As expected, Marc Marquez clinched the MotoGP World Championship at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix and he did so by fittingly winning the race, heaping the pressure on Andrea Dovizioso early on before making his move towards the end. It was his fifth MotoGP title in six years, and third in a row, and it looks ominous for the rest of the field for the immediate years ahead.
Simply put, the superlatives for Marquez are running out with the Spaniard wrapping up this year’s title in Japan with three rounds to spare. After being pushed all the way to the final round in 2017 by Dovizioso, the 25-year old has stepped up another gear this year with a string of results that have left his rivals struggling – and ultimately failing – to keep up.
Marquez, arguably, pushes the envelope more than most and the number of crashes he racks up during the course of the season is quite staggering. But they all tend to come in practice and once he’s found where the limit he is, from that moment on he rarely mistakes and his race results this year have seen him surge clear.
With a win rate in 2018 currently at 53%, the other races have seen him take consistent podium finishes, only twice being off the podium, and what he can do with a MotoGP bike is simply breath-taking. We’ve seen great racers before him – and the debate to who the greatest of them all is will continue to rage – but still at a relatively tender age he has years of racing ahead of him and every chance of beating all the records in front of him. And if he does that, there will be no debate or argument left to have.
Disappointment for Dovi
For the second year in a row, there was disappointment for Dovizioso as a crash on the penultimate lap in Japan ensured Marquez would take the title for the third consecutive year and the Italian would again miss out.
Its some 14 years since Dovi was world champion in the 125cc class and his eleven year spell in MotoGP has failed to see him land the ultimate prize. Spills earlier in the season left him towards the bottom end of the top ten Championship standings and whilst wins in the Czech Republic and San Marino, plus three more podiums, brought him back into contention the damage had been done.
However, just like he challenged Marquez harder than anyone in 2017, he’s again been right on his case this season as, at times, was his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo. But they’ve made mistakes at crucial moments whereas Marquez hasn’t and that’s something you can ill afford to do with such a master craftsman at the top of his powers.
When he won the second round in Argentina, the British media went a bit giddy about Cal Crutchlow’s World Championship prospects and, instead, two DNF’s in the next two races brought them back down to earth.
Since then though, Crutchlow has been a consistent front runner as well as being comfortably the next best Honda rider after Marquez. Recognised in the paddock for not being the easiest of bikes to get the best out of, that alone is huge credit to the Brit.
His second place in Japan, in front of the HRC hierarchy, will not see him land a seat in the factory team, that already having gone to Lorenzo for 2019, but it will ensure he continues to get treated fairly at LCR Honda. Two podiums in the last four races have moved him into fifth overall with fourth very much within his grasp, something he’ll be targeting at the last three races.
Rins ready to step up
The Japanese GP saw another fine performance come from Alex Rins and the GSXR Suzuki with third place and his third podium of the year the outcome. After injury affected his results in his debut year in 2017, fourth at the final round showed what he was capable of and he’s more than delivered this time around, particularly recently where he’s notched up four successive top six finishes.
As previously discussed here, the Suzuki lacks consistency from circuit to circuit and is, arguably, still seen as the fourth choice in factory machinery after Honda, Ducati and Yamaha but it’s seemingly edging ever closer to the top. Maverick Vinales gave them their best result in recent times with fourth overall in 2016, the Spaniard winning the British GP that year, but Rins will now rightly assume the role of team leader in 2019 where he’ll be looking to emulate the exploits of his fellow countryman.
One of the few riders in MotoGP who hasn’t been a world champion in the lower-capacity classes, the Spaniard still seems a little in awe of the riders around him – the recent Thailand GP saw Crutchlow mystified by his tactics where he seemed happy to settle for fourth instead of push for the podium – and maybe lacks a bit of self-belief so his results this year should see that change and his confidence soar.
In May this season, Spanish rider Alvaro Bautista found himself without a ride for the 2019 MotoGP season, after nine years in the class. But since then the 33-year old has shown everyone what there’ll be missing with a series of impressive rides.
Despite having to compete on a year old bike, the former 125cc World Champion has recorded nine top ten finishes, the most recent of which was fifth place in Japan, equaling the result he took earlier in the season in Germany. It’s no surprise he’s been given Lorenzo’s factory machine for this weekend’s Australian GP.
The ever-smiling Bautista is now part of the Ducati fold having signed to ride for the Bologna factory in the 2019 World Superbike Championship and MotoGP’s loss is most definitely their gain. Whilst it’s far too early to say if he’ll be winning races in WSB, he’s a lot more talented than people give him credit for and his progress on the all-new V4 Panigale will be eagerly watched.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.