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19 days ago
By Matthew Birt

The "new and improved" Marquez: fighting the demon within

MotoGP™ commentator Matthew Birt looks back at Aragon and forward to MM93's first title chance in Motegi

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

I was appalling at mathematics at school. I was so bad that at exam level in England I failed twice - and quickly decided that numbers just weren’t for me. But, even I can calculate that Marc Marquez has his first match point at the next race in Japan, with the chance to win a third MotoGP™ World Championship crown.

A Marquez win in Honda’s backyard at the Twin Ring Motegi would give him a third premier class title if Valentino Rossi scores two points or less and his Movistar Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo finishes off the podium. It sounds like a remote possibility but if you take into account how remarkably unpredictable the 2016 campaign has been, then all a sudden it becomes entirely plausible.

It perhaps looks more unlikely when you take into account the fact that Rossi has finished in 15 of 17 Twin Ring Motegi appearances, which includes nine podiums and two wins. The only two blemishes on his record were a crash in 2005 when he could have wrapped up the title and an early exit on the Ducati in 2011.

#ChaseCam: Lorenzo dices past Rossi for 2nd place

The challenge for Marquez to seal the title in Japan also look more suspect when you ponder Lorenzo’s impressive CV at the Twin Ring Motegi - he hasn’t finished off the podium since 2010 and he has never finished lower than fourth in Japan since his arrival into MotoGP™ back in 2008.

"But what then unfolded was the story of his season so far."

Marquez heads into Japan and the intense flyaway races with a 52-point buffer over Rossi and in such a position of authority after a thoroughly convincing victory at Motorland Aragon. Once the Repsol Honda rider somehow avoided a front-end washout at turn seven on lap three when he produced another in a catalogue of miraculous saves on his elbow, the outcome in Aragon never looked in doubt. He dropped back from first to fifth when he was caught out by a gusting wind blowing him faster into the tricky turn seven than he had anticipated.

Marquez went into full-on composed, calm and collected mode. He knew he had the pace to reel the leading quartet back in and then clear off into the distance. But it was the manner in which he did it that was so eye-catching. Marquez was happy to sit tight and let sufficient heat get into his Michelin hard option front tyre selection before he went on the offensive again. Rather than getting agitated and frustrated and leave himself susceptible to the unforced errors that so blunted his 2015 challenge, he played the patient game and he was happy to wait a further 10 laps to work his way back to the front. Perhaps the Marquez of a year ago would not have demonstrated such poise. Yet for me, Aragon was the latest perfect example of how he has become more of a complete racer this season.

Highlights: Marquez wins home race at Aragon

One year ago in Aragon he registered his fifth DNF in 14 races and ended up chewing dirt on the second lap such was his haste to hunt down early leader Lorenzo. The costly mistakes of last season have been eradicated and after 14 races this year he is the only rider to score points in all. The only moment he’ll look back on in anger is his tandem crash with Dovizioso in Le Mans, but even then he was able to remount and limp home in 13th. And, you get a clear indication of just how much Marquez had changed his win it or bin it approach when you consider his Aragon win was his first in dry conditions in 11 attempts - since he continued his one-man domination of the Circuit of the Americas in Texas way back in round three.

His Aragon win ended a run of four successive premier class races in which he had not stood in first or second place on the rostrum. By his exceptionally high standards, that was a dire sequence of results. And success last Sunday ended his run of six successive races in Spain in which he had not won on home soil, which was a barren patch that stretched back to Valencia in 2014. They were numbers that would have worried Marquez as much as the numbers petrified me at school.

"Marquez has been fighting the demon within all season"

Now, he has one hand on a third MotoGP™ trophy in the last four years and surely he be will rewarded for a less aggressive and all-out attacking approach this year. Catalunya, Assen, Austria and Misano are the four races that immediately jump out at me and highlight what a different animal Marquez has been in 2016. He called the dogs off in all four when he knew he didn’t have the speed to fight at the front and rather than throw away precious points by going all gung-ho, he picked up 64-points in those four races by accepting he could do nothing to win.

Did he like it? Did he hell as like.

Marquez has been fighting the demon within all season to implement his new strategy. Backing off and riding round for second in Assen and fourth in Misano is the complete opposite to the cavalier and chaotic style Marquez was born and bred with. The old Marquez has always been kicking and screaming inside to come out and occasionally natural born instincts have won the day over self-control.

With points in the bag to play with, he’s been willing to break free from his self-imposed shackles and revert back to his raging bull riding style. He cut loose in Silverstone and went for broke before a late mistake dropped him out of podium contention. He threw caution to the wind early on in Aragon before it was nearly all sucked out of his sails at turn seven before he comfortably dismantled the threat of Rossi, Lorenzo and Viñales. Right from the first lap in Qatar, Marquez has been playing the long game. It’s always been about collecting the big prize of the title in Valencia. As he so eloquently put in Aragon last weekend, nobody remembers who won the most races in a season. But everybody remembers who was World Champion.

Rossi vs Marquez: How to be champion

The main goal for Marquez is obviously to capture the title. But I wouldn’t mind betting a big secondary aim of his is to score points in every single race, which is an accomplishment he’s never managed in any season since his GP debut season in 2008. A 100% points scoring record would not be an achievement that comes even close to winning the title, but for a rider with the reputation and style of Marquez, a full house of finishes would be one to tick off the bucket list. It would also be further vindication of the new tactics he employed in 2016.

I can’t see Marquez letting his iron grip on the trophy slip at this late stage and he will join Brad Binder as a Grand Prix World Champion in 2016.

Congratulations to Binder, by the way, on a truly outstanding job to become South Africa’s first World Champion in 36 years. His is a story of unseen sacrifice, devotion and perseverance to go from humble beginnings to fulfilling a boyhood dream.

Brad Binder's racing history

Maybe there is one late and dramatic twist in the story of a 2016 MotoGP™ campaign that at times has been scarcely believable. A lot can happen on the flyaway races in Japan, Australia and Malaysia and it usually does. Cast your minds back to last season when we had more controversy, chaos and confusion in three weeks than we’d had for the previous three years.

It’s not over until the fat lady sings. But she is in her dressing room warming up right now.