How has the Spanish star able to go into the summer break as the clear leader in the provisional standings on a bike believed to be one of the least competitive on the MotoGP grid? You surely want to know the answer to this question, don’t you? If so, keep reading. There is nobody better than Marc himself to explain it.
Just a few months ago, when the season started, not many more than his hard core followers and his family would have bet on Marc Marquez being championship leader half way through the season. Despite important technical problems on a bike that was “born wrong”, Marquez has managed to minimize damage and has been able to control his rivals. This has made the Spanish rider go into the summer break as very first in the provisional standings.
Marc leads the championship with an advantage of 48 points over Jorge Lorenzo and 59 over Valentino Rossi; with 200 points still to play for, the margin of course isn’t definitive, but it is a good margin.
“Very first” not just because Marc leads the championship with an advantage of 48 points over his closest follower, Jorge Lorenzo, and 59 over the third man in the championship, Valentino Rossi, but because he has shown to be extremely mature in the way he has approached the races. OK, with 200 points still to play for, the margin of course isn’t definitive, but it is a good margin.
His “confortable position” was the first thing we spoke about when we sat down to have a chat before the summer break. “Well it’s difficult to find just one reason why I’m leading despite the problems we had with the bike, because I haven’t won the most races, nor have I been the fastest in all of the sessions. But perhaps you could say that I’m leading because I’ve been the most consistent. It’s never been like this! But yeah, my consistency has allowed me to lead the championship at this moment”.
The new Marc Marquez
Consistency… A confessed “on/off” rider, who approached every weekend as if it were his last, you can bet that it was a titanic effort for Marc to change this attitude. To ride, thinking about something other than winning was unimaginable just some months ago. But after the fiasco of last season, when a string of crashes in the first part of the year ruined his chances of the title, Marc has learned to ride “carefully”. “I wouldn’t say careful”, answers Marc when we shared our thinking with him. “It’s a word that doesn’t fit what has happened. For example, in in Holland I risked a lot. Not through the whole race, but at certain moments. And if I had crashed in those moments, which is easy to do in the rain, I had screwed the weekend up”.
Marquez has admitted more than once during the present season that racing “with the brain” and not just with the heart isn’t easy for him. In fact, the only race in which he admits to have forgotten the championship and raced just “for fun” was in Mugello. There he battled with Lorenzo to the finish line. “Yes, I’d say at Mugello I risked the most this year. In Montmeló too, up until the final two laps, when I said, “Ok, enough! If you continue like this, you’ll crash.’ But in Montmelo I saved many risky moments. In those two races – Mugello and Montmelo – I saw how much I could risk, and in Holland I was feeling good enough in the dry to risk a little. But in the end on race day the conditions were what they were”.
Racing thinking on the championship isn’t as exciting as doing it with the target of winning. Marquez admits the races “never seem to end; some end being very long”. In the Dutch GP held in Assen, for example, he fought against his racing DNA when he voluntary gave up to fight for the victory with Jack Miller. Therefore, he celebrated his second position like a victory: he had managed to neutralize his instinct.
“Yes it’s true, because it was a race in which I suffered a lot. You know that when you’re riding in the dry there are three places on the circuit where you have to be careful. But when it’s raining you have to be careful everywhere, in every corner, and this makes you ride with a lot of mental tension, which is really tiring. In the dry you get tired but it’s more physical, whereas in the wet you feel mentally fatigued. The night after Assen I went to sleep super early because, psychologically, the race was exhausting”.
The difficult RCV 2016
HRC’s 2016 RCV is guilty of the metamorphosis of Marquez. The engine chosen by Marc in the preseason for the 2016 bikes didn’t appear to combine well with the compulsory electronic management introduced this season. During our conversation he explained that at the beginning of the season the new electronics were only working at 30% of the capabilities of the system with which they had finished the previous year…30%!
“Yeah, but the current electronics aren’t so bad, because now, it is very close to what we had before. I would say that now we are at around 85 or 90. The problem is that other manufacturers are currently working at 100, especially Ducati. When you’re behind them you do the same as before. We’ve definitely lost acceleration, but I’m convinced that this isn’t just the engine. It’s also the electronics. Last year we were already losing in acceleration, but this year, with the new electronics, it’s even more”.
At the beginning of the season the new electronics were only working at 30% of the capabilities of the system with which HRC had finished the previous year…30%!
From 30 to 85! Knowing where Marc started with the electronics, it’s even more surprising that he is leading the championship, because this development was done at the same time he was competing with rivals like Rossi, Lorenzo…
“Yeah, you have to do it in the preseason. But this preseason there was one track, Phillip Island, where we were at the front. But it’s also true that Phillip Island is a circuit where the electronics have less impact, because of the long corners taken in third or fourth gear. Sure, the electronics have an influence – they always do – but not so much. The traction control, for example, doesn’t cut in a lot. But when we tested the electronics at Jerez in November, Redding, Petrucci, Barbera and the others were ahead of us. In February we went to Malaysia and we were eighth or ninth. We were still behind”.
So the combination of new electronics with Honda’s new counter-rotating crankshaft engine has been, or even still, is a bad “marriage”. Till the season, HRC’s engines were the only engines with their crankshafts rotating forward. A configuration that guaranteed more power but had other clear disadvantages like making the RCV harder to turn or propitiate the bikes wheelie exiting the corners. Their defects were neutralized by Honda’s hyper sophisticated electronics; tools they lost with the technical rules applied this season.
“Our previous bike was maybe great at one circuit but quiet difficult at another; with the current one we still suffer, but the peaks and troughs between circuits aren’t so big”.
“With our new engine configuration our engineers were looking to be a little more efficient in acceleration, so you wheelie less”, explained Marquez when asked about why the switch from one type of engine to the current one. “Because in theory it should wheelie less, but in the end it hasn’t been so different in this aspect. Also in fast corners: in theory the bike should go through them better. In Mugello, Montmelo, Qatar, Phillip Island and these kind of circuits we were suffering a lot, and now we are closer through these fast corners: but on the flip side the bike doesn’t stop as well. Our previous bike was maybe great at one circuit but quiet difficult at another; with the current one we still suffer, but the peaks and troughs between circuits aren’t so big”.
Trying to be positive, we took that last sentence as the good part of a complicated situation. Having less difference from one circuit to an other meant less stress when arriving at a new track…Wrong! “It’s the same because in the end you always want more. If we were the fastest at every circuit I wouldn’t be stressed, but as you have seen, we are not. When you aren’t at the top at every track, you want to be”, pointed Marc showing that although he has “grown up” as a rider, he hasn’t lost a one iota of his determination to win…The tone in which he said it was like saying: Don’t get confused, I am still Marc Marquez…
[Stay tuned for Marc Marquez midseason confessions (Part II): “In the future you may call me fool, (laughs), but I believe in Rossi’s handshake in Montmelo”.]