Marc Marquez

Who won the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Who ended up as the alpha dog in all 12 MotoGP garages this year? We’ve crunched the numbers.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Some pairings of MotoGP teammates just work; each rider knows their place, they share information to make the bike better and their teams more competitive, and they operate for the greater good rather than individual glory. And some ‘teammates’ are that in name only, vying for the attention of their manufacturer, angling for a technical direction they prefer with their machinery, and doing anything they can to finish ahead of their stablemate with the same equipment.

There was evidence of both extremes in the MotoGP paddock this year (and you can come to your own conclusions as to who fits where), but while the approaches taken to tackle the season can vary, the stats (usually) show one clear outcome.

We’ve run the numbers for all 12 teams and 24 regular riders (not considering wildcards, one-offs or injury replacements) to work out who was top dog in each MotoGP garage over 18 races, and who will need to rebuild their reputations as we enter the 2019 campaign, where (remarkably) just two of the squads below will retain the same riders year-on-year.

In teams’ championship order, let’s go.

Repsol Honda Team

Dani Pedrosa spent six years as teammate to Marc Marquez at Honda’s factory squad before retiring at the end of the season, and while there were some high points (he won nine races in that time), 2018 wasn’t one of them. Marquez won his fifth world title in six seasons this year, but the size of the gap to his compatriot was bigger than ever; in the five previous years, Marquez out-scored Pedrosa by an average of 83 points a season, while this year, the gap was 204 points and 10 spots in the riders’ standings. Few pairings were more one-sided than this high-profile duo.

Qualifying H2H: Marquez 17, Pedrosa 2
Race H2H (both finished): Marquez 12, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (nine times), Pedrosa 5th (four times)
Points: Marquez 321 (1st), Pedrosa 117 (11th)
Podiums: Marquez 14, Pedrosa 0
Avg. grid position: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 10th
Avg. race finish: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 7th

Ducati Team

Remember we said the numbers don’t always tell the story? Context is everything when trying to separate Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati, the Spaniard’s final season in red before heading to Honda as Pedrosa’s replacement. Lorenzo’s two years alongside Dovizioso were tricky to manage, and the stats are just as hard to analyse. Lorenzo’s high points were arguably higher, but from the mid-point of the season, where he was either injured, compromised or absent altogether, meaningful comparisons between the two are impossible. It’s only fitting that a complicated fit between these two comes with a set of numbers that could be read both ways. Neither of them would be wrong.

Qualifying H2H: Lorenzo 8, Dovizioso 7
Race H2H (both finished): Dovizioso 6, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (four times), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 245 (2nd), Lorenzo 134 (9th)
Podiums: Dovizioso 9, Lorenzo 4
Avg grid position: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th
Avg. race finish: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Speaking of complicated … how do you split Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales? Rossi finished higher in the standings, but Vinales took Yamaha’s only win for the year in a disappointing season. Vinales had the one-lap advantage, but Rossi had unerring consistency. Both had the same number of podiums. Rossi seemingly always moved forwards in races, Vinales had to fight back after routinely dropping back in the early laps. At gunpoint, you’d say Rossi … just.

Qualifying H2H: Vinales 12, Rossi 7
Races H2H (both finished): Rossi 9, Vinales 7
Best result: Vinales 1st, Rossi 2nd
Points: Rossi 198 (3rd), Vinales 193 (4th)
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 5
Avg. grid position: Vinales 7th, Rossi 8th
Avg. race finish: Vinales 6th, Rossi 7th

Team Suzuki Ecstar

If races were held over one lap, this head-to-head belongs to Andrea Iannone, and it wouldn’t be close. At the mid-point of the season, the Italian held sway at Suzuki, even against the backdrop of his departure to Aprilia for 2019. But Alex Rins finished the season with a rush, ending it with three podiums in the final four Grands Prix. Rins still falls off too much – five non-finishes were as many as Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso combined – but the Spaniard’s Sunday scorecard against Iannone says plenty.

Qualifying H2H: Iannone 13, Rins 6
Race H2H (both finished): Rins 5, Iannone 4
Best result: Rins 2nd (three times), Iannone 2nd
Points: Rins 169 (5th), Iannone 133 (10th)
Podiums: Rins 5, Iannone 4
Avg. grid position: Iannone 7th, Rins 9th
Avg. race finish: Rins 5th, Iannone 8th

Alma Pramac Racing

Jack Miller himself will tell you he should have scored more points this season, with several strong qualifying showings in the back-half of the year going to waste with early-race crashes on Sundays. Danilo Petrucci scored more points, had a better best race result and started closer to the front on average than his Australian teammate, but how much of that was down to the rider and not what the riders rode, given Miller was on a 2017-spec Ducati while Petrucci rode a full factory ’18 bike for 18 races? Miller’s stronger second half narrowed the gap, but not by enough.

Qualifying H2H: Petrucci 14, Miller 5
Race H2H (both finished): Petrucci 9, Miller 4
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 144 (8th), Miller 91 (13th)
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Avg. grid position: Petrucci 7th, Miller 10th
Avg. race finish: Petrucci 8th, Miller 10th

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

This wasn’t supposed to be close, and wasn’t – Johann Zarco came into 2018 as one of the sport’s rising stars and delivered on that promise in the early part of the season, while Hafizh Syahrin was a rookie who came in late after 2017 Tech 3 rider Jonas Folger had to withdraw with illness. Zarco’s reputation as a demon qualifier produced an enormous gap between two riders at very different stages of their careers; the Malaysian was one of three riders never to beat their teammate on a Saturday, and one of four not to finish ahead of the rider on the other side of their garage on race day.

