Spanish Stars Dominate MotoGP Podium At Jerez

Marc Márquez rebounds from Texas crash to retake world-championship point lead

Marc Márquez
Marc Márquez leads the 24-rider MotoGP field into turn 1 on Sunday at Jerez. The 26-year-old Spaniard never relinquished the lead and won the race—his 46th in the premier class—by 1.6 seconds ahead of Álex Rins and Maverick Viñales.Honda

In World War II, GIs called any soldier of 26 "pappy," and that was the situation on the front row on Sunday at Jerez in Spain. The two Petronas Yamaha riders, premier-class rookie Fabio Quartararo and second-year-man Franco Morbidelli, qualified ahead of 26-year-old Marc "Pappy" Márquez.

From the start of the race until lap eight, the gap between the leader, Márquez, and his Petronas pursuers was near constant, even at times shrinking. Then, on lap nine, their lap times slowed but Márquez remained on pace. Despite this, Quartararo looked stable and secure in second place until his YZR-M1 locked in third gear. Morbidelli held second for 10 laps, then faded to a creditable seventh. Álex Rins took 14 laps to reach second place from his third-row start.

After the special conditions of this season's first three events—Qatar, Argentina, and Texas—riders were happy to return to the comfortable knowns of racing in Europe. Márquez is aware that critics, after his fall at Circuit of The Americas, are discussing his "weaknesses" and treating Austin winner Rins as the new comet in the MotoGP sky.

Maverick Viñales has alternately soared to the heights when his Yamaha works well then fallen into despair when its chronic problems reappear. He is surely threatened by the speed of the Petronas riders, their bikes closely similar to his own. Finishing well and consistently is his only salvation. Commenting on this, Viñales’ teammate Valentino Rossi said, “To be clear, I believe that the human factor made the difference in Jerez.” In other words, the speed of Quartararo and Morbidelli does not come from demon setup tweaks that are not shared with the factory team.

Alex Rins
Following his inaugural MotoGP victory at Circuit of The Americas, Rins steadily carved through the field to finish second. "This race was really difficult, and starting on the third row made it harder. I knew my race pace could be close to Marc’s."Michelin

When asked if tire differences could be behind the remarkable speed of the Petronas riders, Michelin manager Piero Taramasso said, “From a tire point of view, Valentino versus Petronas, wear, temperature, and pressure are in the same range.”

Viñales himself also made an interesting admission: “I am riding very aggressive on the bike, stop and go, and maybe it is not the best riding style for the bike. So I also have to improve, not just the bike.”

Maverick Viñales
Maverick Viñales chose a medium-compound front tire and finished third while Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi picked the harder option. “To be on the podium feels like a victory to me,” said Viñales, who is sixth in the championship, 31 points behind Rossi.Yamaha

Remember that outspoken Cal Crutchlow had a season on the Yamaha, trying at first to ride it in his own natural Superbike stop-and-go style. “It wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I had to learn to ride its way.”

Danilo Petrucci is another rider who could be considered under threat by these freshman riders. He was fifth at Jerez, 3.48 seconds ahead of Morbidelli. Ducati is known for its “Off with his head!” style with respect to those who disappoint.

Jorge Lorenzo, 12th on Sunday, is also vulnerable. Yes, he was able finally to win races on the Ducati but it took months in a fast-changing game. Now that Lorenzo has switched to Honda, time seems to remain an ingredient in his admirable ability to adapt.

What team can resist young riders bursting with talent? Suzuki made a conscious decision to take on younger riders, and there was Rins finishing second and only one point down in the championship from leader Márquez.

A point to ponder is that only Márquez can consistently get the best from the Honda, while many riders go well on Yamaha. Team managers can no longer regard riders as Lego blocks that click into place. Some rider styles and bikes just don’t click.

Fabio Quartararo
MotoGP rookie Fabio Quartararo won pole for Sunday’s race with a circuit record 1-minute, 36.680-second lap. The 20-year-old Frenchman was running second at half race distance when his gearbox locked in third, ending an otherwise spectacular weekend.Petronas

MotoGP is now extremely competitive, making it risky for a rider starting from a low position (Rossi started from row five!) or making a poor start to make up positions. Tires are becoming ever-more closely engineered to last the race if and only if they are ridden in an optimum and controlled way with little reserve for such things as making up positions. That tends to make the finish order look a lot like qualifying. Tires limit the cut and thrust that a rider can afford; it’s best for the tires if the rider can get clear and cruise. As Márquez did.

