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MotoGP Malaysian GP

Why it's time to stop whining about Marquez's MotoGP qualifying tactics

OPINION: Last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix once again put Marc Marquez’s MotoGP qualifying tactics, where he deliberately rides slowly to select a rival to steal a tow from, under scrutiny. It has divided opinion in the paddock, but both he and his latest victim Franco Morbidelli suggest it’s time to stop whining

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

It's no secret that Marc Marquez is struggling on the Honda. He has crashed 27 times so far this season, matching his record for a single campaign.

His results have been poor, with his only grand prix podium coming in the wet at Motegi. That tally is only narrowly bettered by his sprint haul, having twice visited the rostrum on Saturdays - in Portugal, before things went awry in the grand prix, and the Indian event dictated by Michelin's stiffer rear tyre carcass for heat dispensation.

His qualifying has been better, Marquez's all-out style helping him put the Honda places it shouldn't be. In the Portugal season-opener, he scored pole. And at the French and Italian GPs, he was second.

At the time, Marquez's pole lap was hailed as genius, given the woes of the winter on the RC213V. But it was done with the use of Ducati's Enea Bastianini as a reference ahead, allowing him to bag a lap record. At Le Mans, he had Pramac's Jorge Martin in front of him. And at Mugello, he followed Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia to qualify second.

It's not even a new tactic for Marquez. There have been points when he has been quick enough to do the lap times on his own during his dominant years. But even then, he enjoyed the gamesmanship, forcing a rider who had to push for a time to get on with things, all the while he enjoyed being towed around to a good grid slot.

It didn't always work. In Malaysia in 2019, he tried to do the same thing with Fabio Quartararo, slowing on his out-laps and backing off when the then-Petronas SRT rider also eased off to let the Honda go back through. On that occasion, he let too much heat drop out of his tyres and he crashed heavily at Turn 2 when he started to push. It led to him partially dislocating his shoulder and put him on course for another winter of recovery.

Marquez often says he doesn't like the way he has to approach qualifying on the current Honda, but history shows that's not always the case when it was to get under the skin of a rival.

The high point of Marquez's season came in taking pole in Portugal using his now tried and tested tow tactic

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The high point of Marquez's season came in taking pole in Portugal using his now tried and tested tow tactic

In Thailand, he did the same thing to Jack Miller trying to get out of Q1. Throughout that session he made sure he had the KTM in front of him, at one point cutting in front of LCR's Takaaki Nakagami to keep track position and backing off when the Australian backed off to keep his reference rider ahead.

That copped Marquez some criticism on social media, but Miller brushed it off as part of the game. The same thing happened in Malaysia last weekend in Q1, with Marquez selecting Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli – who had been quick throughout the weekend – as his victim to follow. A similar scenario to Thailand played out, with the pair even leaving pitlane incredibly slowly as neither offered any quarter.

At one point, Morbidelli was seen on track pointing down in front of him, as if to signal to Marquez 'This is the piece of track you're looking for'. It ultimately proved futile. Morbidelli didn't get through to Q2, while Marquez crashed trying to pass Tech3's Augusto Fernandez – leaving his weekend, as the Honda rider put it, "fucked", as it consigned him to 20th on the grid.

"Back in the day, the non-respect zone, the non-respect moments in MotoGP, were maybe the last three laps of the race" Franco Morbidelli

Pleading his innocence, Marquez stated: "We went into that kind of game, but this happens when you are two riders who right now are in a difficult moment and are not convinced about ourselves. He [Morbidelli] was not pushing, I was not pushing, he was not pushing, I was not pushing, and it was a shame because I had a good rhythm in free practice two.

"But we were not pushing and when I tried to, he followed me. I caught Augusto too early and unfortunately for me he closed the gap in Turn 2. That is normal, he played his game and I accept it. But when I tried to overtake him, I crashed."

"The game". This is the operative phrase here, because this is very much part of things. Morbidelli rather eloquently summed up why.

"Back in the day, the non-respect zone, the non-respect moments in MotoGP, were maybe the last three laps of the race," he said, meaning all bets were only off at the end of a grand prix. "Now that amount of [non-respect] time has spread out throughout the whole weekend basically. It's from the first lap of the weekend to the last lap of the weekend.

For Morbidelli the

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

For Morbidelli the "no respect" part now covers the entire grand prix weekend

"Also, with Fabio [Quartararo in second practice], it was a lap that he wasn't improving, he was already in Q2, and I was out of the way because I was on the kerb, but his reaction was big time. This means that there is a lot of pressure and there is no respect whatsoever for the opponent. The opponent is the enemy. 'Grrrrr!' This is how it is nowadays in MotoGP, this is how it works.

"This is how the game is, and I don't make the rules or control the behaviour of the people. This is how naturally the game went, and you've got to play the game according to how it is. Outside of the track, there is not that much, and riders are good to keep it cool. But I can assure you that on the track, from the first lap of Friday, it's a strong game."

Marquez added: "This happened in the past, happens now, and will happen in the future. I hope that next year they will follow me! Will be a good sign and I will accept, but it's normal that a slow rider follows a fast rider.

"In the past it was like this. I remember a hundred times, [Andrea] Iannone for example, he comes back and Iannone followed me, many riders followed me. I was pushing, I had the speed, I was convinced [I could be quick].

"Now I cannot push, and I hope next I have this problem. But as you saw Martin, Bagnaia… Bagnaia today was pushing all the group, all the train in the qualifying practice. It's part of the game and the people can talk a lot, blah, blah, blah. But everybody does it."

And it's hard not to agree with Marquez's assessment. The whining about it shouldn't directed at the riders, because they are well within the rules.

Moto2 and Moto3 have enforced minimum sector times to avoid towing and reduce the safety risk

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Moto2 and Moto3 have enforced minimum sector times to avoid towing and reduce the safety risk

In MotoGP, so long as you don't compromise somebody's lap – deemed 'irresponsible riding' – then it's a fair cop. In the Malaysia Q2 session at the start, Miller, Martin, Luca Marini, Maverick Vinales, Brad Binder and Johann Zarco were all seen cruising down the back straight, waiting for the other to make the first move. Bagnaia was the only rider at that point who pinned it, letting the rest tuck in behind.

The solution is staring MotoGP in the face, because the guidance (not an official rule, it must be pointed out) for policing this kind of behaviour already exists in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Because this was such a major safety problem in Moto3 in particular, there are now minimum sector times riders must stick to - avoiding the towing issue.

If anyone is caught breaking this, they are hit with penalties, starting with long laps and then following a sliding scale with a race ban being the most severe. It has to be wondered, if you want the young riders to stamp that behaviour out before they get to MotoGP, surely one must apply the same system in the premier class?

Until then, however, nothing will change. And don't blame the riders for that – they just work here…

Marquez's qualifying tactics are entirely within the rules

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marquez's qualifying tactics are entirely within the rules

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