MotoGP 2019: 3 Points, 3 Riders, 3 Teams

Top-3 riders of the 2019 Spanish MotoGP at Jerez circuit
The battle for the 2019 MotoGP championship only got tighter after the Spanish MotoGP race in Jerez. 3 points separate the top-3 riders, all from 3 different teams!

The Spanish flag was flying high at the Spanish MotoGP race in Jerez as three Spaniards clinched the three podium positions. Local favourite Marc Marquez grabbed victory for Honda, earning him the unique distinction of becoming the first repeat winner in this very unpredictable season. Alex Rins continued his good run for Suzuki by taking second place, while Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales seemed to finally resurrect his race form with a fine third – his first podium of the season. For the third time out of four races this season, we saw three different manufacturers on the podium.

Qualifying: Youngest ever MotoGP pole-sitter

We live in a motorsport era where the value of youth is being appreciated more than ever. Whether it is the meteoric rise of Max Verstappen or the unprecedented promotion of Charles Leclerc to Ferrari, the youngsters continue to impress. At the qualifying session at Jerez on Saturday, one such young rookie went from relative obscurity to instant respect. Unexpectedly but excitingly, Fabio Quartararo of Yamaha SRT created a circuit record and became MotoGP’s youngest-ever pole-sitter at the age of 20 years and 14 days. The previous record was held by none other than Marquez (20 years, 62 days). Quartararo’s teammate, Franco Morbidelli took P2. The qualifying 1-2 was a dream outcome for the Yamaha SRT team, who were only in their fourth MotoGP qualifying session ever. Homeboy Marquez claimed P3. The top 3 in qualifying were covered by a mere 0.090 seconds, a testament to the close competition we have seen this season.

Shared a visibly overjoyed Quartararo after the session, “I still can’t believe it. I did not expect to take pole today, so it was fantastic. This pole and Franky’s (Morbidelli) second position are very special for the team. We are a new team in the class and it is incredible to achieve a 1-2 at only the fourth round of the year. I hope we can achieve this more often during the season,” said Morbidelli before adding: “When I finished the lap, looked at the circuit’s video screen and saw all the members of the team celebrating it, I couldn’t believe it!”

Re-live Alex Rins’ Win At COTA

Apart from being a great result for the team itself, Yamaha SRT’s result was also a great result for the satellite teams on the grid. As records show, it was also the best qualifying finish for a satellite team since the 2017 Japanese MotoGP. For the sake of comparison, the factory Yamaha teams could only qualify P5 (Vinales) and P13 (Rossi). It is interesting to remember in the recent years, the factory Yamaha team was often out-qualified by Johann Zarco of Tech 3 (a Yamaha satellite team), who was riding an older specification, Yamaha. It seems that at Jerez, all four Yamaha riders were on similar bikes, and Valentino Rossi (himself riding a factory Honda bike) put the difference in pace down to rider abilities – testament to the talent of the riders of Yamaha’s satellite team. Irrespective of the reasons, it is great to see a level playing field where satellite riders can challenge – and triumph – over the factory teams.

The race: Marquez dominates

On Sunday, Marquez was in top form. He set the pace during the morning warm-up session, despite a fall and continued mechanical problems with his bike. This led everyone to worry about the reliability of the Honda bike and whether that was the weakest link in Marquez’s quest for victory at Jerez. Marquez seemed to carry that momentum from morning’s warm-up session into the race, as he grabbed the lead of the race straight into Turn 1. From then on, he was gradually able to extend his advantage and shake of the rest of the field, all the way to the chequered flag. After crashing out from his previous MotoGP outing at the Circuit of the Americas (in Austin), Marquez seemed relieved to have avenged himself. He shared triumphantly after the race, “This race was a mental race, more than a physical one. After the mistake in Austin it wasn’t easy to lead the race like that from beginning to end, but I knew I had the pace to do it and the bike to do it. I wanted to do a race like in Argentina and at the start in Austin to prove it was a mistake there.”

Suzuki’s Alex Rins, who came into this race with high confidence after winning in Austin, showed us yet again why Suzuki is a team to watch. After a lacklustre P9 qualifying run, Rins managed to jump to P6 at the start, before stringing together some great laps where he overtook Dovizioso, Viñales and Morbidelli on track. The battle for the final place on the podium was between Viñales and Dovizioso. As we know, it has been a difficult season for Viñales where his glory on Saturday was marred by poor showing on Sunday thanks to a terrible race start. Luckily, Viñales was able to stave off Dovizioso and take his first podium of the season – a result that will surely buoy up his spirits. It’s also worth noting that the longest straight at Jerez was only 600 metres which meant that Dovizioso could not use the outright straight-line speed advantage of his Ducati to power past competition.

Heartbreak for Quartararo

While it was a dream race for Marquez, polesitter Quartararo had an unfortunate result as he was forced to retire from second place with a gear shifter problem with 11 laps to go. The rookie rider would have surely been disappointed, since he was well on pace for a podium finish. He shared after the race, “You could say that I am both disappointed and happy. The whole team has done an exceptional job, but in this sport, there are things that you can’t control…Before the season began, none of us expected to be fighting for the podium and to get a pole position in the fourth race of the year.” A silver lining for Yamaha SRT was the P7 finish for Morbidelli (who had started in P2), claiming the best Independent Team Rider title for the first time in 2019. This result comes on the back of his impressive P5 finish at Austin a fortnight ago.

Another high profile race disappointment was Jorge Lorenzo, Marquez’s teammate at Honda. After a nightmare start to the season that included recovering from injuries and teething trouble while settling in at Honda, Lorenzo had ‘promised’ a better showing in Jerez. Last week, Lorenzo announced in a press conference that he would be gunning for Marquez in Jerez. He also declared that he’d been focused on Jerez since the start of the season. Unfortunately for Lorenzo, it was a case of overpromising and under delivering – he brought his Honda home in a lowly P12. The rider, who was touted as a challenger to Marquez this season, will be searching long and hard for answers. As he revealed after the race, “It has been a difficult end to the weekend, we wanted to be stronger but I am still not comfortable on the bike. Tomorrow’s test will be important for us to try and improve my feeling, especially on corner entry where I think I am losing the most.”

Valentino Rossi, a rider who has shown this season that he’s still “got it” had a particularly tough time at Jerez. He was outside the Top 10 in every single session over the weekend, and finally qualified in a lowly P13. Of course, one can never discount Rossi and what he’s capable of pulling off in the race. Fighting his way through the grid, he managed to break into the Top 10 for the first time in Jerez with a classy P6 finish.

Championship standings

Four races into the season, it is evident that the championship standings are far closer than anyone could have predicted. Marquez, despite two wins, three podiums and endless talent, only sits one point clear at the top from Rins. This is the closest Rins has ever been to challenging for the championship, surely the promise of triumph will motivate him to do better. Two points further down is Dovizioso – the rider who finished second in the championship for the past two seasons will also be looking for ultimate glory. Incredibly, the top three contenders are separated by just three points. In the Constructors’ battle, Honda has pulled out a six point lead over the rest – but Ducato (P2), Suzuki (P3) and Yamaha (P4) are separated by just three points. Next, the action shifts to the French MotoGP – and given how unpredictable the season has been until now, expect the unexpected once again.

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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