There are lots of ways to win a motorcycle race, but most racers are only capable of applying one. Some riders can only win they can break away at the front, and have a clear track to ride clean, fast lines. Other riders can't maintain a pace on their own, so have to sit behind a fast rival and wait until the end of the race to pounce. Some need to sit in a group and exploit the dynamics of that group to create the right moment to strike.
Great riders can adapt to any type of race. If they need to break away, they break away. If they need to sit with another rider and wait, they wait. If they need a group to drag them along, they sit in front of a group and slow the whole thing up to control the race and wait to pounce.
The truly great riders can manage all of this, and understand what is needed in any particular situation. They don't just adapt to a type of race, they create the race they need in order to win. It can render them nigh on invincible, as they control the race. They write the rules, and force everyone else to play along with them. Then they rewrite them again, and leave their rivals on the back foot.
Finding a way to win
That is what is happening with Marc Márquez at the moment. He seems to have found another gear, as Honda changed the bike to address the RC213V's biggest weakness last year. In 2018, the bike braked and turned exceptionally well, but lacked a bit of top speed. For the 2019 bike, Honda went chasing power, massively enlarging the air intake and airbox and tweaking the exhausts. That has necessitated relocating a bunch of parts which were packed away under the tank cover, altering the weight distribution and the balance of the bike. The pay off has been a boost in horsepower, and gains in top speed. But braking stability and front end feel has been compromised, the front not feeling as planted on corner entry. It is still very good, just not as good as last year.
At Le Mans, Marc Márquez gave a demonstration of how to ride the 2019 bike. That means more corner speed, less hard braking, and making use of the acceleration and top speed of the bike. The objective now is not to try to hang with the riders, and dive underneath them at the last minute. Now, it is to break away and lead, where possible, or else use the acceleration and horsepower of the new Honda to pass out of corners and along the straights.
Reading between the lines of Marc Márquez' statements to the press conference after dominating the MotoGP race, it seems that this is the compromise forced upon him by the new bike. Last year, they had to run the harder front tire to be able to withstand the exceptional braking forces required to win. This year, the Honda needs a softer tire to get some more feeling from the front, but that means they can't rely on the exceptional braking of the bike in the same way.
Jack Miller had followed Márquez for a while, and even passed him for the lead. The time he had spent racing against Márquez had allowed him to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the bike. "Nothing really overly impressed me in braking," the Pramac Ducati riders said. "I felt I could catch him in most of my braking zones. The Honda seemed really good out of the last corner, it seemed to really acceleration and drive out of there really well." Catching a Honda in braking is almost unheard of. A Ducati losing out to a Honda in acceleration is even more rare.
Márquez gave away quite a bit in the press conference. "Today I was using the soft front tire, and that means that you cannot afford to overheat the front," he said. "Then this is a little bit when Ducati and Yamaha are using the soft and we were not able to before. Now we are able to, because we are using the same tires and the bike is turning better. But last year we just tried to find the right time on the brake point. This year maybe we lose a little bit the brake point but we gain in other areas. This is the way. Always the brake point means risk. Risk means difficult to be constant. Now we are able to play in a different way on the brake point and find the lap time in other areas."
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