MotoGP: Five hours to forget for Honda
With twelve confirmed rounds spread over just four months, the 2020 MotoGP season always had the potential to be an action packed ride. Any mistake was likely be punished. Potentially severely.
Over the course of five hours on the opening MotoGP race day of the season, Honda found this out. A morning warm-up crash for Cal Crutchlow at Turn 8 and a viscous Marc Marquez highside during the race left their hopes in tatters, and their leading riders on the operating table. Over the past number of years no other riders have been able to tame the RC213v. Honda’s prospects suddenly look very bleak.
The biggest news coming from Jerez was that the reigning World Champion had fractured the upper humerus of his right arm. With back-to-back races at Jerez followed by a triple header in the Czech Republic and Austria, it’s clear that Marquez will miss a large chunk of the shortened season. His title hopes are dashed.
How many races he misses remains to be seen. It won’t be until Marquez has surgery that the full extent of the injury, and any potential nerve damage, can be fully assessed. By the time the paddock regroups for next weekend’s race, a much clearer picture will have developed. With the golden boy on the sidelines you can imagine the nerves are jangling in HRC, without the magican that somehow conjures wins on one of the most difficult bikes to ride.
Marquez’ style is as spectacular as it is is adaptable. How does he somehow save so many near misses? It happens far too often for it to be a coincidence and was shown again in the early stages of the race, with his miraculous save at Turn 4. His style is dominant but also demanding. Riding constantly on the limit and pushing the boundaries means that he constantly walks a tightrope on the bike.
We saw that again today when he fought through the pack. As an eight times World Champion, the 27 year old has always reacted badly to mistakes in races. He gets his head down and throws discretion out the window. Barging past riders that he’s not accustomed to seeing on track, he is ruthless. We saw that in Argentina 2018 when he made contact with numerous riders, and we saw flashes of it today with some late lunges and rash decisions.
In racing you can make moves that aren’t really possible by being aggressive, and Marquez does this better than anyone. It leaves his rivals in a position of either conceding the corner or risking a crash. Typically we’ve seen them cede because Marquez is coming past at a rapid rate. His aggression and his confidence means that he is always on the knife edge of a moment when he’s coming through the pack, and it caught him out today.
It was his own mistake that led to the crash and had been coming. Pushing so hard with 55C track temperatures was always going to take a toll on his tyres, and you could see the Honda squirming under the exertion prior to the crash. Sometimes discretion is needed in racing but so often we see with Marquez that the goal is to prove how fast he is.
He’s the greatest rider that’s ever lived and his results speak for themselves, but he’s driven by a competitiveness that needs to constantly prove his greatness. This was an opportunity to run off track and still finish second. An opportunity to put his rivals in their place and show them how he can do things they can only dream of doing. Today, unfortunately, it was ultimately a step too far.
The next step is now recovery and once again proving how quickly he can recover. He’ll be afraid of his rivals gaining momentum and confidence, so will come back as soon as he can. Regularly carrying injuries and riding through the pain barrier hasn’t been an issue for Marquez, but for the first time in his premier class career he’s forced to sit on the sidelines. That will take a toll on Marquez. In a recent interview with El Pais the Repsol Honda rider talked about his competitive streak.
Like all great champions, Marquez has the need to win and he survives on it. In Jerez his crash came when second place, and 20 points, was all but assured. It would have been a fantastic recovery but instead he’s now facing a long rehab from his injuries.
Marquez might have been the knockout blow for Honda’s prospects in 2020, but Crutchlow’s injury is a body blow. Nursing a fractured scaphoid, after initial reports of concussion having ruled him out of action, his potential absence for next weekend is a massive loss for Honda. Having qualified on the second row, he was well placed for a good result but will instead travel to Barcelona for surgery to place a pin in his scaphoid.
He’ll face a race against time to prove his fitness for next week having been poised to assume the role of lead rider for HRC from Marquez.
“Unfortunately this morning in the last lap of the warm-up I crashed going into turn eight,” explained Crutchlow. “It seemed that when I braked on the kerb, the front of the bike slid and I was unable to save the crash. What was going to be a normal crash escalated when I went into the deep gravel trap and started tumbling, hitting my head quite a few times, particularly my face. I was a bit dazed after the crash, and a bit sore in my whole body, especially my hands.
“After further assessment at the medical centre I was sent for the CT scan on my head and neck and it all came back fine. When I returned to the circuit I began to feel some pain in my left wrist, so went for another scan of the scaphoid, which it seems has been broken in the crash. Dr. Mir will operate on the wrist in Barcelona on Tuesday morning, and I’ll return to the circuit on Friday and hopefully to action.”
Both Honda riders have a history of pushing themselves through the pain barrier to return to action quicker than expected. To have any prospects for 2020, Honda will certainly be relying on history repeating itself.