It was mathematically possible but no one expected that the MotoGP championship would be done and over at the Japanese round at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, not even Marc Marquez himself. With three races to go he sealed the issue with a win as his two rivals. Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, both slid off their Yamaha YZR-M1 chasing a disappearing Honda RC23V – mounted Marc Marquez.
The celebrations after he crossed the line where not choreographed on that day, his mind set on keeping up the fight. Okay, the t-shirts were ready (there is someone who is paid to take care of that and I bet there was some digging for boxes after Lorenzo’s demise during the race) but it was his younger brother Alex Marquez and a friend that were trackside on the cool-down lap to congratulate him and give him the gold helmet that Shoei had ready to mark his title, the third one for him in MotoGP.
The way he managed his season was a complete turn-around for Marc Marquez. In 2015 he failed to finish in six races, his do-or-die attitude getting the better of him too often. With the pre-season testing not going too well for the Honda riders, the change of the electronic package mandated by the new rules hurting them more than most, it was a different Marc Marquez that showed up at the first race of 2016.
‘I learned a hard lesson in 2015. If can’t fight for the win I have to stay calm and get as many points as possible,’ he said. Even if he won in Argentina and in Texas, he did not have it easy for the first half of the season, struggling with race pace on the too-abrupt Honda V4 engine that his team had a hard time to get good acceleration from with the not-so-sophisticated electronics.
The Yamaha YZR-M1 was a better rounded machine and it looked like we might see a re-run of the Valentino Rossi vs Jorge Lorenzo title fight of last year but they both suffered from DNF, crashes and a rare blown engine for Valentino Rossi in Mugello, something that we did not expect from either rider.
By mid-season the Honda had improved quite a bit with better drive off the corners. His team’s hard work and most of all Marc Marquez’s ability to ride whatever he’s given to the maximum meant he held on to the points lead and then started to open the gap. He still pushed to and past the limit in practice, crashing at what is considered his usual rate, but he held back during the races, only sliding off at La Mans where he still scored two points after remounting. When the weather played a role he kept his cool to keep piling on the pressure on his opponent.
‘You will see the old Marc Marquez again!’ he declared after clinching the title in Japan. A week later he was looking unbeatable in the cold and unpredictable Philip Island conditions. A crash while leading the race with a big lead was maybe the fruit of him seeing his pit board indicating that eventual winner Cal Crutchlow was starting to close the gap. In Sepang Marc Marquez was fourth after he slid off on a damp track.
Is it his disdain for anything else than victory that resurfaced and did him in? Or maybe, like most of his rivals, the knife-edged-front Michelin tire just got him? In any case, it points toward a Marc Marquez/Honda combination that won’t be easy to beat in the 2017 MotoGP season. The Honda RC213V improved more than the opposition during the second half of the season and Michelin will work hard to provide more predictable front tires for next year. And triple champion Marc Marquez proved he could see the bigger picture.