How does one improve on near perfection? For Marc Marquez, who amassed nine race wins and 321 points through 2018 on his way to a fifth premier class title, the search never ends.
Had it not been for a careless crash out of the lead at the Circuit of the Americas, a track where he led the first eight laps, the 26-year old would be looking at a total of six wins from nine races. That and a staggering total of 210 points from a possible 225.
Not that it matters. Marquez’s comfortable demolition of the field at the Sachsenring saw his points advantage stretch to 58 points. Having held similar advantages at this stage in three of his previous championship years (2014, ’16 and ’18), it’s clear the seven-time world champion doesn’t dabble in the wasteful art of squandering.
Aside from the usual on the edge riding, eye-catching saves and daredevil overtakes, Marquez has added a new string to his bow for 2019: leading from the front. His victories in Argentina, Jerez and Germany were lights to flag affairs, while his rivals only managed to hold the lead in France and Barcelona for a total of three laps. Ironically, Jorge Lorenzo’s arrival at Repsol Honda has resulted in his new-team mate adopting the Majorcan’s age-old tactics.
That lust for clear track ahead stems in part from seeking new motivation. “Sometimes you need to find different strategies for the opponents,” he said at Le Mans. “If not, everybody expects the same. When somebody is doing something new and in some races starts pushing from the beginning then in another race starts saving the tyre you don’t know if he’s straining or pushing … they won’t know what you’ll do.”
It’s also derived from a need to find fresh air for his front tyre. In past years Honda’s RC213V demanded its riders to brake as late and aggressively as possible. Lorenzo’s arrival has caused a re-think. With a much-improved engine, that boasts greater punch in the lower gears and a higher top speed, Marquez is not braking as late, or as aggressively.
Instead he can call upon high corner speed, altered, crazy lean angles and acceleration out of turns to make the difference. And without pushing his front tyre into submission, he has been able to select softer Michelin front options – something that wasn’t possible in previous years.
It all sounds so easy. But Marquez makes it look so. Just observe the struggles of Cal Crutchlow (ninth overall, 67 points) and Lorenzo (a desperate 16th in the championship with just 19 points) through the year’s first four months, and it becomes apparent this ’19 RC213V isn’t easy to ride.
“I can see on the data how Marc does it, but nobody else can do it; it’s as simple as that,” said Crutchlow of his fellow Honda rider’s technique. “Through the entry and the middle, the lean angle he puts into the bike and the way he controls it with the front and rear brakes is pretty special.”
As ever, HRC doesn’t stand still. Test rider Stefan Bradl raced an all-new carbon reinforced chassis at Jerez, a bike that Marquez tested the following day. That was “a new concept” he said. Another new chassis was available at the Barcelona test in June. It found its way into Marquez’s garage at the German Grand Prix. And although he didn’t race with it, the frame is an improvement on what he’s raced from March.
“This year we are using too much banking because the package is not turning,” he said. “I do it, not because it's my riding style, but because I need to. We are trying to find this turning through the chassis.”
Should that frame make Marquez’ life easier, it’s hard to see his competitors getting a look in. Quite simply, he’s currently operating at the peak of his powers.