Marquez: Champ, Quartararo: Hero Of 2019 MotoGP Season

Marc Marquez chases Fabio Quartararo for victory in the 2019 Thailand MotoGP
Marc Marquez may be the 2019 MotoGP World Champion, but it is Fabio Quartararo who is the hero in his rookie season.
  • In Free Practice 1, Marc Marquez had a horrible looking fall from his bike.
  • The fall looked scary enough for one to wonder if the Spaniard would miss a couple of races, not to mention the Thailand MotoGP in itself.
  • For the umpteenth time this season, the race was an all-out duel between the young rookie (Quartararo) and the current king of the grid, Marquez.

The 2019 Thailand MotoGP started and ended with a bang, literally. The start of the weekend that was a bit too dramatic (read: scary) for Marquez, Honda and their legion of fans. In Free Practice 1, Marc Marquez had a horrible looking fall from his bike. The fall looked scary enough for one to wonder if the Spaniard would miss a couple of races, not to mention the Thailand MotoGP in itself.

Miraculously, only a few hours after his nasty fall and a check-up at the hospital, Marquez was on his bike for Free Practice 2. As the weekend progressed, Marquez barely showed any scars from his crash – another testament to the tenacity of the man!

The weekend ended with a bang as Marc Marquez wrapped up this year’s title in style and with four races to spare. He had to outscore Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso by only two points to take the title, but in typical Marquez style, sealed it with a race win.

It is his sixth MotoGP title (his fourth on the trot) and his eight overall world title across all three classes – he is truly a legend of this era of racing.

Qualifying: Quartararo on pole

If a championship was being handed out for qualifying, SRT Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo would be the obvious winner. He has been the hero of single-lap pace much through the current season. In Thailand too, the young Frenchman grabbed pole position while also registering a new lap record.

But that wasn’t the only record he claimed – Quartararo now holds the record for being the youngest-ever rider to take four poles in his rookie season. He revealed after the session, “We’ve got great race pace as well as time attack speed so I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in the race.” However, it was far from a smooth qualifying session as three heavyweight riders crashed during Q2 at Turn 5 – Quartararo, Marquez and Valentino Rossi.

The turn is notorious for having a lot of bumps – which was criticized by several riders and also raised in the Friday safety commission. Marquez shared that he knew there was a “big chance” that he could crash while braking for Turn 5. Luckily, no damage was done for either as the show went on. Shared Marquez after the session, “Today was a very good day for us, apart from the small crash at the end of Qualifying. After the fall, physically I am okay.

I have a little bit of pain but it’s no excuse for the race tomorrow.” The front row of the qualifying grid was Quartararo, followed by Maverick Vinales and then Marquez. Marquez’s championship challenger Dovizioso only qualified on the third row (P7) creating a favourable situation for Marquez to clinch his title.

The race: Marquez vs. Quartararo

The Thai MotoGP was a thrilling race in the classic sense. For the umpteenth time this season, the race was an all-out duel between the young rookie (Quartararo) and the current king of the grid, Marquez.

Both riders would have been immensely motivated to take this win – and for entirely opposite reasons. For Quartararo, winning would give him his first-ever victory in the premier class – after all the near-misses.

It would have signaled to the paddock that a future superstar had arrived, stealing the show on a weekend where all eyes were on Marquez. For Marquez, winning would allow him to seal the championship on a glorious high – an ode to his sheer dominance all season long. Of course, he would not want to get tangled up in any risky moves and have a DNF to his name instead of the world title.

Quartararo jumped into the lead at the start, but had Marquez on his tail. Marquez was able to use the sheer power of the Honda to narrow in through the first two sectors, only for Quartararo to use the agility of his Yamaha to pull away once more in the latter two sectors. After trading fastest laps all through, Marquez finally reined in Quartararo on the last lap – and burst into the lead. Quartararo tried to make a final inside pass on Turn 12, but Marquez prevailed. At the line, the difference between the two was a mere 0.171 seconds.

Exclaimed a triumphant Marquez after the race, “The pace was amazing, the heat was amazing, the physical conditions were very tough but he didn’t give up, I didn’t give up.” The Spaniard refused to accept that the championship had been his target all weekend long, saying, “I was planning to try to win the race, it doesn’t matter about the championship or the distance between me and Dovi. The target was to try to find the best way to win the race and it’s what I did.” Despite starting from pole and leading all afternoon, Quartararo had to be content with P2 once more, despite giving it his all.

Expressed Quartararo after the race, “I can’t be more happy; fighting to the last corner, I tried everything. If I didn’t try this move in the last corner, I don’t go home [happy].” His words ring true – at the start of the season, no one would have ever imagined that a young rookie would be the one mounting a challenge to Marquez. As Quartararo and Marquez shared a hug in parc ferme, their mutual respect was evident: Marquez himself has hailed Quartararo as a future world champion, and paddock insiders expect him to challenge Marquez all through next season.

Quartararo is having a dream rookie season – as things stand, he has four poles and five podiums. That said, the only thing eluding him is that maiden victory. He has come ever-so-close: let’s remember that this is the second time in three races that Marquez has stolen a win away from him on the last lap of the race.
The Thai MotoGP was eerily similar to the race at Misano three weeks ago, where also Marquez snatched a maiden victory away from Quartararo on the last lap. Will all this be playing on Quartararo’s mind? As he declared after the Thai MotoGP, “I want a win before the year is out.” We would like nothing more than to see him take victory in at least one of the remaining races this season. This would be a just reward to the young rookie for his exceptional brilliance this season, and also help him build confidence for 2020.

Rest of the field: Vinales takes P3, difficult race for Rossi

Third place went to Yamaha rider Maverick Vinales, who started in P2. The Yamaha rider said, “I’m pleased about the result, we’re getting a lot of consistency, but now the team has to improve.” He outlined rear tyre grip as an area to focus on for the team.

Dovizioso finished in P4 on the highest placed Ducati. It was not an ideal weekend for him, as he suffered from a technical snag during warm up and just didn’t have the race pace to challenge Marquez – despite his vocal determination to do so.

Alex Rins on the Suzuki finished in P5. It was a difficult race for Rossi, who could only finish P8 – and last among the four Yamaha riders. He explained, “Unfortunately, the race was very similar to the last races. After some laps, very early, I start to suffer with rear grip. I lose grip, lose performance and I have to slow down. It was another difficult race.”

Championship standings

With Marquez clinching the championship, the focus has shifted further down the order. While Dovisiozo has a near 50 points advantage in second place, there are five riders placed from P3 to P7 – Rins, Vinales, Petrucci, Rossi and Quartararo.

Interestingly for the remaining races of the season, these riders are separated by only 24 points in total and rookie Quartararo has out-scored his veteran rivals in the last 3 races. This illustrates how close and even the season has been among competing riders even if the Riders’ Championship has been sealed much before the end of the season.

Ducati still leads the Team Championship by 19 points, although the Repsol Honda team has been closing in slowly over the last four races. In the Constructors’ table, Honda is comfortably leading while Ducati and Yamaha battle it out for second place – separated by only six points. The season remains as interesting as ever!

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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