The outcome of the MotoGP race at Misano was decided some time ago. Several key decisions went into determining the result, most of them many weeks, or even many months ago. Those decisions set in motion a train of events that led inexorably to the domination of a single manufacturer at the Misano World Circuit on Sunday.
One of those decisions was to microblast the surface of the track to remove the build up of rubber from the track and improve the grip in the wet. The microblasting took place some three months ago, and on Saturday, Michelin boss Piero Taramasso explained what had been done. "They shot very small balls of metal with high speed into the asphalt. From one big stone, this treatment makes many smaller stones. So this treatment you reduce the macro roughness, and you increase the micro roughness."
"Normally this is the way to increase the grip. What happens is that as soon as you do the treatment, you increase the wet grip. In wet conditions the grip is better instantly. But for the dry, you have to wait more and more time for dry grip because this treatment cleans all the track. It makes it like a brand new track, no rubber, nothing on the floor. So that’s why the grip on dry is lower for the first five, six, or seven months. After that, after the track has been used a few times, sometimes it’s better."
Despite the circuit's best efforts to lay rubber down on the track, it was still basically bare stone during the test, and in a similar state during the race weekend. There was no grip, and the manufacturers who had been strong here in the past – Ducati had been outstanding in the last two years, and Cal Crutchlow put the Honda on the podium in 2018 – suddenly found themselves struggling.
The Yamahas weren't struggling, or at least nowhere near as much. Where the Hondas and the Ducatis couldn't lay down the horsepower, the Yamahas have always been much smoother, and relied more on corner speed. So while the Ducatis were losing in acceleration, and the Hondas were losing in braking, the Yamahas were losing less in both those areas, and also losing a lot less in corner speed compared to the other brands. The Yamahas had a distinct advantage at Misano.
Some of this advantage comes from the changes which have taken place back in Japan and in Europe since the end of last season. Key staff have been replaced, and development has stepped up a notch. We saw that in practice, with both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales running a new carbon-fiber swingarm and a new double-barreled exhaust aimed at improving power delivery. The bike is better than it was at the start of the year.
Then there was the choice by the Petronas SRT Yamaha team to sign Fabio Quartararo. At the time, it was met with skepticism. Though Quartararo had arrived in the Moto3 with a reputation as a superstar, having dominated the Spanish FIM Moto3 Junior World Championship, his results after the initial few races dropped off a cliff, Quartararo spending most of his time riding round more or less anonymously. The Petronas team took a chance on him, believing there to be talent there, and believing they could point Quartararo in the right direction and keep him on the straight and narrow. A risky investment, but one which has paid off.
Put all these things together and it was inevitable that Yamaha would dominate the Misano round of Grand Prix. The bike was simply best able to deal with the conditions, and it had the riders to exploit those conditions.
How good the Yamaha was was evident from the results. In FP2, there were four Yamahas in the top 5. In FP3, all four Yamahas were in the top seven, in FP4, the four Yamahas were inside the top 6, and the four Yamahas qualified in the top seven places. In the race, the four Yamahas finished from second to fifth. By any measure, this was a bike that had a clear advantage.
There was of course a fly in the ointment. One bike finished second in FP1, third in FP2, fourth in FP3, first in FP4 and warm up, and went on to win the race. Marc Márquez was his usual inexorable self at Misano, chasing Fabio Quartararo for most of the race and finally getting the better of him on the final lap to take the win.
Marc versus the world
And it was Márquez, not the Honda, that much is clear from the results of the other riders on the RC213V. In FP1, no other Honda was in the top 15. In FP2, the next best Honda was tenth. In FP3, Takaaki Nakagami finished as sixth fastest, but neither Cal Crutchlow nor Jorge Lorenzo could get into the top 12. FP4 and qualifying, no Honda in the top ten, and again in the warm up, only Nakagami able to get up to fifth, Crutchlow and Lorenzo again outside the top 15.
In the race which Márquez won, both Cal Crutchlow and Takaaki Nakagami failed to finish the race, crashing out in the latter stages, leaving Jorge Lorenzo as the best finisher down fourteenth, his result in no small part down to riders ahead crashing. If we can look at the results of the Yamahas and say it was down to the bike, then it is pretty self evident that the results of the Honda riders are down to the bike as well. The results of the Honda riders, bar Marc Márquez, that is, who is clearly in a league of his own at the moment.
The incident with Valentino Rossi during qualifying also had an effect on the outcome of the race. The clash of egos during Q2, when Márquez and Rossi both got in each other's way, failing in the attempt to improve their lap times, and rekindling the bitter rivalry between the two. That left Márquez determined to win in front of Valentino Rossi's home crowd, and to rub their noses in it.
"You know, honestly speaking, I knew that it was not necessary to win, because I saw that Rins was out and Dovi were far behind," Márquez told MotoGP.com pit lane reporter Simon Crafar. "But honestly speaking, yesterday was extra motivation, an extra push for the race." The lesson here for Rossi and perhaps for his fans is to not poke the bear. They poked the bear, and Márquez took victory and hammed it up on the podium in front of a mildly annoyed crowd.
Then there was the fact that Márquez had not won since Brno, losing out in the final corner at both Austria and Silverstone. That inevitably played on Márquez' mind, until he felt he had to take a little bit of a risk to correct it. "First of all, of course I’m human," Márquez said. "My team try to keep me down and try to just focus for the championship, but the last two races I lost on the last corner. It’s not the best way for a rider."
"Maybe today the easiest thing was just to follow Fabio and on the last lap just be 0.8 behind," Márquez said. "He was faster than me and I could finish in second place. But it’s not my way. So for that reason I pushed until the end. I had enough confidence to try again."
Márquez was acutely aware of the view of the fans in Italy, and that whatever he did, he would be subjected to a barrage of criticism, especially if he came up short again on the last lap. "I know that if I lose again the people will speak again," he said, "but I don’t care about this. I just keep pushing and I will try. It’s the best way to improve the face to face battles. Unluckily for me, you need to try to improve in the race. The cameras are there in the race, and if you lose, everybody sees."
Wake up call
Again, Márquez emphasized that the clash with Rossi had motivated him far more. "The other thing, yesterday somebody woke me up," he said." The best way to speak is in the track. I know that here with the microphones, the battle is lost, but on the track is where my real battle is." Márquez was rewarded with more motivation while he was on the podium, the crowd, clad in yellow, whistling and booing him as he accepted the reward. Márquez will store that up again for next year, and when he returns for the next race in Italy, he will use it to make himself faster.
We are seeing Marc Márquez at the height of his powers. He is at the peak of his experience, and the peak of his ability. He has an insatiable appetite for victory, both for races and for championships. He has mastered racing a MotoGP bike, and is capable of doing things with the bike which no one else can. As I pointed out before, just look at where the other Hondas are, and how badly they are struggling, compared to Márquez. In truth, he had no business being at the front of the race in Misano. And yet there he was, pushing hard and winning a race.
They used to call Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx 'The Cannibal' when he was in his heyday, because he would try to win every race he entered, whether it suited him or not. That seems an appropriate nickname for Márquez right now.
A new hope?
At the same time as admiring Márquez at his peak, we may well be seeing the youngster who will one day knock him from his throne. Fabio Quartararo rode an outstanding race from start to finish, taking the lead from Maverick Viñales when the Monster Energy Yamaha rider started to struggle with the front, then pushing hard enough to keep Márquez at bay right until the end of the race. It was only Márquez' determination, experience, and endless ambition which allowed him to force his way past Quartararo, and hold him off in the final corners.
Márquez himself praised the pace of the Petronas Yamaha SRT rider. "Maybe the best rider today in the race was Fabio, because he did all the race in front," Márquez told the press conference. "The way that he’s riding a Yamaha, he’s riding in a very good way. You can follow the other Yamahas but he’s riding in a very good way, very precise all the time but especially on the fast corners. He’s very, very fast."
"We cannot forget that Fabio is a rookie and what he’s doing is incredible," Márquez said. "But today he showed to all of us, and to all of you, because I already knew that he has the talent, he has the mentality to lead a race, to win a race. Next year he will be a tough contender for the championship."
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