A blunder by MotoGP rookie and championship leader Marc Márquez at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix has opened up the title race. Márquez’s Spanish compatriot Jorge Lorenzo narrowed the gap at the top of the standings to 18 points with two races remaining after taking the maximum 25 for his victory at Phillip Island, while Márquez was disqualified for failing to pit at the designated time.
Concerned about the excessive tire wear that the newly laid track surface was causing, race organizers had reduced the number of laps from 26 to 19 and told riders that the maximum number of circuits they could complete on one set of tires was 10. Márquez’s Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa (who ended up second behind Yamaha’s Lorenzo) was the first of the field to change bikes at the end of lap nine, with all the rest piling in just behind him or on lap 10 — except Márquez. The 20-year-old did not appear in the pit lane until he was on his 11th lap.
“It has been quite a confusing weekend, with a very different race to what we expected,” Márquez said once he was finally black-flagged after having changed on to his second bike. “The idea was to come in as late as possible and we thought that was the last [lap possible] and I did what it said on the board,” he continued. “Clearly there has been a mix-up, a big mistake, but there is nothing we can do.”
Honda spokesman Livio Suppo confirmed that the error was made by the team and that Márquez had followed the pit board instruction to come in after finishing lap 10. “We thought you were allowed to complete the 10th lap and change on the next one. It was a mistake,” the Italian said.
Italian Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi completed the podium by taking third place, but it is his teammate, Lorenzo, who now has a glimmer of hope that he can retain his championship. “We were lucky,” the Spaniard said after celebrating his win. “Without the mistake from Marc, I think he would have been first or second — now the championship has changed so much. Before the race we had no chance — a two or three-percent chance — and now it’s 20 or 30 percent,” Lorenzo said. “Let’s see what happens in Motegi.”
Márquez will clinch the title at next weekend’s race in Japan if he wins and Lorenzo can do no better than third. But if that does not happen, the title will be decided in Valencia on November 10.