MotoGP icon Valentino Rossi took his first race win in over a year with victory in a thrilling Grand Prix of the Netherlands, held at the Circuit van Drenthe, in Assen.
While the historic Dutch circuit has been shortened in recent years, it continues to provide some of the closest and most unpredictable racing of the year. Part of that unpredictability comes from the often wet weather and once again qualifying at the championship’s most northerly circuit was held in wet conditions.
Master of those conditions was French MotoGP rookie Johann Zarco, who took his first pole position in the premier class. The double Moto2 world champion showed that his qualifying performance was no fluke, leading the first 11 laps on the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha before slipping back when his decision to choose the softest Michelin tyre option backfired.
That saw factory Yamaha rider Rossi take over the lead and, using a revised chassis on his YZR-M1 for the first time, the legendary Italian rolled back the years as he comfortably led from the front.
Rossi’s team-mate Maverick Vinales, championship leader at the start of the race, had an unusual and spectacular crash at the chicane on lap 25, being spat out of the seat of his Yamaha as he changed direction through the chicane, and there was further chaos when more rain started to fall as the riders started lap 19 of 26.
The drizzle allowed riders to come into the pits and change to a bike shod with wet weather tyres and although all of the other frontrunners elected to stay out on their slick tyres, Zarco knew that that his original tyre choice wouldn’t last the race distance, rolled the dice to come in and switch bikes. Sadly for the Frenchman, the rain didn’t fall much harder and although lap times slowed the riders were able to safely make it to the flag on slick tyres.
Pushing 38-year-old Rossi all the way was countryman Danilo Petrucci, who was once again impressive on the Pramac Ducati. The amiable Italian led briefly and was with Rossi going into the final lap, only to be baulked by backmarker Alex Rins (who had also switched to wet weather tyres) mid way through the lap. Despite this minor disappointment, Petrucci was clearly delighted with his second podium finish of the year.
Behind them, there was a battle royale for the final podium slot. Brit Cal Crutchlow excelled as the rain came down and charged through the field to catch and pass Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso’s battle for third. The Brit later admitted that he had probably shown his hand too soon, as Marquez made a last gasp repass to take third, while Ducati rider Dovizioso’s fifth sees him leave Assen with the championship lead. The Italian has 115 points, four more than Vinales and seven ahead of Rossi. With defending champion Marquez on 104 points, the championship is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent years.
Speaking after his historic 89th Grand Prix win, spread over almost 21 years, an ecstatic Rossi said: “I’m so happy, and for different reasons, because it’s a very important victory for the championship, but especially the feeling of coming back to the number one spot after one year is fantastic. Sincerely, I race with motorcycles for this feeling: for what I feel in the five or six final laps of the race. That’s always great and especially after a year without a victory. It was a great race and a great battle with Petrucci and everybody else. I’m also happy from a technical point of view, because we worked a lot on the bike and we changed the chassis and now I feel like I can ride the bike more in my own manner, in a better way. Everything is open and this year we discovered that, from one track to the other, the situation can change a lot. We have to wait for next week and try to be competitive also at the Sachsenring.”
The championship continues in Germany this coming weekend at the technically challenging Sachenring circuit.