On October 21st, 2018, at Motegi, Marc Márquez wrapped up his fifth MotoGP title in six seasons, with three races to spare. He did so despite having suffered his 18th crash of the season so far during FP4, the front washing out as he released the brakes in Turn 7. He led the MotoGP class in crashes at Motegi, and would continue to do so through the final race in Valencia, amassing a grand total of 23 crashes at official events throughout the 2018 season.
He had gone one better in 2018 than he had the year before, finishing second to Sam Lowes in 2017, ending up with 27 crashes to Lowes' 31. In 2016, he was a lowly third in the crash rankings, ending the season with 17 falls, behind Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller with 26 and 25 crashes respectively.
That propensity to crash has caused many people to question just how long Márquez can keep taking the risks that he does. Former triple world champion Wayne Rainey, in a recent interview with Motorsport.com's Gerald Dirnbeck, voices a concern felt by many. "If Marquez falls down over 20 times again next year, maybe Marquez beats himself," Rainey said. "When you are off your bike, sliding across the grass at 200km/h, maybe you're OK for the first two meters, but then if you start flipping across the track, anything can happen. I'm hoping Marquez can find a way to be more consistent. He needs to stay on his bike more. It's not very healthy to make mistakes like that."
And yet, despite these mistakes, Marc Márquez was crowned champion with three races in hand. He was champion in 2017 as well, despite falling off 21 times more than runner up Andrea Dovizioso. The difference between Márquez and Dovizioso in 2018 was 18 crashes, and yet still Márquez won. He won thanks to sheer consistency, finishing on the podium in 14 races, and lining up on the grid for all 19 (though Silverstone's cancellation meant only 18 were contested).
Will it end in tears?
Marc Márquez may have fallen off 23 times during 19 rounds of MotoGP in 2018, but he managed to do so almost without injury. Is this just luck, or is there a method to his madness?
To find out, I analyzed every single one of Márquez' 23 crashes in 2018, noting which session he crashed, the corner where he crashed, the speed he was going when he crashed, what type of crash it was, whether he was injured in the crash, and what damage there was to the bike. I did all this looking for a pattern, trying to discern whether there was something about the way Márquez crashed which was different to other riders.
The question I was trying to answer was this: Is Marc Márquez lucky not to be injured despite crashing so often, or are the risks he is taking calculated to minimize the chance of injury?
For comparison, I looked at the crashes which had caused other riders to be sufficiently seriously injured that they were forced to miss races this year. I included only crashes which the riders themselves caused, as being hit by another rider, or being thrown from the bike due to a mechanical malfunction is not something a rider can be blamed for. This ruled out Tito Rabat, for example, as he was entirely innocent in the horrific incident which destroyed his leg. It also ruled out Jorge Lorenzo, because his crash in Thailand was caused by a mechanical failure in either the clutch or the gearbox.
Comparing the crashes which had injured other riders badly enough to cause them to miss a race with the crashes Marc Márquez walked away from, was there a material difference?
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