Jack Miller, out with three laps remaining after a collision with Aleix Espargaró, threw light on this by saying, “I needed my qualifying map for the first three laps with a lot of power to be able to make moves on people. At the end, I ran out of front tire, then I ran out of rear tire, all on the right side. I just killed the tires, and then I was a sitting duck.”

New riders may now arrive with more sophistication. Quartararo said, “In the first laps, I learned many things. I was acting on the bike like I had more experience than only my fourth race, doing mapping changes, seeing that the tire pressure was high, so I managed to get it cooler.”

Márquez described his situation: “I knew it would be a difficult race because the new asphalt allowed everyone to get closer.” He is known for excelling when traction is poor, as in the early events at Indianapolis, when the pavement was extremely rough.

“But when I saw the sun, I knew it was my race [grip declines as the day heats up]. After Austin, some people talked about my possible weaknesses so I wanted to show that I could do a reset and win as I tried to do in the US [by leading off the start grid and pulling away].

Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso (04) finished where he qualified, fourth. “If we consider the issues we’ve always had at Jerez, we can be satisfied with both our pace and the gap from the front at the end of the race,” he said, adding Ducati needs to improve its corner speed.Ducati

“In the first five laps, I didn’t ride as I usually do. I was stiff and afraid of falling, but I managed well and slowly gained a margin. When the tires dropped and the bike started to slip, I realized it was time to push. On lap 15, I pushed my opponents to [gauge] my speed, and it went well. I knew this race would be built on every tenth of a second.”

Márquez said Honda had resolved the technical fault that led to his crash at COTA.

Meanwhile, here came Rins, after just three laps setting a fastest lap while between the two Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Petrucci. “My strategy was to overtake fast,” Rins said. “I lost a lot of time with Dovizioso. The Ducati brakes hard and accelerates really hard.” A lot of time, yes. Rins was fourth for the first 10 laps.

Valentino Rossi
Sunday rider: Rossi (46) started 13th following a poor qualifying performance and raced to sixth, ahead of protégé Morbidelli and LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (35). After four rounds, the 40-year-old Italian is fourth in points, nine behind leader Márquez.Yamaha

Rins commented after the race that, “We need to improve the braking.” So apparently the old either/or still applies to the two virtues of turning and braking: If you build in one, you probably build out the other. Pick one.

How do you make a pass stick on Dovizioso’s rocket ship, especially if you are being clearly, visibly obliterated by his off-corner acceleration? You choose a corner that leads, not to a straightaway that allows acceleration to do its work, but into a sequence of corners where the Ducati’s improved-but-still-deficient turning is a disadvantage. The Suzukis have corner speed, and Rins used it to wear down Dovizioso. In the process, they raised the fastest race lap repeatedly.

Marc Márquez
Márquez arrived in Spain fourth in points, nine out of first, and leaves for France in first, one marker ahead of Rins. “This race was a mental race, more than a physical one,” he said. “After the mistake in Austin, it wasn’t easy to lead the race like that from beginning to end.”Honda

Márquez’s pace remained high; he was too fast to be caught.

Of special interest was Honda tester Stefan Bradl’s wild-card ride to 10th place on an HRC machine, whose aluminum chassis has been sheathed in carbon fiber. This technique was pioneered by the legendary Erv Kanemoto on the very flexy Honda NSR250 created as an intentional 1997 experiment by a much younger Shuhei Nakamoto and ridden by Max Biaggi to the championship. Biaggi, then freshly arrived from the very stiff Aprilia, was dismayed to find that the Honda’s weave threshold was below its maximum speed. The carbon sheathing made the NSR rideable, and he prevailed by just two points over Ralf Waldmann. Here is HRC resurrecting that technique 22 years later. Hmm…

Success books urge us to set goals, but life remains a series of accidents. Johann Zarco, when on the Tech3 Yamaha, was easily as impressive as Quartararo or Morbidelli, but when Yamaha saw a possible Asian PR advantage in moving those rides to a Petronas team, Tech3 was shunted to KTM. Zarco is suddenly nowhere. Speaking of recent testing, he said, “I come from 15 days of studying to understand what to do to improve the RC16, where I have more difficulty entering corners. The KTM would prefer to go straight.”

Because Jerez had just been repaved—“The new tarmac has great grip,” Márquez said—Michelin brought a second “emergency” hard tire in case of extreme temperature, but it evidently was not needed. Taramasso said, “The scientific judgment was good, and we have exactly what we were expecting.” He described the new pavement as having “big stones, very aggressive.”

Sunday’s results bring the top four in the world championship—Márquez, Rins, Dovizioso, and Rossi, all riding different machinery—within a spread of nine points.