“It’s been a bad start of the season, hasn’t it Marc?” we asked Marquez after greeting each other hello. After what happened in Termas de Rio Hondo, we wanted to speak with him about his complicated season start. And there is no better way than an interview away from the track in an atmosphere where riders are not in GP mode and without the usual Sword of Damocles: “you have ten minutes”.
“Bad?” he answered with a question. “In racing I wouldn’t refer to bad and good situations but more and less difficult situations. It’s true that our performance in the first two races hasn’t been the best, but we have to take advantage of these difficulties to analyze what we are doing wrong and work alongside Honda to turn the situation around.”
-It looks like it’s more or less the same as last year, when things also started quite difficult and with a complicated bike.
“Well… I would say that it’s more difficult. Last season the problems we had were mixed with the arrival of new tires and the obligatory adaptation to Michelin; and in these kinds of situations I have a certain advantage. I am good at adapting to new things and improvising during the GPs, and this helped me. This year everyone knows the tires, everyone understands them and all the brands have everything much more under control.”
“Yes we are struggling but we aren’t as far as it may look”
Considering the situation you faced at the beginning of last season, you told the Japanese engineers that you would help them in the first half of the year giving your very best, but after that it would be their turn to give you a hand… It looks like the same thing is happening this year.
[Laughs] “Yes, but this year for the moment I’m not helping them too much! Last season we suffered at the beginning of the year and later things got sorted out. This year we have started to suffer a bit. We improved a little compared with 2016, but the others have probably improved more. Especially the whole Yamaha team, which is now the example to look to and dictates the pace in the races. We are suffering, yes, but we aren’t as far as it may look.”
-Qatar, Argentina, Austin…the saying is that the championship starts when it arrives in Europe, but these three races can complicate the things quite a bit.
“No, no not at all! The championship starts in Qatar. Every race counts for 25 points, and the first is as worth as much as the last. For the moment we have thrown away 25 points, one full race…But the important thing is turning the page and not letting it happen again. I look at the positive part of what happened in Argentina: I crashed while leading the race, not in fifth or sixth position. This means that the level is there.”
“It’s like we expected: we suffer to get the right set up every time we arrive at a new circuit”
-When do you think you will fully competitive?
We don’t know. I hope it will happen in Austin and not in Jerez; if it doesn’t, I hope it happens in Jerez and not in Le Mans.
-Does it depend on the work of the electronic engineers?
[Marc thinks for a few seconds before answering] “I don’t know… It’s true that with this new engine there is something that is escaping us electronic wise. It’s also true that when we manage to set it up properly it works well, quite well. We are still missing in acceleration, this is always there, but it is working better. It’s happening as we expected: we suffer to get the right set up every time we arrive at a new circuit.”
-In DORNA’s video about your 2016 season, there is a moment at the end of it when you are saying goodbye to the Japanese engineers after the end of the season where you repeat “I trust in you,” referring to their winter development on the 2017 machine.
[Laughs] “Always, yes, the message has to be sent always to keep them alert.”
-And what have they done they shouldn’t have done? Did they put too much power in the wrong place? Are there too many horses in the engine?
“No, no power is ever too much; the more you have, the better! Honda is first interested in their bike working properly and the engineers are giving their all to try to solve it. The point is that with the actual freezing rule you basically play your whole hand on one card. You do the engine, you try it in Malaysia and then you have only two tests left. There is no time to do big modifications.”
“I am struggling with the connection between the gas and the engine, and this forces me to change my riding style”
-But to define the engine you have the tests at the end of the season, the Valencia test.
True, but from Valencia to Sepang the engine already changed because the engineers realized that there were things that didn’t work. The motor that came to Malaysia was a different engine, slightly different. But we know how the tests in Japan are: one thing is the new stuff getting tested by the test riders and something else is the tests done by the factory riders who take it to the very limit.”
-You have said at some point in the preseason that in order to get the maximum out of the new engine you had to adapt your riding to its characteristics.
“For the moment I am struggling a bit. What is more difficult for me is entering the turns sliding, keep sliding in the middle of them and exit sliding, which has been one of my strong points. It’s where I am struggling most with the new engine, the connection with the gas, and it forces me to change my riding style a little.”