Qualifying H2H: Zarco 19, Syahrin 0
Race H2H (both finished): Zarco 14, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 158 (6th), Syahrin 46 (16th)
Podiums: Zarco 3, Syahrin 0
Avg. grid position: Zarco 6th, Syahrin 18th
Avg. race finish: Zarco 7th, Syahrin 13th

LCR Honda

This pairing will go around again in 2019 (as will Rossi and Vinales at the factory Yamaha squad), and while the numbers predictably have Cal Crutchlow well ahead of Takaaki Nakagami, there’s reasons to be optimistic for both. Crutchlow would have been on for a second top-five championship finish were it not for injury on his factory 2018 RC213V, while satellite bike-riding rookie Nakagami saved his best to last with a sixth-place finish in the Valencia finale, and then led the timesheets on the final day of testing for the season at Jerez. With good respect between the two, this is as close to an ideal pairing at a satellite squad as you can get.

Qualifying H2H: Crutchlow 16, Nakagami 0
Race H2H (both finished): Crutchlow 10, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 6th
Points: Crutchlow 148 (7th), Nakagami 33 (20th)
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Avg. grid position: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 16th
Avg. race finish: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 15th

Angel Nieto Team

Karel Abraham never beat teammate Alvaro Bautista in a race where both riders finished. Abraham never managed a top-10 result all season; Bautista had 11 of them, including a season-best fourth filling in for the absent Lorenzo at Ducati’s factory outfit in Australia. Abraham will still be on the grid, albeit at the lowly Reale Avintia Ducati team, in 2019, while Bautista found all avenues closed for him and jumped to World Superbikes after his best season for five years. Funding, as ever from the middle of the grid backwards, can prolong a career, or curtail one in an instant.

Qualifying H2H: Bautista 13, Abraham 5
Race H2H (both finished): Bautista 9, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th* (twice), Abraham 11th
Points: Bautista 92 (12th), Abraham 12 (23rd)
Avg. grid position: Bautista 15th, Abraham 20th
Avg. race finish: Bautista 9th, Abraham 17th
(* Note: Bautista finished fourth riding Lorenzo’s bike in Australia)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro spent more than 2018 as teammates; the former Moto2 rivals were together at Tech 3 Yamaha from Espargaro’s rookie premier-class season in 2014, where Smith was already entrenched, and moved together to KTM for the Austrian manufacturer’s debut MotoGP season in 2017. It took until the last race of their five years together for either (Espargaro) to make the podium (third in Valencia), and while both struggled with injury this year, the Spaniard’s top-three finish specifically and his Sunday ascendancy generally gives him the nod.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 8, Smith 8
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 6, Smith 2
Best result: Espargaro 3rd, Smith 8th
Points: Espargaro 51 (14th), Smith 38 (18th)
Podiums: Espargaro 1, Smith 0
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 17th, Smith 17th
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 10th, Smith 14th

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Don’t let the finishing positions of Aleix Espargaro (17th in the standings) and Scott Redding (21st) fool you into thinking the battle at Aprilia was tight this year. The Spaniard had double the DNF’s of his British teammate (six to three) but still scored more than twice the number of points, one-quarter of Redding’s tally coming in the final rain-affected race in Valencia. Summing up Redding’s final MotoGP season; the only GP where he out-qualified Espargaro was his home race at Silverstone … the race that never happened after rain caused its cancellation.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 18, Redding 1
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 9, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 6th, Redding 11th
Points: Espargaro 44 (17th), Redding 20 (21st)
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 15th, Redding 21st
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 12th, Redding 16th

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Both Franco Morbidelli and Thomas Luthi came into 2018 as MotoGP rookies, but that’s where the comparisons end. Morbidelli, the 2017 Moto2 champion, adapted well to the bigger bikes and scored 50 points to be named rookie of the year. Luthi, beaten by his 2018 MotoGP teammate to the 2017 intermediate-class crown, was the only full-time rider not to score a point this year, although he couldn’t have come much closer given his best results (note: plural).

Qualifying H2H: Morbidelli 15, Luthi 2
Race H2H (both finished): Morbidelli 12, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 8th, Luthi 16th (five times)
Points: Morbidelli 50 (15th), Luthi 0 (29th)
Avg. grid position: Morbidelli 16th, Luthi 20th
Avg. race finish: Morbidelli 13th, Luthi 18th

Reale Avintia Racing

The Ducati satellite squad fell from 10th in the teams’ standings at the halfway stage of 2018 to last at year’s end, which has everything to do with Tito Rabat’s season ending after 11 races when the Spaniard was hit by Morbidelli’s crashed Honda in British GP qualifying and suffered a horrendous triple fracture to his right leg. Teammate Xavier Simeon was nowhere near Rabat’s pace when they lined up together (although, in reality, far apart) on the grid, but at least the Belgian didn’t suffer Luthi’s fate, scoring his sole point for the season by coming 15th in Australia.

Qualifying head-to-head: Rabat 11, Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 15th
Points: Rabat 35 (19th), Simeon 1 (27th)
Average grid position: Rabat 12th, Simeon 21st
Average race finish: Rabat 12th, Simeon 18th

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MotoGP 2018: Who was best in class?

Who shone and who stumbled? Who exceeded expectations or underwhelmed? It’s time for our top 10 riders of the MotoGP season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Change, the saying goes, is as good as a holiday – but why should you have to choose one or the other? While the MotoGP riders and teams take a well-earned off-season holiday after a packed 19-round schedule for 2018, we’re going to change how we rank their seasons here at redbull.com. Last year in this space, we ran the rule over the grid to come up with our top five riders of 2017. This year, at the halfway mark (or as close to as we could), we donned our school headmaster’s hat and handed out the mid-term grades. This time? Something different again.

