MotoGP 2019: Marc Marquez's last-lap thriller, Cal Crutchlow's redemption and other talking points

Marquez continued to pile on the pressure with persistence and forced Vinales into making an error.

Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah October 28, 2019 10:24:18 IST
MotoGP 2019: Marc Marquez's last-lap thriller, Cal Crutchlow's redemption and other talking points
  • The 2019 Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island was yet another thriller which boiled down to the last lap as leader Maverick Vinales crashed out.

  • Marquez continued to pile on the pressure with persistence, and forced Vinales into making an error.

  • Vinales cracked on the final lap, crashed out of contention with just three corners to go and gifted the race win to Marquez.

Marc Marquez seems to be making a habit of having race outcomes decided only on the last lap: There have been several instances through the season where the 2019 world champion rider won - and lost - races on the last lap. The 2019 Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island was yet another thriller which boiled down to the last lap as leader Maverick Vinales crashed out, leaving Marquez to inherit the victory. This win allowed Marquez to surpass the tally of five-time world champion Mick Doohan, making him the third most successful premier class winner of all time - and Honda’s most successful rider.

LCR rider Cal Crutchlow finished second to make it a Honda one-two, while homeboy Jack Miller of Pramac Ducati claimed the final podium spot, much to the delight of local fans.

Marquez shines on

In our opinion, the true test of a champion is how they perform when the odds are stacked against them - after all, anyone can win when the going is good. As Vinales and Marquez pulled away from the rest of the field, Vinales seemed to have the edge. Undeterred, Marquez continued to pile on the pressure with persistence and forced Vinales into making an error. Vinales cracked on the final lap, crashed out of contention with just three corners to go and gifted the race win to Marquez.

“He (Vinales) was faster than me, and the hard part of the race was when he pushed for five or six laps, but I knew if I could stay with him then I would have a chance. I took a gamble on the soft rear tyre, and at the end, it was finished, but Maverick had the same,” Marquez said.

“Sometimes, the faster rider doesn’t win the race. It was like that today,” he added.

Polesitter Vinales walked away empty-handed from the race, but still tried to present a brave front. He shared, “Maybe I made a mistake, I don't know, and then I just fell down on the other side. Today was a race to win, not to be second. I had the chance, so I tried. Anyway, for me it was a very positive race, I crashed but I was satisfied. I gave my best on every lap and the bike was working in a really good way.”

As expected, tyre choice became an important factor in the race - the Phillip Island circuit is known to really put tyres to the test. This is thanks to the layout of the circuit which overheats the tyres. Accordingly, the tyres used this weekend were specifically designed for this track by tyre supplier Michelin. Vinales and Marquez both opted for soft/soft, while others such as Quartararo and Dovizioso chose the hard option. Interestingly, the riders also took part in a brief test with Michelin over the weekend, to evaluate the new tyres for 2020.

Redemption for Crutchlow, home glory for Miller

It was a special podium appearance for both Crutchlow (P2) and Miller (P3) but for entirely different reasons. This race was a redemption of sorts for Crutchlow - who had suffered from a horrific high-speed crash at the same track last year. The crash caused him to shatter his ankle severely and left a question mark over his career for some time. He reflected after the race, “So glad to get a podium here in Australia after what happened here last year. At one point I didn’t think I was coming back, so to come back to the podium is great.” This is also Crutchlow’s best finishing position this season.

For Miller, winning in front of a roaring home crowd was tremendous; he beat Francesco Bagnaia by just 0.055s. The last time an Australian was seen on the premier class podium of this MotoGP was in 2012. Much to the delight of the fans, he obliged them with a ‘shoey’ on the podium - a celebratory podium move previously popularised by F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Miller described the moment when he realised he was P3 rather eloquently. “I got to fourth and I thought fourth is going to be the best I was going to do, and just defend my position. To my surprise, I came ‘round and Maverick was … I just saw dust at the top of Lukey and I thought, ‘who’s that?’ I saw it was Maverick and I thought, ‘holy **** I’m in third now.”

Other talking points: Rossi, Iannone and Zarco

On his 400th Grand Prix start, veteran rider Valentino Rossi was able to lead the race for three laps early on. This was a special sight for fans and largely symbolic - Rossi has proved himself not just as a multiple times champion but also a timeless rider. To be doing what he does regardless of his age is simply spectacular.

Sadly, Rossi was soon overtaken by the pack and faded away to a P8 finish. He described the reason as lack of top speed, saying, “The problem is, every lap I lost one position in the straight. We are a big group but if I am not able to resist, or re-overtake during the lap, in the next lap the guy behind overtook me another time because I was for sure slowest in the straight of all the group.”

Rossi has spoken several times through the second half of the season about rear grip issues - and this was one more occasion. He said he is yet to find a solution to this problem.

Andrea Iannone of Aprilia put up a stellar show, even leading the race and pulling off two overtakes on Marquez. Aprilia is the lowest-ranked constructor and yet they were battling closely with the reigning world champion - surely this is a sparkling testament to the competitive quotient of MotoGP.

Iannone finally finished in P6, with teammate Aleix Espargaró in P10. This is the best result ever for Aprilia in the history of MotoGP. In addition, it is Iannone’s best-ever result all season.

Finally, a mention to Johann Zarco who had his first racing weekend with LCR Honda (replacing an injured Takaaki Nakagami). Zarco finished in P13 - 26 seconds behind Marquez - but more crucially, he finished well ahead of Marquez’s teammate Lorenzo at the works Honda team.

Lorenzo finished in P16, a full 66 seconds behind Marquez. There has been chatter in the paddock regarding Lorenzo’s future (or lack of it) and these comparisons only make things bleaker for the former world champion. Lorenzo also had a run-in with Marquez during FP2, as the two teammates came close to colliding.

Rookie of the year Fabio Quartararo of SRT Yamaha had a forgettable race as he crashed out on Lap 1 after an incident with Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci.

What’s next?

If there was any doubt that 2019 is Marquez’s year, here is more proof: Thanks to his win in Australia, Repsol Honda are now just one point behind Ducati in the teams’ championship. Can Ducati manage to fight back? The action next shifts to Sepang for the Malaysian MotoGP - also the last race of the triple-header. Can Marquez continue his strong streak of wins to match his MotoGP record of ‘most wins in a season’?

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