KEEPING THEM GUESSING
Marquez has had a tough six months, lambasted by Rossi, beaten in the championship and off the pace in testing. So what can the Spaniard do in Qatar?
arc Marquez has put the Motogp circus in a tricky position ahead of this week’s opening race in Qatar – a position where it seems no one has any idea of just what the double world champion is capable of doing.
Marquez was beleaguered throughout the winter testing campaign by a Repsol Honda that seemed to develop a new problem just as soon as the team fixed an old one.
From a too-aggressive engine to electronics that just didn’t work, from Michelin tyres that gave no confidence to a frame that they couldn’t get to turn, the team jumped from issue to issue, always chasing the all-conquering Yamahas while seemingly unable to ever get any closer.
But that all changed in the closing minutes of the final day of testing, when a top secret alteration of the bike’s geometry meant every piece of the world’s most complicated jigsaw fell into place for the young Spaniard – who immediately completed a race simulation at near lap record pace and ended the test fourth overall.
“I’m very happy, because we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. I went back to having a good feeling on the bike, and even though I crashed on the last day I know why it happened. We have improved a lot,” he said.
“We have taken a step forward at a track where I have struggled before. We have made some big changes that have allowed me to start gaining confidence. It is still not enough, and we need to improve more, but after today I have much more confidence. Before, I was worried about our level, because I had no pace or confidence.”
That will come as a huge relief to Marquez, whose almost unique, deep braking riding style
Mwas always destined to be one of those most hampered by the major tyre and electronic technical changes introduced for 2016.
He’s a notorious demon late braker with almosttotal faith in his electronics, so the move both to a more unstable front tyre and much more unrefined traction control was always going to be an issue.
Yet, with the progress made at Qatar, Marquez left confident that the bike was at least at a level where he was able to ride it the way he wanted to.
“We tried to make a step at Qatar, and now the bike is turning better than it was. We tried to concentrate on the chassis, on the geometry and the balance, and we made a good step.
“And now that we have improved the turning, I’m starting to feel a little more confident. We are losing a lot on the exit though; it’s difficult to find the rear grip. On motorbikes, the lap time depends on the exit of the corner. We are working on that because we are losing a lot of speed.”
Marquez also admitted that the new tyres have forced him to look at how he rides.
“I’ve started to change. I crashed when I tried to ride the bike like I did when it was on the Bridgestones. I was straight into the braking point, and I crashed. So you have to change mentality. I’m riding in a different way now.”
How that plays out – and whether he can reinvent his riding style to match the ultra-smooth, high corner speed style of reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo – remains to be seen.
So, with the opening round only days away, Marquez finally has a bike that seems to be working, at least at the last two tracks they’ve tried it at. With that comes confidence which means he is at least in a position to start the season ready to fight.
But, with the amount of time it took to get comfortable and confident at Qatar, Marquez has admitted that he still has lingering doubts as to how they’ll fare over the longer term.
“The thing now is that if we have the same conditions as the last day in Qatar, I could maybe win. But when Moto2 and Moto3 come and put down Dunlop rubber, it always changes. We have to understand that.
“We have a base, but the question mark in my head is whether we will need the same time as we needed here to find a setup, or if the base will work everywhere.”