Who can challenge Marquez in the second half of 2018?


Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo - Sachsenring race 2018
Credit: MotoGP

So far this year, Marc Marquez has well and truly reigned over the rest of the MotoGP field. He has 5 wins to his name from 9 races heading into the summer break, but two non-scores have left him just about within touching distance of the rest of the field. But will anyone be able to catch him over the remaining 10 races? If Marquez remains on his current form it’s difficult to imagine, however the field is closer than ever this year and Ducati and Yamaha are an ever-looming threat.

Some tracks lend themselves to characteristics of certain manufacturers or riders, for example tracks with long straights would be expected to suit the Ducati’s superior acceleration and horsepower. With the field becoming ever more competitive, though, it seems these ‘Honda/Ducati/Yamaha track’ labels are now outdated. Last year, for example, Andrea Dovizioso won at Silverstone which was Ducati’s first ever win at the circuit. This means it’s now even more difficult to make predictions in MotoGP, but the current top 6 riders in the championship are all in with a shot if the circumstances work in their favour.

Valentino Rossi is possibly the biggest threat to Marquez’s championship campaign this season. He sits second in the championship standings and has been on the podium at every race this year except Argentina. These results have been achieved despite problems with Yamaha’s electronics that create a weakness in acceleration, which Rossi has spoken out about in the hope Yamaha would make updates available as soon as possible. The real challenge to Marquez will come if, or when, the electronics updates come along for Yamaha. Rossi is a ‘Sunday man’ so has achieved these race results often off the back of weak practice and qualifying performances, so if he can be higher up on the grid come Sunday, the race results may improve too. A more competitive bike will possibly give the chance for Rossi to get the wins he really needs to create a battle for the title.

Valentino Rossi - Sachsenring race 2018
Credit: Yamaha MotoGP

Rossi’s team-mate Maverick Viñales sits third in the championship standings and has improved his form as of late, scoring two 3rd places in the last two rounds. He also achieved a second place earlier in the year in Austin, but in between his results have been mixed. Consistency is how he’s found himself 3rd in the standings; he has finished in the points in every race this year. However, it’s the first few laps of races where Viñales seems to struggle, and by the second half of the race it’s often too late to make up the ground he has lost. Whilst Viñales does speak of the same issues as Rossi with the electronics in acceleration, him and his team don’t seem to understand his weak form at the start of the races. If they can resolve this, it’s possible that Viñales could challenge Marquez, but there are other riders that appear stronger contenders from what we’ve seen so far.

At the factory Ducati team, Jorge Lorenzo could be considered the other biggest threat to Marquez, along with Rossi. Looking at the past 4 races alone, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi have scored the most points out of the whole field – Marquez with 70, Lorenzo 69 and Rossi 63. Marquez and Lorenzo have also won 2 races each across the last four rounds. Lorenzo led the race for some time at the Sachsenring, historically not a good circuit for the Ducati, and could probably have finished higher than 6th place had the bike settings worked better to maintain the rear tyre. If Lorenzo and Ducati can continue the pattern of being competitive where they usually suffer and winning at tracks that suit both the rider and the bike, it will bode well for Lorenzo’s championship hopes. It’s unfortunate that Lorenzo suffered more at the start of the season, otherwise the gap in points could be much smaller. Mugello was the first race with the modified fuel tank which Lorenzo claims he had been asking for since the start of the year, so if this modification had been bought in earlier it’s possible Lorenzo could have won sooner. If he had done so, we could have been in for an exciting battle between the two future Repsol Honda team-mates.

Jorge Lorenzo - Sachsenring 2018
Credit: MotoGP

On the other side of the box is Andrea Dovizioso, who shocked everyone last year by taking the championship down to the final round in Valencia against Marquez. This year he doesn’t seem to have the same momentum so far. He has suffered 3 DNFs this season up to now – more than any other rider in the top 6 of the championship. The French and Catalan GPs saw mistakes that were previously rare for Dovizioso, crashing out of the lead in Le Mans and whilst chasing Marquez and Lorenzo in Barcelona. Despite this, he is still 3 points ahead of team-mate Lorenzo after making a stronger start to the season. If Dovizioso can turn his form around then he can challenge Marquez just as his team-mate could, but it will be anything but easy for him now Lorenzo has got to grips with the Ducati. He has experience with the Ducati on his side, but Lorenzo is a 5-time world champion that is hard to beat when at the top of his game.

Finally, there is Johann Zarco, currently 4th in the championship standings. He started the season off well with podiums in Argentina and Spain, regularly outperforming the factory Yamaha riders. Yet since his home race at France his performance has dropped, and he is unsure of the reason. With Zarco yet to win his first race in the premier class, it seems unlikely he could challenge Marquez for the title. He is ahead of both factory Ducati riders in the standings, but they have both won races this season and sit below Zarco as they have suffered more DNFs.

Most importantly of all though, Marquez needs to keep scoring points at every round to be sure of the championship. He is 46 points ahead of Valentino Rossi and 80 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, who is currently 6th in the championship. The only way other riders will have a real chance at the title is if Marquez finishes with no points in some of the upcoming rounds. This means he will have to be smart and recognise when it is important to take home points rather than the win, which is something he seems better at now than when he was younger. It could also be misfortune that ignites the title fight, such as the mechanical failure he suffered at Silverstone last year. Of course, crashes or misfortune of any kind are never wished on any rider, but if it happens then the others will need to seize the opportunity to lessen the healthy lead that Marquez currently has.