With two-thirds of the MotoGP World Championship now complete, we continue to witness some superb racing with the last two rounds seeing race long battles and the race result only being decided on the final run to the chequered flag.
After being outsmarted at Silverstone by Alex Rins, Marc Marquez wasn’t about to fall for the same thing twice at Misano and he did to Fabio Quartararo what had been done to him in England. It’s a practical certainty that the Repsol Honda rider will be crowned champion once more but with MotoGP nowadays there are always plenty of talking points.
Marquez’ phenomenal 2019 season continued at Misano as he maintained his run of finishing first or second in every race he’s finished this season, his only DNF coming at round three at Austin when he crashed out. We’ve all become used to the Spaniard performing stunning feats and with the run he’s currently on, it’s hard to see anything but the 26-year old breaking all the records the sport currently has.
Despite not having the best bike on the grid – far from it – Marquez rode the perfect race in Italy, shadowing MotoGP rookie Quartararo for 26 of the 27 laps before timing his move to perfection on the final lap to extend his lead to almost 100 points. The next best Honda was troubled team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in 14th whilst neither Cal Crutchlow nor Takaaki Nakagami featured in the top ten before crashing out.
He again comprehensively outperformed his Championship rivals and although he only qualified in fifth place, he was able to find that bit extra on race day. He was also involved in a slight coming together with Valentino Rossi on Saturday and was subject to more booing on the podium (which has no place in the sport wherever your allegiance lies) but the fact remains he’s currently the best rider on the planet. It’s only a matter of time before an eighth world title – and sixth in the premier class – will be added to his mantelpiece.
The next big thing?
The meteoric rise in Quartararo’s MotoGP career continued at Misano as he did everything but win, leading Marquez right up until the very last lap when he was overhauled, and he again confirmed he has everything required to not only win races but also take the fight to Marquez, potentially, in the years ahead.
Of course, one race doesn’t automatically mean he’ll be a title challenger in 2020 or beyond but three pole positions and four podiums so far this season means he’s certainly heading in the right direction. What makes the 20-year old’s story even more remarkable is that numerous eyebrows were raised when the Petronas Yamaha team announced his signature with many wondering how he’d got the ride in the first place.
However, prior to his Grand Prix career, Quartararo won six Spanish championship titles, including successive CEV Moto3 titles in 2013 and 2014 and when he arrived in the Moto3 World Championship in 2015, he was predicted as being the ‘next big thing’. Those expectations clearly weighed on his shoulders as he could only manage 10th and 13th overall in his first two seasons.
A move to Moto2 in 2017 failed to encourage anyone any further but in 2018 he won his first Grand Prix on the relatively unfancied SpeedUp machine and with his confidence restored, he’s never looked back. Clearly gelling with the Yamaha M1 and the ambitious Petronas SRT team, he’s an exciting talent and a welcome addition to the MotoGP ranks and the buzz surrounding him looks set to remain for a good while longer.
Close but not close enough
Having claimed pole position at Misano, Maverick Vinales and Yamaha looked well placed to record their second win of the season and although not the Yamaha rider the local fans were hoping to see on top, that particular matter didn’t concern the Japanese manufacturer.
A slightly poor start by Vinales though meant he wasn’t able to capitalise on his starting position and, just like we’ve seen on a number of times already this season, he simply didn’t have the pace to run with the leaders for the first half of the race. Once that point had been passed, his pace quickened and he was able to reduce gap, the eventual deficit to Marquez just 1.5s, although his charge ultimately came too late.
Although he’s now the lead Yamaha rider in the Championship table, it’s an area that Vinales and his team are, seemingly, unable to eradicate but it’s one they need to overcome – and fast – as one lap pace in qualifying won’t win you world titles.
When the MotoGP series last visited Italy in June, Ducati scored a dream win at Mugello with Danilo Petrucci as Andrea Dovizioso added further gloss to their day in third. Ferrari repeated the victory at Monza in the four-wheeled equivalent but the home crowd weren’t celebrating in the same way at Misano as they failed to make any real impression on the results.
Dovizioso was the best of the Ducati finishers in sixth – his worst finish of the season – and is now a mammoth 93 points adrift of Marquez who he’s challenged on a regular basis for the last three years winning as recently as Austria in August. Fellow Ducati riders Jack Miller and Petrucci fared even worse and languished back in ninth and tenth respectively.
The Ducati suffered throughout the Misano race weekend in low grip conditions, robbing the Desmosedici GP19 of one of its biggest strengths in acceleration out of corners. The old problem of the bike working at some circuits and not others has reared its head once more and second place will again be the best Dovi can hope for in the 2019 title race.
Highs and lows at KTM
The mystery at Austrian manufacturer KTM continued at Misano with one rider excelling and another one ending the meeting very much at the crossroads of his career.
Now in its third full year of MotoGP competition, the KTM’s progress has been steady but aside from the odd strong qualifying and/or race performance, they’ve tended to finish towards the bottom half of the top ten. Indeed, Pol Espargaro’s third place at a damp Valencia last year remains their only rostrum finish.
However, the Spaniard has been a picture of consistency in 2019 and although he couldn’t back up his brilliant second place in qualifying at Misano with a similar result in the race, finishing seventh, he’s now taken seven top-ten finishes this year compared to just the one he took in the whole of 2018. He’s also scored comprehensively more points already this year than what he scored last year so it’s clear the project is moving forward albeit not at the rate they’d like.
The addition of Dani Pedrosa as test rider has clearly helped – but only for Espargaro as team-mate Johann Zarco has endured a torrid year so much so that he announced last month he would be leaving the team at the end of the year, half way through his two-year deal. This has now changed again with the two-time Moto2 World Champion leaving the team with immediate effect after Misano.
The Frenchman was a breath of fresh air when he moved to MotoGP with Yamaha in 2017 going on to take sixth overall both then and the following year. He took six podiums along the way and challenged for the race wins on a regular basis but his move to KTM has turned into a nightmare and with no rides seemingly available, in MotoGP at least, the most successful French rider in Grand Prix racing faces an uncertain future.
The forthcoming MotoGP seasons look set to be busy ones and with 2020 seeing the schedule increased from 19 rounds to 20 with the addition of Finland to the calendar (the first time the Scandanavian country will have held a GP since 1982), series organisers Dorna have since announced their plans to have a 22-round championship from 2022 onwards.
Portugal and Indonesia look set to host a round of the World Championship in the very near future and although Spain should see a reduction from the four rounds they currently host to three (Aragon or Valencia the most likely to be removed), it’s also highly likely the number of test days will be reduced to accommodate the extra weekends of racing.
There’s no doubt it will be a punishing, and hectic, schedule for all concerned but there can be no doubt that the global pull of two wheels and the MotoGP World Championship in particular has never been greater.
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.