A cast of 24 riders (in their ‘school’ photo above; nice hat, Jack …) began the 2018 season under lights at Losail in Qatar, and by season’s end in Valencia (counting wildcards and injury replacements), 33 riders appeared on the entry list and 32 of them raced (Loris Baz, drafted in as an injury replacement for Pol Espargaro at the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing outfit for Silverstone, never got the chance to race after that GP was washed out). But, with respect to 23 others, we’re whittling things down to a top 10 for the season that wrapped up earlier this month.

In conquering the tough task to come up with a top 10, we considered the expectations for each rider before and during the season, the competitiveness of the equipment they were riding, how they performed relative to their teammates or riders on the same machinery at other teams, and (of course) the points standings.

Three who didn’t make the cut: Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who, in his final year of a glittering top-flight career, couldn’t finish on the podium once where teammate Marc Marquez was the world champion, and ended 18 races 204 points behind his compatriot on the same bike.

Aussie Jack Miller, who had searing qualifying speed at times (five top-six starts and a brilliant pole in Argentina), but finished 13th overall after several costly crashes he admitted cost him “probably 40 points” in races, also misses. As does his Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci, who was the toughest omission; eighth in the championship for a second year running, Petrucci’s podium tally dwindled (four in 2017, just one this season), and riders who finished behind the Italian had higher high points.

From 10 to 1, let’s count them down – the best riders in MotoGP in 2018, and why.

10. Alvaro Bautista

2018 summary
12th in world championship (105 points), best result 4th (Australia), 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Bautista’s qualifying efforts were fairly blah – he made Q2 just seven times all season – but the Spanish veteran knew that points were paid on Sundays, and he mostly delivered on race days relative to riders on the same-spec GP17 Ducati; he finished 14 points and one place ahead of Miller, for example. A ride deputising for the injured Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Ducati team in Australia was a reward for effort, and Bautista took his best result for the season at Phillip Island on a bike he barely knew, a strong way to sign off on a nine-year MotoGP stint before heading to World Superbikes.

9. Andrea Iannone

2018 summary
10th in world championship (133 points), best result 2nd (Australia), 4 podiums, 14 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Like your riders to be more mercurial than metronomic? Iannone’s your man; the combative Italian is just as likely to qualify nowhere as he is to pull off a spectacular result like Australia, where he finished second. Ahead of Suzuki teammate Alex Rins at the mid-point of the season, Iannone finished 36 points behind the Spaniard by year’s end, and Rins finished one fewer race. Next year is likely to be tougher for Iannone as he heads to Aprilia, his third manufacturer in seven MotoGP seasons.

8. Johann Zarco

2018 summary
6th in world championship (158 points), best result 2nd (Argentina, Spain), 2 poles, 3 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
If this list was being compiled on the Saturday of the French GP weekend, where he sent Le Mans into delirium after qualifying on pole, we might have had Zarco in the top three; in the opening five races, the Yamaha rider had two poles, a pair of podiums and 58 points to be the standout satellite rider in the championship. After that? Crashing from his home race seemed to knock the wind out of the Frenchman, and he managed just 100 more points and a single podium (Malaysia) the rest of the way, only winning the independent team rider title because Honda’s Cal Crutchlow missed the final three races with injury.

7. Cal Crutchlow

2018 summary
7th in world championship (148 points), 1 win (Argentina), 1 pole, 3 podiums, 12 finishes in 15 races.

The verdict
We agree with the final standings here for Crutchlow, the combative Briton who likely would have enjoyed a top-five championship finish for the second time in his career had he not crashed and smashed his right tibia and ankle in a high-speed off in practice at Phillip Island in October. The Honda rider missed the final three races of the year, but was ever-present when he was onboard, making Q2 in every race bar France, finishing in the top 10 in all but one of the races when he saw the chequered flag (USA), and winning the chaotic GP in Argentina, keeping his head when plenty who should have known better lost theirs. Just five riders won races in 2018, and he was one of them.

6. Alex Rins

2018 summary
5th in world championship (169 points), best result 2nd (Netherlands, Malaysia, Valencia), 5 podiums, 1 fastest lap, 13 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
In our mid-season review, we hinted that there was nothing wrong with Rins’ speed; he just rarely stayed on his Suzuki long enough to show it, crashing out five times in the first nine races. From there on, the Spaniard was close to faultless, given what he was riding and who (Iannone) was on the other side the garage. Nine races, eight top-10 finishes and a pair of second places to round out the year in Malaysia and Valencia could arguably have him higher on this list, but those non-finishes and his qualifying speed (he beat Iannone on Saturday only six times in 19 attempts) have to be taken into account. It would surprise nobody if Rins wins a race, and soon, in 2019.

5. Valentino Rossi

2018 summary
3rd in world championship (198 points), best result 2nd (Germany), 1 pole, 5 podiums, 18 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Leaving a living legend in fifth place when he finished third overall? Hard to do, but easier to explain. It was Rossi’s first winless season since the dark Ducati days of 2011-12, and – remarkably – his first winless season ever on a Yamaha in 13 campaigns across two stints. That – and crashing out of the lead when a win looked in the bag in Malaysia – was the bad, but ‘The Doctor’ was the only rider to finish all 18 races, and his pole position at Mugello prompted the kind of spontaneous spectator joy only one rider at one Grand Prix could muster.

4. Maverick Vinales

2018 summary
4th in world championship (193 points), 1 win (Australia), 1 pole, 2 fastest laps, 5 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Vinales fourth and Rossi fifth? Shouldn’t these places be swapped? Yes and perhaps; the Spaniard gets extra marks for snapping Yamaha’s historically barren run with an emotional victory in Australia, and having Rossi’s measure in qualifying more often than not. Too often, Vinales would squander those strong Saturdays with poor starts on Sundays as he struggled for grip with a full fuel load, and the vast majority of his top-10 results came from fighting rearguard missions where he came on strong the longer the races went. Watching what direction Yamaha takes with its bike for 2019 for two riders who typically want different things from their machinery will be, again, an intriguing subplot given the age and stage of their respective careers; Rossi turns 40 next February, a month after Vinales celebrates his 24th birthday.

