Márquez Unleashes Last-Lap Strategy To Win Australian GP

Early leader Viñales crashes two corners from the finish at Phillip Island.

Maverick Viñales (12) and Marc Márquez (93) pulled away from Cal Crutchlow and the rest of the MotoGP field in Sunday’s 27-lap race at Phillip Island. Márquez ultimately used his Honda’s superior acceleration to pass the leading Yamaha approaching turn 1.
Maverick Viñales (12) and Marc Márquez (93) pulled away from Cal Crutchlow and the rest of the MotoGP field in Sunday’s 27-lap race at Phillip Island. Márquez ultimately used his Honda’s superior acceleration to pass the leading Yamaha approaching turn 1. “The most difficult period was when Viñales started to push a lot,” he said. “But I knew that if I got past those four or five laps, victory would be possible. The weekend was crazy—rain, cold, wind, mixed conditions. At the end, the rear tire was completely destroyed, but we were able to win the race.”Dorna

Maverick Viñales set pole on a Yamaha and had the strongest pace in Sunday's MotoGP race at Phillip Island, leading laps 10 through 25 of 27 in Australia. But as Marc Márquez observed afterward, "Sometimes the fastest one doesn't win the race."

“Both in qualifying and in warm-up,” the Repsol Honda rider said, “I realized Viñales had something more than I did. I knew, however, that if I could survive the early laps behind him I would be able to follow him all the way to the end. On the last lap, I managed to overtake him at the only point where it would have been possible, on the straight. On all the rest of the track, he was able to get away.”

Attempting to repass, Viñales fell at Lukey Heights, just two corners from the finish line, making the order of the top five Márquez, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Francesco Bagnaia, and Joan Mir. Andrea Iannone was sixth on an Aprilia. This race was between just two men, one of whom fell, leaving Crutchlow runner-up 11.4 seconds back.

Viñales won this race in 2018, and the all-time lap record, 1:27.899, stands to Jorge Lorenzo in his great years on a Yamaha. Long, fast corners are Yamaha’s fortress, against which the Hondas are weak. In the race, Viñales, as so often, lost six places at the start, then pushed through hectic traffic to reach the front on lap 10.

Giving a thrill to his many fans, Valentino Rossi got away first and led three laps but then went backward. “I was more competitive compared to last weekend [at Motegi],” he said. “Like always, we have a lack of grip on the rear. I’m very slow in the straight but also in the acceleration. I’m not able to exit from the corner very fast. This is the place where we have to work.”

Fifth one week earlier in Japan, Crutchlow (35) led six laps and scored his third top-three finish of the 2019 season.
Fifth one week earlier in Japan, Crutchlow (35) led six laps and scored his third top-three finish of the 2019 season. “I knew coming into today that I had the pace to be on the podium,” he said. “I didn’t have the grip or the bike under me to be able to go with Marc and Maverick. The last five laps the rear tire fell to pieces, and I was literally just riding home. The last lap it started raining, and I said, ‘No, no…’ I’m really pleased to get a podium here after what happened last year. At one point, I didn’t think I was coming back.”Dorna

Even if Yamaha this year had given up its long practice of sacrificing top power to drivability, engineers could do nothing about it until last year because of the MotoGP rule forbidding in-season engine development to all but newcomers to the series and underperforming teams. It will be interesting to see if Yamaha abandons this practice next year.

The normal pace of gathering tire data through four dry practices was upset by the cancellation of Saturday’s qualifying sessions as a result of high wind from the ocean—it’s an island, right?—with irregular gusts to 50 mph. KTM rider Miguel Oliveira had a heavy crash approaching fast turn 1 after being literally pushed over the curbing and off the track by such a gust. This moved qualifying to Sunday morning after warm-up.

There are always some fans who appoint themselves authorities on what “real men” ought to do—race, even in snow! I remind them that the fastest bikes were approaching turn 1 at 213-plus mph with the front wheel turned to one side to stay on the track.

Australian Jack Miller (43) qualified ninth and finished third in his home Grand Prix, one place ahead of Pramac Racing Ducati teammate Francesco Bagnaia (63).
Australian Jack Miller (43) qualified ninth and finished third in his home Grand Prix, one place ahead of Pramac Racing Ducati teammate Francesco Bagnaia (63). “I saw those three bolt, especially Marc and Maverick, and I knew on the grid they were on the soft [rear tire],” the 24-year-old said. “I tried not to push too early at the start like I’ve done in the past, and I thought fourth is probably going to be the best I could do. It’s a great day. It’s not a win, but it feels like it a little bit.”Dorna

Fifteen-time world champion Giacomo Agostini, 77, who was present at this event, said, “Risking death was the norm [in the 1960s and ’70s] especially for British riders. But at one point, I put my foot down and stopped the TT. And I had won 10 [TTs] before. It was once a world championship race; you had to go.” Today the Isle of Man TT races are voluntary, part of no series.

MotoGP rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo and Mugello winner Danilo Petrucci both lost grip on wide lines in turn 2 on lap one, the latter having been pushed wide by a hurrying Márquez. Tossed by his highsiding bike, Petrucci took down Quartararo, who also crashed on Friday at the end of Free Practice 1 and sat out FP2 with a sore ankle. “If he hadn’t hit me,” the Frenchman said, “it would’ve been the same: I’d have gone on the grass and lost all the positions. This morning, we did something really incredible, I think. We were first in Q1 and then went through and got a front row [start].” Petrucci added, “Marc made me go wide on a dirty trajectory [traction is less offline], while Quartararo lost the rear and the same thing happened to me.”

