We've become accustomed to tight tussles in MotoGP™ in recent times; just look at the Australian GPs of 2015 and 2017, two Phillip Island classics that routinely get mentioned in the 'best races of all time' conversation.
But season 2018 is rewriting the definition of 'close racing', with three races decided by less than one second, and another seven by less than three seconds. Why, and how?
Of all the great racing we've seen in 2018, it’s the one where the winner (Marc Marquez) had a relatively comfortable margin of 2.269secs that belongs in that 'best races of all time' conversation, when the Spaniard saluted at Assen in the Netherlands in June.
Marquez flashed across the line first in a Grand Prix where the top eight made more than 100 overtakes – no misprint – between them, and where the gap between Marquez in first and the final points-scoring rider was just 16.043secs, the closest top 15 in nearly 900 premier-class world championship races.
The season started with a top-shelf stoush in Qatar, where Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso got the better of Marquez in a last-lap battle – again – when he took the chequered flag 0.027secs ahead of his 2017 title rival, with third-placed Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) just seven-tenths of a second behind his compatriot for the race win.
The most recent race in Thailand had a top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Yamaha's Maverick Vinales and Rossi) split by just 1.564secs at the flag, Marquez winning by 0.115secs.
“It was a crazy race, full of adrenaline."
Why? Rossi, when asked after the Assen race that left riders, spectators and pundits breathless through its sheer intensity, told esteemed British publication Motorsport Magazine how the sport has changed since his first Dutch TT in MotoGP™, which came back in 2000.
“This [narrow time gaps] is one of the biggest differences to then,” he said after qualifying third in a top 10 covered by half a second.
"Now the teams and especially the riders try to work on all the small details, so you try to learn, and you try to understand, corner by corner, braking by braking."
If hours spent trawling through telemetry searching for that extra edge in performance has brought the field closer together, then fans are all the better for it.
Do the riders like it? Marquez was on a high after the Assen brawl. “It was a crazy race, full of adrenaline – this feeling is one of the reasons we do this sport,” he beamed. “We were a wild bunch, everyone fighting against everyone; I think all of us made contact with somebody else at some point. We had to attack and defend, attack and defend. We had so many big moments. It was crazy!”
If 2018 has taught us anything, it's that crazy-close racing has become almost a given in MotoGP™. Are the two Phillip Island thrillers of 2015 and 2017 about to become a trilogy at this year's Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix? You'd be surprised if it didn't.
Down to the wire: MotoGP™'s closest finishes in 2018
Qatar: Top three (Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi) separated by 0.797secs. Winning margin: 0.027secs.
Argentina: Top two (Crutchlow, Zarco) separated by 0.251secs.
Assen: Marquez wins by 2.269secs. Closest top 15 in world championship history, with 15th-placed Pedrosa 16.043secs behind winner. More than 100 overtakes in the top eight.
Czech Republic: Top three (Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Marquez) separated by 0.368secs. Winning margin: 0.178secs.
Austria: Top three (Lorenzo, Marquez, Dovizioso) separated by 1.656secs. Winning margin: 0.130secs.
Aragon: Top three (Marquez, Dovizioso, Iannone) separated by 1.259secs. Winning margin: 0.648secs.
Thailand: Top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales, Rossi) separated by 1.564secs. Winning margin: 0.115secs.