Analysis

Marc Marquez vs Jonathan Rea: Is Winning Enough?

Marc Márquez and Jonathan Rea have rewritten the history books in recent years. Their successes in MotoGP and WorldSBK have made them legends of their disciplines and while it’s highly unlikely we’ll see them line up on the same grid in the future they share more than their status as world champions.

Alex Ferguson famously said “some players have world class moments, others have world class careers.” The legendary soccer manager was talking about the difference between being a transcendent player and one that only ever flashes their potential. If you want to be a legend you have to do it every time you lace up your boots.

If you want to be a legend of motorcycle racing you have to be all-in at every opportunity. Any time that you’re on the bike is an opportunity to assert your dominance. Racing is the ultimate test of nerve. Can you dig deep enough into your soul to constantly get the most from yourself? Can you take the will out of your rivals?

New rivals

Márquez and Rea have both done this consistently but this year both faced their toughest tests. For Márquez it’s been the coming of a rookie sensation, Fabio Quartararo, and for Rea it’s been a MotoGP refugee, Alvaro Bautista. Both rookies came to the 2019 season with something to prove.

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Buriram MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A New Generation Rising, Yamaha's Hope, Honda's Gamble, And Aprilia's Failure

We are in the middle of a major transition in MotoGP. One generation is on the verge of passing, another generation is rising, and right in the center of it all, towering over it, is Marc Márquez. The reigning champion has dominated 2019, while rivals of a variety of ages on a variety of bikes try to usurp his place.

The Thai Grand Prix illustrated this mix of generations nicely. On pole for the race sat the Young Pretender, Fabio Quartararo, 20 years of age. Alongside him, Maverick Viñales, 24, two years Márquez' junior, and the reigning champion himself. Behind them, two more 24-year-olds, Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller, flanking the 28-year-old Danilo Petrucci.

On the third row, two veterans and a young rookie. Joan Mir, 22, sat between 40-year-old legend Valentino Rossi, and Andrea Dovizioso, at 33 years of age the only rider left who could stop Márquez from lifting his sixth MotoGP title in seven seasons in the premier class. Behind them, Alex Rins, 23, beside the Espargaro brothers, Pol, 28, and Aleix, 30.

Of the front twelve, Márquez, Viñales, Quartararo, Miller, Rins, Dovizioso, and potentially Rossi had the pace on paper for a legitimate shot at the podium. It was not inconceivable for the podium to represent a cross section of the current set of MotoGP generations. Or for Rossi to be sharing a podium with a man half his age.

Youth has the future

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Buriram MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why Pride Pushes Riders To Take Risks, Why Priorities Matter, And A Classic Race In The Making

Looked at objectively, motorcycle racing is a pointless exercise. Sure, it has some benefits. The engineering involved helps make motorcycles better, safer, and more efficient. The determination of riders to return to action as quickly as possible makes them willing guinea pigs for medical science to try out new ideas for faster and better recovery from injury. But in the grand scheme of things, being able to ride a motorcycle around a track faster than anyone else is fairly meaningless.

Unsurprisingly, that is not how the actual competitors see it. For motorcycle racers, being able to go around a track faster than anyone else is the most important thing in the world. To paraphrase former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, it is not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that. That is precisely how riders end up as willing guinea pigs for medical science. As Marc Márquez explained to Spanish journalist Mela Chercoles in the sports daily AS, "to understand the limits of the bike, you have to accept that if it takes 25 crashes to understand, then you have to be willing to crash 25 times in a season."

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Buriram MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marquez' Intimidating Crash, And Quartararo's Newfound Speed

"I mean the championship is, we can say, over," Andrea Dovizioso told the pre-event press conference on Thursday in Buriram. With five races to go and a total of 125 points at stake, Marc Márquez leads Dovizioso by 98 points. Mathematically, the title is still open, but you would be not be wise to bet against Márquez winning the championship this season.

