How Marquez tailored Assen to suit his MotoGP title fight

Marc Marquez wasn’t aiming to win the Dutch MotoGP, but Assen could prove to be the race which sets up his charge to another world title.
How Marquez tailored Assen to suit his MotoGP title fight

Marc Marquez might be leaving Assen with the runner-up trophy tucked under his arm, but it is very much mission accomplished by the reigning MotoGP world champion as he makes the 2019 crown look a definite fit.

The Repsol Honda rider now leads the MotoGP standings by 44 points over Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, whose title hopes start to slip away race by race, with Marquez maintaining his impressive record of finishing every race in the top two – aside from his slide off while leading the Americas round triggered by a mechanical glitch.

Upon returning to Europe from the opening three flyaways with a nine-point deficit to Dovizioso, Marquez and his team would have pinpointed Assen as damage limitation given the circuit’s characteristics of sweeping fast corners, quick changes of direction and minimal long straights.

It is a circuit, along with Phillip Island, which is an outlier compared to the rest of the MotoGP calendar and partially explains why the two tracks provide thrilling races and surprise winners with regularity. Assen is also a circuit that plays to the strengths of the inline fours of Yamaha and Suzuki over the V4 runners, as eloquently explained by Mat Oxley.

With Marquez centring his plan of attack around where his biggest threat is coming from, namely Dovizioso and the Ducatis who would also wrestle a V4 around Assen, fighting but not necessarily winning against Yamaha duo Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo suited him perfectly as he could put space between himself and his title rivals.

“It is the best race for the championship,” Marquez said about his second place with Dovi down in fourth place. “It was a difficult race weekend for us and even with a difficult weekend when we suffered we still finished second and we fought until the end.

“I saw that Maverick was extremely fast, I was following him to two laps with a lot of risk and I understood. I said yesterday, Quartararo was 89 points behind us and Maverick is 100 so that is something I had in my mind.”

Marquez’s rear tyre choice raised eyebrows on the starting grid, picking the soft tyre despite the hot conditions only fractionally cooled off by a strong wind, and the 26-year-old revealed it was selected with sole focus on the title race rather than the Dutch TT.

“You could say it was a gamble to choose the soft rear, but for me it was the option to be on the podium,” he explained. “I don’t care about the victory today, I just concentrated on fighting for the podium.

“I was waiting behind Quartararo and waiting behind Vinales as I knew we had better pace and when he overtook us I used his slipstream to go away from Quartararo and the others [in second place].

“When I saw Quartararo was already four seconds back, my tyres were finished, especially the rear one, so I said okay this was the position that we wanted and with 20 points for the championship we have increased the advantage.”

Put simply, Marquez risked being attacked late in the race against the leading Yamaha duo rather than going with the more durable but slower hard tyre and get sucked into a dogfight with the Ducatis and Franco Morbidelli on the other Petronas Yamaha.

Marquez would have also anticipated a greater challenge for a podium from his other main title rival, Alex Rins, who started the Dutch round third in the championship and just two points behind Dovizioso.

Rins also knew it was his golden opportunity to take the title fight to Marquez which is why he pushed so hard at the start to build an early lead, only to end up asking too much from his front tyre and tumbling off early.

“We lost a chance to win for sure. Now after the race we will never know, but I’m convinced that with our pace, our rhythm, I was able to hold Maverick,” Rins said.

“My strategy was to get to the front and try to split the lead group. We saw after 10 laps, Quartararo, Dovi and everybody else’s lap times went down and during practice we were able to keep that rhythm going.”

In a season where Marquez’s Circuit of the Americas crash presented Rins with his maiden MotoGP victory, the Suzuki rider effectively and unintentionally repaid the favour at Assen.

Marquez’s Assen strategy has duly paid off and with home-from-home Sachsenring up next, where he is undefeated in any class for a decade, he could head into his summer holidays with a points buffer equivalent to two race wins.

But what could strike even greater fear into his rivals is his Assen strategy wasn’t a one-off.

Circuits like COTA, Sachsenring and Aragon where a Marquez victory is an almost certainty – playing to strengths of the seven-time world champion equipped with the RC213V – are taking less of his concentration as he plots MotoGP domination with consistency in an era where the playing field is at its most equal.

“I have been working very hard with Honda to try to have that consistency at all tracks,” he said. “But it is not easy.

“Previously we had this feeling but it would be very strong at some tracks and then have weak points at other tracks.

“So now we have found a good balance. Maybe we are struggling more with our strong points but we are suffering less in our weak points.”