The left turners

We tend to think of bikes and human bodies as symmetric. Yet we know that most people are right handed, that the heart lies towards the left of the chest, and that riders use their right hand and foot to brake. With notable exceptions who relied on a left hand thumb brake lever either due to injury (Doohan) or preference (Petrucci).

Bikes turn slightly differently to the left than to the right and almost all riders prefer one type of corner. In a press conference in 2017 Crutchlow and Marquez stated their preference for left corners and Rossi for right ones.

Marc Marquez indeed has a reputation to turn better to the left than to the right. And many people find a perfect explanation in the fact that Marquez has done many, many hours lapping systematically anticlockwise on dirt tracks.

Anticlockwise tracks will naturally have more left turns than right ones, and Marc Marquez’s reputation is largely fuelled by his very dominant results in two anticlockwise tracks: Sachsenring (with 10 wins out of 10 races across Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP) and COTA (6 victories and a crash while leading comfortably out of 7). In fact, his first four victories in MotoGP back in 2013 were all on anticlockwise tracks: COTA, Sachsenring, Laguna Seca, and Indianapolis.

However if we look at each rider increase in average points in anticlockwise tracks compared clockwise tracks since 2016 (when Michelin became the sole tire supplier) it is not Marquez who tops the table. It is Andrea Iannone who outperforms himself the most on anticlockwise tracks.

Iannone, during hist last year in Ducati, two more in Suzuki, and this season in Aprilia, has more than doubled the amount of points obtained per race on anticlockwise tracks (COTA, Sachsenring, Aragon, Phillip Island, and Valencia) than on clockwise tracks (the remaining 14 circuits). He has scored 8 podiums since 2016, 5 on anticlockwise tracks and 3 on clockwise tracks. Considering that only 1 in 4 races are in anticlockwise tracks, that is no small feat.

At the bottom of the table we find the two riders of the Ducati team, Andrea Dovizioso (-4.0 points per race) and Danilo Petrucci (-4.4 points per race), who show the largest drop in performance on anticlockwise tracks.

Loris Baz (also in Ducati for 2016, and 2017) is also an interesting statistic, as he scored an average of 3.4 points per race in clockwise circuits (79 points in 23 races) but 1 single point in the 10 races he ran on anticlockwise tracks, at 0.1 points per race.

Marquez, despite his reputation and impressive results in Sacshenring and COTA, sits 12th on the table as he has only scored +1.0 points per race on anticlockwise tracks than on clockwise tracks. Even Rossi, who has stated his preference for right corners, has a larger improvement on anticlockwise tracks (+1.2 points per race) than Marquez.

The main reason why Marquez is not topping that table is because despite having scored 11 wins and 2 podiums on the 17 races ran on anticlockwise circuits, the other 4 results are 0 points due to crashes. That is a crash in 23.5% of all anticlockwise races he has started with Michelin tyres, more than double the rate of pointless races in clockwise circuits at 10.2% (he failed to score points 5 out of 49 races).

However, if we look at the average points per race finished, it is indeed Marquez who tops the table, with a very impressive average of 23.9 points on the 13 races he has finished on anticlockwise tracks, 5.5 points more than the average 18.4 points he has scored in clockwise tracks.

So maybe the only rider that can prevent Marquez winning on an anticlockwise track is himself. He did exactly that twice, when he crashed while comfortably leading in Phillip Island 2016 and in COTA 2019. In Valencia 2018 he struggled like everybody else on a soaked skating party. Although in Philip Island 2018, it didn’t help that Zarco rammed Marquez’s rear tyre at 300kmh.