2018 Motegi MotoGP Race Round Up: Winning Slowly, And The Legacy Of A Champion

"The secret," said Niki Lauda, "is to win going as slowly as possible." That racing maxim, first recorded by legendary writer and broadcaster Clive James (and how did I miss that he wrote about F1 in the past?) is as true now as it was back in 1984, when Lauda stated it to a press conference in Portugal. And as true as in the early 1950s, when Juan Manuel Fangio may have first uttered it.

If you want to see that maxim in action, watch a MotoGP race in 2018. The action is often thrilling, usually tense, and always absorbing. Race after race, we see podiums separated by tenths of a second, not tens of seconds. The reason for that is simple. The field is close in terms of rider talent and bike performance, and the Michelin tires can be applied in many different ways, except for one: if you try to take off and disappear at the front, you risk using up the best of your tires, and being caught in the latter stage of the race.

So MotoGP has become a chess game. A battle of minds, as much as machines, of brains as much as bodies. Riders pace around one another like wolves around a herd of caribou, watching out for any sign of weakness, waiting to pounce and destroy their prey. And sometimes, getting it wrong and suffering a severe kicking from their intended victims.

Nature vs nurture

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2018 Motegi MotoGP Saturday Round Up: A Costly Mistake, Marquez vs Dovi Again, And The Split In Yamaha

Qualifying is a tricky business at the best of times. Having qualifying just half an hour after FP4 – that is, if you don't have to pass through Q1 – makes it even more complicated. That final session of practice is the only chance to work on setup without worrying about getting through to Q2 – and in my book, makes it the most interesting session of practice all weekend. But that also means that if you want to compare two different setups, FP4 is the session you do it. After FP4, you have thirty minutes to get two bikes ready for qualifying, with identical setups.

There is little room for error. Should you, say, crash in FP4 on the bike with your preferred setup, as Marc Márquez did at Motegi, then it makes qualifying complicated. Even if you get the bike back to the pits quickly, your team probably won't be able to get the bike back ready to race in time for the start of Q2. And if your second bike uses a very different setup – some combination of a different rear link, a different offset, different rear shock, say – then your team might not have time to change it all back again to the way you want it.

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2018 Motegi MotoGP FP4 Result: Honda Snatch One Back

Dark clouds were still gathering around the track but posted only fleeting concern to the riders heading out for the final practice outing. Bright sunshine showed them the way to the line and the one to find the fastest line was predictably but for the first time this weekend Marc Marquez. The Spaniard posted consistently fast mid 1:45s on medium rubber and kept the lead at the top of the timesheets despite a late tumble at turn 7 writing off one machine for the upcoming Q2 session.

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