It was also inevitable that all of these things would be overshadowed by a crash at the sharp end of the field.
So often in MotoGP, a race can be summed up by one incident. Qatar was ‘the one in which Stoner blitzed the rest on his factory Honda debut’. Jerez was ‘the one in which Rossi took out Stoner’. Estoril was ‘the one in which everyone decided not to get along.’
Le Mans will definitely go down on the season review DVD’s chapter selection as ‘the one in which Simoncelli took out Pedrosa’ – apart from in the Italian version, which will see the same section renamed ‘Non ho fatto nulla di male!’ (‘I’ve done nothing wrong!’)
The argument as to who was to blame boils down to attitudes towards racing, and Marco Simoncelli really doesn’t care what you think. If the introduction of a yellow card system especially for his benefit back in 2008 served as flattery rather than a deterrent, it is pretty obvious that the Italian is unwilling to make any compromises in his style. Still seething on the way out of the track on Sunday evening, his main qualms came with the missed podium, rather than any sense of remorse.
Simoncelli explained after the race that he left Dani Pedrosa a metre in which to manoeuvre, that he didn’t brake any later than usual and that the Spaniard made a change in braking compared to the previous three laps. If this is correct, and the Gresini rider simply found himself on the outside of Pedrosa at the start of the chicane, then anyone who has followed Simoncelli’s career would bet the farm on him trying to go through – whether they think he would do so safely or not.
Nobody has or will come out of the incident well. ‘Supersic’ did nothing to dissuade the perception of him being a dangerous rider, Pedrosa can add 2011 to the list of seasons in which he has broken something when the campaign was going his way (and can tick a right collarbone off his ‘to fracture’ list), and race direction will come under fire for inconsistency. A ride-through was a harsh punishment for a crash that could not clearly be blamed on Simoncelli in the moment, and Valentino Rossi was not given the same treatment for his crash with Casey Stoner a month ago.
The real unknown about Sunday’s collision was why the move was made at that point in the first place.
The Hondas were far and away the fastest bikes of the weekend, at what is traditionally a Yamaha track. They occupied the front four positions on the grid for the first time since 2003 and continued to shine in the race.
Based on the lap-times up until the incident, catching up with Stoner after he had broken free of Pedrosa would have been nearly impossible. The Australian was pulling out a gap because of his steady stream of laps in the 1:33 mark, whilst both Pedrosa and Simoncelli had tailed off into the 1:34s (still a consistent three-tenths or so quicker than Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo).
Knowing that it would likely be a battle between the two for second under the watchful eyes of the Honda executives, would it not have been better for Simoncelli to have waited until later on to make a typical and more understandable last-lap move? Or at least until the next corner?
Hindsight would say yes - racing instinct and not wanting to back down under any circumstances would say no. Regardless, the crash disguised Honda’s complete dominance slightly. Stoner could easily have won three of the opening four races instead of two, the top four at Le Mans could have been made up of riders from the Japanese factory and the overall standings could be more lopsided than at present. Rossi would not yet have taken his first podium for Ducati, was it not for Sunday’s incident.
And Lorenzo would have been even more annoyed than when he found out his grid position on Saturday and stormed to the back of his garage. Yamaha are lacking power, and only Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso were able to take advantage on Sunday.
The other two Honda riders on factory machinery just saw their season get a whole lot harder.