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
But when the race was done, only the younger generation was left standing. The gap the front row trio had in qualifying translated directly into the race, and for the fourth time this season, Márquez, Quartararo and Viñales stood on the podium, and head and shoulders above the rest.
Any hope of a big group battling for the podium died in the first couple of laps. Jack Miller ruled himself out on the grid, accidentally pushing the kill switch while rushing through preparations for the start. "Pressed the wrong button," a disappointed Australian said after the race. "Just, let's say I was in a bit of a hurry. I was just trying to do everything a little bit too quickly, turning the launch on, and I pressed the wrong button. It's easy enough to do. I did it."
It is not the first time riders have been confused by Ducati's button layout. In 2017, Jorge Lorenzo managed to crash out of the lead of the Misano race as he searched for the correct button to swap engine maps. Since then, the starting sequence has only gotten more complicated: return to the grid from the warm up lap, making sure you get heat into the carbon brake discs on the way to your grid slot. Stop in the correct place, press the lever which allows you to engage neutral so you can take your hand off the bar to twist the holeshot device lever, twist the holeshot lever, pull the clutch in, engage first gear, press the launch control button, and then watch the lights ready for the start.
Switching it off and switching it back on again
The launch control button sits on the left-hand bar, in the button selection cluster, the 'Playstation controller' containing buttons for pit lane, engine brake, power settings, and fuel maps. The kill switch sits on the opposite bar in the same position as the launch control on the left. A temporary confusion, a moment of rushing through pre-start procedures, and before you know it, you have pressed the wrong button.
It had never happened to Miller before. "And it won't happen again either," the Pramac Ducati rider was adamant. "It was the kill switch, I turned the bike off. As soon as I pressed it, I was going '**** no!' Because I knew exactly what button I'd pressed." Fortunately he had the presence of mind to immediately raise his hand, and, contrary to the rules drawn up after Marc Márquez' bizarre starting grid fail in Argentina last year, push his bike off the grid. Miller's transgression went unpunished, presumably because he lost 15 seconds in getting the bike started before he could exit pit lane.
The disappearance of Jack Miller opened up gaps for other Ducatis to dive into. Fabio Quartararo got a fantastic start, with Marc Márquez close behind, and Maverick Viñales in third. From the melee which unfolded behind, Andrea Dovizioso eventually emerged ahead of Franco Morbidelli and Danilo Petrucci, after they had almost collided through Turn 1, Dovizioso getting better drive out of Turn 2 and passing down the main straight.
Turn 3 sorted out the running order, Márquez looking to dive up the inside of the long hairpin, but Quartararo standing his ground and using the corner speed of the wider line to seize a secure lead. Viñales helped there, sliding inside Márquez on the entry, but running a fraction wide and letting Márquez back ahead.
An order quickly emerged, at the front at least. Fabio Quartararo led, with Márquez on his tail. Viñales followed, but from lap 4, he started to drop quickly. While Quartararo and Márquez hammered in the laps in the low 1'31s and high 1'30s, the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could barely manage a mid 1'31, quickly losing nearly three seconds to the leaders.
It was a repeat performance of Misano for Viñales. "I felt different to Fabio and Marc in the traction area, which we lose a lot in," the Spaniard said. "With a full tank, if you don’t have traction it is very difficult to hit the lap times. Then as soon as the full tank went down a bit I could carry a lot of corner speed." From lap 9, Viñales was on the same pace as the leaders, and even started to catch them again. But by then, he had given himself an impassable mountain to climb.
Viñales' saving grace was the fact that Andrea Dovizioso was already so far behind, and barely matching his worst lap times. The factory Ducati rider could do no better than high 1'31s, and by lap 10, was over 5 seconds behind. Any hope he may have had of keeping Márquez from the title had long since dried up.
He simply didn't have the speed, he said after the race. "Unfortunately, we weren’t able to improve enough in T3 and T4," Dovizioso said. "At the end, for the situation we had in the race, I couldn't push more than that, because if you put more intensity, I wasn't faster. So the only way was to be consistent."
Life is about choices
With Dovizioso out of the picture, Márquez had time to weigh up his options. The original plan had been simple. "I already said on Thursday that my strategy, my mentality for the weekend will be the same like a normal race," Márquez told the press conference after the race. "Yesterday in the press conference I said again that I will try to fight for the victory. But then I saw that Fabio was incredibly fast. He was riding in a very good way. Especially the first ten laps he was very, very fast. I was struggling a lot with the front tire."
With the gap to Quartararo hovering close to a second, Márquez had a decision to make. "There was a moment in the race when I think I was 0.7, 0.8 behind him, that I said, okay, if he doesn't slow down it will be impossible. But that was when I did my fastest lap. Then I said, okay, give up or try, and I said, okay, I will push two laps at the maximum. If I pass these laps, I will be ready to win the race."
Knowledge is power
With those two laps, Márquez was back on the tail of Quartararo. He eased off and waited, having pushed the front to the limit, and sat studying the Frenchman, just as he had at Misano. It was not easy, though, Quartararo laying down a blistering pace throughout. "When three laps remain, I tried to study if was possible there to overtake," Márquez told the press conference. "And I saw, okay. It’s possible."
Márquez used the power of the Honda RC213V to draw level with the Petronas Yamaha with three laps to go, in a rehearsal of the move which was to come. He repeated the move on the final lap, but this time, he didn't just draw level, he got past into Turn 3 and held a tight line to stop Quartararo from trying to pass back. That gave the Repsol Honda rider control of the race, and though Quartararo closed up again, back on Márquez' tail by the time they entered Turn 9, passing was not easy.
Realistically, Quartararo had one chance. The final corner is an ideal passing spot at Buriram, but not without its dangers. You have to get the bike stopped and turned before the rider you just passed cottons on and cuts back early to get drive. But Márquez knew Quartararo was coming, and was already braking as late as he dared. The Frenchman waited, braked, and both men entered the final corner with their rear wheels in the air and starting to fishtail.
The Yamaha got past the Honda, but Márquez had already accounted for this eventuality. On the wider line, he cut inside earlier and got the drive out of the final turn. Quartararo managed to avoid going wide, but he had dumped all of his speed to make the corner after passing Márquez. He didn't have the drive to hold the lead, and had to watch as Márquez snatched victory from him once again.
Quartararo was furious, heartbroken, and frustrated all at once. Just as in Misano, he had ridden a pretty much perfect race. And just as in Misano, he had been pipped at the post by Marc Márquez, the Spaniard laying it all on the line to slake his insatiable appetite for victory. "I knew that I wanted to try something in the last corner," Quartararo said. "If not, I will not sleep until Japan. So we try it into the last corner. Here in the last corner I think you can't really close a lot because the exit is really important."
Racing is about nothing more than ego, to defeat anyone who dares to think they can ride faster than you. That last lap was a battle of egos, a battle of wills, of a rider determined to get his first win versus a rider who did not want his clinching of the championship overshadowed by the debut victory of the young prodigy being viewed as his successor. It was a vision of the future, of the new generation taking over from the old, one of many more battles to come.
To read the rest of this article, you need to sign up to become a MotoMatters.com site supporter by taking out a subscription. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.
This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion. Though most content on MotoMatters.com remains free to read, a select amount of uniquely interesting content will be made available solely to those who have supported the website financially by taking out a subscription.
The aim is to provide additional value for our growing band of site supporters, providing extra original and exclusive content. If you would like to read more of our exclusive content and help MotoMatters.com to grow and improve, you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here.