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Five things we learned from the French Grand Prix

Five talking points from the fifth MotoGP race of 2017…
1.You're never too old to adopt 'win it or bin it' approach

On the one hand, watching Valentino Rossi crash out of the victory fight on the final lap of the showpiece race was puzzling. After all, the Italian had spent the best part of 2016's second half lamenting costly mistakes at the Circuit of Americas and Assen, which had handed Marc Marquez a sizeable championship advantage.

Yet, when considering the prize on offer, one must feel the Italian was entirely justified in attempting to win at all costs. Not just was this an opportunity to win his 89th MotoGP race, what would have been his first in just under twelve months. It was the chance to put one firmly over team-mate Maverick Viñales, who has been faster at every test, and every race this year. Then there was the small matter of collecting Yamaha's 500th grand prix win – no small thing, especially when Rossi did the same for Honda at Suzuka 16 years before.

Braking around one metre later for Garage Vert on the final lap was enough to hand Viñales the initiative before a heavier dab of the rear brake at Garage Bleu did for his hopes of finishing. Rossi wasn't entirely downbeat after the incident. “It was a great shame,” he said, but also offered, “ it remains a very good weekend where I was strong. Now we have to see in the next race track, but I never ride like I ride this weekend, so we hope to continue with this speed.”

Rather than castigating a costly mistake, Rossi should be commended for risking it all at 38 years of age. He remains a real racer at heart, while his competitive edge remains undimmed. On the evidence offered here, another chance to put one over that pesky team-mate shouldn't be long coming.

2. Johann Zarco is MotoGP's biggest surprise package in years

Having just returned to the team garage in Qatar after crashing out of the lead of his very first MotoGP race, Johann Zarco sought out Hervé Poncharal. The Tech 3 team boss may have been expecting an admission from his rider that he had simply tried got caught up in the rapturous moment of leaving the world's very best in his wake. Instead Poncharal was surprised.

“Johann came to me and said, 'Hervé, I didn't do anything like pushing too much,'” recalls Poncharal. “[Zarco said] 'I just wanted to relax a bit, lost concentration and crashed. And I know why. It was not because I was pushing too much.' And he also said, 'Don't worry. There will be other moments like that.' I thought, 'Woah'.” You and I both Hervé.

For Zarco is quickly becoming the premier class' biggest surprise package in years. Only once, in FP3 did he show a glimmer of the expectancy of a record home crowd that weighed on his shoulders at Le Mans. But he soon banished memories of that mistake to post one of the memorable qualifying performances since this format was introduced in 2013. A day later and the 26-year old deservedly soaked up the euphoria of a home podium.

“Lap after lap he was surprising me,” said Poncharal of Zarco's inspired second place. “I didn't expect him to be that cool, to cope with the pressure the way he is doing. In Qatar he just wanted to get a good start to be with these guys, to do a few laps with them and learn. Then he will be going. He managed to do that. And more and more he can stay with them. For sure this is the best way to learn. In the end, we are learning. He is learning. He is a rookie. It's just fantastic. Johann makes us very proud.”

3. Scott Redding working toward curing early-race issues

From the second race of the season, it had become normal to hear Scott Redding complaining of issues at the beginning of the race. The Englishman was forever losing ground on corner exit in the opening laps, which in turn led to him attempting to make up too much on the brakes. It had been perplexing and frustrating in equal turns, but the post-race test in Jerez allowed Redding to shine some light on the problems at hand.

“At the end of the day, something clicked. Normally Monday tests, I'm like, 'F**king hell'. But this time, I was like, 'Let's go!' On Sunday night we got a plan. I didn't even come down on Sunday. I knew I had to keep going until Monday night. I'm really happy I got that opportunity, even though my crew chief got food poisoning.

“I was crew chief for the last three exits. It was quite weird. One of the exits I came back and he was in the Clinica Mobile. So I gave a few instructions, went out, and posted my best lap. 'Job's done boys!' It was nice. That's what I say about experience. I don't say, 'It's too soft on the front here.' I say, 'Give me two clicks of preload'. I can say that with confidence. Before I didn't, in case it was wrong.

