Marc Marquez clinched his eighth world title, his sixth in the MotoGP premier class, on Sunday with a thrilling final corner victory at the Thailand Grand Prix in Buriram.
The Catalan needed only to finish two points ahead of his closest rival, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, and the Italian was never remotely close enough to spoil the Repsol Honda rider’s almost inevitable party.
The race weekend had been far from straightforward for Marquez, though. A terrifying high-side crash during the first practice session on Friday had seen the man from Cervera leave the circuit’s medical center on a stretcher.
After a brief stay in hospital for checks he was discharged, but the reigning champion found himself in the gravel again, albeit in less spectacular fashion, during qualifying after pushing too hard on a flying lap.
The race, too, did not always look as though it would go his way. Fabio Quartararo, the young Petronas Yamaha rookie, led from pole with Marquez close behind. The two stretched ahead of the pack, with the factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales tracking them from a distance.
For a while it looked as though Marquez might even settle for a second place that would have easily seen him clinch the title – he only needed to finish two points ahead of Dovizioso, who was a distant fourth. But settling is not the factory Honda rider’s style.
With two laps to go, he began to challenge the impressive Quartararo, who was seeking his first premier class win, with Marquez taking the lead on the final lap, with few passing opportunities remaining.
The 20-year-old Frenchman tried a last corner lunge, but Marquez countered, firing across the line with inches between the pair to win the title with a victory – putting him 110 points ahead of Dovizioso, with only 100 points left to play for.
As he crossed the line, Marquez punched the air wildly, while a desolate Quartararo slumped onto his fuel tank. The satellite Yamaha rider has come close several times this season, but a first MotoGP win still eludes him.
Theatrical celebrations are a hallmark of MotoGP, pioneered by Valentino Rossi and his fan club. A pool table awaited Marquez at the side of the Chang International Circuit.
The new champion was handed a cue by a tuxedo-wearing mechanic, and proceeded to plant an eight ball, symbolizing his eighth title, into the corner pocket.
Golden glitter was fired into the air above him as he mounted the table with a giant ‘eight ball’ and waved to a roaring Buriram crowd.
“It was a beautiful way to win the championship,” Marquez told reporters after the race. “Even if I wasn’t thinking about it on the last lap! Arriving in parc fermé with the whole Repsol Honda Team there was fantastic; it’s a dream to do it with the whole fan club and the nice celebration.”
“Every year is special,” he added. “It’s not easy to keep everything perfect each year to fight for the title and I had a very hard winter with the injury but myself, the team and HRC managed it well. Now we’ll enjoy this feeling a little bit.”
It is easy to forget that Marquez is just 26 years old. This was his 130th career podium, his 91st in the top MotoGP class, and his 53rd Grand Prix win. He is now third behind the legendary Giacomo Agostini (eight) and Valentino Rossi (seven) in the all-time premier class championship win stakes. Few would bet against him overtaking both.
Despite the apparent ease with which the Catalan has won his latest title – with four races to go, the first time since Valentino Rossi’s 2005 title win – this season has been marked by close, exciting races. The problem for the chasing pack is not so much that Marquez almost always wins or finishes on the podium, but that no one challenger has been consistent enough to threaten his title charge.
Quartararo, 182 points behind, in seventh place, and two points behind sixth-placed Valentino Rossi, is perhaps the man best-placed to threaten Marquez’s emphatic dominance. Yamaha will reportedly give the Frenchman a near-factory level package in 2020. They will need to, in order to challenge the undoubted genius of the man at the top of the MotoGP tree.