3. Jorge Lorenzo

2018 summary
9th in world championship (134 points), 3 wins (Italy, Catalunya, Austria), 4 poles, 2 fastest laps, 4 podiums, 11 finishes in 14 races.

The verdict
Reading a graph of Lorenzo’s results in 2018 should come with a health warning; you could put your neck out coping with the peaks and troughs of the Spaniard’s results over 14 races. It was a year of extremes for the three-time world champion; he managed just 16 points in five miserable races to start the season to sit 14th in the championship after Le Mans, and then won three of the next six races, running rings around the rest of the field in Italy before staring down and beating Marquez in a straight fight at the Red Bull Ring. Forty points behind Ducati teammate Dovizioso in the standings after France, he was ahead following Austria … and then scored just four points across the final eight races of the season, missing four of them altogether after a brutal practice crash in Thailand left him with right ankle and left wrist injuries. Joining Honda as Marquez’s new teammate couldn’t be more difficult than 2018 was … could it?

2. Andrea Dovizioso

2018 summary
2nd in world championship (245 points), 4 wins (Qatar, Czech Republic, San Marino, Valencia), 2 poles, 5 fastest laps, 9 podiums, 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Dovizioso was the runner-up last year too, but this time, the gap between the Ducati man and world champion Marquez was seismic, peaking at 102 points when Marquez won the title in Japan with three races remaining. Dovizioso crashing out of contention at Motegi on the second-last lap when locked in a one-to-one fight with Marquez sums up the past two years in MotoGP; the Italian is the only rider who has been able to consistently go with the Spaniard, but even that has its limits. Four victories and 245 points were two and 16 fewer than 2017 in those respective categories, while three DNFs and that crash in Japan (where he remounted and finished a crestfallen 18th) were most unlike a rider whom, until the past two years, was known more for his consistency and late braking than his speed.

1. Marc Marquez

2018 summary
World champion (321 points), 9 wins (USA, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, Aragon, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia), 7 poles, 7 fastest laps, 14 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
It could hardly be anyone else, could it? (Virtual) forests have been felled in the reporting of Marquez’s fifth title in his six premier-class seasons to date, so we’ll hit you with three numbers of note. One, he didn’t fail to finish a race until Australia, after he’d secured the title. Two, he had as many podiums as second (Dovizioso) and third (Rossi) in the standings combined. And lastly, no MotoGP rider crashed more than Marquez (23 falls in 2018, not to mention the seemingly weekly saves that defied logic and gravity, Catalunya the best of them). It’s a proven formula; spend Friday and Saturday finding the limit, occasionally step over it, and then dance as close as you dare to that line on Sundays without crossing it. The numbers – and the optics of how Marquez achieves them – suggests that it’s working.

High-five for Marquez after mastering Island mist

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

Unbeatable at Phillip Island? The coastal circuit’s capricious microclimate, which chose the very moment qualifying started for the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix on Saturday to sprinkle intermittent rain onto one of the fastest and most challenging tracks in all of motorsport. And Marc Marquez, who took his fifth pole position in a row at the Island after finding the right mix of bravery and skill to assert himself when it mattered most.

Honda rider Marquez, who won his fifth MotoGP world title last weekend when he was victorious in the Japanese Grand Prix, made light of his relatively pedestrian practice pace to deliver a lap of 1min 29.199secs with six minutes remaining in Saturday afternoon’s 15-minute qualifying session, the Spaniard beating compatriot Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) by three-tenths of a second to take his 51st MotoGP pole position.

Frenchman Johann Zarco (Yamaha) rounded out the front row, while Australia’s Jack Miller pushed his Ducati to the very edge of its limits in “scary” conditions, nearly crashing at the final corner on his final lap of the session as the rain intensified to qualify sixth.

Marquez came into qualifying after setting just the sixth-fastest time in the opening three practice sessions, and after a scrappy opening day of practice on Friday when he fell at the treacherous downhill Turn 10 and ran off at Turn 6 as he attempted to find the limits of a skittish Honda. But he took control of qualifying after Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the early running, making the most of a lap on the limit where the drizzle briefly abated to take his sixth pole of 2018, and third in succession after topping qualifying in Thailand and Japan.

“On one lap it completely stopped raining and I give everything on that lap,” the 25-year-old said.

“We are nearly all the lap 200(km/h), and when you see small drops of rain on your visor, you don’t know where is the limit.”

Miller was comfortably the fastest of the eight Ducati bikes in the 24-bike field, out-qualifying the likes of Valentino Rossi (Yamaha, seventh) and fellow Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso (ninth), who sits second behind Marquez in the championship standings.

The Australian, who typically revels in the type of half-wet, half-dry conditions seen at the Island on Saturday, attempted to reprise his shock pole in similar weather in Argentina earlier this year, but barely hung onto his GP17 machine as it thundered through the final corner at over 270km/h on his last lap, lifting his right leg skywards to regain his balance.

“As I went in there at full angle, it was a little bit slicker than I expected and I had to hold (the bike) up with my elbow,” Miller said.

“It was scary out there, heart-in-mouth stuff. There was a lot of mist, more mist than rain, sticking to your visor, so you didn’t really know how wet it was. You were going into the darkness. So to bring it home in sixth position, with how the conditions were, I’m just happy to be in one piece.”

