Analysis: Is the king of COTA's reign under threat?
While Marc Marquez looks to be in prime position to continue his streak of MotoGP wins at the Circuit of the Americas, we analyse who could potentially give the Spaniard a run for his money in Sunday's race.
There is no denying Marquez has been the fastest rider of the weekend in Austin so far.
The Honda rider topped three of the four practice sessions, and losing out to Andrea Iannone in FP2, was the result of not putting on new tyres for his fastest lap, as opposed to pretty much everyone else.
Marquez was also comfortably the fastest rider in qualifying and topped the session despite a crash, even though an altercation with Maverick Vinales means he lines up fourth on the grid.
His pace was already within the 2m05s barrier on Friday and up until now, only Vinales managed to follow suit in FP4.
Vinales was indeed impressive in the pre-qualifying practice, and there is some optimism the Yamaha rider can make the GP of the Americas a close affair.
"Maverick has a good pace and maybe tomorrow in the race he can be faster than me, you never know," said Marquez after qualifying.
But when looking at the practice pace of riders in more depth, even that little hope seems distant.
Sure, Vinales was able to match Marquez's pace with a 4.7s and two 4.9s in FP4, but he set those laps when he put on a fresh medium rear tyre.
Marquez, on the contrary, logged a 4.6s on the 18th lap of his medium rear, and then three 4.7-8s on his 15th, 16th and 17th laps with a hard tyre.
When looking at pace with used tyres, Marquez is simply unrivalled, and Vinales is a second off.
Admittedly, Vinales' used-tyre run was in FP3 before he made a clear step forward in FP4 - but if we take it at face value, Marquez's main rival for the race distance might actually be Iannone.
The Suzuki rider has been great from the word go at Austin and is the only rider to beat Marquez in a session. He also handily qualified on the front row, and starts second after penalties are applied.
Iannone is clearly another rider Marquez considers a serious threat, as his penalty for blocking Vinales was the result of a failed attempt to not let Iannone behind him for a flying lap.
While Marquez consistently put in sub-2m05s on used tyres during practice, Iannone at least managed to lap in the low 2m05s.
And, similarly to Marquez, the Italian was fast on both the medium and hard rear – having the option to use the latter with Suzuki’s tendency to fade late in the races will give him some welcome freedom.
Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images
Valentino Rossi was also only strong on new tyres in FP4 but lacked three to four tenths compared even to Yamaha teammate Vinales.
The Italian said keeping up with Marquez and Vinales will be "difficult”, but he expects to fight with Iannone, among others, for the final podium spot.
Those others should, in theory, be LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow and Tech 3 Yamaha's Johann Zarco.
Zarco’s weekend has been hampered by mechanical woes in FP1, and he struggled with the soft at the end of FP2, which very nearly cost him a spot in Q2.
But when he switched to the medium rear in FP3, he was instantly quicker, setting the strong laptimes shown in the above table.
However, his FP4 performance was not encouraging at all, the Frenchman only managing a few laps in the high 2m05s range.
As for Crutchlow, the Argentine Grand Prix winner and championship leader couldn’t break below the mid-to-high 2m05s laps, but the Briton should still end up in podium contention.
Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images
Another rider who is targeting a top-three finish is Andrea Dovizioso, although the Italian admitted that actually achieving it will be difficult.
Dovizioso has been leading the way for Ducati on race pace at a track not favourable to the traits of the Desmosedeici - albeit not in qualifying, where Jorge Lorenzo was quicker.
But, with a 2m05.4s and two 2m05.6s laps in the books, the Italian looks to be quick enough to keep up with the front group - although starting from eighth will complicate matters.
"We are struggling like we expected,” he said. "Overall I’m not happy about the third row, but we have all the feedback to try to improve our limit.
"The podium will be difficult but not impossible. To fight for the podium is our target."
As for the rest of the Ducati squad, the outlook is rather grim. Lorenzo looked competitive enough in qualifying but it seems unlikely he can move forward from his sixth position on the grid.
The pace of the Spaniard, along with Pramac duo Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, was barely in the 2m05s. so they will likely only feature in the top five if there is chaos ahead.
Overall, just like in Argentina, Marquez is in a class of his own. Even if he is stuck running behind other riders early on, the Spaniard’s pace advantage will likely only increase as the race goes on.
It will take something extraordinary from another rider to deny Marquez his sixth straight COTA win.
Crutchlow blames tyre “lottery” for poor Austin qualifying run
Pedrosa unsure he can "handle" full Austin race
About this article
|Event||GP of the Americas|
|Location||Circuit of the Americas|
|Drivers||Marc Marquez Shop Now|
|Teams||Repsol Honda Team|