In the Paddock
By the time you read this, you will know whether Marc Marquez won his home Spanish GP at Jerez. In this, you have the advantage over me. From where I sit, in the days leading up to the start of the European season, I wouldn’t advise anyone to bet against it.
The race is at the same track, 20 years down the road, from where another remarkable career came to a premature end. Five-times champion Mick Doohan was still the dominant force when a wet white line precipitated him into the barrier with such force that he would never race again.
Now Marquez is nudging his record. He also has five premier-class titles, although not all consecutive, and adds two more in the smaller classes. The fellow Repsol Honda rider hasn’t yet matched Mick’s 54 premier-class wins. Marquez has 45, and another 26 in Moto2 and 125. Interestingly, the wins/starts percentage is 39.4 for Mick, 40.9 for Marc.
Along the way, Marquez has had many, many more crashes than the generally safer Doohan, but nothing like the severity of injuries (touches wood here, hoping the weekend doesn’t prove otherwise). This is largely down to luck but also a tribute to generally safer tracks, tires, and technology, especially electronics, as well as improvements in riding equipment. No airbags for Mick and his fellows on the brutish 500 two-strokes.
For example, while the corner where Mick crashed at Jerez is essentially the same, the formulation of paint on the trackside white lines was immediately revised, so they don’t retain water as the track dries. Mick’s crash would be hard to replicate today.
All the same, given that the same technology and a raft of dumb-down rules have made racing closer than ever, Marquez’s string of dominant wins and championships is all the more impressive. It’s been evident for a while that this is his era, just as the one before belonged to Rossi, and Doohan’s belonged to him.
Will it be any different this year? Three races so far and three different winners. Marquez, only one of them.
This is only thanks to a lapse from his usual superhuman self in Texas. Marc hits the deck more than most, but generally in practice, as a way of finding the exact point of the outer limits. To do so in a race was entirely out of character.
So too, somewhat, was galloping away in Doohan style, taking such a significant early lead that with much less than half the race gone the pursuit could hardly see which way he went.
The rest of the year stretches ahead, and some of his rivals might have been given some inklings of hope by this lapse. They will have to be superhuman themselves, however, to be able to take advantage of it over the 16 races stretching ahead from now until November.
The closest to this description would be either Rossi or Dovizioso. But both had several lapses last year. Rossi crashed out of the lead in Malaysia when his usually more level head should have dictated that he let Marquez past and accept a valuable second place. Dovi messed up his 2018 chances with two completely unforced errors, at Le Mans and Catalunya. Quite out of character but at least one lapse too many.
And the rest? Jack Miller keeps getting better, but still needs a bit more and to prove his consistency, while second factory Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci seems to have been cast in a support role to Dovi and to have fallen into the number-two slot with rather too much enthusiasm.
Alex Rins? A good win in Texas, promising great things, but the Spaniard remains an unproven runner at best, on a Suzuki that is good, but also still questionable. He might even win again at Jerez or another circuit where handling is more important than horsepower. But it’s a long shot to expect him to carry on all year with making some slips of his own.
Johann Zarco might have the talent, but his move to KTM has severely hobbled it for the present. He needs to completely revise his smooth riding style, to take the bike by the scruff of the neck, or the Austrians need to change the bike to make it more like a Suzuki or a Yamaha.
And Lorenzo definitely has the ability, but we have seen it might take more than one season to adapt to the Honda. That’s how long it took on the Ducati.
Can anybody beat Marquez? Of course, there is one person who can: Marquez himself. He sails so close to the wind that he’s always at risk of getting blown away. But will he falter again this year?
I guess that’s what we’ll all be turning up to see.CN