Pedrosa on the up, Rossi on the slide in France

The 2013 Monster Energy French Grand Prix will be remembered for a number of reasons. Firstly, this could be the point in the season where Pedrosa takes control of the title charge. Secondly, It was the race Crutchlow came of age. Thirdly, It was Marquez’s first wet race. Fourthly, there is a chink in Jorge Lorenzo’s almost impenetrable armour and Fifthly (is that even a word?) Valentino Rossi slid off under pressure from another rider…on a Ducati.

Marquez and Pedrosa at Le Mans

Photo: Repsol Honda

At this point last year Dani Pedrosa was 25 points in arrears of Jorge Lorenzo after the Spaniard struggled to get to grips with the RC212V and his Mallorcan rival made hay while the sun shone with a cameo from Pedrosa’s team mate Stoner, wining at ‘Yamaha’s’ Jerez circuit. However, later in the year from Sachsenring onwards, the tiny Honda pilot embarked on a run that saw him win 7 of the last 10 races of 2012 and we are seeing a continuation of that same domination in 2013. With the exception of  4th at the opening round in Qatar, a Lorenzo-esque run of 2nd, 1st and 1st has seen Pedrosa take the lead the championship standings for the first time in many seasons and will look to continue the run of form to Mugello for the next round.

Cal Crutchlows stunning second place was as much as the tigerish Coventry man deserved after his weekend of ups and downs. After a heavy crash during qualifying the Tech3 man rode with controlled aggression, skill and more than a little pain to secure his career-best MotoGP finish and therewith proving to the small band of doubting fans that he has the ability to run at the sharpest end of motorcycle racing. Whether this stellar ride shows the upper echelon of teams enough to offer a full factory ride for 2014 remains to be seen, however, where else other than Ducati Corse can he go…? Suzuki may be an option.

The biggest question on most observers lips at Le Mans was ‘how would Marc Marquez fair in wet conditions?’. Well we only had to wait 4 laps to find out, once he’d calibrated his brain to the conditions he set lap time after lap time in the same bracket as the front men and matched Pedrosa throughout the closing laps of the race. Although Marquez, after three off track excursions, completed more miles per lap than anyone else the Repsol Honda sensation still managed to take a comfortable third place in France and continue his podium-a-race sequence in his rookie year, equalling Max Biaggi’s feat from 1998. Even Crutchlow confessed after the race that he was ‘scared’ about the rapidly closing Spaniard as he knew he’d have had no answer to a Marquez challenge had there been one more lap.

It was Ducati Corse home-bred hero for 2013 Andrea Dovizioso that lead the race in the early stages, getting in to a battle with Pedrosa for the lead but relinquishing the fight on lap 14, however have we seen a small turn in the fortunes of the Bologna Bullet or is it yet another false dawn? The track and conditions suited the Ducati as they did 12 month previous with Rossi taking second place, but Dovizioso was able to battle in the early laps as the track remained wet but once it began to dry he lost touch; the most telling moment was an aerial view of Marquez’s pass on the run down to Chemaine aux Boerf, the Spaniard driving hard and smooth past the still-wheelying Ducati, there is no doubt it is still looks hard work.

The Factory Yamaha duo of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were looking to take the charge to the dominant Repsol Hondas at a circuit both have seen success at in previous seasons, Lorenzo winning by almost 10 seconds there from a Ducati-mounted Rossi in 2012. It was clear from the start that the reigning champion had a issues, he looked pensive on the grid and after 4 laps started to lose track position at a rate not familiar to the Mallorcan. Conditions would cause a misted visor, as Stefan Bradl found out, but in this modern day and age that shouldn’t be an issue with the technology available to helmet manufacturers and failing that a piece of gaffer tape over the bridge of the nose – if it was good enough for Sheene et al, it’s good enough for todays riders! Reports from Lorenzo after the race pointed to issues with the rear Bridgestone tyre although upon investigation by Yamaha and the Japanese supplier, no issues were to be found. Set up? No, says Lorenzo, definitely the tyre, but again today Bridgestone confirm no issues with the rear hoop. Is Lorenzo starting to feel the pressure after only 4 wins in the last 17 races compared to Pedrosa’s 9?

Valentino Rossi had his best chance to prove his Qatar podium was no flash in the pan after an expected off-podium showing in Austin and a distant fourth at Jerez after leading pre-season testing there. Rossi likes Le Mans, he showed that in 2012 but 2013 is a different matter. After showing well in the early stages, The Doctor “hit a bump” under braking into Garage Vert under intense pressure from former team mate Nicky Hayden on his GP13 Ducati and with it losing the opportunity to become the fourth rider to win a GP this season. To add insult to injury, both finishing Factory Yamaha’s were beaten by a satellite Yamaha for the first time since Ben Spies took 2nd place for Herve Poncherals Monster Tech3 team at Indianapolis in 2010.

Onwards now to the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, can Jorge Lorenzo make it a hattrick of victories in the Italian countryside? Can the Factory Yamaha’s break the domination of the Repsol Honda’s? Will Marquez take his second win of the season? PaddockChatter can’t wait to find out…

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