Sunday Summary at Jerez: The Aggressive Mr. Marquez

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We’d been wondering how long it would last. Nobody had started a formal pool yet, but we knew that at some point in the season, Marc Marquez would try something that would generate a mountain of controversy. The question was not if, but when, surely.

It took three races, which is positively restrained measured by the standards of his 2012 Moto2 season. Then, he managed to embroil himself in controversy in the very first race when he ran Thomas Luthi off the track at the end of the straight at the beginning of the final lap.

Yet while Marquez’s pass on Jorge Lorenzo is already generating enough print copy to wipe out a small forest, it is totally different from his move at Qatar in 2012. That was a cynical slide to the left which saw him edge Luthi off the track and out of contention.

This was a dive up the inside of a gap left by Lorenzo in the final corner of the final lap, after Marquez had spent the previous five or six laps making it perfectly clear to Lorenzo that he was hell-bent on finishing ahead of him.

Watching the replays of the pass, and speaking to both riders and those involved, the move appears to have unfolded as follows: Marquez had been hounding Lorenzo for the last ten laps of the race, after first losing ground to the Yamaha man, only to close the gap after the first half of the race.

Throughout those laps, Marquez was looking for a way past, but that was not easy. Lorenzo was faster through turns 4 and 5 leading on to the back straight, but Marquez was quicker down the straight, using the draft of Lorenzo to try to catch him. And misjudging it, getting sucked into Lorenzo’s draft and finding himself going too fast into the Dry Sack hairpin and nearly clipping the back wheel of Lorenzo’s Yamaha.

In the final lap, Marquez put in one final effort along the back straight, pulling out of Lorenzo’s slipstream to dive up the inside, only to run wide. Lorenzo cleverly let Marquez through, turned in, and retook second position without any drama.

Marquez was back on Lorenzo’s tail immediately – in itself quite remarkable, as in recent times, making even the smallest mistake on a MotoGP bike was enough to take yourself out of the race.

He closed the Yamaha man down through the fast right handers, but Lorenzo believed Marquez was too far behind to attack, and held his normal wide and smooth entry into the final hairpin, renamed Lorenzo Corner just the day before. Marquez was closer than Lorenzo thought, and seeing a huge gap open, dived into the hole and hoped for the best.

Lorenzo had already committed to his line, not having figured on finding Marquez there, despite seeing the youngster’s Repsol Honda suddenly appear inside and then ahead of him. The arcs of the two men intersected, Lorenzo coming off worse as he held the outside line.

Marquez bounced inside, keeping upright and going on to cross the line in second place, making it a Repsol Honda one-two, and taking the lead in the MotoGP championship. Lorenzo was forced wide onto the hard runoff area, coming back to cross the line a couple of seconds behind Marquez, and deeply disappointed, in both the result and the riding of Marquez.

The incident sent the media into a frenzy, and opposing fans into an even bigger frenzy. While the frenzy in the media room was aimed at finding anyone even vaguely remotely related to a team to give their opinion, out on the internet, the fans were furiously discussing the pros and cons of Marquez’ pass.

Among the fans, opinion was split, though probably not quite evenly. A very sizable proportion regarded the pass as unacceptable, Marquez using Lorenzo as a berm, while the majority were just thrilled to seem some real excitement back in racing.

Among those in the paddock, the overwhelming opinion was that this was a racing incident, and that these things happen. The lone voices of dissent came from Jorge Lorenzo’s garage, with the Spaniard’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg explaining several times in several languages that in his opinion, the move had set a bad precedent, and that Marquez would have picked up a penalty if the clash had led to either of the two men hitting the gravel. Though Zeelenberg’s arguments sounded reasonable, he could perhaps be accused of not being entirely impartial.

So was Marquez’s move dangerous? Not in my opinion. Was it a gamble? Definitely. Was it likely to come off? That was completely unclear when Marquez made his move. Could it have all gone horribly wrong? Most certainly.

