Repsol Honda has officially confirmed that Alex Marquez will partner his brother Marc at the Repsol Honda team for next year. It is the first time that a pair of brothers have raced in the same team in MotoGP.
There have been other brothers riding in the same class at the same time – Aleix and Pol Espargaro the latest example of that, but never before have brothers raced in the same team in either 500cc or MotoGP.
When it was announced that Jorge Lorenzo would be holding a special press conference at 3pm, the Thursday before the start of the Valencia round for MotoGP, and that Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta would be talking at the media event as well, the news could only mean one thing: Jorge Lorenzo was about to announce his retirement from the MotoGP Championship.
It is true what they say about smoke and fire, and today the smoke cleared for an announcement from the man himself, telling a packed press conference room that “this will be my last race in MotoGP” and his last race-weekend as a professional rider.
The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid.
If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8-Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.
Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda’s 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year’s race is even more important.
What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place.
Márquez’s record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez’s sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.
The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire.
It was Rossi’s third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.
Doing the math ahead of the Thai GP, it would be hard to see how Marc Marquez would come out of Buriram not the 2019 MotoGP World Champion, as the Spaniard only needed to finish two points ahead of Andrea Dovizioso to clinch the title.
The problem though is that Marc Marquez is not known for taking the easy points, and instead we witnessed a masterful race from the Repsol Honda rider, as he battled his way to the front of the race.
The result was Marc Marquez taking the MotoGP World Championship title in dominating form – a fitting end to his 2019 season.
With five races to go, Marc Marquez leads Andrea Dovizioso in the MotoGP championship by 300 points to 202, a difference of 98 points.
He is within a couple of points of wrapping up the title, and looks nearly certain to do so at either Buriram in Thailand or Motegi in Japan.
What does Marquez need to do to wrap up the title in Thailand? The Repsol Honda rider will become champion if he leads Andrea Dovizioso by 100 points after the Thai Grand Prix in Buriram.
Marc Márquez is the highest paid MotoGP rider in the world. His salary is rumored to be in the region of €15 million a year, and while the numbers bandied about for rider salaries can be wildly inaccurate, there is evidence to suggest this is not far off the mark, if you will excuse the pun.
HRC is said to give riders an automatic €2 million a year raise for winning the championship, so Márquez’s five MotoGP titles in theory add up to a tidy €10 million since he entered the premier class. And that is on top of the base salary he stated out with, and any extra wages he may have negotiated for himself.
He is worth every penny of that to HRC. Without Márquez, Honda’s championship trophy cabinet would have been conspicuously bare. In the five seasons in which Márquez won the MotoGP title, the second-placed Honda rider finished third, fourth, sixth, fourth, and seventh respectively.
For a factory that regards itself as the pinnacle of motorcycling, not winning championships is not an option. The dry spell between Nicky Hayden’s 2006 title and Casey Stoner’s in 2011 is still a painful memory for Honda.
What are you to do if you find yourself stuck on a bike you know you can’t ride? On a bike that you are convinced is trying to hurt you, and that you keep falling off of every time you try to push?
The obvious answer is you try to leave as soon as possible. But that simple answer hides a host of factors that make leaving not as easy as it looks. The cases of Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco illustrate that very well.
First of all, why would a rider want to leave a factory ride? The pay is good, rarely less than seven figures. Riders have a chance to shape the bike and point development in a direction that suits them.
They are treated, if not like royalty, then at least like nobility: transport is arranged and rearranged pretty much at their whim, picked up at their front doors before a race and deposited there again afterward. The pressure is high, but in a factory team, they do everything they can to take the strain and let their riders concentrate on riding.
That is little consolation when the going gets really tough. When you are struggling to get inside the top ten, despite giving your all to try to make the bike go faster.
When you are crashing at twice, three times your normal rate. When factories are slow to bring updates to the bike. Or even worse, when they bring boxes and boxes of new parts, and none of those parts make much of a difference to your results.
You would think, with only two riders not yet signed up for 2020, and both of those (Jack Miller and Takaaki Nakagami) saying they are just working out the details, that there would not be much drama over contracts in the MotoGP paddock.
Things are not quite the same in the WorldSBK paddock, where Alvaro Bautista’s reign of terror has come to a very premature end, opening all sorts of speculation for the 2020 season.
Those two strands are starting to come together after Brno, amplified by moves in Moto2 and WorldSBK. The rumors are flying, some more sensible than others. And many of them are very much in the category of insanity.
At the core of these rumors is Jorge Lorenzo, and his extended absence from the MotoGP paddock due to the injuries sustained in his crashes at the Barcelona test and practice at Assen.
Since then, the rumor mill has gone into overdrive, with questions over whether Lorenzo will continue with Repsol Honda or try to do something else.
Over the summer break, there were rumors he would retire, and the latest rumor has him going back to Ducati in some form or another.
Jorge Lorenzo’s recovery is proceeding slower than hoped for, and will be forced to miss the next two MotoGP rounds.
The Repsol Honda rider fractured two vertebrae in a crash at Assen, an injury that came on top of the battering his back took in a crash at the end of the Barcelona test two weeks before that.
Though empty seats are limited for the 2020 MotoGP season, in recent weeks there has been some movement to fill those vacancies.
The moves have mostly been unsurprising, but then with so few seats available, the chances of something unexpected happening are very slim.
Just before the Sachsenring, we saw Danilo Petrucci keeping his seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team for the 2020 season, a fully expected move since the Italian’s victory at Mugello back in early June.
That leaves Jack Miller in the Pramac Ducati team for another year, though that deal is not yet signed.
A deal is close, however. “We’re fighting over pennies now,” Miller said on Sunday night in Germany. Miller will have a Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at his disposal, the same as his teammate Pecco Bagnaia, but there were still a few financial details to be ironed out.
“It more or less should be done, I got some information today. So hopefully we can get it done before we get back at Brno and put all that stuff behind us and just focus on riding.”