th in the GP last season and has one podium to his name at the track, achieved back in 2014 in Moto3 – 3rd.
Tito Rabat had a stunning opening round to the season under the floodlights in Qatar, with an 11th – his best start to a championship season since winning at Losail in 2014 in Moto2. The 2014 Moto2 champion has finished every Argentine Grand Prix and has a best result of 9th in the MotoGP class. Teammate Simeon finished the opening GP of the season in last but has been 2nd in Argentina, back in 2014 in the Moto2 class. Simeon will be looking to score points for the first time since the Sachsenring last year!
The Marc VDS Honda team had a good start to 2018, with Franco Morbidelli getting 12th in the opening GP of the season. Morbidelli won the Moto2 race at Termas de Rio Hondo in 2017 and will be hoping to break into the top 10 for the first time in MotoGP. Since 2015, Tom Luthi has been no lower than 7th place at Termas de Rio Hondo but has not yet scored points in MotoGP. Surely, he will achieve a top-15 placing on Sunday?
The Angel Nieto Ducati team are struggling, as they try and solve their rear grip issues that have plagued them since upgrading to newer spec Ducatis. Alvaro Bautista was a heroic fourth in Argentina last year and Karel Abraham qualified on the front row. Both know their way around the track and both should be looking at completing the race inside the top 10. The Argentine Grand Prix in 2017 was the team’s first double top-10 since Phillip Island in 2014 with Hiroshi Aoyama and Nicky Hayden and unfortunately, it has been their only one since.
Last but not least, Takaaki Nakagami. Looking so promising right up until a crash in practice, Nakagami has obviously had a confidence knock. The ex-Moto2 race winner didn’t finish in Argentina last year and has a best result of just 9th at the track, from 2016. Unfortunately for the young Japanese, it may be a weekend that is already looking difficult.
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