But those are not relevant questions. The relevant questions are this: was there an opening, and did Marquez dive into the gap with the intention of making a pass, or of taking out Lorenzo? That there was a gap is in no doubt, as even Lorenzo himself admitted. Did he intend to make the pass? Definitely, but his intention was never to use physical force to move Lorenzo aside. Contact was not the aim of the move, and with Lorenzo on the outside, the Yamaha man had somewhere to go.

Lorenzo could have avoided contact if he’d either been willing to cede the position, or if he’d been expecting the attack. Neither of these were the case, and so Marquez and Lorenzo ended up on a collision course, which saw Lorenzo lose out in the corner so recently named after him.

What options did Lorenzo have? He could have aborted turn in, and run straight on into the gravel. That would have meant losing second place, and maybe even third, but it would have been an entirely safe option. It might even have been a gamble worth taking, if Marquez had continued into the gravel further than Lorenzo did.

Alternatively, Lorenzo could have braked earlier once he saw Marquez come by, then turned in much earlier to retake the position. That, too, would have given Lorenzo his best shot at retaining second spot, and demoting Marquez to third or worse.

Why did Lorenzo not do either of those things? In part, because he didn’t have much reaction time, and in part because he didn’t realize that Marquez was quite so close. But most of all, I believe, because he wasn’t expecting Marquez to even attempt a pass, and so hadn’t even given the option full consideration.

This expectation has been created over the past three or four years, where riding attitudes have changed to be more respectful. With Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Casey Stoner at the front, a consensus formed on riding a MotoGP bike, in which inch-perfect riding was stressed more highly than the willingness to do anything to win.

That led to riders only attempting passes which they deemed perfectly safe, preferring to follow each other rather than dice, with the most precise rider winning. This attitude was illustrated most perfectly at Motegi in 2010, when Casey Stoner passed Dani Pedrosa rather more aggressively than he intended round the outside, which he then apologized for by sticking up his hand to indicate his regret.

This attitude became the ingrained and predominant culture, made possible because the top riders set the tone. It became worse when Valentino Rossi moved to Ducati, as that put him completely out of contention for the podium, bar freak conditions such as Le Mans or Misano. When Lorenzo or Pedrosa are riding, this is now how they think.

But that attitude will cut it no longer. With the arrival of Marc Marquez, who honed his skills among the beserkers of Moto2, a gap is there to be exploited. The point of racing, Marquez believes, is to win, and that means doing everything possible – inside the most liberal possible interpretation of the rules – to beat your opponent.

And that means that when you leave a gap open, you can expect Marquez to dive into it, in the hope of pulling something off. This attitude is exacerbated by the fact that the Repsol Honda man has nothing to lose; after all, it is his first season, and he is not expected to be challenging for the title. Marquez can afford to risk crashing to gain a place; if he gains a place he wins, if he crashes, he loses little.

Is this a good thing? It will be an unpopular opinion in some quarters, but I believe it is. MotoGP in previous years has become sanitized, riders studying to be inch-perfect instead of doing what it takes to win.

Marc Marquez throws that old attitude out of the window, and brings the spectacle back to MotoGP. Where lesser riders – Marco Simoncelli springs to mind – would take risks that would too often end in tears, Marquez’ supernatural skills means he can both ride at the limit of the acceptable, and get away with it without hurting either himself or someone else.

Of even his most dangerous crashes in Moto2, it has really only been the incident with Ratthapark Wilairot which has caused real injury, and that was in large part down to his crew, telling him to push for a fast lap despite the checkered flag already having fallen.

Marc Marquez brings the excitement back to MotoGP, the excitement that was sorely lacking. Marquez has the talent of Freddie Spencer with the ruthlessness of Valentino Rossi and the bike control of Casey Stoner. He is a dynamite package, in a 60kg frame. And as we all know, explosives need to be handled with care.

Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa need to change their mindset. With an aggressive rider like Marquez around them, they either need to cultivate a similar aggression – something which Lorenzo has a long history of – or use Marquez’s aggression against him. Either way, MotoGP is about to get spectacular.

Photo: HRC

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.