For the first time in 2004, a red Italian Ducati was at the front of the MotoGP grid at the British Grand Prix. Most had expected the Ducati to be at the front and fighting already at South Africa, but problems with the new version of the V4 delayed their attack until the British GP at Donington Park.
In addition to the Ducati attack, MotoGP riders had to deal with changing weather. Friday and Saturday were both sunny and dry, but by Sunday, the infamous British weather showed its "ugly" face. Sunday morning's warm-up was windy and wet, and by race time, though dry, it was still very windy with dark clouds waiting to spoil the party.
None of this kept Valentino Rossi from dominating for most of the race. Though we've become used to this type of performances from the Italian, one tends to forget this is Rossi's first season aboard the M1. But if Rossi's performance came as no surprise to you, then Colin Edwards's should. The American took his first ever MotoGP podium, finishing second behind Rossi, and ahead of his teammate, Sete Gibernau.
Amidst the cheers of 82,000 spectators, the race got underway. From pole position, Rossi got the hole-shot into turn one, followed closely by Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau. Rossi's lead lasted but one turn, as his fellow countryman, Capirossi, overtook him on the inside of the bottom of Craner curves. Gibernau did not wait long to make his move, passing Rossi on the inside, relegating him to third. But Rossi knew he had to be on a charge if he was to win, and heading into Melbourne loop, he out-braked Gibernau to regain second place. By the end of the first lap the top five men were Capirossi, Rossi, Gibernau, Troy Bayliss and Edwards.
Capirossi's 15 minutes under the spotlight only lasted one and a half laps. Heading into The Esses, Rossi out-braked the Italian, pushing Capirossi a bit wide; enough to allow Gibernau to get through and relegate the leader to third. By the next turn, Melbourne loop, you were treated to yet another pass, this time the protagonist was Edwards as he out-braked Bayliss and took over fourth place.
Last week's winner, Max Biaggi, struggled all through qualifying, and race day was no different. The first rider to take advantage of Biaggi's woes was Nicky Hayden, as he overtook the number 3 rider for sixth place. Soon thereafter, Edwards kept his early momentum and overtook Capirossi for third. Edwards overtakings were no smoke and mirrors, as he set the fastest lap of the race with a time 1:30.854.
Farther back, Biaggi's weekend got worse by the lap, as he lost seventh place to Alex Barros, and eighth to Carlos Checa.
Edwards desire to put his mark in MotoGP was evident in his lap times, as the American continued to be the fastest man on the circuit. They say that in racing, the first man you have to beat is your teammate and Edwards and Bayliss know this very well. Bayliss was the first one to step the plate, as he overtook Capirossi going into The Esses.
Edwards's turn came a lap after, going into the Redgate, as he dove on the inside of Gibernau; relegating the Spaniard to third. Hayden, running in sixth place, continued to put pressure on Capirossi. The Italian did not have an answer for Hayden's late-braking maneuver into Goddards, Hayden taking fifth.
Gibernau tried to return the favor to his teammate on the entrance to The Esses, only to have the door shut by Edwards.
Behind Capirossi, the fight for seventh place was fierce between Barros and Checa. But it was overshadowed by John Hopkins's overtaking of Ruben Xaus for ninth place.
As Edwards became the first-ever rider to break into the 1:29 second range (1:29.973), mist began to fall on the front straight. Before the race had started, the MotoGP race director spoke with Rossi, Gibernau and Capirossi and told them they would be the ones to decide whether or not to stop the race if it rained. And until Rossi raised his hand, the race would continue.
Biaggi's problems sent him all the way back to 13th place, ahead of his teammate, Makoto Tamada. Norick Abe, who was involved in a spectacular accident just a week ago, got past Neil Hodgson for 11th, a preview of Abe's race performance.
To everyone's delight, the rain held off, allowing the race to continue. Abe's next victim was Hodgson's teammate, Xaus, for 10th place.
As much as Bayliss would have enjoyed a peaceful, uneventful fourth place, Hayden had different plans in mind, as he began to apply pressure on Bayliss; overtaking him going into The Esses. Bayliss tried to fight back going into Melbourne loop, but Hayden covered the inside line, making it impossible for Bayliss to do anything about it.
Rossi's race plan was to build a gap and maintain it, and he did an excellent job; keeping a healthy two second gap to Edwards. Perhaps just as excellent, was Hopkins's performance, as he shadowed Capirossi with the intention of taking 8th from the Italian.
With 12 laps to go, though Hayden had passed Bayliss, he never really shook the Australian off his heels. Thankfully for Hayden, Bayliss lost the rear-end of his Ducati going into Craner curves, using all of his skills he saved it, but in the process had to go on an off-road excursion and back onto the track. His distance to Hayden went from a couple of tenths, to over four seconds.
Realizing he would not be able to close the gap to Rossi, Edwards's efforts went to building a gap to Gibernau. It is worth to speculate that his efforts, though welcomed by most, were not welcomed by all. With nine laps to go, Edwards's pit board read: +1.0 (his gap to Gibernau), L9 (the number of laps left) and Switch. It is the last signal that makes one wonder if "Switch" meant for Edwards to switch places with Gibernau. Such speculation should come as no surprise, as during pre-season testing, HRC directors said that if necessary team orders would be used.
In the end, Abe's charge ended in a massive high-side in Craner curves, Rossi kept the number one position, Edwards did not listen to his pit board and Gibernau returned to the podium after suffering from two non-finishes in a row.