Marc Márquez Ends 2019 MotoGP Season With Victory At Valencia

Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati riders complete the final podium in Spain.

Marc Márquez
Marc Márquez (right) capped an eighth world championship win with his 12th victory and 18th podium in 19 races despite what he called the “worst start” of the season. “We did a great comeback,” he said. “Fabio [Quartararo] was going away, but in two or three laps, I caught him. My strategy was to try to lead the race—I feel better here in front than behind—and that’s what I did.”Dorna

Because weather conditions in Valencia, Spain, were cold, windy, and tire grip tenuous, the last MotoGP race of the 2019 season was a tip-toe contest. Valentino Rossi called the weather “winter.”

As Jack Miller had predicted, his Ducati holeshot device flung him toward turn 1 first, but pole-sitter Fabio Quartararo was soon past him to lead the first seven laps. Marc Márquez, back in third, very much took his time, advancing cautiously, passing Miller on lap 2, finally coming under Quartararo’s Yamaha at turn 11 on the eighth of 27 laps.

After that, Márquez led the rest, creeping ahead by a tenth or two every lap. There was no action in this race, just people concentrating on doing everything right so they didn’t fall. Six of them—Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, Iker Lecuona, Franco Morbidelli, and Andrea Iannone—did fall.

Jack Miller leading
Jack Miller (43) predicted he would lead the 22-rider field into turn 1. “I don’t really want to be leading,” he said, “but I know how the bike starts.” Quartararo passed the 24-year-old Australian exiting turn 2. “It was quite chilly out there, and the wind was blowing a fair bit,” Miller said after the 27-lap race. “I had a big moment between turns 11 and 12; a crosswind blew the front wheel from underneath me.”Dorna

Maverick Viñales, who had shared with Márquez the ability in practice to set forth blocks of laps in the 1 minute, 31 seconds or better, had “one of his days,” finishing lowly sixth, almost 9 seconds back.

“It was a difficult race,” the factory Yamaha rider said. “I struggled a lot with the rear grip, which happens sometimes for us and today again.” He had failed to get heat into his tires.

Quite a few riders were fast in Free Practice 3 and 4 on Saturday, posting impressive numbers of 1:31s. But it wasn’t enough. You also had to get away up front, be fast, stay fast, and not fall. Few could deliver that package.

Joan Mir and Álex Rins
Joan Mir (36) and Álex Rins were among 10 riders who used the soft Michelin rear tire. The Suzuki teammates were seventh and fifth, respectively. Valentino Rossi (46) qualified 12th, and finished eighth in the race, seventh in the championship. Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales, sixth, completed the season third overall, 58 points behind Andrea Dovizioso, runner-up to Márquez in 2017, ’18, and ’19.Dorna

You can be sure Rossi, eighth, is tired of hearing himself say the same things about Yamaha’s YZR-M1: “I didn’t have enough rear grip and, after some laps, I had to slow down because my tire lost a lot of performance. In the second half of the season, we suffered a lot from this and, in the end, we were not able to fix it. We expect something new from Yamaha.”

Again, it can seem to come down to development style. With Márquez, Honda has a successful partnership, yet without him its bikes would be undistinguished. Yamaha has for years acted upon the idea that it must trade away engine performance for rideability, yet somehow Honda this year has both. Yamaha’s problem with late-race rear tire fade has persisted now for years; it has become an “era.” Ducati has held firm through seasons of Andrea Dovizioso’s urgings that it must improve the Desmosedici’s midcorner grip.

This same apparent conceptual stubbornness is also found in the sciences. In extreme cases, the views of an elder and dominant researcher conflict increasingly with new data, but such is his prestige that no criticism can be heard and no information reinterpreted until he passes from the scene.

