Given Marc Marquez' dominance of the 2014 MotoGP championship, the question is not if, but when he will wrap up his second title in a row. His original aim had been to win the title in front of his home crowd at Aragon, but crashes at Misano and then Aragon put paid to that idea. With a massive lead in the championship, Marquez heads to the flyaway races with his primary aim shifted from winning at all costs, to making sure he returns to Spain and the final round of the series with the title already safely under his belt.
Motegi is the first opportunity for Marquez to take the title, and wrapping it up there would please his HRC bosses, as the circuit is owned by Honda and operated by a subsidiary. But it is not a simple question of turning up and finishing, the reigning champion will have to ensure his rivals do not gain too much back on him if he is to lift the crown there. He has a 75 point lead over his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, a 78 point advantage over Movistar Yamaha's Valentino Rossi, and a 90 point lead over the second factory Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo. So what does Marquez need to do to win the title?
The easiest rival to eliminate will be Jorge Lorenzo. Marquez can afford to give away 15 points to Lorenzo, and would still be world champion even if Lorenzo won the remaining four races. Finishing sixth or better would be enough to rule out any chance of Lorenzo taking the crown, while an 11th place finish would be good enough if Lorenzo finishes 2nd, or 15th spot if Lorenzo finishes 3rd. If Lorenzo finishes 4th or worse, his chances of the championship have gone.
Valentino Rossi is closer: Marquez can only afford to give away 3 points to Rossi if he is to eliminate the Italian from the championship race. If Rossi wins, or is 2nd, and finishes ahead of Marquez, the Italian will still have a mathematical shot at the title. If Rossi finishes 3rd, Marquez must finish in 4th; if the Italian is 4th, then Marquez must finish 6th. If Valentino Rossi crosses the line in 5th place or lower, Marc Marquez must finish within three positions of the Yamaha man. If Rossi finishes 13th or worse, his championship is over.
The mathematics for Dani Pedrosa are simple: if Marc Marquez finishes ahead of him, his title shot is gone. Even if Pedrosa won the last three races, and Marc Marquez were to miss Australia, Sepang and Valencia through injury or illness, Marquez would be champion if he beats Pedrosa at Motegi. If Pedrosa does beat Marquez at Motegi, then the difference between him and Marquez will define the challenge facing Pedrosa in the remaining races.
Of course, if Marquez wants to keep his chances of wrapping up the title at Motegi in his own hands, his simplest course of action is to win the race. If he wins, his lead becomes insuperable for any of his three rivals. The only man he can allow to win the race is Jorge Lorenzo, and if Marquez finishes 2nd to Lorenzo, he will also be sure of the title. In short he needs to win, or to finish ahead of Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo.
The unspoken assumption in all of this is that for any of his other rivals to become champion, Marquez cannot score any points in the last three races, and the rival who would be champ needs to win the last three straight. The championship is a largely theoretical exercise. But this is motorcycle racing, and you never know what might happen. As Nicky Hayden always says: "That's why we line up on Sunday."
The cliff notes version of all this:
- If Marquez wins at Motegi, he is champion.
- If Lorenzo wins and Marquez is 2nd, Marquez is champion.
- If Marquez finishes ahead of Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo, he is champion.
The other mathematical permutations all rely on Marc Marquez:
- finishing ahead of Dani Pedrosa, and;
- not giving away more than 3 points to Valentino Rossi, and;
- not giving away more than 15 points to Jorge Lorenzo.
The championship standings after Aragon, and the points Marquez can afford to give away:
Championship points awarded per finishing position: