2016 is the year of the impostor. Everything we thought we knew about the current riders in MotoGP has been turned on its head. Marc Márquez is a shining example of this.
He has gone from a rider who wants to win every race, even if he risks crashing out, to one who is willing to settle for less when there are no better options.
The reason for his transformation is simple: the lessons learned in the tough first half of the 2015 season.
After Assen, the eighth race of 2015, Márquez had crashed out three times and trailed championship leader Valentino Rossi by 74 points. Three races later, Márquez had cut the deficit to 52 points, having won two races and finished second in another.
Believing he could still catch the Yamahas, Márquez pushed too hard at Silverstone in the wet and crashed out, then did the same at Aragon. Heading into the flyaways, his deficit had grown to 79 points again.
If Márquez had been prepared to settle for a podium or a place just off the podium in Argentina, Mugello, and Barcelona, he would have trailed Rossi by twenty-something points rather than seventy-something.
That would have left him with less pressure at Silverstone, and the same at Aragon. Márquez would have been in the championship battle all the way to the end of the season. How then might Phillip Island, Sepang and Valencia have played out?
It has been one of the hardest lessons Marc Márquez has ever learned. But like all hard lessons, they have the biggest impact. The 2016 season has seen Márquez race the way he should have last year, rarely pushing beyond his limits, winning when he can, settling for podiums or worse when he can’t.
The one mistake he made was at Le Mans, where he lost the front but got back on to score points. At Jerez, but most especially in Barcelona, Márquez swallowed his pride and settled for a podium rather than risking it all for a win which may not have been there.
Márquez’s patience has not come easily. He is still struggling with a Honda RC213V that does not accelerate well. This has left him trying to make up the ground in braking that he is losing out of corners.
That, in turn, has meant taking more risks with a front Michelin that gives less warning before it lets go. Márquez has used to every ounce of his cat-like reflexes to save crashes and keep the bike upright. His highlight reel in 2016 will consist of a string of front-end saves.
His patience has been richly rewarded though. Márquez leads the championship by 48 points, and has a pretty strong hold on the 2016 MotoGP crown.
The rider leading at the midway point has almost always gone on to become champion, barring a couple of exceptional situations.
Ironically, it is a reversal of fortunes which sees Márquez with such a large lead. Where the Spaniard has been solidly reliable, his rivals have kept making mistakes, often under pressure.
Photo: © 2016 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.