MotoGP Sepang Preview 2019
Moto2: The last good time in town
Approaching Round 18, the MotoGP and Moto3 titles have been decided. All that remains is for series leader and younger brother Alex Marquez to seize the 2019 Moto2 championship by the lapels and assert his heritage. He is a Marquez and he is overdue. He needs to put his boot on the throat of the title chase and clinch in Malaysia. Above all, he must avoid some kind of dogfight in Valencia, an opportunity to choke away a title and a budding career. Otherwise he gets stuck with the “little brother that couldn’t” label the rest of his life.
I doubt many people would have picked Marquez to take the 2019 title back in February. He was, at that time, a classic underachiever in four well-funded seasons in Moto2 after a title in Moto3 in 2014. But by mid-season this year it looked like he couldn’t miss. Since the summer break he has, so to speak, come back to the field, such that Tom Luthi and Brad Binder are still mathematically in it.
By agreeing to stay in Moto2 for 2020 at a time it was assumed he would win the title, he essentially committed to winning two titles – 2019, which was considered in the bag, and then 2020, giving him the pick of factory teams for a 2021-22 contract. But he needs 2019, since the 21-22 contracts will be getting signed in 2020 before the season ends. Even if he ends up winning in 2020 his bargaining position won’t be nearly as strong if he fails to secure the 2019 title.
Marquez does not want this to come down to a dogfight in Valencia. Does not. A podium in Malaysia would pretty much decide things. But his record here over four years stinks – two P7 and two DNF – so that seems unlikely. Whatever, he needs to find a way to clinch in Asia.
Recent History in Malaysia
“The 2015 race will be remembered as the day Valentino Rossi allowed his machismo to get the best of him, such that kicking Marc Marquez into the weeds became, for a brief moment, a higher priority than winning his tenth world championship.” In a decade writing about this stuff, this was one of my favorite sentences. Sorry, where was I? Right, recent history.
The 2016 joust on the newly refurbished track went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others. For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since Donington Park in 2009. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed, for no obvious reason, within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them. Dovi was joined on the podium by the soon-to-be-a-memory factory Yamaha team of Butch and Sundance – Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
Recall 2017, when factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso, on the heels of a debacle in Australia, could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet track – win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale. Trailing defending champ Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid, or at least delay, having to endure another revolting Marquez title celebration. By winning the race with Marquez off the podium, Dovi ensured that the 2017 title would be formally decided two weeks later in Valencia. In the end the Spaniard’s lead was too big, and the championship ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
Jorge Lorenzo, it appeared, impeded his teammate’s progress late in the 2017 race, ignoring the importance of Dovi winning. At or near the last turn, Lorenzo did have the decency to run hot and wide, allowing Dovi through to the win everyone but JLo seemed to need. “I AM THE SPARTAN!” Good thing he doesn’t think he’s from Crete. This was the same race in which “Suggested Mapping 8” became a meme.
Last year: For the first 16 laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha YZR-M1 took us back a decade to those days when he was reeling off world championships like the Chicago Bulls with Jordan. We were brought hurtling back to earth at Turn 1 of Lap 17, when The Doctor lost the rear and slid off, his unforced error, crashing out of the lead no less, handing the win to that trailing stronzo Marquez. Alex Rins and Johann Zarco joined #93 for the podium celebration, but it kind of felt like the end of an era. For me, anyway.
Sepang has not been kind to Valentino Rossi of late.
News You Can Use
A bit of a re-shuffling of the deck from the original announcement from KTM re next year’s riders in the premier class. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the original announcement from KTM have Iker Lecuona moving up to the factory team with Pol Espargaro? This being because Herve Poncharal originally didn’t want the factory team (after Zarco bailed) poaching Miguel Oliveira, whose future with KTM is as bright as anyone’s, if you catch my meaning. Now, it appears, all has been reconsidered. Brad Binder will join Espargaro on the factory team, with a snubbed Oliveira, feeling passed over, and Lecuona manning the Tech 3 team.
I think it was a mistake not to promote Oliveira knowing he felt, with some justification, that he had earned promotion in front of both rookies. I think Oliveira could ride the wheels off a Honda RC213V or a Ducati Desmosedici. I think having his feelings bruised could motivate him to look elsewhere for an opportunity to show the Austrians his skills. As for KTM, them Binder brothers seem pretty badass, Darryn in Moto3 the latest iteration of the young Marco Simoncelli, a hazard to himself and those around him. But fast. And big brother Brad now a real GP’er. Salad days and pure mental exhaustion for the Binder family.
Your Weekend Forecast
The weather forecast for race weekend is hilarious if you’ve ever been to this part of Asia. Walking outside, day or night, is like being in a humidified walk-in oven. Thunderstorms boil up in the afternoon and give everything a thorough rinsing, after which the sun returns, temps rise again, flat surfaces steam, the tropical sauna in full effect. Which is exactly the forecast for all three days. At night I have seen full-grown men being carried off by the mosquitoes. Insane.
I’m thinking flag-to-flag, wondering if Alex Marquez has the stones to disregard the weather, play smart and win from the top step. There was the 2016 season in which Marc Marquez won the title and finished second to Lorenzo at Valencia. Jorge’s podium celebration, fist pump, jump, etc., was too much, while Marquez kind of stood next to him, beaming. Winning the champion’s trophy from the top step is the bomb.
Flag-to-flag affairs in the MotoGP and Moto3 divisions will be impossible to predict. One thing is relatively certain. Marc Marquez has decided to beat the single season record of 383 points set by Lorenzo on the Yamaha in 2010. With 375 points in hand and two rounds left, that looks pretty doable. Is it a good reason to watch the MotoGP race? What about the Moto3 race? I’m going to be up anyway, might as well watch. I find that when I have to take notes for three races I tend to miss stuff – Rossi leading early in Australia a good example – and it’s a busy time of year. I expect readers to continue to correct my numerous errors and oversights. It’s okay. I’m insured.
No fake news around here. We shall return on Sunday with results and analysis.
More by Bruce Allen