Suzuki riders Joan Mir and Álex Rins bookend Valentino Rossi as they chase Andrea Iannone on one of two Aprilias.
Suzuki riders Joan Mir and Álex Rins bookend Valentino Rossi as they chase Andrea Iannone on one of two Aprilias. “I’m so happy about the work we’ve been doing behind the scenes,” said Mir, fifth. “It’s a shame conditions weren’t more settled during the weekend. I felt really good in the dry, and I got my best MotoGP result.” Both Iannone and teammate Aleix Espargaró finished in the top 10 on the RS-GP for the first time. “I had a good feeling straight away,” Iannone said. “I realized from first practice that it would be a good opportunity for us.”Dorna

This is just one more example of why riders put such effort into getting the best possible start by qualifying high: The closer you are to the front, the less shoulder rubbing, honk honk, beep beep you must endure in the hectic opening laps. Best of all is to be on the front row.

Onlookers could see that, close to the end, Márquez was sitting up on the straight to keep from showing his hand to leader Viñales. “I started the [next to] last lap much tighter to the curb to have the chance, if Marc would overtake at the last moment, to brake later,” Viñales said. “But he overtook me before the finish line. Then I was planning to push to the maximum in sector 3 to overtake in turn 10, and that’s what I did. So, before I crashed, I was ready to go in without braking to see what would happen, but I locked the rear.”

Easy to do at that point, which is on the downside of a hill. “Maybe I made a mistake, I don’t know,” Viñales said. “And then I just fell down on the other side. Today was a race to win, not to be second.”

After qualifying fourth, Rossi (46) led three laps before slipping through the field, clawing his way back to fourth and then dropping to 10th before bringing his factory Yamaha home eighth.
After qualifying fourth, Rossi (46) led three laps before slipping through the field, clawing his way back to fourth and then dropping to 10th before bringing his factory Yamaha home eighth. “It was a great start and a very good way to celebrate my 400th Grand Prix being able to be in front for a bit,” he said. “In the end, the result isn’t fantastic, but I was not so far behind Miller, who arrived on the podium. I was able to ride in a better way and was more competitive compared to the previous weekend.”Dorna

Some MotoGP enthusiasts hope and hope for a Márquez challenger to appear, and Quartararo and Viñales have done just that this year but without winning. This is the nature of highly competitive activities from time to time. In the US, supercross promoters dread the appearance of the next dominant talent, for they well know how it can lead to “fan fatigue.” Then people stay home and watch TV celebrity mud wrestling in protest.

World War II RAF fighter pilot Pierre Clostermann, in his powerful account of the European air war, The Big Show, notes that some of the German super aces—men with more than 200 victories versus Clostermann’s 32—seemed to have a sixth sense that warned them of the random events that could so easily lead to a fatal error.

Márquez gave us some small insight into this when he said, “I kept going, kept pushing, and then I started slow cooking the victory by analyzing, checking how the tires were, and even like this it was not 100 percent certain as [Viñales] was very, very fast. On the last lap, it was my plan to overtake him on the main straight and then try to close all the doors. I was trying to brake so deep going in, and I was sliding a lot on the rear as the tire was finished.”

Former KTM teammates Johann Zarco (5) and Pol Espargaró started from the fifth and sixth rows of the grid. Zarco was 13th in his LCR Honda debut, one place behind Espargaró.
Former KTM teammates Johann Zarco (5) and Pol Espargaró (44) started from the fifth and sixth rows of the grid. Zarco was 13th in his LCR Honda debut, one place behind Espargaró. “At the start, I had a good fight with many riders,” the 29-year-old Frenchman said. “It was quite funny that the rider I was battling with for most of the race was Espargaró. Every time I thought I could get past him and move on to the group ahead, he attacked again and we lost some time. I tried to beat him, but he did a good last lap and came out of the last corner better than me.”Dorna

Here another parallel with aviation pops out. A friend of many years took up flying after he made his pile and tackled the process of gaining higher ratings with great intensity. “Really,” he said, “each higher level, such as multi-engine and commercial, just requires you to master the problem of correctly doing more things at once.”

Another population of enthusiasts deeply yearns for races to be won on “heart” alone, as in popular movies about no-hope sports teams that win just by wanting that result so much. They regard the successes of those who appear to win through calculation—Kenny Roberts, Mick Doohan, Eddie Lawson—as somehow less authentic, less human.

Emotion is attractive because so much of our lives is ruled by it and because the emotions—positive and negative—so powerfully prove our existence. But when the rear tire is finished, or when the aircraft somehow enters a flat spin, the person in charge needs instant access to clear, accurate thinking. Analysis is not inhuman; it is a useful tool available to those who can keep their heads above the turbulent waves of emotion.

Repsol Honda crew members celebrate Márquez’s 16th podium—11 victories, five seconds—of the 2019 MotoGP world championship.
Repsol Honda crew members celebrate Márquez’s 16th podium—11 victories, five seconds—of the 2019 MotoGP world championship. “It’s really special to take this 55th win with Honda,” Márquez said. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who started from 19th position on the grid, crossed the line in 16th, an improvement from the last three races in Spain, Thailand, and Japan, where the five-time world champion was 20th, 18th, and 17th, but nevertheless outside a point-paying finish. Only two rounds—Sepang in Malaysia and Valencia, Spain—remain.Dorna

Crutchlow’s 2018 crash at Phillip Island that resulted in a season-ending ankle injury, stood out in his mind because, “I usually get back on and I don’t care, but this one has haunted me for a year.” Despite that, he was able to set those emotions aside to concentrate on a great ride into second place.

Miller, third, said, “As I came over turn 9, I saw dust. I was like, ‘Ah, now I am third.' Inside, inside, inside and as I went in between the two last corners, it was up to full power [those buttons on the left handlebar are there to be used!] to make sure nobody came past me on the front straight. You never want to see anyone crash out, especially like that with a few corners to go, but it is what it is.”