MotoGP champion Marc Marquez continued his perfect season at a dramatic Italian Grand Prix, decided in his favour by a last lap pass and 0.123s victory over Jorge Lorenzo.
It was the closest of Marquez's six victories this year, all from pole, with the Repsol Honda star staying glued to Lorenzo's rear wheel before making his first move for the lead on lap 17 of 23.
That triggered the start of a relentless back-and-forth battle, Marquez often making use of a long sixth gear to slipstream past the Yamaha rider on the home straight, only for Lorenzo to repass him on the brakes.
In total, the pair exchanged the lead eleven times over the final seven laps.
“In the middle of the race the front tyre was closing and moving a lot under braking, because I was on the limit. Here at this circuit Yamaha were really strong,” said Marquez. “When I passed Jorge the first time I knew immediately that he would come back.”
Also on Marquez's mind was the fact that Mugello 2013 was the scene of his only race fall in MotoGP.
“I overtook Dani [Pedrosa] around the same time last year and within one or two laps I had crashed. The feeling with the bike was more or less the same, a bit of a floating feeling at the rear. So I thought it was too much risk and I decided that I would only push 100% again on the final lap and that was the key to win the race.
"It was a great battle but this time I only enjoyed it when I passed the finish line because Jorge was so strong and I was pushing, nearly crashed in every corner. It was so difficult. We had some small contact which got my attention and after that we did a really nice battle and on the last lap I pushed to try to overtake at the end of the straight and open a small gap.”
That victory pass was the last of numerous slipstream moves, planned by Marquez and his team before the race.
“We changed sixth gear for the race because if you have a Yamaha in front they have a lot of corner speed, so you might not be close enough to overtake on the brakes,” explained Marquez. “So our strategy was to overtake on the straight with the slipstream. For that reason we changed the gear a little bit. But on the first lap when I was alone [without the slipstream] the bike was a little bit slower and the Ducati of Iannone overtook me.”
The only other race this season that compares with the Mugello battle was a 0.259s victory over Lorenzo's team-mate Valentino Rossi at round one in Qatar.
“It's difficult to say which race was hardest,” said Marquez. “Every situation in every circuit is different. Here I felt more prepared to fight because my physical condition was 100% and in Qatar maybe I was struggling a little bit [after breaking a leg in the winter].
“But anyway both riders are so great. Valentino has his strongest points, Jorge has his strongest points. With every rider you need to use a different strategy.”
Home star Rossi finished third on Sunday, 2.7s from Marquez, having climbed swiftly from tenth place on the grid.
“When I saw on lap 4-5 that Valentino was already there, it was a little bit scary because it was only one-second and I knew he started tenth,” confessed Marquez. “I thought okay he will arrive. Then I saw that Jorge's rhythm was so good and it was so difficult to follow him. But I was pushing at 100% because I knew if he opened a gap [and broke the slipstream] then Valentino could catch me.
“So I pushed and took a lot of risks, but I knew when the tyres started to drop down that I was a little bit stronger.”
Rossi is now second in the world championship, but a massive 53 points behind Marquez, who could afford to miss the next two events and still be leading the world championship
“It's an amazing season at the moment,” he said. “Six victories and six pole positions from six races. Everything looks very, very nice but we must remember it is only the sixth race. We need to try to keep the same mentality, same riding style.
“Of course there will be some races where they will be stronger than us. Like here, we can say that Jorge was stronger but even like that we were able to fight with him and beat him on the last lap.
“But there will be some races that for the layout of the track or something they will be stronger and on those days we need to be smart and try to manage the advantage in the championship. You cannot be the strongest in every practice and every race. The most important thing is the consistency for the championship.”
Next up is Marquez's home race in Catalunya, where Marquez finished third to countrymen Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa last season.
“Now we go to my home track. It will be very nice to ride in front of our fans, but Yamaha were so strong here and Montmelo is similar so I think they will be strong again. We will try to fight for the victory of course.”