Cal Crutchlow
Weather and a left-turn-biased configuration claimed a number of riders on Sunday, including Cal Crutchlow (shown), Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Iannone, and Iker Lecuona, who made his MotoGP debut at Valencia. Márquez fell in morning warm-up running the same medium-front, hard-rear tire combination used in the race. He set the fastest race lap, 1:31.116, on the fourth loop of the 2.49-mile circuit.Dorna

Another way to interpret what we see is to say that Ducati, Yamaha, and Suzuki face the problem of building motorcycles that can make riders who are not Marc Márquez faster than the eight-time world champion himself. This comes down to a tire argument: Márquez has from the start been able to get more from his tires than even much more experienced riders, in effect making hardware almost irrelevant. The Ducati and KTM have horsepower, the Yamaha has—or did have—midcorner side grip, and the Ducatis have braking stability but, clearly, when it comes to exploiting the tires’ capability in all directions, Marquez’s mental tire-management software usually determines the outcome. He won 12 MotoGP races this year.

Michelin tech Piero Taramasso said one very interesting thing on Saturday night at Valencia: “We advise the teams to use increased air pressure to get more heat into the tire.” When a listener objected that we had always been told lower pressure generates more heat, Taramasso added, “How we design our tire is that increased pressure equals a smaller contact area.”

Jorge Lorenzo’s final MotoGP ride.
Ninety-nine-thousand spectators witnessed Jorge Lorenzo’s final MotoGP ride. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna waited in pit lane for Lorenzo to arrive after the race. Lorenzo won three races—Mugello, Catalunya, and Austria—in 2018 on a factory Ducati. Of his Repsol Honda squad, Lorenzo said, “I am very proud of my team. It was very difficult to keep supporting me with these results, but they did.”Dorna

A smaller contact area slips more, generating heat by increased sliding rather than by increased flexure of rubber in the tire. The original reason for the development of the semi-radial tire circa 1984 was to reduce the generation of hysteretic heat (internal friction of the material itself) to extend the life of the tread compound.

Taramasso said that the choice on this “generally low-grip track” is between the soft—quicker lap times but with “movement”—and hard, which is more stable for the frequent direction-changing of Valencia’s 14-turn, 2.49-mile “bullring.”

A star is born: MotoGP rookie Quartararo outperformed expectations of many in the Grand Prix paddock. “Last year,” he said, “I got a lot of ‘bad comments’ that I was not ready, that I didn't have the experience to be in MotoGP, but I worked a lot during the winter and in the tests, and we managed to get seven podiums and six pole positions. For sure, if I had a win, this year would be even better.”Dorna

Riders say “the tire is moving” when they’re not sure whether it is sliding or they are just feeling its carcass deflecting above the footprint. Remember Marco Melandri’s rule, that performance by itself is nothing unless there is also rider confidence.

About his crash, Crutchlow said: “I felt quite good in the race, but I braked a bit late going into turn 1, and went onto a dirty part of the track. I nearly saved the bike…”

Rookie-of-the-year Quartararo, fifth overall in the point standings and six times starting from pole position, summed up his year: “I have to improve to keep fighting with Márquez. He has something more than me. I’m fast in qualifying, but I’m still missing something.” He does not want to become known as “the Saturday man.”

Márquez finished the season in the “best way,” by adding the “team” title to rider and manufacturer championships to complete MotoGP’s “triple crown.” The 26-year-old Spaniard earned 420 of Repsol Honda’s 457 total points haul. “It was an amazing season, the best in my career,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be the best season in all my career, but, obviously, the numbers speak. Difficult to improve.”Dorna

Márquez described himself: “I learned to look at things with realism, without pretense, this year. If you don’t have the potential to win a race, you have to accept it and get the most [points] you can.”

Dovizioso, fourth, had little comment: “We have confirmed a solid second place, unfortunately with a very big gap from Márquez in the standings but also with a large gap over the third-place rider [Viñales].”

Every rider and team has made its 2019 play, and the results are in. On Tuesday, the tests begin that introduce the 2020 season. Will the teams whose strategies have not met with success present their riders next spring with further perfected muzzle loaders? Or will there be evidence of new thinking?