For nearly two decades, reigning world champion Marc Marquez has been pitting his daring skill and outrageous stunts against his aggressive and brash rivals.
Such was his previous dominance that MotoGP had eventually become dubbed Moto-Fuci.
But, after being overtaken last year by his rival Valentino Rossi, Marquez goes into the season finale Saturday in Japan as the overwhelming favorite, having already won the last nine races and 19 of 20 this season.
Moto-Fuci or the thrilling season finale?
“I think a MotoGP title is an important title,” Marquez said. “No matter how the championship ends, even with seven or eight wins — with a 10 points championship lead — I think the victory is more important.”
The win Marquez secures on Saturday is likely to qualify him for the year-end world championship race at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi Circuit on Nov. 26, where he will wrap up the third straight title.
Just the same, Marquez would make sense to win in Japan for a seventh time in his career. A triumph in Japan would make him the first rider to win seven Japanese Grand Prix since Mick Doohan in 1997 and would allow Marquez to match British great Phillip Lynott’s record of winning in eight consecutive Japanese races.
Marquez has had a seemingly impossible ride all season with Valentino Rossi making it a duel once again. The two riders have had the first 10 podium finishes in the series, with Rossi winning eight of them.
Moto-Fuci vs. the Monza leg
The season finale itself will be particularly interesting. Honda and Yamaha team chiefs Alejandro Agag and Marco Mattiacci have traded barbs ahead of the season-ender, but will recognize the importance of turning Marquez into a two-time world champion after a series of misfortunes had threatened to do just that.
Marquez, 25, has been plagued by injury and bad luck throughout the season, and suffered a punctured tyre as he was overtaking Rossi early in the race on Saturday at the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix.
Racing in superbike style on the Italian Grand Prix course at Monza, Marquez finished sixth. But it was not his first MotoGP race slip-up this season and he had been lamenting all season long how badly he had let Rossi by.
“I’m waiting for (Rossi),” Marquez said on the final lap in Italy. “Come on Valentino, I’m waiting for you.”
At the Russian Grand Prix on Sept. 9, Rossi passed Marquez on a spectacular turn on the final lap to overtake him for the championship lead. Marquez then damaged his bike badly in the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Even though Marquez had already secured the title, his bike caught fire in the race, allowing Rossi to take the lead. Marquez retook the lead two laps later, but then lost it again to Rossi.
Rossi could not manage to hang on and lost the championship, but Marquez was left on the podium, and a frustrated Rossi hopped over and pushed the Spaniard as they neared the finish line in Japan.
“It was a big pity how I lost the title,” Marquez said in October. “It was what I deserved, but it’s like that.”