Honda MotoGP rider Marc Marquez says he apologised to rival Maverick Vinales for his “not completely fair” tactic during the first segment of Mugello qualifying.
Marquez stuck to the back of Vinales for most of Q1, specifically waiting for the Yamaha rider to come out onto the track on his second run and even following him into the pits when Vinales ducked back into the pitlane to shake off his pursuers.
In the end, this allowed Marquez to set his fastest lap behind Vinales and go a tenth quicker than the Yamaha man. Though Vinales then had another attempt to get through to Q2, he came up short and was eliminated, while Marquez topped the opening session.
Yamaha’s MotoGP team manager Massimo Meregalli took issue with Marquez’s strategy in the immediate aftermath of the session, telling MotoGP.com that it was “not fair” and potentially warranted sanction.
But Vinales himself – though clearly irked when on the bike – expressed no such sentiment publicly in the aftermath, and Marquez said that he already discussed the situation with the Yamaha man.
“I met Maverick before entering the press conference, where all the TV [crews] are,” Marquez said. “And yeah, first of all, I apologised, because I know that it’s not completely fair.
“And what I said is ‘you have the reason to be angry’. But, in another hand, you know, today in the morning I felt not so bad, in the afternoon I felt really really bad, the physical condition, and then I stopped in FP4 before the finish, I said to the team ‘I don’t feel the bike, I don’t feel anything, we just need to follow somebody’.
“I checked the list, the fastest guy was Vinales there and we chose him because he was the fastest guy – if it was another one, we would choose another one. And yeah, just I followed him, was the tactic because was the only way to improve.”
Marquez, who went on to qualify 11th to Vinales’ 13th, is continuing his recovery from the injury that wrecked his 2020, and faces potentially the sternest test of his comeback yet at the demanding Mugello circuit.
Though his right arm is healing well, he has been struggling from a lack of strength in his right shoulder and has been unable to recapture the kind of form he showed in the wet conditions at Le Mans two weekends ago.
Marquez’s Q1 approach drew mixed reactions from the paddock, though Vinales himself wouldn’t be drawn on it, saying he was “not disturbed” when having Marquez behind him.
“I don’t have any comment on it. We weren’t fast enough, that’s all,” he said.
“After FP1 I never had that feeling again, so there is no excuse. We were slow and that’s it.
“If the team say something, that’s the team, but I just say nothing and keep concentrating on riding. We didn’t get past Q2 because we weren’t fast enough and it’s like this.”
Rookie Luca Marini suggested that Marquez did this specifically to “disturb” Vinales as he would’ve been quick enough to make Q2 anyway, but this claim came before Marquez’s explanation – and Marini in any case didn’t feel it was something that really could be policed.
“It’s a funny situation from the outside, but when you are the one being followed by someone it’s not really really nice,” said reigning champion Joan Mir, who had his frustration with Marquez trying to grab a tow earlier this year. “And I feel it.
“And what I saw from the outside is that Marc loves to play, and Maverick hates to play. So, this is what I saw. In this situation, you cannot do anything but your work.”
Vinales’ team-mate Fabio Quartararo described the situation as “borderline” because Marquez actively followed Vinales into the pitlane, but said he “didn’t want to judge anyone”.
Pramac Ducati rider Johann Zarco described it as “the dark side of our sport”, but his other words made it clear he had no intention to condemn Marquez’s actions, hinting that the result justified the action.
“Marc was strong also like this,” Zarco then said, pointing to when Marquez was at full fitness. “When he was the one we wanted to catch, sometimes he went out of the box, jumped on the bike, everyone went, and then he went back into the box. And then he did the lap alone.”
Marquez himself also made reference to riders following him when he was in his pre-injury form.
“I would like to be in another level, another position, to push in front and the others follow me, like many times in the past, but I’m not like this,” he said. “I know, because I had that feeling in the past, and I know how Maverick can feel, and for that reason I apologised.
“But in the end it’s inside the rules. In the limit but inside the rules. And yeah, what I did is try to find the situation, try to find the perfect situation to do my 100 percent and take the best result possible.”