1 year ago

RideFast Nov 2019

  • Text
  • Championship
  • Racing
  • Bikes
  • Motogp
  • Rider
  • November
  • Ridefast
  • Riders
  • Honda
  • Ducati

The average gap between

The average gap between first and second is nearly nine tenths closer in 2019 and in 2002, but the real difference is with the rest of the field. In 2002, the gap between first and third was nearly 9 seconds, in 2019 it is less than half that. The top five were covered by over 20 seconds in 2002, now, that same gap covers the first nine riders. Better Bikes, And More of Them The biggest difference is in the breadth of competition in 2019. In 2002, only Honda and Yamaha were capable of winning races, whereas in 2019, Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, and Suzuki have all won races. The field only really became more competitive at the end of 2002, when Honda started handing out RC211Vs to the more successful satellite riders, Daijiro Kato and Alex Barros. In 2019, if you take away Marc Márquez, there are seven or eight riders in with a shot at winning. What makes Márquez’s 2019 championship stand out even more is the performance of riders on the same bikes. In 2002, there were three Hondas in the top four, and Rossi’s teammate Tohru Ukawa finished third. This year, the next Honda is Cal Crutchlow in ninth. In 2002, the RC211V racked up a total of 14 wins with three different riders, in 2019, only Márquez has won on the RC213V. In 2002, the Honda RC211V was widely regarded as the best bike on the grid. In “He had his physiotherapist come to live with him, and had physio on the shoulder four hours a day, every day except Christmas and New Year.” 2019, even Honda’s technical director Takeo Yokoyama acknowledged that they had built a flawed bike with a lot of horsepower, knowing that Márquez would ride his way around the problems and find a way to win. “In the winter time, what we tried to do is, we knew that we had the best rider in the world, and so we gave him the power,” Yokoyama said. “Because if you don’t have the power in the middle of the straight, you can’t do anything.” “Even the best rider in the world can’t do anything. So we concentrated in the winter time to give him as much power as possible, knowing that there will be some other problems. But we decided, OK, the problems will come, but again, he’s the best rider, so maybe he can manage.” Coming Back from Injury He had to manage from the start of the season with a shoulder that was still recovering from serious surgery in December 2018. So bad was his shoulder last year that when the anaesthetics rendered him unconscious, his shoulder spontaneously dislocated, Dr. Mir, the surgeon who operated on Márquez said. Recovery was harder than expected, despite Márquez working as hard at his recovery as he normally would at preparing for a season. He had his physiotherapist come to live with him, and had physio on the shoulder four hours a day, every day except Christmas and New Year. Even then, the rehabilitation took longer than either Márquez or Honda had hoped. At the Sepang test, he was at only 50% readiness, rather than the 80% Honda had expected. It was Jerez before he recovered the strength he lost over the winter, and the summer break before he was completely without pain. To do all this – dominate the season on a bike only he could ride, while still weak and in pain from major surgery, and never finishing lower than second – is as near to perfection as it is possible to get for a MotoGP rider. Early this year, I asked Márquez if he believed he could ride a truly perfect season, winning every race. “Nothing is impossible, but it’s very, very difficult,” he replied. “Now I would say ‘it’s nearly impossible’. Because the way that the championship is, everything is very equal, and if you just slip a little bit in FP3 you are not in the QP2 directly. In Montmelo for example I finished ninth in FP3.” “Everything is very equal, and to be very strong in all the races and to have the perfect bike is impossible. And now that everything is very equal, one manufacturer will be faster in this racetrack, another manufacturer in another racetrack.” “The most important thing is find the compromise for all racetracks and try to be on the podium. Trying to be on the podium in all the races is possible. But win all the races? Mmmm, very difficult.” Kindling the Fire So where does Márquez go from here? The biggest question for the Repsol Honda rider is whether he can maintain his level of ambition to keep on winning races and championships. The past is a poor guide here. In 2005, when Valentino Rossi seemed able to win at will on the Yamaha M1, a sweet-handling bike which was obviously inferior to the Honda RC211V, he started toying with the idea of a switch to F1, and lost focus on development for 2006, going on to lose that title to Nicky Hayden. Mick Doohan, on the other hand, went on to dominate 1998 nearly as completely as he “To do all this – dominate the season on a bike only he could ride, while still weak and in pain from major surgery, and never finishing lower than second – is as near to perfection as it is possible to get for a MotoGP rider.” had in 1997. Only serious injury stopped him in 1999, a huge smash in Jerez effectively ending his career. Where does Marc Márquez fall between these two extremes? Márquez is more Doohan than Rossi, always taking the win rather than risking losing out by engaging in battle. Márquez has a hunger for victory that outdoes even Doohan, and it does not look like being sated any time soon. So he will have to find new targets to chase. In Thailand, after winning the title, he already named a couple of targets. His aim was to try and finish on the podium or win in both `Japan and Australia, he did just that. In past seasons, he has managed to crash out of races after wrapping up the title (though sometimes, like last year, through no fault of his own). The next aim is to wrap up the constructor’s and team’s titles. The constructor’s should be easy enough, but the fact that the Repsol Honda team is only a few points behind the factory Ducati squad in the team standings is remarkable. The standings are determined by the combined points of both riders in each team: Márquez has scored 375 of the Repsol Honda team’s 398 points. Unstoppable? Can he repeat again next year? Right now, it doesn’t look like anyone is capable of stopping Marc Márquez from winning another title. Andrea Dovizioso came closest in 2017, but that was when the Ducati Desmosedici had a serious horsepower advantage over the Honda RC213V. This year has seen a new generation of challengers rise, with Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, and Maverick Viñales taking the fight to him. But Rins and Viñales seem flawed, lacking the consistency that Márquez has worked so diligently on in 2019. That leaves Fabio Quartararo. Talk to people inside Honda, and they will tell you Quartararo is the only rider Márquez is truly afraid of, because Quartararo is not afraid of him. The Frenchman has been quick since the beginning of the season, but in the last few races, he has really taken the fight to Márquez. If Yamaha can find a 46 RIDEFAST MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2019 RIDEFAST MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2019 47