-In which way?
“Trying to be smoother, more precise, turn the bike differently, not to slide. At the end you adapt the set up of the bike to this new style. It depends on the circuit and many other things…Exiting the corners is what is taking me a little more time because it’s where we are missing mechanical grip.”
“I have always liked powerful engines; if you have power, the one who establishes the limits is you and not the bike”
-What type of engines do you like more: friendly ones you can handle and push them to their limits or do you prefer motors with lots of power despite being difficult to control?
“I have always liked powerful engines I have to say. If you have power, at the end it is you who creates the limit and not the bike.”
-Have you realized that that was a camouflaged question to ask you whether you prefer Yamaha engines or the Honda’s?
-In another conversation we had, you explained to me that when a rider is in their growing phase, he uses the one who is at the top as an example to follow. He tries to do the same as him and then to add something extra, which allows him to “dethrone” him. Is this what is happening with Viñales? Has he introduced something extra?
“I don´t know. Now it’s time to analyze Viñales closely to see what he is doing and try to beat him. He started very well. In the end it’s normal when you arrive at a team and you get a competitive package: you are fast, you have talent and you feel comfortable; you start the best possible way.”
-Will Maverick’s arrival to the threesome Jorge, Valentino and you had before force you to change the way you approach the races?
“Yes, but Viñales isn’t so much a newcomer. Last year he was already one of the fast guys; he won races, made podiums… It is his third year in MotoGP and this gives him a certain experience which will let him grow. But yes, when a new rival appears, you try to learn what he is doing right but also what he is doing wrong; basically you study him.”
“What Viñales does different from Lorenzo is brake late, but at the same time he is able to keep the distinctive Yamaha corner speed”
-Have you been able to analyze if he is doing something “different”?
“Hmm…Maybe he does what Lorenzo didn’t do with the Yamaha: brake hard. Braking was one of Lorenzo’s weak points. Viñales instead brakes late and is able to keep the distinctive Yamaha corner speed and this make the difference.”
-Speaking of Jorge, suddenly it seems that his riding is being put into question. In this sense, racing is quite cruel. There is no memory; your value is your last race result.
“This is something we have to live with, it’s normal. People have certain expectations of you and when you don’t fulfill them, people talk. You have to learn to manage it and be strong mentally to avoid starting to doubt what you are doing. You have to keep working alongside your team. I believe that Jorge will get there. It’s difficult to change your riding style in one day, especially when you have raced with a very different bike for so many years…I don’t [put myself above] anybody and I don’t consider anybody superior to me. I respect everyone and I believe that they are riders capable to win world titles.”
-And what about Valentino? Fridays he isn’t there, Saturday he isn’t there, even warm ups on race day morning he is missing, but then comes the race and…podium.
“Yes, it seems impossible. In Argentina for example, in the race he improved the pace he had in practice in 7 tenths. It’s something difficult to understand even for us riders. That’s why when I am asked ahead of the races who do I think will be competitive on Sunday, I always say the riders on the grid’s first row…and Valentino Rossi, despite if he is starting 8th or 10th. It is something to be admired and I am curious to see if he can keep this pace the whole season.”
“I really believe that Jorge will get there; it is difficult to change your riding style when you have raced with a very different bike for so many years”
-And which is your feeling?
“I think he will.”
-Next weekend is Austin, a circuit at which you are unbeaten. It looks like the best scenario to start your “comeback”.
“I start in attack mode every GP weekend, always. It’s my way of competing, and in Austin it will be no different. From FP1 until Sunday’s warm up I will push to the maximum possible and after the Sunday morning practice I will decide the race strategy. It’s true, Texas has so far been a very positive race for me, but let’s see… It’s always better to finish than to crash like in Argentina.”
-One last question that may sound strange to you but I am curious about your answer. Do you remember the day of your debut in the GP, the exact date?
“…No, I have to say I don’t remember the exact day. It was the first GP of the season so it had to be March or April…Do you know?”
No, no idea, I just was curious to see if it was an especially important day for you up to the point to remember the date, but I see it wasn’t…curious.