After a more straight-forward round, where Marc Márquez won for the sixth time at the Circuit of the Americas, we head to southern Spain, and to Jerez for Round Four of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship for the first European round of the year.
Andrea Dovizioso (46 points) leads the world championship on his factory Ducati (Ducati Team) by single point over Márquez (45 points). Dovizioso looked very strong in Qatar where he took the victory, but after that, he has struggled to find that form with a shocking sixth-place finish in Argentina, and a mediocre fifth-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas. It appears as if the pattern of last year is continuing for Ducati, with Dovizioso really strong on circuits with long straights, and plenty of hard braking zones, and I am not sure if Dovizioso will find much joy in southern Spain this weekend.
Meanwhile, Márquez is normally fast everywhere, and his factory Honda (Repsol Honda Team) appears to be better than it was last year, particularly in the earlier stages of last year when he was fighting to find top form. He was quick in Qatar, a bogey circuit of his, and finished a very close second behind Dovizioso. He was out of this world quick in Argentina, and came reasonably close to winning the race twice over before a third penalty, yes, a third penalty relegated him from fifth to 18th, and carried on this speed, this time without error, with the exception of the three-place grid penalty for blocking Maverick Viñales in qualifying, to claim his sixth win in Austin in his 93rd MotoGP race! I expect him and his Honda to be strong in Jerez!
Talking about Viñales (41 points), he is just five points behind Dovizioso in the championship on his factory Yamaha (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) after finishing a comfortable second in Austin after sixth and fifth-place finishes in Qatar and Argentina respectively. In my opinion, the Yamaha is lacking by about three of four tenths of a second compared to the Honda, particularly when it is in the hands of Márquez, and maybe on par with the speed of Dani Pedrosa on a normal weekend, but they will need to find that time, otherwise it will be another long year for Movistar Yamaha MotoGP!
Cal Crutchlow (38 points) is fourth in the championship, eight points behind Dovizioso after crashing and not scoring points at the Circuit of the Americas after coming into Austin leading the championship after winning in Argentina, and a strong fourth in Qatar. In my view, Crutchlow could be a dark horse for the championship long term should anything happen to Márquez, and possibly his teammate Pedrosa, but he must consistently finish races in the points! He had five retirements in 2017, seven races where he retired, or didn’t finish in the points in 2016, and five retirements in 2015 since he joined LCR Honda. If Crutchlow approaches his racing with a touch more care, he could be title contender!
Johann Zarco (38 points) is fifth in the championship, and tied on points with Crutchlow for Monster Yamaha Tech 3 after a sixth-place finish in Austin, backing up a brilliant second in Argentina, and a slightly disappointing race in Qatar finishing in eighth. Zarco is currently on a run of 20-consecutive race finishes in MotoGP, and has been very consistent without having the bike underneath him! At the moment, his future is up in the air, with many big name teams and manufacturers chasing his signature with the latest reports suggesting that Red Bull KTM Factory Racing have won that race over the Repsol Honda Team, although nothing has been officially confirmed.
Below them in the championship standings, Andrea Iannone (31 points) is sixth for Team Suzuki Ecstar, Valentino Rossi (29 points) is seventh for Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Jack Miller (26 points) is eighth for Alma Pramac Racing, Tito Rabat (22 points) is ninth for Reale Avintia Racing, and Danilo Petrucci (21 points) completes the top 10 in the championship for Alma Pramac Racing, ahead of the only other two riders to have double-figured points in 2018 in Dani Pedrosa (18 points) for the Repsol Honda Team, and Álex Rins (16 points) for Team Suzuki Ecstar.
So, who will win the Spanish Grand Prix?
Given his speed, and the speed of his bike at the moment, I cannot go past Marc Márquez to claim his second victory of the season, and his second MotoGP victory (and across all classes) at Jerez, but I think Dani Pedrosa, assuming that he is fully-fit, should be on the podium with his teammate Márquez, ahead of a resurgent Jorge Lorenzo on his factory Ducati (Ducati Team), who will be ahead of a great scrap for fourth involving Dovizioso, Viñales, Rossi, Iannone, Rins, Crutchlow, and Zarco!