In FP1, Marc Márquez demonstrated both why he is leading the championship, and how the championship isn't over until it has been put beyond mathematical doubt. On his first run of the weekend, the Repsol Honda rider went out and posted a string of laps in the 1'31s, a second or more clear of his rivals. On his second run, he repeated that pace, becoming even more consistent.

On his third run, he exited with new soft tires, front and rear, with the intention of putting in a quick lap to secure a spot in Q2 on Saturday. It was the same strategy as in Aragon: go out in FP1, and if you feel good on the bike, post a lap good for Q2 at the end, so that you can spend all of FP2 working on race setup in conditions which will most closely resemble the race. With rain forecast for Sunday, it seemed like the right choice.

Error of judgment

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Buriram MotoGP Preview: Can It Be Even Closer Than Last Year?

On paper, the Chang International Circuit at Buriram is a very simple proposition. A tight corner followed by a short straight, then a tight corner followed by a very long straight, and then a long hairpin followed by a medium-length straight. And then a bunch of complicated twists and turns to get back to the start and finish line.

Of course, a track is never the same on paper as it is when motorcycles actually race on it. Sure, Buriram has three straights which determine a lot of the circuit's character. But there is much more to it than just getting the bike turned and getting on the gas as quickly as possible. There are a plenty of places with a choice of lines, where a canny rider can find an opening on the rider ahead. And the nature of that tighter interior sector is such that a bike which isn't a basic drag bike can make up a lot of ground.

Take Turn 3 (the long back straight has a kink formally designated as Turn 2), the long hairpin at the end of the straight. Not perfectly flat, it offers a choice of two lines: stay inside and hug the inside kerb, and try to make the ground up on corner exit; or run in wide and cut back to the second apex carrying more speed. Both lines work. Both lines get you to the corner exit at roughly the same point in time. And both suit two very different bike characters. It may look point and shoot, but it really isn't.

Fast and fear-inducing

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Aragon Subscriber Race Round Up: Honda's Biggest Problem, A Ducati Resurgence, Punishment Fitting The Crime, And Riding Without Winglets

Winning a MotoGP race is never easy. Even when the winner crosses the line with a huge victory margin, it's never easy. Riding for 42 minutes and 117 kilometers at close to maximum intensity is tough on the body, and tough on the mind. Disaster is only a momentary lapse of attention away.

That thought was on Marc Márquez' mind going into the race at Aragon. He had qualified on pole with a lap a third of a second faster than anyone else. In terms of race pace, he looked to be half a second a lap quicker than the rest of the grid. On paper, the race was in the bag.

That was pretty much what we thought at Austin back in April as well. But there, Márquez crashed out of the race on lap 9, after he had built up a lead of nearly 4 seconds. Up until that point, he had looked as unbeatable as ever at the Circuit of the Americas. But a minor hiccup with engine braking pushed the front, the bike getting away from him, and down he went.

Coming into Aragon, Márquez led the championship by 93 points. He could feel his sixth MotoGP title was within his grasp. He knew he had the pace to win comfortably. But the crash at Austin was preying on his mind, and he knew that a repeat would make his life unnecessarily difficult. Eyes on the prize, at all times.

Command and control

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Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Peak Of Perfection

In all likelihood, how you view Sunday's MotoGP race at Aragon will be a matter of perception. For many people, it will be a forgettable affair, the race over after the first couple of corners, Marc Márquez clearing off into the distance. For a few, it will be the greatest display of motorcycle racing they have ever seen. Both views are valid, because, in all likelihood, Marc Márquez will win Sunday's race by something approaching the largest margin in a dry MotoGP race ever.

That might seem like a bold prediction, but just look at Márquez' performance so far this weekend. In FP1, he came within a quarter of a second of the outright lap record. In FP2, he was posting times in race trim to match his rivals best laps on brand new soft tires. In FP4, he was a 'mere' four tenths faster than Maverick Viñales, but of the 17 full laps he posted in the session, 6 were faster than Viñales' best lap. And 10 were faster than Fabio Quartararo's fastest lap in the session, the Frenchman finishing third in the session.

