The fate of this year’s truly remarkable MotoGP World Championship was sealed today, on the sun drenched Motegi Circuit in Japan, as Marc Marquez claimed his third crown at the first opportunity.
Admittedly, to seal the championship today, Marquez required both Yamaha riders to score either three points or less (Jorge Lorenzo) or not score at all (Valentino Rossi). In that respect, the pressure was effectively ‘off’ for the Repsol-Honda rider, knowing that a solid result for himself in Japan would mean securing the championship would be a formality at the next race in Australia. The race plan need not change from the one which has served him so well this season: start well, coax the bike to the podium finish, and only push to the limit if needed.
The plan was executed to perfection and his start was faultless: Lights out, clutch dropped, throttle opened simultaneously, body weight right over the front of the bike to prevent wheel-spin, quick shift up through the gearbox and brake hard into turn one ahead of the midfield scramble.
Initially though, it was Lorenzo who broke clear at the front on the opening laps. Knowing that he wasn’t able to sustain maximum performance for the full duration (courtesy of a brutal crash during Saturday practice), the Majorcan’s only chance of victory was to break clear early, build a gap, and hope it would be enough. It was a gallant effort, and deserves admiration for the pain he was prepared to go through to keep the faintest of championship hopes alive.
However, Marquez was in no mood to sit behind his rivals. For both personal reasons (the chance to become the youngest three-time premier class champion) and for professional (Honda own the Motegi Circuit), the 23-year old first dispatched Rossi on lap 3, with an authoritative ‘sit-up’ pass on the inside of turn 2. A move so synonymous with the Italian, now fittingly used against him. Marquez then began to chase down Lorenzo, catching and passing him with a similar move on lap 5. From then on, it was a case of build a gap and control his own race, knowing the rest would be down to cruel luck for his rivals.
Perhaps ‘cruel luck’ doesn’t even come close to describing what happened to the factory Yamaha riders. Lorenzo’s injury troubles became quickly apparent, as having been passed by Marquez, his team-mate soon swept by him into second place, the 2015 champion not even offering a fight. Third place, and struggling to maintain a strong pace, the #99 soon found himself having to fend off the Ducati and Suzuki of Andrea Dovizioso and Aleix Espargaro respectively.
If seeing the last hopes of a championship challenge fading away before is eyes wasn’t a hard enough pill to swallow, seeing them go up in a cloud of dust was. As has been seen so often, the biggest weakness of the Yamaha M1 machine is its inability to keep enough heat in its front tyre. A cold tyre, and the hard, sweeping corner of turn 10 was enough for the bike to fold, and Lorenzo a short slide into the gravel trap.
Rossi meanwhile pushed on to catch Marquez, however suffered the same fate as his team-mate, with the bike falling away from him on the turn into the same corner. Although he managed to get the bike running again, it was immediately apparent that the bike was in no state to continue racing on. By the time Rossi had crawled back to the pitlane, he had lost too much time to make up, and dejectedly retired to the garage. Lady luck chose to not just frown, but scowl upon Yamaha today.
For Marquez, once he’d received the news via his pit-board that his rivals were no longer in the race, it was a simple matter of bringing the bike home and beginning a long awaited party. Though even getting to the chequered flag required meticulous fuel management, as the hard braking, hard accelerating nature of Motegi, had reduced the Honda bike to running on fumes during the closing laps. In typical Marquez style, upon crossing the line, he performed a victory gesture, this time kicking out with one leg towards the pit-board – perhaps both aimed at his detractors and his championship rivals – having finally been beaten into submission. All is fair in love, war and racing.
It was a faultless performance, which has brought the ultimate prize, the MotoGP World Championship. At just 23 years it is incredible to think that he has now three premier class titles to his name – and five if you include his two titles in the Moto2 class (2012) and the old 125cc division (2010). One has to wonder, just how many more titles will he have acquired by the time he reaches 30?