Marquez, who rode in a pair of Mick Doohan-replica boots on Saturday in a nod to his fellow five-time MotoGP world champion, has a curious record at Phillip Island. Despite his qualifying dominance, Marquez has converted just two of those five pole positions into victories, winning in Australia in 2015 and again last year. He crashed from the lead in 2014 and again in 2016, races that both came one weekend after he’d won that year’s championship in Japan, as he did at the Motegi circuit last weekend.

“I won in 2014 in Motegi and I arrive here and I felt I could do everything, and I crash during the race,” he said.

“In 2016, I start to feel different, and then again I crash in the race. It’s something I need to control myself because it is a circuit that I love, but I feel more relaxed.”

As the sun finally broke through late on Saturday afternoon, Miller was similarly at ease with his prediction that he’d be in the fight for the podium earlier this week, and confident he could snap a barren run for Ducati at a fast, flowing circuit that doesn’t play to his bike’s strengths.

A rocket-ship on lengthy straights, of which Phillip island has none, the Ducati tends to perform best at tracks with hard braking and tighter-radius corners than the majority of those found on Phillip Island’s 12-turn layout. Since Casey Stoner won his fourth Australian Grand Prix in a row for Ducati in 2010, just one Ducati rider (Iannone in 2015) has finished inside the top three in Australia, but Miller feels well placed to aim for the rostrum after finishing two of the four practice sessions this weekend inside the top three.

After leading for the opening four laps last year before fading to seventh place, he’s expecting more of himself 12 months on.

“I don’t think it’ll be a crazy-fast race from the get-go, it’ll wind up with five or six laps to go,” Miller said.

“I think a podium (finish) is definitely within touching distance, so I’m looking to take my experience from last year and hopefully turn it into a better result this year.”

Left, right: can Marquez march to another Aussie win?

Marc Marquez is fast everywhere, but has a special affinity with Phillip Island, like every other anti-clockwise track …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It was a bit of light-hearted fun at the end of the pre-event press conference at this year’s Austrian Grand Prix, where a number of MotoGP riders were handed a sheet of paper and a marker to draw their ideal track. Jorge Lorenzo’s was simple, Valentino Rossi’s more elaborate, Andrea Dovizioso’s a mixture of both. Marc Marquez? The Spaniard drew an oval, added a directional arrow, and wrote five words: ‘Left corners and very slippery’. Those in attendance laughed, but as Marquez’s records show, the joke is on everyone else.

The 25-year-old Spaniard has done plenty of winning in the premier class since joining MotoGP in 2013; his victory last time out in Japan secured a fifth world title in his first six seasons, the victory his 43rd in that span. They’re astonishing stats in themselves, but crunch the numbers a little further and you discover where he really makes his rivals pay. Because for Marquez, with his flat-track dirt-bike racing background, it’s right to go left.

Phillip Island, home of this Sunday’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, is one of just five of the 19 circuits featured on the 2018 calendar that goes ‘left’, in that it has more left-hand corners than right-handers. And when a circuit runs anti-clockwise, time seems to be up on the chances of Marquez’s rivals, none of whom have been able to hold a candle to him.

Before the race in Aragon this year (a left-hand track, where Marquez won), cycleworld.com analysed his stats at all tracks, which make for scary reading for his rivals at the ‘left’ ones. Before Aragon, Marquez had won 39 per cent of his MotoGP starts, and 25 per cent of those on clockwise, right-handed circuits – a formidable set of numbers by themselves. On left-hand tracks, that goes up to 71 per cent – and pole position 84 per cent of the time.

Remarkably, Marquez has never been beaten in MotoGP in the USA between the Circuit of the Americas, Indianapolis and Laguna Seca; all left-hand tracks, where he’s a perfect 10-for-10. At the Sachsenring in Germany, the undulating, twisty track that features 10 lefts and just three rights, he’s taken pole and won in all six visits on MotoGP machinery, and won for the three years before that in the Moto2 and 125cc classes. At Aragon (10 lefts, 7 rights), he’s won four times in six years, crashing out the other two times. And at the season finale in Valencia (nine lefts, five rights), he’s been on the podium every year, won in 2014, and secured his 2013 and 2017 titles at the compact Spanish circuit.

How that does that shape his chances for Australia and Phillip Island, where seven of the 12 corners are left-handed? He won both no-holds-barred Australian GP classics in 2015 and 2017, crashed from the lead in 2014 and 2016, and was disqualified while leading in 2013 after being black-flagged for not changing tyres at half-distance of a race where pit stops on safety grounds were mandatory. He’s been on pole at the Island each of the past four years, set the fastest lap of the race twice, and has the circuit record lap of 1min 28.108secs in 2013.

All of which is why, with a fifth MotoGP championship in his pocket before he gets to Australia, he has to be considered the favourite for a track he holds in special esteem.

“It’s one of my favourite circuits, I’m always fast there and I’m enjoying a lot, it’s an incredible track,” Marquez says.

“It’s difficult because it’s very physical, with many hard and fast changes in direction, but I enjoy it a lot every year.”

When those changes of direction are more lefts than rights, it’s easy to see why …

This story was originally published on motogp.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.

Marquez vs Rossi – who comes out on top?

Comparing the first six MotoGP seasons of this pair of two-wheel giants makes for compelling reading.

