The 2019 MotoGP season ended just over a week ago at the Valencia circuit in Spain and the curtain came down, as it so often has, on another record-breaking season for Marc Marquez.
Old and new challenges were swatted away during the year with apparent ease by the Repsol Honda ace and Valencia saw him win his 12th race of the 19-round season, once again denying leading rookie Fabio Quartararo his maiden MotoGP victory.
Those 12 wins, along with six second place finishes gave him a season’s points total of 420, finally bettering the previous record of 383 set by Jorge Lorenzo back in 2010 and whilst he won one more race in 2014, this year has been the best ever for Marquez with consistency, as well as sheer pace, now a hallmark of his racing.
He still mistakes with the number of crashes in practice and qualifying still quite alarming but his pace, and now race craft, are at a height no one else can get near, not on a regular basis anyway. Riders like Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales continue to struggle to put together a season long challenge and only on occasions do they have what it takes to beat Marquez.
Marquez’s domination since moving into MotoGP in 2013 is quite staggering and those seven years have seen him win six titles and finish third in the other. In the 127 races he’s contested, he’s won 56 of them (44%) and been on the podium on in 95 occasions (75%) and it’s those statistics that make beating him to the world title a stiff proposition, to say the least.
Equally of concern to his rivals is that he’s still only 26 and, arguably, still to reach his prime years. Of course, staying injury free is always key but with the might of Honda behind him, seemingly putting all their eggs into one basket when it comes to world championship success, it’s hard to see anyone getting the better of him in the years ahead.
Lorenzo bows out
The final Grand Prix of 2020 marked the end of the career of one of the sport’s greatest riders, Jorge Lorenzo, with the five-time world champion announcing his retirement on the eve of the event.
Having spent all of 2017 trying to master the Ducati, it looked like it had paid dividends for Lorenzo when he won three races in the first half of last year to put himself in title contention. Injuries prevented that from happening as his season evaporated away and only he will know if he regrets signing for Honda, just as he’d got back on top with Ducati, as he was never the same rider again.
This season was nothing short of a disaster for the Spaniard with his dream move to Repsol Honda rapidly turning into a nightmare. The injuries sustained in the final third of 2018 were further exacerbated in press season, and again during the year, and whatever could have gone wrong did with his best result all year being an 11th place at Le Mans in May.
What isn’t in doubt though is Lorenzo’s status as not only one of the best riders of his generation but also of all time. He raced with and beat some of the very best none more so than Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez all of when they were at the very top of their game. Indeed, he’s the only rider to have beaten Marquez to a MotoGP world championship.
With three world titles in MotoGP and two in the 250cc class, Lorenzo’s 18-year career in Grand Prix racing saw him win 68 races, the sixth highest of all-time, and stand on the podium 152 times, the fourth highest total ever. The now 32-year old has had a truly stunning career and when he was at his best, particularly when leading from the front on the YZR-M1 Yamaha, there was no finer sight in MotoGP.
Brothers in arms
Lorenzo’s retirement obviously opened up an opportunity at Repsol Honda for the 2020 season with three clear candidates – Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco and Alex Marquez, Marc’s younger brother and recently crowned Moto 2 World Champion.
All three had a justified case, particularly Crutchlow who has been at LCR Honda since 2015 and in that time has been one of the few Honda riders, other than Marquez, to make a significant impression with the RC213V. With a contract direct with the Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) it would have been a seamless transition into the factory the team but he will remain where he is for 2020.
Crutchlow was joined at LCR Honda for the last three rounds by Johann Zarco, the Frenchman replacing Takaaki Nakagami who had an operation on a long term shoulder injury immediately after his home round in Japan in October in order to be fully fit for 2020. He was looking to reignite his MotoGP career which had been so strong at Tech 3 Yamaha in 2017 and 2018 but had been nothing short of disastrous at KTM this year.
He rode well in those three rounds but he too was overlooked with the ride eventually going to Marquez making them the first two brothers ever to ride for the same MotoGP team. The deal was announced the day after the final GP in Valencia and whilst only those inside the team will know how much influence Marc had over this decision it’s likely to have been substantial.
Alex competed in the two-day test at Valencia last week, crashing after just seven laps, but he’s slowly got into his stride although his pace is a long way short of his illustrious brother and it certainly won’t be an easy 2020 season for the 23-year old.
When Danilo Petrucci won the MotoGP race at Mugello at the beginning of June, life couldn’t have been much better for the Italian – winner of his home GP, fourth in the Championship and with a new contract for 2020 in his back pocket, the ever smiling Petrux was smiling more than ever.
Another podium followed at Catalunya with fourth place taken in Germany but since then though, he’s been a shadow of his former self and has found himself languishing at the bottom end of the top ten. In the last six races of the season, his best results were three ninths, scoring a total of just 25 points, and he slipped back to sixth overall.
Such was his alarming drop in form talk at Valencia was of a swap taking place between himself and Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller, the Australian moving into the factory team and Petrucci going back to the satellite team he’d ridden for from 2015 to 2018.
The move, as yet, hasn’t taken place but Miller took three podiums in the last six races, a sharp contrast to Petrucci’s form whilst he also stood on the rostrum more times than Petrucci all season – five times to three – so it must be something the Ducati hierarchy are keeping a close eye on.
Petrucci needs to up his game because if he doesn’t, the factory ride he’s worked so hard for since entering MotoGP in 2012 will be taken away from him by the rapidly improving Miller.
Speaking of Ducati, it could well be here where Zarco ends up for 2020 with the Italian factory increasing their level of support to the Reale Avinitia team who fielded Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham this season on a pair of GP18-spec machines.
The duo were set to continue next year with Zarco seemingly the ideal replacement of Marquez at the Marc VDS Estrella Galicia team thus returning to the Moto 2 class which he dominated in 2015 and 2016 on his way to two world championships.
However, Abraham was released from his contract just a matter of days ago whilst Zarco has been seen to be talking to a number of Ducati top brass despite initially ruling himself out of riding for the Italian manufacturer.
His options for next season are rapidly running out though and with both MotoGP organisers Dorna and the French GP at Le Mans eager to have a French rider in the premier class, it’s fair to say we can expect an announcement soon.
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 Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. 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.