Before reading on, if you want an explanation of the headline then just scroll down to look at the results. Then come back and try and work out what happened...
Donington Park has a long and glorious history of hosting some of the most exciting GPs ever, whether 500s or MotoGP. Or indeed 125s or 250s. So it seems appropriate that this, the final MotoGP to be held here for the foreseeable future, was both controversial and extremely exciting. One of the things we can guarantee here in good old Blighty is the weather. Yes, we can guarantee that we will have almost no idea what it will be like from one week to the next. Sometimes from one day to the next, in fact, though the weather guessers are getting more accurate. But predictable it certainly isn't. Which is why, after several weeks of sunshine and general balmy pleasantness, the arrival of the MotoGP circus in the east Midlands coincided with rain. Lots of rain. Except for the periods where it was dry, of course. What I'm trying to say is that the extremely changeable weather meant that nobody had the opportunity to get a truly consistent setup and everything was going to be a bit of a gamble.
So the opening free practice was wet, and Dani Pedrosa was quickest. One of those things is less surprising than the other, it's fair to say. Free practice two was dry, and again it was pedrosa at the top of the timesheets, almost exactly ten seconds quicker than in the rain. A useful benchmark, perhaps. No real surprises, to be honest, with the top four in both sessions including the top four in the world - Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo behind Pedrosa - with Dovizioso and acknowledge rain meister Colin Edwards up there as well. But apart from the head games that go with it, in all honesty free practice is little more than setup time. What matters more is qualifying, especially if the weather is going to be iffy, because Donington is not a good place for passing in the wet. The surface is, basically, knackered and offers surprisingly little grip when less than arid. Mind you, it never offered good grip in the wet, even when I was tiptoeing around it, so nothing has changed that much. Anyhow...
Qualifying turned out to be dry, and after the inevitable random fastest riders settled down to a straight slugging match between the usual suspects. Rossi put the first real stake in the ground, immediately pounced on by Stoner who went a full two seconds faster and then a second faster still. Randy de Puniet interfered briefly before Stoner continued his fastest lap monologue, beating himself again, now a whole five seconds faster than Rossi's best. Lorenzo then sneaked in a quicker one, a tenth of a second under the Ducati rider's time, and pipped a while later by Pedrosa, who held provisional pole for approximately one lap until Lorenzo got it in the bag. Right up until three minutes from the end, when Rossi pulled something really special out of the bag and stole pole position by a third of a second. Just the right margin to mess with Lorenzo's head a bit more.
So that left Rossi on pole from Pedrosa and Lorenzo, the Honda rider managing to sneak inside Lorenzo's time as well. The second row was headed by Stoner from Dovizioso and Colin Edwards, while Marco Melandri and Toni Elias headed James Toseland on row three. Randy de Puniet found himself tenth after being fastest at one point, the gap from him to pole being just over one and a quarter seconds. A pretty tight field, then.
Race day was wet. Warmup saw Stoner obliterate everyone else, at one point being three seconds a lap faster than his closest rival, but still finishing half a second clear of Lorenzo, while Rossi languished back in seventh. Though warmup means even less than free practice, of course.
By the time the race cam around it had stopped raining properly and the track was looking, well, dry. It was spitting in places, but everyone took a flier and lined up on slicks. Except for the Ducati's of Stoner and Hayden, who were both on full wets. Now either they knew something that nobody else knew or they were taking a huge gamble that things would change. In case you weren't aware, wet tyres are grooved and made of very soft rubber.They deform a lot and get hot - ideal if the track is wet where the grooves vacuum the water out from under the rubber and the hot tread sticks like, well like hot rubber. Wets are incredible to ride on in really rainy conditions - they cut through standing water and allow you to ride pretty well fully committed. But if the track dries they overheat and disintegrate. Literally. they offer virtually no grip and make that worse by shedding bits of rubber so you actually produce your own gravel to ride on. Nasty.
Anyway, the warmup lap saw Pedrosa in all sorts of bother as he appeared to stall on the grid and had to get a push start. He rejoined OK, but it won't have helped his frame of mind. But he's still a quick starter. Not as quick as Toni Elias, though, who went off like a scalded cat, carving through the pack to take the lead by halfway around the lap, with the by no means easy to pass Jorge Lorenzo and the possibly even harder to pass Valentino Rossi seemingly unable to offer any answers. Dovizioso tucked in behind the leading trio, with James Toseland in fifth after an excellent start. Dani Pedrosa languished in sixth, seemingly taking his time to get into the groove and probably being very sensible about it. Things started to change up at the front rather quickly on lap three. Dovizioso started to make a move, slicing through the field and taking the lead in impeccable style while Lorenzo and Pedrosa followed him through, relegating Elias to fourth and Rossi to fifth, being hounded by Toseland who had already massively improved on last year's fiasco. Lap four saw Rossi get past Elias while Toseland started a spirited defence of his position against the sinister black Hayate Kawasaki of Marco Melandri. Lap five saw Lorenzo get to the front, which is something that will not have pleased Rossi one little bit. And it showed, as the Italian put his head down and closed on Dovizioso, passing him the next lap and making inroads on Lorenzo.