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Marc Marquez’s eighth win of the 2018 MotoGP season last Sunday at the Japanese Grand Prix was worth much, much more than the 25 points that came with it. For one, it secured the Spaniard his fifth premier-class world title and seventh world championship in all, some feat for a rider who only turned 25 years of age in February. And it made for compelling comparison with another of the all-time greats, who, like Marquez, will be in action at Phillip Island for the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

Marquez joins Aussie legend Mick Doohan on five premier class titles, and is now one of just four riders along with Giacomo Agostini (eight premier class crowns) and Valentino Rossi (seven) to win five or more world championships in the top flight. And while Rossi and Marquez have had their differences – who will ever forget their controversial clash at the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix? – the Italian veteran, now 39, knows the Spaniard is a good chance to overhaul his career achievements. “Marquez can beat my records, but it does not bother me,” Rossi said at a promotional appearance in the UK earlier this month.

The latter part of that statement may or may not be true, but comparing their first six seasons in the top flight of the world championship shows where Marquez sits in a historical context, and what he might achieve once his career is over, given Rossi is 14 years his senior and still a front-runner as he nears his 40th birthday.

Since his MotoGP debut in 2013, Marquez has won five titles in six years, the last three (2016-18) in succession, and has won 43 of the 105 races he’s started, all riding for Repsol Honda after inheriting Casey Stoner’s seat at the factory squad following the Australian’s 2012 retirement. He’s been on the podium 76 times, has taken 50 pole positions, and set the fastest lap of the race 44 times.

Rossi’s first six premier-class seasons were from 2000-05, the first two in the 500cc class before the advent of the MotoGP era in 2002. The first four of those seasons were for the same factory Honda squad Marquez calls home now, the next two the first of his initial seven-year stint with Yamaha from 2004-10. In that six-year span, ‘The Doctor’ claimed five titles in succession from 2001-05, won 53 of 97 races, took pole 30 times, recorded the fastest lap 45 times and finished 81 of those 97 races inside the top three. At the end of 2005, he was 26 years old, a year older than Marquez is now.

Rossi, of course, didn’t stop winning after those first six seasons, adding two more world titles for Yamaha in 2008-09, and a further 36 race wins to take his 500cc/MotoGP victory tally to 89.

In his first 100 races, Rossi’s 54 wins and 82 podiums stands out like a beacon in a comparison of what some of the all-time greats have achieved after a century of Grands Prix. Marquez’s marks of 40 wins and 71 podiums in 100 starts compares favourably to the likes of Stoner (33 wins, 59 podiums), Doohan (32 wins, 64 podiums) and Jorge Lorenzo (29 wins, 72 podiums) over the same span.

So which of these modern-day giants, Marquez and Rossi, comes out on top? Can Marquez continue his current rate of success, or is there a blip in his career still to come that’s reminiscent of Rossi’s two barren years at Ducati from 2011-12, where he failed to win a race and finished on the podium just three times? Can he keep winning titles past the age of 30, which was Rossi’s most recent crown in 2009?

Marquez’s rapid progress through the sport’s history books makes it a debate well worth having, and one that will rage for years to come.

This story was originally published on motogp.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.

How close do you like it? MotoGP’s tightest racing yet

The fighting at the front has been ferocious this season; is Phillip Island about to serve up another classic encounter?

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We’ve become accustomed to tight tussles in MotoGP in recent times; just look at the Australian Grands Prix of 2015 and 2017, two Phillip Island classics that routinely get mentioned in the ‘best races of all-time’ conversation. But season 2018 is re-writing the definition of ‘close racing’, with three races decided by less than one second, and another seven by less than three seconds. Why, and how?

Of all of the great racing we’ve seen in 2018, it’s the one where the winner (Marc Marquez) had a relatively comfortable margin of 2.269secs that belongs in that ‘best races of all-time’ conversation, when the Spaniard saluted at Assen in the Netherlands in June. Marquez flashed across the line first in a Grand Prix where the top eight made more than 100 overtakes – no mis-print – between them, and where the gap between Marquez in first and the final points-scoring rider (his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa in 15th) was just 16.043secs, the closest top 15 in nearly 900 premier-class world championship races.

Marquez may be running away with this year’s championship – he’s finished 12 of 14 races on the podium and is one of two riders to have completed every race – but if the title chase hasn’t been close, the races themselves almost always have been.

The season started with a top-shelf stoush in Qatar, where Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso got the better of Marquez in a last-lap battle – again – when he took the chequered flag 0.027secs ahead of his 2017 title rival, with third-placed Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) just seven-tenths of a second behind his compatriot for the race win. The most recent race in Thailand had a top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales and Rossi) split by just 1.564secs at the flag, Marquez winning by 0.115secs. In between we’ve had last-lap thrillers in the Czech Republic and Austria, pack battles for the victory in Argentina and Aragon, and very few runaway wins – Jorge Lorenzo’s 6.730-second victory in Italy for Ducati is the year’s biggest margin, and one of only two victories by five seconds or more.

Why? Rossi, when asked after the Assen race that left riders, spectators and pundits breathless through its sheer intensity, told esteemed British publication Motorsport Magazine how the sport has changed since his first Dutch TT in MotoGP, which came back in 2000.

“This [narrow time gaps] is one of the biggest difference to then,” he said after qualifying third in a top 10 covered by half a second.

“Compared to 15 years ago the level of professionalism has increased a lot. Now the teams and especially the riders try to work on all the small details, so you try to learn and you try to understand, corner by corner, braking by braking. Fifteen years ago it was more romantic, you know; you rode your bike and you got your feeling.”

If hours spent trawling through telemetry searching for that extra edge in performance has brought the field closer together, then fans are all the better for it. For every race that’s won (or lost) by managing tyre life in order to be able to fight hard at the finish like Thailand (where track temperatures of 54 degrees would have melted the rubber had the riders gone at 100 per cent for all 26 laps), there’s a counter like Assen, where the front group raced like it was the last lap for every lap of the 41-minute duration.

