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MotoGP: Marquez makes his mark in Motegi.

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

What a difference a week makes. Formula One had barely had time to clear out of the Paddock at the Suzuka circuit when MotoGP were setting up not too far away at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. But the weather made an appearance at both events, causing less trouble for the bikes but still enough to, in effect, nullify Saturday's practice sessions. But that wasn't the problem. Marquez having won his eighth world championship at the previous round, the Thai Grand Prix, even though there are several more coronets to collect, once the big one has gone, there seems to be more than a little desperation for the commentators trying to keep interest alive. No problem, you might say: the racing will do that. Er.. no.

The most interesting, heart-in-the-mouth moment of the entire weekend was on Friday, in Moto2 practice when Alex Marquez, younger brother of the once-again World Champion, made a save that anyone who has seen it will talk about for a long time. As big brother said ""I've seen it 50 times and I'm not tired. These things happen once or twice in a lifetime. It has saved a possible injury. I wish I had seen his panicky face under the helmet," viewers around the world have tried to locate an online copy but for once copyright control seems to be working effectively. The younger brother has celebrated by rejoining the Marc VDS Moto2 team, being in no hurry to join his brother on the senior circuit.

True, the weekend didn't get off to a great start. As the weather disrupted preparation, there was feeling of disruption. There were a few tumbles but, mostly, nothing out of the ordinary except a wet patch on one corner unsettled the bikes so that there were a few "power-off" high-sides when the bikes were on dry track. All three qualifying sessions were so lacking in excitement that one of the official commentators made reference to the Tissot watch which is awarded for pole position on so many occasions that it became irritating. But he had little or nothing else to talk about.

The Constructors' and Teams' Championships remained to be decided, along with the so-called "Rookie of the Year" (that word still grates in European-based sports) and the battle for runner-up in the Riders' Championship isn't finished. Then there are the personal goals. Dovioso was chasing his 100th podium finish in the top class. That's an amazing achievement. Marquez is chasing the most points ever scored in a season (as of today, he needs only 35 which is one and a bit wins).

After Marquez' reality check in Buriram where he was nearly beaten by this year's young gun Fabio Quartararo, Marquez took over qualifying in Japan almost as if he was in a class of his own which, to be clear, so far as Honda is concerned he is having scored more than 90% of the team's points so far this year. He returned to his standard tactic of using a harder rear tyre than most of those around him, drove it hard in the early laps and kept on going until the end as others found their tyres getting tired. While he was not on his own for the whole race, he was far enough ahead that he didn't have to push. Simply, no one else could touch him. His team mate, Lorenzo, pootled around at the back continuing to raise questions as to why Honda don't simply tell him to go home and stop wasting their time. At least Rossi, while not getting good results much of the time, is pushing at every opportunity. Sadly, it's probably time for the extraordinary imp to stop racing, at least at this level. It's not that he's rubbish, it's that he's old and with yet another fall, this time a slither more than a crash, he's battered and bruised to say nothing of having more broken bones than any mortal should have to deal with. Love Rossi, want him to stop before he gets hurt; have no time for Lorenzo and want him to stop because he's blocking a seat that might otherwise host a competitive rider.

The teams seemed exhausted. In the pits, mechanics seemed to be exercising brutal determination rather than enthusiasm. Ironic as it seems to say it, everything about the whole weekend seemed, well, mechanical. After all, they were setting up in Japan on Thursday after finishing a race weekend in Thailand on Sunday. It's gruelling and it showed on faces and in body language.

But it was on track that there was the most surprise. Riders pull down their visors and shut out the world. The only thing that matters is being as fast as possible without crashing. In Moto3 and Moto2, there were crashes and collisions and when MotoGP sat on the grid, fireworks were expected. But there was no buzz, no bustle. The commentators, provided by the organisers, were trying their best to build atmostphere but it seemed airless. Then came the race. To be absolutely clear - the Moto2 race seemed to last for ever. Every time I thought "it's coming to the end" only two or three laps had gone by. MotoGP was already starting with one foot in the grey.

And so it proved. Perhaps part of the problem was the camera angles, perhaps part is that the camera work at the F1 race in Suzuka a week earlier had somehow miraculously ended up with a product that looked like a 1980s race in high definition. Maybe all the good Japanese cameramen were at the Rugby World Cup where the videography has been incredible. Maybe Motegi isn't a great track (that's rubbish - it's an amazing track). But the MotoGP race, like Moto2, just dragged on. And on. And on.

And on.

And on.

Yes, Honda won the Manufacturer's Championship courtesy of Marquez and the Repsol Honda Team of One is close to unseating the combined total of the two Ducati riders for the team championship.

Next stop is the epic Philip Island circuit for the Australian Grand Prix before returning to Asia for the Malaysian Grand Prix at the home of the Sepang Racing team now so obviously led by Quartararo.

Is there anything left beyond Marquez' refusal to do anything but to be the best of the best? I do hope so, because Japan was not what we have become used to in top flight motorcycle racing. It was, simply, boring.

Addendum. The day after I wrote this, I thought that maybe I'd been a bit harsh. So I watched the race again. No, half-way through the first lap when Marquez asserted himself and hit the front the race really did have nothing to recommend it. It wasn't that the riders were going through the motions (that's not possible on a MotoGP bike) it was just that there really was nothing interesting happening. So to those people who thought I was just having a bad day when I wrote the piece - nope. It wasn't me :)

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