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Make no mistake, Le Mans was hard on Marquez, but what you can be sure of is that Honda won’t take it lying down.
With nineteen years of experience reporting on MotoGP™ for Motorcycle News, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2015 season he joins the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
Last weekend’s French MotoGP race in Le Mans saw Marc Marquez on the wrong end of the biggest defeat of his premier class career.
Never before in his previous 40 MotoGP starts has he finished so far off the winner in a race he’s not crashed in.
A resurgent Jorge Lorenzo finished almost 20 seconds clear of Marquez, who has now won just once in 2015 and finished off the podium three times. Who could ever have imagined that scenario just before the red lights went out in Qatar?
When you compare his start to 2015 and his record-breaking spree at the start of last season, it all points to Marquez and Honda staring their first crisis square in the eye.
After five races last season, Marquez was unbeaten in qualifying and the races and he’d led 82-laps across the line. That tally has more than halved this year. He has only led over the line for 40-laps.
He’s scored 56-points less than at the same stage 12 months ago and he has not been so far behind in the World Championship standings since his rookie Moto2 scrap with Stefan Bradl in 2011.
When Marquez turned up in Mugello one year ago, he was a commanding 44-points clear of Rossi and a whopping 80-points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo. Heading to Mugello next week, Rossi is 33-points clear of Marquez and Lorenzo 18 ahead.
The standings in the Constructor classification is one most thought unthinkable, with Honda slipping behind Ducati into third in France.
But it would be foolish to write both off at such an early stage in the season. It was only two races ago that Lorenzo was fluffing his lines.
His response to being stuck in the biggest rut since his rookie season in 2008 has been to deliver two inch-perfect victories in Jerez and Le Mans.
Make no mistake, Le Mans was an unexpected mauling for Marquez.
The Honda was caught cold by the dramatic rise in track temperature on race day. The track presented a completely different challenge to practice and qualifying, but Rossi still managed to set a new lap record and Lorenzo was 19 seconds faster than any other MotoGP race at the legendary Bugatti Circuit.
So the Yamaha wasn’t blown off course like the Honda was. What is not in doubt is in the technical war for supremacy in MotoGP, Yamaha has seized the upper hand.
The Honda has always been a very good MotoGP bike, particularly for braking stability and corner entry, which has played to the strengths of Marquez’s aggressive and late braking style.
Marquez made it look a world-beater and that was obvious right from the start of his Repsol Honda career. Dani Pedrosa is hardly a slouch, yet in 2013 and 2014, Marquez won 15 more races than his teammate.
And when Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding rode the RC213V for the first time, their first impressions were all about how difficult and physical the bike is to master.
The Honda is blindingly fast for one lap. Nobody is better than Marquez at exploiting that and he has already claimed three pole positions this season.
But over a race distance, the Honda is a mentally and physically draining beast that’s hard to keep on the absolute limit for close to 45 minutes.
The Yamaha is simply an easier bike to ride. The new fully seamless shift gearbox that arrived at Sepang 2 has been a big step, with Rossi and Lorenzo able to brake several metres later. And the YZR-M1 is now much more stable on corner entry.
And crucially other tweaks like geometry and traction control settings mean the YZR-M1 is no longer as aggressive on tyre wear. In the last five laps, particularly last season, was when the Honda always seemed to have kept better grip and that allowed Marquez to edge away in the decisive final stages.
What you can be sure is that Marquez and Honda won’t take recent hiccups lying down. There are probably two or three different frames being evaluated in Japan as you read this.
Marquez is not only fighting Rossi and Lorenzo. He is fighting his own bike.
In the last 12 races, which Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez have all shared four victories, Rossi has outscored Marquez by 56-points.
But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And they don’t make them any tougher than Marquez.
Get ready to stand back and watch the fireworks.
3 years ago