Marc Marquez grabbed his fourth premier class title at Valencia, but it wasn't quite the smooth sailing that everyone was expecting it to be. It was a raggedy edge Marquez-style climax.
Imagine a scenario like this – you’re leading the MotoGP championship with a 21 point advantage over your arch rival going into the final race of the season. All you need to do is just stay on the bike and finish in the top-12 so as to bag the world title. For any top-level MotoGP racer, it’d be a straightforward affair, really. But then, Marc Marquez is not just your run-of-the-mill racer. He’s one of a kind. So, when you ask Marquez to keep things simple, odds are that they may go awry. And at Valencia – which was touted to be the final showdown of the 2017 MotoGP season – Marquez did exactly that. Taking unnecessary risks and making things difficult for himself that is…
After winning the Malaysian Grand Prix, Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati’s championship hopes lived on till the season finale in Valencia, Spain. But despite Dovizioso showing a great form throughout the year, everybody and their grandma knew it for a fact that he had a mountain to climb in the final round. To grab his first ever premier class title, Dovizioso needed to win the race as the bare minimum. And if that was done, then he had to pray and hope that Marquez finishes outside of top twelve or have a DNF in the race.
Both the scenarios looked improbable for Dovizioso from the beginning of the race weekend. With Marquez grabbing pole position for the final round, the Spaniard looked unbeatable. Not to mention, Dovizioso finishing ninth in the qualifying session only made it all the more difficult for the Ducati rider. Another problem was that there were one too many fast riders in between Dovizioso and Marquez – especially, Zarco, who looked well on pace to take his maiden win, Dani Pedrosa, who holds quite some records at Valencia and Dovizioso’s own teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, who loves this track as well. As expected, all three did exactly that - deny Dovizioso a win.
As soon as the lights went out, Pedrosa had a cracking start from fifth behind the front row runners. By the first corner, he was up to second behind pole-man Marquez. He seemed to be doing the perfect job of a wingman for his teammate for a couple of laps. However, Zarco could sniff his first MotoGP win with Marquez and Pedrosa riding cautiously at the front. The Frenchman took full advantage of the situation and overtook Pedrosa first and then lined-up Marquez for a fight. Marquez, however, wasn’t in a mood to pick a duel with Zarco so he let him slip by. With Pedrosa sitting behind in third and Zarco going all out for the win, all Marquez had to do was stay in second and complete the race. And that looked very easy at that point.
What about Dovizioso? Well, the Italian made an impressive start, too, and was up to fifth. However, he faced a big roadblock before he could try and challenge the front three. And the hurdle for him was, surprisingly, his own teammate.
Mapping 8 doesn’t work…
Lorenzo was running fourth and held Dovizioso for much of the race. Or, so it seemed. While both the riders had more or less the same pace, Dovizioso couldn’t find a way past his teammate. Sure, the tight layout of the Valencia circuit didn’t help the case, but even Lorenzo showed no mercy for his teammate, which was quite baffling to see. With Lorenzo not letting Dovizioso through, it prompted Ducati to send a coded message to the Spaniard on his dashboard – Switch to Mapping 8. Just like in Sepang, Mapping 8 meant that he needed to get out of Dovizioso’s way in all probability. Lorenzo, however, didn’t oblige. Eventually, the team put the message across on Lorenzo’s pit board to make it clear. It read ‘-1’, meaning drop back a place and let your teammate through. Lorenzo ignored that as well.
Lorenzo’s strange behaviour surely didn’t win him any fans for sure. Not letting Dovizioso through meant that Lorenzo wasn’t allowing Dovizioso to have a last fighting chance for the title win. If Lorenzo had allowed Dovizioso through, maybe he could have had challenged the front-runners for a win and forced Marquez to make a mistake?
Marquez being Marquez, until the very end…
With Dovizioso struggling behind his teammate, Marquez was still comfortable in second place. However, Marquez being Marquez, he couldn’t resist the idea of a win. With just 8 laps to go, Marquez knew he had the measure of Zarco and decided to take the lead from the Frenchman. And while he did take the lead back comfortably, he nearly ruined it for himself moments later. The Spaniard ran too hot at Turn 1, lost the front end, picked the bike up on his knee, ran straight out to the gravel trap and somehow managed to stay on the bike and not crash! Seeing the replay of the save, you could tell that only Marquez could have held it together…
With Marquez running out and losing three places, it was an opportunity for Dovizioso to up his game. But, it seemed he didn’t have the pace to even keep up with his teammate, which he also confirmed after the race. Lorenzo, meanwhile, started building a gap and was closing in on Pedrosa. But his charge wasn’t going to last long. In his pursuit to chase the front-runners, Lorenzo went overboard and crashed with six laps to go. More shockingly, though, Dovizioso followed suit and crashed as well, meaning he handed over the championship trophy to Marquez on a platter.
Post the race, Dovizioso said that he was running ‘over the limit’ from the very first lap and knew he couldn’t challenge for a win. He also said that he didn’t feel like he was being held up by Lorenzo since both of them were riding over 100 per cent. Now whether it’s diplomatic talk or not, there’s no denying that Dovizioso was struggling in the race and his race pace was no match for Zarco or Pedrosa. And as debatable as it is, perhaps, he’s right in saying that he couldn’t have gone any faster than Lorenzo even if he was let through.
With both the Ducatis ending up in gravel, Marquez had his fourth premier class title in the bag before even finishing the race. Up at the front, though, the battle for the final race win was hotting up between Zarco and Pedrosa – both the riders fighting tooth and nail in the last two laps. In the final lap, Pedrosa got the better of Zarco, made a block pass at Turn 1, and checked out to take his second win of the season. Zarco took another impressive podium finish while Marquez cruised to the podium in third along with the world title.
After being crowned the 2017 MotoGP world champion, Marquez has become the youngest ever rider to win four premier class world titles – his total WC tally stands at six titles with one each in Moto3 and Moto2 classes. In his current form, the Spaniard is surely going to wrap up a couple more world titles. In fact, you can even call him one of the absolute greats of all time. Even with the world title at stake, he damn nearly binned his bike while trying to go for a win even when it was not needed at all. Mark of a true fighter, isn’t it?
Next year, though, defending the world title could be a little more difficult for Marquez. Dovizioso and Ducati may have lost the championship this year but they’ll definitely come back stronger in 2018. They know they now have the package that’s capable of winning races. Also, with Lorenzo improving on each outing with his Desmosedici, he’ll be more competitive next year for sure. And so will the rookie of the year, Johann Zarco. At the same time, factory Yamaha won’t sit idle and the Movistar team will ensure that they come back in title hunt next year with Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi on board. Now, all we can hope is that 2018 turns out to be a cracker of a season just like this year. And given the history of the sport, we all know that MotoGP never disappoints!