MotoGP: Marc Marquez in showdown with Jorge Lorenzo for world title

Story highlights

  • Marc Marquez seeking to be first rookie to win motorcycling's premier title since 1978
  • The 20-year-old has a 13-point lead over defending MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo
  • They will battle head-to-head in Sunday's final race of 2013 season at Valencia
  • Fellow Spaniard Dani Pedrosa won last season's event at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo
If Sebastian Vettel's efficient march towards his fourth Formula One crown left fans of motor racing's premier competition stifling yawns, things in the top class on two wheels are rather different.
Last month, the latest in Spain's prodigious production line of motorcycle racers, Marc Marquez, looked to have the MotoGP title sewn up.
Arriving in Australia with a cavernous 43-point lead over compatriot Jorge Lorenzo, it seemed almost inevitable that the 20-year-old would become the division's youngest champion, and the first rookie to win the title since Kenny Roberts in 1978.
Instead, the twisting undulations of Phillip Island flipped the season's story on its head.
Bridgestone, MotoGP's tire supplier, had been unable to properly test on the newly resurfaced circuit, and the teams quickly discovered that the fresh tarmac was causing their rubber to disintegrate at a dangerous rate.
For safety, the race was reduced to 19 laps, and a mandatory bike change introduced at the halfway point.
To widespread astonishment, Marquez's Repsol Honda team misinterpreted the strict guidance on pit stops and he stayed out on track a lap too long, leading to his disqualification.
The black flag for Marquez may have been harsh -- a tweet from veteran rider Colin Edwards summed up the feelings of many fans -- but Honda's loss was Yamaha's gain. Lorenzo went on to win, and suddenly the championship race was back on.
Lorenzo carved further into Marquez's lead the following week, beating his younger rival into second place at Honda's home circuit in Motegi, Japan. Now, as the teams arrive in Valencia for Sunday's season finale, the title is well and truly up for grabs -- with just 13 points separating the top two.
The most likely scenario for Lorenzo to defend his title, and claim a third overall, is for the Mallorcan to win the race and hope Marquez is no higher than fifth. The other permutations would require Marquez to either not finish -- which has happened only once this season, in June -- or be lower than eighth. However, he has been on the podium for 15 of 17 races.
Hervé Poncharal, a former rider who is now principal of the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team he co-founded, is a big admirer of both men.
"Lorenzo is an incredible racing machine," Poncharal told CNN. "He is so sharp, he is so methodical. I have incredible respect for the rider."
However, he adds that the MotoGP paddock already considers Marquez to be a champion.
"For everyone it doesn't matter the outcome of Valencia, he is the world champ in terms of speed. And this year is really incredible, because this is happening in a year when MotoGP is so competitive (at the top)."
Poncharal also notes Marquez's startling maturity, which has given the youngster the consistency that many rookie riders struggle to deliver.
"He is incredibly aggressive on the bike, but if you look at the record he's not a big crasher. When you look at how aggressive he is, how hard he tries, and the risks he's taking, you can see that already now he's a very mature guy, although he's the youngest."
Former MotoGP rider and double World Superbike champion James Toseland agrees.
"I've been amazed at how he pushes the bike to the limit consistently," Toseland, who is now forging a career in music, told CNN.
"At Mugello (the Italian MotoGP, when Marquez fell close to the end of the race while riding in a comfortable second place) you saw an over-enthusiastic 20-year-old, but that's all I've seen of that kind of personality. He's been so consistent and so level-headed since then."
The Briton also sees the two Spaniards as neck and neck in the talent stakes: "I truly believe that Lorenzo is more than a match for Marquez on the same day, on the same bike, in the same conditions."
MotoGP is not immune to the problems F1 has faced with the dominance of Vettel's Red Bull.
While an underachieving Ducati team continues to struggle, the factory outfits of Honda and Yamaha are simply blowing away the opposition, so the fact that this year's title is going to the wire will no doubt please the championship's governing body.
Lorenzo: Motorcycling is like dancing
Lorenzo: Motorcycling is like dancing


    Lorenzo: Motorcycling is like dancing


Lorenzo: Motorcycling is like dancing 03:31
Also, while the gap between Honda, Yamaha and the rest may be wide, there is no absence of personal rivalry at the top of the championship.
Marquez's relationship with third-placed teammate Dani Pedrosa is not exactly cordial, and he has consistently riled his rivals with his combative and uncompromising style.
So while Lorenzo will be fighting tooth and nail for victory, Pedrosa may also be less than willing to help smooth his fellow Catalan's ride to glory.
Poncharal doubts that any quarter will be given.
"I'm not so sure Pedrosa is going to help Marquez a lot, but Dani winning the race, that's good news for Marc," he said.
Intriguingly Valencia is a particularly happy hunting ground for Pedrosa, with a total of six wins at the track, including three in the MotoGP class.
While his own hopes of a long-awaited first championship were ended in Japan, the diminutive 28-year-old will be looking to end the season on a high. Lorenzo has also won a MotoGP race at the track, in 2010 -- the year he won his first world title -- while Marquez rode to victory there last season on the way to winning the Moto2 class.
Poncharal believes that Britain's Cal Crutchlow, who rides for Tech 3, could also play key role along with Lorenzo's seven-time world champion teammate Valentino Rossi.
"Cal is going to wish to finish the season as high as possible; he was second last year (at Valencia) when he crashed four laps from the end. Valentino is going to be pushing; I'm not sure he will play Jorge's game."
The last time a MotoGP season went down to the final race was in 2006, when America's Nicky Hayden, then riding for Honda, wrested the crown from the all-conquering Rossi.
Rossi, in his first stint at Yamaha, fell early in the race and was unable to regain enough places to prevent Hayden clinching what would be his first and, to date, only title. This time around, Marquez will be hoping to avoid any mishaps as he looks to clinch motorcycle racing's ultimate prize.
"It's going to be incredibly tense -- 13 points is good to have, but it's not a lot," Poncharal said. "It looks easier than it will be ... I think it's 50-50."
With Europe heading towards winter, conditions at the track may also play a role.
"Valencia is a special track," Poncharal said. "We know the weather this time will be difficult, there will be a lot of pressure because (in Japan) we saw Marc, for the first time, not being the Marc we know. He will be under more pressure at the last round.
"In Jorge's mind it was game over (before Australia). Now everything has changed, Jorge is going to go out in Valencia not thinking, just pushing -- without any pressure."
For motorsport fans looking for one last fix of excitement before the season ends, Sunday's race should provide it in spades.
"The final is going to be like a dream scenario," Poncharal said. "Let the sport decide."