Marc Márquez blew the entire field away in Argentina to take the lead in the 2019 MotoGP World Championship, the question is whether the reigning world champion can extend his narrow four point lead in the standings at the third round of the championship at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas?
Very likely given that Márquez (45 points) has won every MotoGP race (six) at the Circuit of the Americas, and being credited with every MotoGP pole position at the circuit, although not starting from pole position last year due to blocking Maverick Viñales in qualifying, but is there anyone that can stop the Repsol Honda Team from winning for a seventh time in Austin?
The contenders are not exactly lining up, but Andrea Dovizioso (41 points), who sits second in the championship for Mission Winnow Ducati is the most obvious contender after backing up his win in Qatar by finishing third in Argentina after a great battle with Valentino Rossi, and has finished on the podium twice at the Circuit of the Americas, along with Rossi (31 points), who sits third in the world championship for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP.
Maybe Álex Rins (24 points) can stop Márquez for Team SUZUKI ECSTAR, if he can qualify well, while Dovizioso’s teammate Danilo Petrucci (20 points) and LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (19 points) are certainly dark horses if everything goes to plan, and they receive a slice of luck.
Crutchlow’s teammate Takaaki Nakagami (16 points) is less likely to challenge, but Alma Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller (13 points) is certainly a chance if things are thrown up out of the ordinary, while Aleix Espargaró (13 points) for Aprilia Factory Racing, and Pol Espargaró (10 points) for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing complete the Top 10 in the world championship.
However, two of the greatest challengers for Márquez this weekend sit outside of the Top 10 in the standings in Rossi’s teammate Maverick Viñales (nine points), and his own teammate in Jorge Lorenzo (seven points).
Viñales has had a disappointing start to the season, struggling badly off the start line after claiming pole position in Qatar, and could only finish seventh, while in Argentina, he was taken out by Franco Morbidelli on the final lap of the race when he was in seventh position, while Lorenzo has struggled in recovering from injury, finishing 13th and 12th in the opening two races of the season respectively.
However, Viñales has been on the podium once at the Circuit of the Americas in the premier class last year, and won the Moto2 race in Austin back in 2014, the year after finishing second in the Moto3 race back in 2013, while Lorenzo has finished on the podium twice at the Circuit of the Americas back in 2013 and 2016.
So, if they can hit their best form this weekend, they could give Márquez a run for his money.
However, in the Lone Star state of the United States, at arguably his favourite MotoGP venue, I am predicting Marc Márquez to make it seven from seven at the Circuit of the Americas, which would be the 46th race victory in his premier class career, and his 80th podium finish in MotoGP.
It was heartbreak in Bahrain for Charles Leclerc as a first-ever win in Formula One disappeared due to an engine issue, it was devastation for both Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo for Renault, who were heading towards points finishes before they retired at the start of Lap 54 (and within metres of each other) due to power-unit and power loss issues respectively, with Ricciardo lucky not to be electrocuted by his own car, but it was joy once again for Mercedes as Sebastian Vettel succumbed once again to the pressure that Lewis Hamilton applied to him, and then took advantage of Leclerc’s problems to take the 74th race victory of his career in a Mercedes 1-2.
So, what will happen this weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit in Round Three of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship, which is also the 1000th race in the history of Formula One?
Looking at the championship standings, Valtteri Bottas (44 points) leads the championship by a single point over teammate Hamilton (43 points) after finishing second at the Bahrain Grand Prix after taking advantage of Leclerc’s issues. However, you sense Mercedes have plenty of work to do as Ferrari showed the speed that they had during pre-season testing, and without the problems for Leclerc, would have won in Bahrain.
Max Verstappen (27 points) is third in the world championship for Red Bull Racing-Honda after finishing fourth in Bahrain, but Red Bull right now don’t look like serious championship contenders, and maybe, despite the reliability of the Honda power-unit compared with the Renault power-unit, may not be getting the results from it that they have been looking for.
Leclerc (26 points) is a point behind Verstappen in fourth, ahead of teammate Vettel (22 points) after a performance throughout the weekend in Bahrain, which included him becoming the second-youngest driver in history to take pole position in Formula One, that should have been rewarded with his first-ever race win.
However, Ferrari have at least shown the speed that everyone was expecting from them, but they must sort out any niggling reliability issues they might have because they can’t afford to give a team like Mercedes any sort of advantage, and have now given themselves a bigger mountain to climb than what it should have been.
As for Vettel, he was dominated by his teammate in Bahrain, and then had his pants, figuratively speaking, pulled down by Hamilton. Vettel really needs to win in China to reassert his authority over teammate Leclerc, and lay down some kind of marker towards Mercedes in the championship battle.
Behind the top five in the world championship, Kimi Räikkönen (10 points) is sixth in the standings for Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, ahead of Lando Norris (eight points) for McLaren-Renault, who claimed his first-ever points finish in Formula One after finishing sixth in Bahrain, while Kevin Magnussen (eight points) for Haas-Ferrari, Hülkenberg (six points) for Renault, despite stopping near the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and Pierre Gasly (four points) for Red Bull Racing-Honda complete the Top 10 in the championship after the opening two rounds.
Gasly has struggled so far to match the performance of his teammate Verstappen in his first two races with Red Bull, and really needs to put in a great performance in Shanghai to keep any doubters at bay.
Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (87 points) leads by 39 points over Ferrari (48 points), with Red Bull Racing-Honda (31 points) a further 17 points behind in third. Behind them, Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (10 points), McLaren-Renault (eight points), Haas-Ferrari (eight points), Renault (six points), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (three points), and Racing Point-BWT Mercedes (three points) have all scored points in 2019, while Williams-Mercedes (zero points) don’t look close to scoring a single point right now with a best finish of 15th through George Russell in Bahrain proving how far the once mighty team have fallen.
So, who will win Formula One’s 1000th race?
It is looking like a battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, and quite possibly, the straight-line performance of Ferrari might show through this weekend, but you cannot rule out Lewis Hamilton, and I am predicting a battle between him and Sebastian Vettel, the most successful drivers currently in the sport with five and four world championships respectively, and 74 and 52 race victories respectively, to decide who will win the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix, and the 1000th race in Formula One history.