Do the riders like it? Marquez was on a high after the Assen brawl. “It was a crazy race, full of adrenaline – this feeling is one of the reasons we do this sport,” he beamed. “We were a wild bunch, everyone fighting against everyone; I think all of us made contact with somebody else at some point. We had to attack and defend, attack and defend. We had so many big moments … it was crazy!”

If 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that crazy-close racing has become almost a given in MotoGP. Are the two Phillip Island thrillers of 2015 and 2017 about to become a trilogy at this year’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix? You’d be surprised if it didn’t.

Down to the wire: MotoGP’s closest finishes in 2018

Qatar: top three (Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi) separated by 0.797secs. Winning margin: 0.027secs.

Argentina: top two (Crutchlow, Zarco) separated by 0.251secs.

Assen: Marquez wins by 2.269secs. Closest top 15 in world championship history: 15th-placed Pedrosa was 16.043secs behind winner. More than 100 overtakes in the top eight.

Czech Republic: top three (Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Marquez) separated by 0.368secs. Winning margin: 0.178secs.

Austria: top three (Lorenzo, Marquez, Dovizioso) separated by 1.656secs. Winning margin: 0.130secs.

Aragon: top three (Marquez, Dovizioso, Iannone) separated by 1.259secs. Winning margin: 0.648secs.

Thailand: top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales, Rossi) separated by 1.564secs. Winning margin: 0.115secs.

This story was originally published on motogp.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.

Who’s winning the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Which two-wheel teammates rule the roost in their respective garages? We’ve crunched the numbers.

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MotoGP teammates come in all shapes and sizes; some who work well together, some who achieve results despite barely-concealed (or not concealed at all) disdain for the rider on the identical bike in the sister garage (buongiorno, Ducati), and some who know their place as the junior partner of a two-bike effort pairing machinery of varying ages and expectations. All valid, and all can work.

Eleven races into the 2018 season, which teammates have the internal bragging rights over one another? Which are the closest battles, and which would be called off early if they were a title fight? We’ve run the rule over all 12 squads (in teams’ championship order), excluded wildcards who come in for occasional races, and crunched the numbers. Here we go.

Repsol Honda Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Marc Marquez 9, Dani Pedrosa 2
Races head-to-head: Marquez 8, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (five times), Pedrosa 5th (twice)
Points: Marquez 201, Pedrosa 66
Podiums: Marquez 9, Pedrosa 0
Average grid position: Marquez 3.2, Pedrosa 9.82
Average race finish: Marquez 4.36, Pedrosa 7.75

Summary: Marc Marquez has had his way with the entire field this season as his 59-point championship lead – more than two races’ worth of points with eight Grands Prix remaining – attests, but the extent of his margin over Dani Pedrosa has been alarming all year. Pedrosa, who is heading into retirement at season’s end, hasn’t beaten his compatriot in a race both have finished yet, while in terms of average race finish, Marquez’s stats are skewed by the fact he remounted after crashing in Argentina and Italy and saw the chequered flag, but outside of the points. Lorenzo really is walking into the lions’ den next season as Pedrosa’s replacement …

Ducati Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Andrea Dovizioso 6, Jorge Lorenzo 5
Races head-to-head: Dovizioso 4, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (twice), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 129, Lorenzo 130
Podiums: Dovizioso 4, Lorenzo 4
Average grid position: Dovizioso 5.09, Lorenzo 5.64
Average race finish: Dovizioso 3.63, Lorenzo 5.55

Summary: Four races into the season, this was shaping up the same way as 2017 ended, with Andrea Dovizioso the undisputed top dog at Ducati while Jorge Lorenzo flailed around looking for answers. Remarkably, Dovizioso had a 40-point lead over Lorenzo after Spain; following the last race in Austria, Lorenzo’s third victory in the past six Grands Prix, the Spaniard now just leads his Italian teammate amid an atmosphere of simmering tension. Whatever happens here until Lorenzo leaves, it’ll be compelling.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Qualifying head-to-head: Valentino Rossi 5, Maverick Vinales 6
Races head-to-head (where both riders finished): Rossi 7, Vinales 3
Best result: Rossi 2nd, Vinales 2nd
Points: Rossi 142, Vinales 113
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 3
Average grid position: Rossi 6.91, Vinales 7.36
Average race finish: Rossi 5.18, Vinales 5.9

Summary: It’s been a difficult year for Yamaha, without a race win and with Valentino Rossi (second) and Maverick Vinales (fifth) only in the top five in the championship by virtue of their consistency. Rossi keeps pulling rabbits out of hats (a horrible 14th on the grid in Austria became a respectable sixth at the flag) in races, while Vinales keeps suffering from poor starts after middling qualifying efforts. Frustration is mounting, but at least Rossi’s comes from a position of internal superiority.

Alma Pramac Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Danilo Petrucci 10, Jack Miller 1
Races head-to-head: Petrucci 6, Miller 2
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 105, Miller 61
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Average grid position: Petrucci 7, Miller 12.36
Average race finish: Petrucci 6.3, Miller 9.67

Summary: The 2018 iteration of the Ducati is a far superior beast than its predecessor, which goes some way towards explaining the gap between Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, each rider enjoying their best seasons yet while riding totally different bikes. It took a remarkable pole in Argentina for Miller to deny Petrucci a Saturday clean-sweep, while the Italian can always be counted upon to bring the bike home in races, with the occasional outlier podium. Miller’s season has been one of two inconsistent halves; after 49 points in the first five races, he’s managed just 12 in the six since.

