This weekend sees the British round of the MotoGP world championship taking place at Silverstone. Undoubtedly the motorcycle racing highlight of the year on mainland Britain, this year’s event is part of one of the closest world championship seasons for years, with five riders realistically in with a shout of lifting the biggest prize in motorcycle racing.
Defending champion Marc Marquez currently leads the championship by 16 points from Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, who won last time out to confirm his status as a bona fide title contender. The Italian bike has often been considered fast yet fickle in the past, but Dovi’s superb consistency so far this year suggests that he could well be in the shakeup when the championship gets decided in October.
Despite winning two of the last three races (and finishing second in the other), Marquez thinks that Silverstone may be a difficult circuit for him and the Honda. “We’ve been able to find a good base for our bike and this is very good, as one of my goals is to always be there at the front and be very consistent at all tracks and in all conditions. Of course we’ll try for the same at Silverstone, a circuit that I like, though we know it will be a challenging round as our opponents are usually very strong there.”
Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi set the early season pace but have been somewhat subdued in recent races, slipping back to third and fourth respectively, but come to Silverstone after testing at Misano earlier in the week. Vinales took his debut win on a Suzuki at Silverstone 12 months ago and a repeat of that performance will reignite his 2017 title aspirations. He currently sits 24 points behind Marquez, with Rossi a further nine back. For Rossi, the British Grand Prix holds extra significance as it will represent his 300th start in the premier race class. The Italian made his top class debut at the start of the 2000 season and won his first 500cc Grand Prix in Britain that year.
Rossi said: “We go to Silverstone after a day of testing in Misano and I want to go back on track immediately to find out if we have been able to find positive solutions to improve our bike. Silverstone is a very fun and beautiful track but also very demanding. This track is very long and there are so many changes of direction at high speed. It’s important to find a perfect set-up of the bike, in braking and in the fast corners. It’s a really nice track for me and for my riding style. I want to do a good weekend and fight for the podium.”
One man that can never be ruled out is Marquez’ Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa. The Honda rider has been the loyal number two over the years but is always a threat and capable of winning anywhere on his day. The diminutive Spaniard appears to be over the arm pump problems that have blighted his career in recent years, and seems to be able to get the new Michelin front tyres working better with the Honda and his riding style. With three podiums in the last three races, only his team-mate has outscored him in recent races and, with only 35 points between them in the standings, it will only take one piece of misfortune for the championship leader for them to close right up in the title race. “Silverstone is a difficult track which is bumpy and where the weather is always unstable,” said Pedrosa. “We’ll be aiming to improve and be focused because last year was difficult so we must be out lapping and learning about the tyres and the setup to be prepared for Sunday’s race.”
What about the Brits?
It’s been a tough year for the British contingent, to be honest. This time last year we were celebrating Cal Crutchlow becoming the first British winner of a premier class race since Barry Sheene, some 35 years earlier.
The enigmatic Coventry rider remains our best hope of becoming the first home winner of the top flight British GP and although he lies seventh in the points standings, the 31 year old has shown flashes of brilliance and the pace to beat the best of them. He was fast at Silverstone last year, charging to pole position and finishing second in the race, and if he can put it together over a whole race weekend, there’s no reason why Cal can’t go one better this time around.
Also showing flashes this year has been Scott Redding. The 24-year-old from Gloucester has a good British GP record in the smaller classes (winning the 2013 Moto2 race at Silverstone) but his 2017 campaign has been miserable, with some fast laps in qualifying failing to translate into good race results. Those lack of results have seen Redding lose his ride with Ducati for 2018, but if he’s going to get a result anywhere then it’s likely to be here, at a track where he’s enjoyed some of his best days.
After losing his Ducati ride, next year will see Redding line up on the factory Aprilia. That spells bad news for Lincolnshire rider Sam Lowes, who has been unceremoniously dumped by the Italian manufacturer halfway through his two-year contract. The former Supersport World Champion has hardly shone on the RS-GP and is last of the regular riders with just two points to his name. That said, the 26-year-old has had to endure something of a soap opera behind the scenes this year and has very much found himself as the number two rider to Aleix Espargaro at Aprilia. Lowes is now riding for his career and could get a season’s best performance at Silverstone, if his team give him a bike capable of battling in at least the midfield.
The final Brit in MotoGP has also had a beleaguered season. Bradley Smith knew that joining the new KTM MotoGP project would be tough but the likeable Oxfordshire rider has also had to battle with a nasty hand injury. A best result of 13th, in Le Mans, is less than Smith would have expected but the RC16 is improving rapidly, as a 10th place for test rider Mika Kallio proved as a wildcard in the last round in Austria.
And the other classes…?
British riders have historically done well in Moto2, with Redding and Smith both scoring Brit GP podiums in the intermediate class in the past.
That’s not so likely to happen this year. Former Moto3 world champion Danny Kent was the sole UK representative in the class at the start of the season, but split with his team after a few races.
He’s been replaced by British supersport champion Tarran Mackenzie, the son of former 500cc rider Niall, but it has been a baptism of fire for the 21-year-old Anglo-Scot. After being thrown in at the deep end, Mackenzie has shown steady improvement. He knows Silverstone well and will be targeting his first points of the season on the Suter machine.
There will be a second Brit on the Moto2 grid, with Jake Dixon making a one-off appearance as a replacement for the injured German rider Marcel Schrotter. Dixon normally races in British superbikes, and has won races this year, but Moto2 is a big step up in class, especially without any prior testing. The Kent rider is super confident and very fast though, so a strong performance may not be that much of a surprise though.
In Moto3, John McPhee has been the sole British rider all season. The Scot has been consistently up with the leading group, without looking like championship material. He’s currently lying sixth in the points standings, but certainly has what it takes to stand on top of the podium if the cards fall in his favour. He’ll be joined by two wild-cards from the British championship, with Tom Booth-Amos and Jake Archer set to savour riding in a world championship race. It’s unlikely that the KTMs they ride in the British championship will be able to match the factory bikes around the fast Silverstone circuit in the dry, but they’ll enjoy the experience and may even be able to spring a shock or two if the heavens open – which is always a possibility at the Northamptonshire venue.
How to watch
If you can, get there and enjoy the action first hand. Silverstone is a long circuit and the track is a little bit set back from the grandstands but there are plenty of big screens to ensure you don’t miss a thing. Facilities are second to none and you just can’t beat the sight, sound and atmosphere that comes from seeing these amazing machines and riders in action – get along if you can! If you can’t make it, BT Sport will again show every session live, as will the official MotoGP website.