Catalan GP: The Tale Of Two Honda Riders

Marq Marquez poses with his team after winning the 2019 Catalan GP
The Catalan MotoGP in Barcelona will be remembered as the tale of two Repsol Honda riders, both riding in their home Grand Prix – where one reigned supreme as the hero while the other was reduced to being the villain.

Catalan MotoGP 2019: Jorge Lorenzo pile-up helps Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo clinches maiden podium and more talking pointsMarc Marquez celebrates winning the Catalan MotoGP race with second placed Fabio Quartararo and third placed Danilo Petrucci. (Reuters)
Marc Marquez took victory in front of an adoring crowd while teammate Jorge Lorenzo saw his season turn from bad to worse by triggering a chain incident which took out several front runners including Andrea Dovizioso (Marquez’s Championship challenger), Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales. This turn of events played into the hands of Yamaha SRT’s Fabio Quartararo, who clinched second place, as Danilo Petrucci took third for Ducati.

The Catalan GP had some interesting stats going for it: It was the 70th anniversary of the first world championship race and it was the first time, since 2009, that ten current MotoGP race winners were racing together. Not surprisingly then, an exciting race was always on the cards – although it may have been more exciting without Lorenzo’s debacle.

Qualifying: Quartararo dazzles

One rider who has been dazzling in qualifying is rookie Quartararo and he’s proven his credential by claiming the title of MotoGP’s youngest-ever pole sitter in Jerez last month. Quartararo made it a hat-trick of front row starts to grab pole position, just 0.015 seconds ahead of Marquez.

Interestingly, Marquez has earned quite a reputation for using the slipstreams of his rivals to boost his qualifying laps – and at Barcelona, it was Rossi who ended up giving him a tow on his fastest lap. As Rossi explained later, “Marc is not just fast, but also smart. He knows who to follow, he studies his rivals and calculates every move. When you find him behind you in qualifying, he gives you no choice. Either you continue with him in your slipstream, or you lose your lap.” Vinales was due to start alongside them on the front row, but was slapped with a three-pace grid penalty for impeding Quartararo at Turn 9 in the dying seconds of Q2. Vinales’ demotion gave Quartararo’s Yamaha SRT teammate Franco Morbidelli a jump up to the front row. It was an exciting turn of events for Morbidelli, who had a high-speed accident in FP3 (which landed him in the medical centre) but was cleared for qualifying.

Lorenzo’s incident – and its victims

It was pulsating right from Turn 1, when Dovizioso pulsed ahead from the second row to grab the lead, with Vinales and then Marquez hot on his tail. Lorenzo was also climbing and found himself running in a respectable P4 – until disaster struck on Lap 2. While trying to pass Vinales, Lorenzo lost control of his bike and took out Dovizioso, Vinales and Rossi. Miraculously, Marquez got through the tangle unscathed – and then onwards to the top step of the podium.

An emotional Lorezno said after the race, “In the last three or four years, we have seen various episodes like this. Today I made the mistake and the thing that I’m really sorry about is that I also caused Andrea, Maverick and Valentino to crash. I would have preferred to crash alone, seeing that the error was mine, but traffic through those turns in the first part of the race facilitates these episodes.”

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A major talking point thereafter was whether Lorenzo deserved to be punished – or was it simply a racing incident? Vinales and Dovizioso, both victims of the incident, called for strong action against Lorenzo, while fellow Honda riders Marquez and Cal Crutchlow said that they did not believe a penalty was warranted. Ultimately, the stewards decided to take no further action.

Lorenzo has been under immense pressure since moving to Honda at the start of this season. While his celebrated teammate dominates the grid, he has been struggling to break into the top ten. Last year, Lorenzo was a race winner at Barcelona with Ducati – but this year, his circumstances are very different. Despite accepting blame for the incident and the ‘collateral damage’ to his rivals, how will this impact his reputation in the paddock, his standing within the Honda camp and his own self confidence? There was also seemingly some friction between Lorenzo and Marquez during FP3 – Marquez appeared to be held up by Lorenzo and reacted sharply, angrily shaking his head and waving his fist at Lorenzo. These are troubled times for the Spaniard, and something needs to be done. The Marquez vs. Lorenzo battle is one we have all been waiting for since the start of the season, and hope it happens soon.

Maiden podium for Quartararo, Petrucci dazzles again

Lorenzo’s actions cleared the field behind Marquez to give him a relatively easy victory. It also allowed Quartararo to seal a maiden podium for himself as well as for the team (SRT Yamaha) in their first season. This is a dream result for the pole-sitter who underwent arm-pump surgery only two weeks ago and was riding on painkillers – and yet managed to finish within the top two during every one of the seven sessions this weekend.

A delighted Quartararo said after the race, “For me, it’s a different feeling but of course your first win is really special. All the people tell me that I was too young to go to MotoGP, that it was a mistake…now we have two pole positions and now we have a podium so I think we did well to step up to MotoGP.”

This race was Quartararo’s last chance to claim the title of being MotoGP’s youngest ever race winner, but surely he has other records waiting in his name. Danilo Petrucci, coming to Barcelona fresh from the exhilaration of his first-ever MotoGP victory, impressed yet again and claimed third place ahead of Suzuki’s Alex Rins. Petrucci has shown that he can deliver when the team needs him the most, and the confirmation of his 2020 contract will only give him more confidence.

Championship standings

Lorenzo’s accident not only cleared the field for Marquez at the Catalan MotoGP, but also in the overall championship standings. Marquez took full points for a win, while his closest challenger Dovizioso failed to score – allowing the 26-year-old to open up a 37 point lead. This race could well be the one which decides the championship, especially given Marquez’s strong showing all through the season.

Interestingly, Marquez’s younger brother Alex Marquez clinched a third victory on the trot in Barcelona and now leads the Moto2 standings – making it Marquez brothers at the top. In the MotoGP constructor’s standings, Honda leads Ducati by 15 points while Yamaha and Suzuki continue to fight closely for third place. The MotoGP action now shifts to the 2019 Dutch MotoGP – and given how unpredictable this season has been until now, it is a race to look out for!

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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