You'll notice I've not mentioned rain. That's because there wasn't any to speak of. The few drops that did fall were absorbed by the warm tarmac of boiled off by the breeze. Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden were not, it must be said, having a good time. But they were in a cleft stick. Coming in to swap bikes for their slick shod alternatives would cost them thirty seconds. And with the clouds threatening, they could find themselves having to change again later. Which would be a disaster of epic proportions. So they stayed out there, leaving bits of tread everywhere and dropping a couple of seconds a lap against the leaders.
There's one part of a track that the rain does stay on, though, even when it's warm and breezy. The white lines and kerbs have a slightly shiny finish and the water beads on it. Toni Elias clearly forgot this as he gassed it hard through Schwantz, drifted right onto the kerb...and was launched out of the saddle in a vicious full throttle highside that saw him slide for a good distance before coming to a halt, thankfully uninjured but certainly pretty shaken and with an important lesson learned.
Ahead of all this drama, Lorenzo was riding at a good steady pace, aware of course that his illustrious team-mate was behind him but probably not that bothered. The gap was closing steadily and his pit board would be telling him who was behind and how close and...yep, he'd have been bothered. Perhaps that explains why, on lap nine, Lorenzo drifted wide on the brakes as he approached the final turn, Goddards, and...touched the white line. Faster than a blinking eye the front folded and Lorenzo was dumped on his back and shoulder. Clearly unhurt, he was running to the bike almost before he'd stopped sliding, but it had gone under the bales and was clearly not going anywhere. At least he only had a short walk back to the pits.
So at just under one third distance Valentino Rossi took the lead in what is almost a home GP for him, and set about extending a safety cushion. Dovizioso was riding like an old master, while behind him Randy de Puniet was proving to be unusually consistent as he slipped past Pedrosa and started to close down on the leaders. Alex de Angelis, too, was having a good ride, getting the better of Toseland, Capirossi and Melandri in a close and tough scrap. But with things very firmly under control it was clear that Rossi was going to romp home. Until Dovizioso started to catch him. Inexorably the gap came down. Surely Rossi was just playing it safe? Dovi is good but he's not challenging for the title, and with Lorenzo out and Stoner looking for puddles Rossi could afford to drop five points if necessary, surely? Then the unthinkable happened. Going into Foggy Esses, Rossi opened the throttle just as he clipped a white line. The back came straight round and the master was unseated. Somehow he kept the Yamaha running and wa sable to pick it up and rejoin. But he was right back in eleventh place with a bike that might or might not be damaged and with tyres covered in mud. What could he possibly do?
What could he do? He could be Valentino Rossi. After a couple of laps sorting himself out and making sure that everything was OK, Rossi did what he does best. He got his head down and pushed as hard as he could. And that's very hard indeed. He made up two places in one lap, passing Capirossi and Melandri who were having their own dice. Next lap saw him dispose of Kallio and Canepa, the Pramac boys being the best performing Ducatis today while the next lap took him past Pedrosa and on the hunt for Toseland. The Englishman, by the way, rode brilliantly and with at times barely controlled aggression to take what looked as though it would be his best ever finish. But other things were happening. Because now, with just a few laps to go, it was raining more. And people were going in to swap tyres. Melandri, Capirossi and Kallio all came in for wets and the difference was noticeable when they got back up to speed. But it was too little, too late and didn't really affect the results.
Up at the front, Dovizioso's commanding lead was getting whittled away by de Puniet. And behind him, Colin Edwards had sorted himself out after a dreadful start and whittled his way through the field at this, one of his favourite circuits. With a few laps to go, the leading trip were really getting quite compressed. On the final lap, Edwards got past de Puniet and made it stick after several abortive attempts and went off after Dovizioso. In truth, if the race had been two or three laps longer I think we'd have seen the Texan lift his first win, but as it was he had to settle for is best ever result, an honourable second place behind a jubilant first time winner Andrea Dovizioso while Randy de Puniet rode without a doubt his best ever race to take third. Alex de Angelis came a distant fourth, while Toseland and Rossi scrapped all the way through the last lap, with Rossi making a pass early on and Toseland retaking the position before losing out on the brakes into the Melbourne Hairpin and finishing a richly deserved sixth, equalling his best ever result. Melandri beat Canepa for seventh while Pedrosa had a huge moment or two and ended up ninth, just ahead of Kallio.
So now we have a break for three weeks. Probably a good thing. Some people did their reputations no end of good today, while others will have done their personal morale no good at all. Especially as it's contract renewal time.
Expect to see some very highly motivated people when we reconvene in Brno...
Donington Park MotoGP Results
1. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda)
2. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
3. Randy de Puniet (Honda)
4. Alex de Angelis (Honda)
5. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
6. James Toseland (Yamaha)
7. Marco Melandri (Kawasaki)
8. Niccolo Canepa (Ducati)
9. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
10. Mika Kallio (Ducati)
MotoGP standings (after ten rounds)
1. Valentino Rossi 187
2. Jorge Lorenzo 162
3. Casey Stoner 150
4. Dani Pedrosa 115
5. Colin Edwards 103
6. Andrea Dovizioso 94
7. Marco Melandri 79
8. Randy de Puniet 74
9. Chris Vermeulen 67
10. Loris Capirossi 66