We’re at that stage of the season where we know the plot. Valentino’s qualifying problems are going to see his championship lead eroded rapidly, the Honda engine is too aggressive for Marquez to ride as he wants to – especially going in to corners, and Ducati are surely going to win a race this season.
What we didn’t expect was for Suzuki to be so competitive and for the evolution motor they’ve brought to Catalunya to propel Aleix Espargaro to fastest today with his rookie team mate Maverick Vinales in fifth. Do we have a rocket ship in blue now? Well, no we don’t. Marquez was fastest through the speedtrap at 213.75mph (average of his top five speeds in FP2) with his team mate right behind him. Next came three Ducatis, led by Hernandez, at a best of 213.44mph. Next came the two satellite Hondas followed by the four Yamahas, of which the slowest was Lorenzo at 209.40mph. The quicker Suzuki also had Petrucci, Bradl and di Meglio in front of him. Espargaro’s speed was 208.72. That 5mph deficit to the Honda didn’t stop Aleix being the quickest man round a lap today, as opposed through the speedtrap, with a margin of over a quarter of a second over Marquez.
Who’d have thought it? We’ve become a little too used to Suzuki, the smallest and most conservative of the Japanese big four, going off half-cocked. Anyone remember their initial World Superbike effort? The first go at MotoGP? Suzuki and the team made all the right noises about coming back to win but, frankly, we were prepared to be underwhelmed. Reality turned out to be better than anyone’s expectation. Aleix and Maverick looked to be taking a big gamble on going to the new team rather than, say, Tech 3 or Marc VDS. Catalunya is the seventh race of the year and already their decision looks a lot cleverer than anyone expected. They have the soft tyre allowed to factories racing with concessions, so expect Suzukis competing for the front two rows just like the Ducatis.
Which may not be what Marquez and, especially, Rossi need.