“Now I believe in myself. In my head I say what I think it is. I listen to what the crew chief says. And it's normally along the lines of what I've said. That helps a lot. That's a lot of experience the other guys have.”

The early laps in Le Mans, when Redding held a strong eighth place, not a million miles away from Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa, indicated some of those changes had worked. Once Redding works this out, surely some fine races lie ahead.

4. Suzuki is in trouble

At this very track in 2016 Maverick Viñales claimed Suzuki's first premier class podium since its return to MotoGP the year before, and that was no one-off fluke. The Catalan had taken the GSX-RR to within touching distance of the top three at Argentina, and claimed top six finishes at Qatar, Texas and Jerez.

A year on and the Hamamatsu factory's predicament is considerably bleaker. Andrea Iannone struggled to a distant tenth place, 48 seconds behind the race winner, and later admitted he had not pushed near the bike's limits for fear of once again crashing out. Costly mistakes in Qatar and Argentina deprived the Italian of a strong early finishes. Now, he finds himself in a downward spiral.

Those braking complaints have persisted with unerring regularity from preseason. The rider has yet to find a compromise between his own method of braking and one which the bike demands, while those age-old problems of excessive spinning still persist. The fact Alex Rins has been fighting injury since round one hasn't helped, but the factory's decision to choose the Spaniard over Johann Zarco appears more puzzling by the round.

“In every race this year we ride more fast and improve the lap time compared to last year,” said Iannone. “It's important we improve more, because everybody rides more fast and improved too much, and we haven't improved a lot from last year. Riding more fast, but we need more.” With Mugello fast approaching, Suzuki needs a turnaround now more than ever.

5. Ever-maturing Miller is made of strong stuff

Listening to Jack Miller interviewed on the starting grid, it appeared as though the Australian was intent on two things; preserving his health and collecting the odd point. In the wake of his horrifying fall in FP4, when a front-end tuck sent him veering toward a trackside wall, few could blame him.

The very fact he was sat on the grid, with just a swollen right hand and heavy bruising, wasn't lost on the 22-year old. “I'm not a religious sort of person,” he said of the fall, “but I think there was definitely some help from an outside source there.”

Bearing this in mind, Miller's race was all the more remarkable. There would be no dallying in the opening laps, as he ably hung to the back of Scott Redding in seventh. Miller would continue to hold his own in the top ten and it was only on lap 23 that his pace dropped away. “The last six, seven laps my hand was completely numb. I was just hanging off the lever, didn't really feel how much pressure I was putting on the brakes.” Slightly fortunate in that Redding, Danilo Petrucci and Aleix Espargaro all retired in front of him, a top ten showing was still a heroic return at the end of a trying weekend.

It was yet another thought-through, mature showing from Miller, who did well to shrug of Jorge Lorenzo's idiotic comments after qualifying. Surely HRC would be mad to do anything other than offer him a contract beyond 2017.

By Neil Morrison

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May 29, 2017 9:46 AM
Last Edited 21 days ago

The Valentino thing - never too old - racer at heart - courage : Of course ! It's simple - it is impossible to win that many titles without having that as part of your DNA in addition to talent. He is a born racer and as he says himself in his biography : I race to win ! Marc has that, Jorge has that, Dani too. On Johann. Despite him being my countryman I would say the biggest rookie surprise in years was Marc Marquez in his rookie year : walking away with the title ! Still, I am of course very very happy that Johann is doing well ! :-) Suzuki : they deserve it! They don't know how to spot a talent when it is screaming at them. First they should have tried EVERYTHING to retain their great TALENT : Maverick. They did not. Then they said "No, we've got better" to another great talent, Johann. Then they got a rider who scored 0 points in 10 races out of 18 last year through crashes or related injuries, Iannone, and another prone to crashes and injury : Rins. They deserve it !


May 30, 2017 2:18 PM

I still don't get that bitterness out of me seeing Valentino crash in last lap, he used to have some edge over anyone in closing laps and mistakes in final lap is surely indicating the shift in power balance of silent psychological warfare between the young guns and him. But one good thing is, we witnessed his intentions to willing to risk it all in that lap while a Valentino of recent years would have settled for points. Another confrontation looks like is just around the corner.

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