MotoGP 2019: Valentino Rossi struggles in forgettable race, Fabio Quartararo bags Rookie of the Year award and other talking points from Japanese Grand Prix

  • Honda had a great run at their home race in Japan as they clinched the Premier Class Constructors Championship for a record-breaking 25th time.

  • Despite an early challenge from Quartararo, pole-sitter Marquez was the undisputed leader all through the race.

  • It was a great day for young Quartararo, who finished second and clinched the much-deserved Rookie of the Year.

When Marc Marquez was crowned the 2019 MotoGP champion last fortnight, he declared that his first challenge as world champion was to win the immediate next race. He revealed, “Every time I’ve won a title, I’ve crashed in the following race.” Marquez dispelled this jinx in style by grabbing victory at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. In an apt show of dominance, Marquez marked his tenth victory of the season - which also helped him equal Mick Doohan's record of 54 premier-class wins in MotoGP. Fabio Quartararo took a fine P2 for Yamaha, while P3 was claimed by Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.

Honda are MotoGP Constructors’ Champions

Honda had a great run at their home race in Japan as they clinched the Premier Class Constructors’ Championship for a record-breaking 25th time. This also marks Honda’s 70th Constructors’ Championship across all classes. Exclaimed a jubilant Marquez after the race, “There was a little bit of pressure to win the Constructors Championship in Japan, but I love the pressure and it is great to win it here for Honda because everyone works so hard.”

After having claimed the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, the only thing that Honda needs to secure their perfect season is the Teams’ Championship. Here, however, Repsol Honda are on the back-foot as they trail the Ducati factory team by 17 points. The primary reason for this is the lack of performance from Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s best finish all season has been only P11, and has failed to contribute to the team’s tally. The numbers speak for themselves: Marquez has done all the heavy lifting for Honda in 2019, scoring 325 out of their 331 points. If Marquez does help Honda claim the Teams’ title (however unlikely it seems to be) he could take credit for all three MotoGP crowns this season!

The race: glory for Marquez, Quartararo and Dovizioso

Despite an early challenge from Quartararo, pole-sitter Marquez was the undisputed leader all through the race. Ironically, the most embarrassing moment for him and the team came right after he took the chequered flag. Marquez ran out of fuel mid-way during his cool down lap and had to be given a push back to the pits by KTM rider Hafizh Syahrin. Interestingly, this is the second time this season when Marquez stopped a few corners after the finish line.

He explained what happened, saying, “We calculated with the team a pace that was a low 1m 46s but then I was able to ride in the high 1m 45s. This was good news but it was not good news for fuel consumption. It is then when I slowed down a little bit because I knew I would not finish the race otherwise…but not a lot as they were coming for me. Then I tried to manage in a good way and in the end I passed the finish line after seven corners the bike stopped.”

It was a great day for young Quartararo, who finished second and clinched the much-deserved Rookie of the Year. Quartararo had a tyre advantage at the start by using the medium front, soft rear tyre combination. This allowed him to challenge Marquez (who was on both mediums) - but expectedly, he struggled at the end. In fact, tyre strategy was exceedingly important in this race as Motegi is a stop-go circuit with a challenging layout and various hard braking and acceleration areas. The warmer race conditions only added further to the challenge of managing tyre wear.

Reacted Quartararo after winning the 2019 Rookie of the Year, “We had a meeting at the Malaysia test and we set the target of both riders and they said your target is to be top rookie this year. And I thought it would be really tough as there are some really big riders like Miguel (Oliveira), Pecco (Bagnaia) and (Johan) Mir so I knew it was a big goal for me. To be top rookie with three races before the end, it feels really good. Now we will need to set new goals and what we did this year is fantastic but now it is pure fun, we have nothing to do, we just want to enjoy and make some good results.”

One wonders what new goals for the 20-year old Frenchman would be. How will a promotion to the factory Yamaha team in 2020 be possible given Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi’s presence there? For now, Yamaha has confirmed that they will make an official announcement of sorts over the fly-away races (Japan, Australia and Malaysia). Without a doubt, Quartararo’s rise through the ranks will be closely followed - especially since Marquez has already named him as his main title rival in 2020.

Third place man Dovizioso had a thrilling race, chasing his way up the order and right at Quartararo’s tail till the very end. He shared that he was he was "pushing so hard, a bit over the limit because he badly wanted second place. The result marked Dovizioso’s 100th podium across all classes - making him only the tenth rider to ever achieve this milestone. He shared, “It is an important number but we are not living for the records - we are here to win.”

Other stories: Morbidelli shines, Rossi struggles

Quartararo’s Yamaha SRT teammate Franco Morbidelli had a bright weekend. The rookie rider qualified in P2 behind Marquez, piping Quartararo to the position (who has been seen as the benchmark in qualifying all season). After putting up a spirited fight through the race, he finished in a respectable P6. Unfortunately, Morbidelli’s maiden MotoGP season has been overshadowed by his prodigal teammate and he will have to work harder to get noticed.

It was an absolutely forgettable weekend for Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi, who was the slowest of all the Yamahas in qualifying and then ended his race on Sunday with the bike in the gravel. Overall, it is shaping up as a sub-optimal season for the former world champion, as he trails both teammate Maverick Vinales and Quartararo (of the satellite Yamaha team) in the overall points standings. Also, Rossi has not been seen on the podium since Austin (in April). Can he swing a visit to the podium before the season ends?

After his shock exit from KTM's line-up after the Misano race, Johann Zarco was called up to ride the LCR Honda for the last three races of the year. He will be replacing Takaaki Nakagami, who is scheduled to have a shoulder operation after this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix. The paddock speculated that this was the team’s way of putting pressure on Lorenzo to perform - as well as testing an alternative for next season. Lorenzo, who finished P17 in the race did not seem worried as he shared, “We took a small step forward with the bike, especially with regards to gaining confidence. In the second half of the race, I was able to have fun with the Honda, finding sensations I had been missing for a long time. So I’m happy with how I rode, even if the result doesn’t prove me right.”

What’s next?

There are only three more races to go this season (Australia, Malaysia and Valencia). The battle for the team title is heating up - will Ducati hold on, or will the momentum of these past weeks propel Repsol Honda to the top? Similarly, it is far from game over in the Drivers’ Championship with Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales tied for third place. Marquez, despite having sealed the championship, will be gunning for personal glory. If he wins the last three races of the season, he will match his 2014 record of 13 race wins in a season.

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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2019 13:33:57 IST