One of the expert voices analysing the MotoGP World Championship in Spain is Juan Martínez. He debuted in 1994 as a suspensions technician and worked on the Repsol Honda Team with champions such as Doohan, Crivillé and Rossi. Later he was crew chief for the likes of Gibernau and Hayden, as well as being involved in the Repsol Honda 125cc and 250cc projects with Alberto Puig, advising Rabat, Smith and Simón. After seven races, this is his analysis of the 2019 season so far.
[Question] Repsol Honda celebrates its 25th anniversary this season. How do you see the team and Marc Márquez?
[Answer] The Repsol Honda Team has always been one of the leading structures in the paddock, even when perhaps some years the results have not been the best. We are witnessing an era in which Marc Márquez is absolutely dominating, and that makes it very difficult for any other rider to avoid being constantly compared to him. We are witnessing a phenomenon that we will not see again for a long time.
[Q] You worked alongside Doohan, Crivillé, Okada, Rossi… What is the most special memory you have of your years at Repsol Honda?
[A] Choosing a specific moment is very difficult. I would say that there was a long period in particular, which was from the first day I was given the opportunity to work within the team in 1997, to the day I became a crew chief in 2003. It was a time of absolute personal growth. I was the first non-Japanese technician that Showa had put into the Honda factory team, and the challenge was huge.
Mick had a strong character in certain situations; There were difficult moments that we managed well and came out of reinforced. The most special moments were perhaps the tensest moments I went through because they were what made me grow more.
[Q] After one third of the 2019 season, what do you think of what we’ve seen in these first seven races?
[A] We’ve seen Marc being able to control things and show that, even if he makes mistakes, he never makes the same mistake twice.
That’s the difference between a top-class rider like him and the rest. Those who were set to be his rivals are doubting themselves a little. It’s true that until the last race it seemed that the standings were tighter, because a race without points gave Dovizioso the possibility of staying close.
There are circuits where, when the front tyres aren’t hard enough, Marc suffers more and the races are more open, like at Mugello. But right now I don’t see anyone who really has everything in place to challenge his supremacy.
[Q] After a winter recovering from a shoulder issue, were you expecting Marc Márquez to be so consistent?
[A] I think Marc has gone through difficult moments in his career, and the fact that when he was younger he took longer to grow was an important handicap that helped him to work hard and not give up. The arrival of Jorge to the team has forced him not to lower his standards, which is the most important thing for an elite athlete to avoid falling into the trap of self-satisfaction.
This year Marc looks more solid than ever, because everything he does, he does through knowledge, and the message that sends to his rivals is devastating.
Jorge Lorenzo is struggling to adapt, but each race he seems to get closer. How do you see his evolution?
[A] What is happening to Jorge happens to us all as we get older: We find changes harder to digest. We have to use more experience to try to make changes and take on new challenges. I don’t think anyone can question Jorge’s greatness. I think he’s one of the best riders to have ever raced in MotoGP, at least in the years that I’ve followed it.
At Barcelona he showed a sign of improvement in terms of his speed. The challenge is very difficult, because the class is getting tougher all the time and almost all of the bikes are exceptionally good, which means that when you can’t give one hundred percent, you will be relegated down the order.
[Q] What do you think about a rider who has won five World Championships and is facing the challenge of changing factory for the second time?
[A] Jorge has shown that he has always come out of complicated situations well. Being older, more things can go through your head, and since last year at Aragon he has been unlucky with injuries, which hasn’t facilitated the calmness that favours his adaptation.
But I have no doubt that in the end, if he keeps up his effort and the Repsol Honda Team put the necessary tools at his disposal, soon we will see Jorge fighting to win a race.
[Q] Honda have taken a step forward in terms of power, although we have seen Ducati, Suzuki and Yamaha claiming podiums and pole positions. Are we seeing the most evenly matched World Championship of recent times?
[A] At the moment I think that the championship is very healthy technically, with practically all the bikes performing at a high level. That makes everything very close and little details decide where you finish.
I think that Dorna have done a great job and the technical study has been done in an excellent way, allowing us to see very competitive races with different riders now in a position to do very well.
[Q] A year ago we saw a very tight race at Assen. What can we expect this time around?
[A] How close the race is will depend on the weather conditions. At Assen there are a couple of corners that are important. Turns 10 and 11 are two of the few places where you have to manage the tyre, because that’s where you skid the most.
On the rest of the circuit, practically all of the corners have some slope, and that makes the grip level good, allowing the riders to feel safe and making things very even. What really changes things is when the weather is not ideal and there is a low track temperature. You have corners like Turns 6 and 7, or 13 and 14, where you need confidence to take them with speed. There, whoever achieves that ends up being successful.