Marc Marquez – Too Big a Helping for Comfort?
When Nouvelle Cuisine was all the rage I was taken out, for a very posh dinner, by a French client who was based in Limoges. The waiter presented me with an enormous, blindingly white plate which contained three asparagus spears, each one separated by a single pea and sitting on a teaspoon of exquisite sauce.
We had three courses of the same size and – after thanking my client for his hospitality and for picking up a tab of truly epic proportions – I was so hungry that I sneaked off and had a tray of frites, along with an enormous sausage and huge blob of mayo, from a street vendor outside my hotel.
At the other end of the scale, I suffered an “Eat-All-You-Can Farmers’ Buffet” in Rapid City, South Dakota, and felt physically sick as my host piled the food up eight inches high.
Somewhere in between lays the perfect meal: superb quality with just the right proportions. I recommend any of the zillion restaurants along the banks of the River Meuse between Namur and Dinant in Belgium if you are ever travelling towards Luxembourg.
This is the situation in which MotoGP currently finds itself. It is always extremely dangerous for motojournalists to get involved in the “Greatest Rider of All Time” debates but Marc Marquez is right up there alongside Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi. Even ultra slo-mo TV just does not do justice to Marquez: to see him in real life is something quite astonishing.
The hype that you currently hear about Marquez being challenged in this race or that race is simply nonsense. Sadly for the rest of the MotoGP paddock, he has come nowhere near to being seriously challenged by anyone so far this year. The next time there is a GP, just watch how easily he makes his winning pass and how quickly the gap to second place grows. This is not a rider under pressure.
Clearly, the motorcycling media are in full denial of this fact because it’s not much of a story simply to say that Marquez can ride rings round every other rider in motorcycling’s top racing class: The end – and don’t bother buying our magazine again.
A large part of racing, at any level, is in the rider’s head and this is the core of the current problem – if Marquez’s domination can be described in such a pejorative manner.
Marquez holds three key cards. First, he is, truly, a gifted rider. Probably only St. Casey of Stoner could really race him and I can’t see the fragile Australian superstar being pried out of retirement.
Next, Honda has given Marc an outstanding motorcycle – the best of the current crop of GP bikes.
Finally, despite being a mere 21 years old, Marquez possesses a truly world class racing brain. Because he is so much quicker than anyone else, he has the time and space to be smart and this intelligence becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more time Marc has to be clever, the better his racing decisions become and so the upward spiral continues relentlessly.
Certainly, none of the other current aliens – Dani Pedrosa, Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo – can challenge Marquez and good second-tier riders like Andrea Dovizioso and Stefan Bradl have no chance.
Before anyone gets irate with this assessment, this is in no way a criticism of any of these Moto Gods. Rather, it is just a simple statement of hard fact. To win any championship a rider has to be better than the opposition week in and week out. He has to win in wet conditions and dry conditions – from bad starts and leading all the way from the lights.
Brilliant though Marquez’s opposition are there is no way that they will beat the precocious young Spaniard regularly.
Returning to the present, the situation is even more bizarre than this. Currently Marquez has a 72-point lead over Rossi and Pedrosa. You could argue that this is so huge that it amounts to bad manners and that perhaps young Marc should pull in halfway through the next GP and play a game on his iPad to give the older riders some sort of chance.
In fact, the results do not reveal the true story. When the legendary Giacomo Agostini won seven GPs in a row, he was competing against riders on vastly inferior machinery. A Manx Norton or a Matchless G.50 was 20 mph down on top speed, compared with Ago’s MV – not to say several days slower in terms of acceleration out of every corner.
What Marquez has done is to win eight GPs against the finest riders in the world competing on the very best machinery. Goodness only knows what Pedrosa thinks when he brings his Repsol Honda to the grid alongside Marc’s identical Honda – knowing, with the absolute certainty, that Marc will kick his bottom.
A bad day at the office for Marquez is when he doesn’t take pole position as well as winning, and this is worrying news for the rest of the GP paddock.
