Marc Marquez clinched his sixth MotoGP title at the previous round in Thailand. It was also his fourth consecutive title triumph with the last rider other than Marquez to win the MotoGP title being, ironically considering all his 2019 troubles, Jorge Lorenzo when he won the title with Yamaha in 2015.
It therefore raises the question of not so much when but ultimately who will break Marquez’s hold on the MotoGP title.
Andrea Dovizioso currently lies second in the 2019 MotoGP rider standings and has finished runner-up to Marquez in 2018 and 2017. The Italian’s most successful season was in 2017 when he challenged Marquez for the title, losing out in the final rounds of the season.Embed from Getty Images
Dovizioso has made the most of a more competitive Ducati having only won one Grand Prix prior to 2016. However Dovizioso has stated that the bike has lost its way with still not being able to turn as well as other bikes. The Ducati has also lost its top speed advantage that was a big asset in 2016 and 2017.
Dovizioso himself hasn’t been flawless, with any 2018 title challenge being derailed by a series of three retirements across a four race period in the early to middle part of the season. He does however know how to best Marquez in wheel to wheel action having out raced him on the final lap of Grand Prix for race victories on at least three occasions.
Although the most talked about Yamaha rider at the moment is Fabio Quartararo (more on him in a bit) it is perhaps easy to forget that when Maverick Vinales joined Yamaha for the 2017 season, some saw it as the beginning of a Marquez v Vinales era, the fuel to this was added when Vinales won the opening two races of the 2017 season.Embed from Getty Images
Since then however, Ducati and Dovizioso have been more consistent in challenging Marquez while more talked about Yamaha riders has shifted to Johann Zarco, when he was with Tech3 Yamaha, and of course more recently with Quartararo on the satellite SRT Yamaha.
This is in part due to Vinales’ tendency to take time to get into the rhythm of a Grand Prix with him being most competitive at the end of a Grand Prix and struggling quite a bit in the early parts of a race.Embed from Getty Images
Despite this Vinales has been the most competitive Yamaha rider since 2017 having won five races, the most of any Yamaha rider from 2017 to date. The bike has also played its part in making Vinales less competitive with it being well known that the factory Yamahas have struggled in recent seasons.
You can’t talk about Yamaha riders potentially challenging Marquez without mentioning Valentino Rossi as you can never rule him out. The Italian finished second to Marquez in 2016, fifth in 2017, third in 2018 and is currently sixth this season.
The last time the Yamaha was truly competitive, in 2015, Rossi was the main challenger to the eventual champion, Jorge Lorenzo, who was also riding for Yamaha at the time.Embed from Getty Images
Time isn’t on Rossi’s side however, being in his forties, to wait for Yamaha to spend several seasons making their bike competitive. But like Vinales, if Yamaha produced a consistently competitive bike, there is no doubt that Rossi would be one of the riders up at the front challenging for the title.
While on the subject of Yamaha riders, you also now need to include Fabio Quartararo who has impressed in his rookie season in 2019 on the satellite Yamaha run by SRT.
Quartararo has also gone wheel to wheel with Marquez already this season, in Misano and Buriram, in which he lost out to Marquez both times. That is perhaps the only doubt surrounding Quartararo beating Marquez with the Spaniard having more experience than the Frenchman and therefore currently having an edge in their on track battles.
Despite this Quartararo has shown to be improving and learning at a rapid rate and like the two factory Yamaha riders, therefore leaves the last question surrounding the consistency of the bike to compete at the front, although Quartararo and SRT have certainly found a way to make the Yamaha competitive compared to the factory team.
After a difficult rookie season back in 2017, Alex Rins has been competitive on the Suzuki having claimed five podium finishes in 2018 and has currently achieved three podium finishes in 2019, which include victories at the Circuit of the Americas and at Silverstone.Embed from Getty Images
Rins is also a rider who is able to go wheel to wheel with Marquez having most notably done so at this season’s British Grand Prix, where like Dovizioso, Rins ultimately beat Marquez on the final lap.
After a wrong direction on the engine side, Suzuki have looked like a solid team having claimed a victory in 2016, podium finishes in 2018 and having achieved two victories, thanks to Rins, in 2019 so far.Embed from Getty Images
A bigger issue perhaps is Rins’ consistency as despite some impressive results he can be inconsistent having retired from three races so far this season and jeopardising his weekend, most notably in Aragon this year where a gamble and therefore a poor qualifying compromised his race.
The five riders mentioned so far are perhaps some of the most obvious to take the title from Marquez, however there are plenty of dark horses.
These include perhaps less obvious riders to challenge Marquez, such as Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow who have proven to be competitive enough to either win or challenge at the front regularly.Embed from Getty Images
Those three along with perhaps Franco Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro could also emulate Andrea Dovizioso in settling in a team and eventually becoming a title challenger. It is worth remembering that Dovizioso won his first MotoGP race in 2009, not winning his second until 2016, before going on to challenge Marquez in 2017.
Perhaps the most likely to emulate Dovizioso in this way is Pol Espargaro who has been impressive on the KTM who look set to invest heavily in bringing their bike closer to the front.
Then there are the other three 2019 MotoGP rookies on the grid of Joan Mir, Francesco Bagnaia and Miguel Oliveira who have impressed in Moto3 and/or Moto2 and could take another big step in 2020 to achieve results similar to those achieved by Jack Miller or Fabio Quartararo this season.Embed from Getty Images
Lastly there are those who may seem a lost cause but could recapture their form, I am thinking mainly of Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo whose careers are uncertain but have shown in past seasons that they are able to fight at the front, with Zarco having done something similar to Quartararo on the Tech3 Yamaha, while Lorenzo can be formidable when he gets a bike to his liking.
The main factor is assuming that Marquez and Honda will continue to be the benchmark over the coming seasons. Although he hasn’t done so yet in his MotoGP career, it is not impossible that Marquez could injure himself during a race weekend, ruling himself out of a substantial part of a season, giving others the opportunity to claim a MotoGP title.
All of the above is also dependent on what happens in the upcoming rider market which will play out in the latter part of 2019 and early part of 2020 as the top riders decide who they want to race for in 2021 and 2022.