Securing pole position was almost a formality, his 61st pole maintaining his 50% record. (And stop to think how insane that is, that Márquez starts from pole in half of the races he contests.) He was a third of a second faster than second-place man Fabio Quartararo, and didn't really look like he was trying. He had time to spare on ramping up the pressure on his rivals, choosing his position to make sure they knew he was there, and coming through.

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Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marquez The Merciless, Yamaha Progress, And Pit Beirer On Zarco

Everyone not called Marc Márquez will be worried at the Motorland Aragon circuit. They will be worried at the fact that the reigning champion, and last year's winner, went out and put in a fast lap in FP1 on soft tires. They will be worried because that lap was 1.6 seconds faster than anyone in FP1, and 1.1 seconds faster than anyone in FP2.

But above all, they will be worried that it was a demonstration of his confidence in his own pace. Márquez went for a quick lap during FP1 thinking of Saturday, and the likelihood that rain would prevent anyone from going faster during FP3. More importantly, it allowed him to spend all of FP2 on his race pace, in conditions likely to be similar to race time on Sunday afternoon.

It was a typical stroke of strategic genius, Márquez and his team giving himself a head start on preparing for the race. Not only has he had more time figuring out whether to use the hard or the soft rear tire for the race – as so often, the medium is neither fish nor flesh, the drop not much smaller than with the soft, the grip not much more than with the hard – he has also had time to work on race setup. Márquez is already two steps ahead of everyone else before they have even lined up on the grid.

Fast out of the blocks

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Aragon MotoGP Thursday Round Up: The Zarco Situation, Wild, Wild Retirement Rumors, And How Fabio Goes Fast

It was supposed to be a quiet year for rider rumors. Most riders have a contract for 2020, and much of the speculation had been about when negotiations for 2021 would start. The biggest controversy looked like being whether Takaaki Nakagami would get a 2020 Honda RC213V or a 2019 bike.

Then we came back from summer break, and it's all been insane since then. First there were the reports of Jorge Lorenzo talking to Ducati about a possible return for 2020, taking Jack Miller's seat at Pramac Ducati. Then on Sunday night at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, KTM's home race, we learned that Johann Zarco had told KTM that he wanted to leave at the end of 2019, after just one year of his two-year contract.

So far, so shocking. On Tuesday, KTM announced they were replacing Zarco with immediate effect, and giving his bike to Mika Kallio to ride. Zarco was left without a ride for the rest of the season, and facing an uncertain future. More about that in a moment.

Pulling the rug

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Aragon MotoGP Preview: Who Can Beat Marc Marquez At A Counterclockwise Track?

In the space of a week, we travel from a race track set in the heart of a bustling tourist spot to one sitting in the middle of nowhere. We go from having affordable accommodation withing 15 minutes of the track, to having to drive for 50 minutes or more to find somewhere which costs less for 5 nights than the budget of a mid-pack Moto2 team.

It's worth it though. The Motorland Aragon circuit is set in some spectacular scenery, sat on the side of a hill looking over the arid plains of Aragon's southern interior. To the south and east, the low mountains of the Maestrazgo, a wild and empty place of visceral beauty. There is no better place to combine a hiking or mountain biking holiday with a race weekend. And the roads are pretty good too.

The fact that the circuit is used a lot for testing tells you a lot about the layout of the track. It has a little bit of everything, from the long, fast back straight, to tight changes of direction like the 'Sacacorchos' or Corkscrew at Turns 8 and 9, to long and fast corners like Turns 10 and 11, and Turns 16 and 17. There are places where you brake hard: Turn 1, Turn 12, and Turn 16, the corner at the bottom hill having the added complication of being downhill before turning for a long off-camber corner which then heads back up the hill.

Passing lane

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