Team Suzuki Ecstar

Qualifying head-to-head: Andrea Iannone 7, Alex Rins 4
Races head-to-head: Iannone 2, Rins 3
Best result: Rins 2nd, Iannone 3rd (twice)
Points: Iannone 84, Rins 66
Podiums: Iannone 2, Rins 2
Average grid position: Iannone 7.09, Rins 9.36
Average race finish: Rins 6.5, Iannone 8.3

Summary: With Andrea Iannone off to Aprilia next year, Suzuki will be buoyed by the fact teammate Alex Rins has been the faster of the pair this season … when he can actually stay on the bike. No rider has as many non-finishes as Rins’ five, meaning a strike rate of two podiums in six finishes isn’t too shabby. Iannone can blow hot and cold – as is his custom – and this will be one to watch for the rest of the year before Joan Mir comes in from Moto2 to partner Rins.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Qualifying head-to-head: Johann Zarco 11, Hafizh Syahrin 0
Races head-to-head: Zarco 8, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 104, Syahrin 24
Podiums: Zarco 2, Syahrin 0
Average grid position: Zarco 5.6, Syahrin 16.73
Average race finish: Zarco 6.8, Syahrin 13.56

Summary: Jonas Folger’s illness-induced late withdrawal from the 2018 grid saw Hafizh Syahrin drafted in hastily as the German’s replacement, and Johann Zarco has predictably ruled this garage as the Malaysian gets his MotoGP feet wet. Zarco was electrifying early in the season before his results flattened following a fall at home in France, while Syahrin has been making gradual and commendable improvement, strides that saw him rewarded with a contract for next year in June as Tech 3 prepares to switch to KTM machinery.

LCR Honda

Qualifying head-to-head: Cal Crutchlow 11, Takaaki Nakagami 0
Races head-to-head: Crutchlow 7, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 12th
Points: Crutchlow 103, Nakagami 11
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Average grid position: Crutchlow 6.77, Nakagami 17.09
Average race finish: Crutchlow 6.33, Nakagami 15.56

Summary: Armed with a factory Honda, Cal Crutchlow is well on track for his best MotoGP season in five years, and a win at a chaotic race in Argentina was fitting reward for the searing speed he’s shown in most races. Takaaki Nakagami was never supposed to match his teammate on inferior machinery and hasn’t, but Crutchlow has said the Japanese rider’s rookie season has been more impressive than his own debut campaign back in 2011.

Angel Nieto Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Alvaro Bautista 8, Karel Abraham 3
Races head-to-head: Bautista 7, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th, Abraham 13th
Points: Bautista 57, Abraham 4
Average grid position: Bautista 16.91, Abraham 21.18
Average race finish: Bautista 10.3, Abraham 17.5

Summary: As the Spanish team prepares to step back to Moto2 for next year and vacate its grid spot in the premier class, Alvaro Bautista’s future remains murky, while Karel Abraham and his significant funding looks like heading to the Reale Avintia Ducati effort further down the grid. Bautista has conjured six-straight top-10 results from Italy to Austria, but it appears the 33-year-old’s ninth MotoGP season will be his last, irrespective of the thrashing he’s administering to his teammate.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Pol Espargaro 5, Bradley Smith 5
Races head-to-head: Espargaro 5, Smith 0
Best result: Espargaro 11th (five times), Smith 10th
Points: Espargaro 32, Smith 15
Average grid position: Espargaro 17.6, Smith 17.36
Average race finish: Espargaro 11.43, Smith 14.5

Summary: It’s been an injury-ravaged campaign for KTM’s factory outfit, with Pol Espargaro’s nasty crash in Sunday warm-up at Brno ruling him out of the Czech Republic and Austrian GPs with a fractured left collarbone and other injuries besides. When he’s been upright, Espargaro has been consistent – so much so that he’s finished 11th five times in nine races. Bradley Smith has the best individual finish of the pair (10th in Germany), but in the races, Espargaro has generally held sway.

Reale Avintia Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Tito Rabat 11, Xavier Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 17th (twice)
Points: Rabat 35, Simeon 0
Average grid position: Rabat 12.1, Simeon 23.1
Average race finish: Rabat 11.63, Simeon 19.13

Summary: It took eight world championship seasons in his 28 years for Xavier Simeon to make it to the premier class, but the Belgian’s stay looks set to be a short one with Abraham likely to take his ride for 2019, and with Tito Rabat beating him in every on-track session that has mattered. The gap between these two in qualifying is the biggest on the grid.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Qualifying head-to-head: Aleix Espargaro 11, Scott Redding 0
Races head-to-head: Espargaro 4, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 9th, Redding 12th (twice)
Points: Espargaro 17, Redding 12
Average grid position: Espargaro 15.1, Redding 20.55
Average race finish: Espargaro 13.83, Redding 15.63

Summary: Scott Redding’s season-long frustration with the Aprilia exploded in Austria, the Briton commenting that “you cannot make a piece of s**t shine” after starting and finishing in 20th place. Redding is on the outer for next year as Aprilia brings in Iannone from Suzuki, while the man who’ll be retained, Aleix Espargaro, has comfortably been the best rider for a team that has endured more non-finishes (seven) than any other.

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Qualifying head-to-head: Franco Morbidelli 8, Thomas Luthi 1
Races head-to-head: Morbidelli 6, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 9th, Luthi 16th (three times)
Points: Morbidelli 22, Luthi 0
Average grid position: Morbidelli 16.22, Luthi 20.55
Average race finish: Morbidelli 14.44, Luthi 17.75

Summary: Franco Morbidelli is off to the new Malaysia-sponsored SIC Yamaha outfit for next year, while Marc VDS teammate Thomas Luthi will step back to Moto2 with the Dynavolt Intact squad. What will become of their team for this year in 2019? That’s still uncertain, but in their time together on the big bikes, it’s been all Morbidelli, even accounting for the two races he missed after fracturing his left hand in an Assen practice fall. Luthi has come agonisingly close to the points, but only he and Simeon haven’t cracked the top 15 so far.