The problem is exacerbated because Rossi and Pedrosa, the two riders currently on 128 points, are inconsistent. Rossi has had eighth, fourth and fifth positions in eight GPs and no one is going to win a World Championship with results like this.
Pedrosa has been more consistent, but third-places are useless for a world title – especially when riding the best bike in the MotoGP world.
Can Marc win all 18 MotoGP races? At the start of the season you could have got ludicrously good odds, from anyone, against this happening. Now, even the most cynical MotoGP insiders are beginning to have these thoughts. For sure, Marc will need things to go perfectly well. No mechanical failures. No errors of judgment. No one sliding into him in the first corner mayhem. But in terms of riding ability, race brain and bike performance the incredible is becoming ever more achievable with every GP.
This is a momentous time not only for the history of motorcycle racing but also because of the worry this is causing amongst MotoGP promoters. The maths are complex, because you never know if Marc will fall in love mid-season, give up racing and move to a hippy commune in Nepal to smoke dope and meditate… But, assuming that he does decide to complete the whole season, and continues to rack up 25 points a race, his chances of becoming World Champion are heading very rapidly to an irrevocable conclusion.
This could be as early Silverstone, at the end of August, and so the last six GPs would see Marquez riding as World Champion. In fact, the situation is worse than this. For hardcore race junkies like me, merely seeing one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time in action is sufficient. In fact, my dream would be to sit in a deserted grandstand with my sandwiches and a bottle of water, and watch Marquez in testing. Marquez is very much a racers’ racer with a grace and elegance which is both balletic, breathtaking and endlessly fascinating.
However, most MotoGP customers come to races to see drama. Thus, last year’s final round of the MotoGP calendar at Valencia was sold out – and with a healthy trade in black market tickets around the circuit.
By contrast when Jorge Lorenzo was already crowned World Champion in 2012, tour operators were literally walking up and down the parking lots trying to off-load their ticket allocations at any money.
Dorna are quite ruthless in the way they deal with each individual MotoGP circuit. First, you pay a huge franchise fee and then all the lucrative vendor rental money goes to Dorna as well.
The marriage between Dorna and the circuit owners is predicated on MotoGP packing in the fans and the circuit making a lot of money from ticket sales. Clearly, this isn’t going to happen if Marquez is already World Champion with four, five or even six rounds left.
For 2014 the circuit owners will have no redress – but there are many contracts coming up for renewal at the end of this season and there is no certainty that there will be a long line of takers to host further MotoGP rounds.
Don’t think that this can’t or won’t happen. Silverstone dumped their World Superbike franchise this year and even with Brits dominating the series, the sole World Superbike race in Britain this year, at Donington, attracted less than 30,000 visitors over three days. It was not a huge money spinner for the circuit.
I am hardly a fan of Dorna but in this case I do feel a hint of sympathy for the organization. Not only is Marquez dominant this year but I really don’t feel that we have seen the best of him yet, so the situation is likely to be just as bad in 2015.
The only deal breaker would be for Yamaha to find another 30 horsepower from somewhere and give Lorenzo and Rossi some sort of advantage in terms of straight line speed – as Stoner had when he won his first World Championship with the rocket ship-fast Ducati.
Aleix Espargaro has shown that it is possible to go quicker than Marquez, albeit only for a brief period, if the M1 Yamaha is given a generous allocation of gas. So, grasping at straws, maybe this is a fix to get Lorenzo back on the pace. The problem, of course, is that you can’t give 24 liters of fuel to Yamaha and not Honda. Imagine a Honda with another 30 horsepower and Marc riding it!
Maybe the best hope is 2015 and the new Michelin tires. A new make of tire on a different rim size might just upset the equilibrium, but somehow I doubt it. Marc is incredibly talented, has a huge racing brain, a brilliant bike and arguably the best technical support in the world. Will new tires hinder him? No, not a chance.
For me the best bet is for MotoUSA to take proactive and interventionist action, as the US does so successfully in many trouble spots throughout the world. I will recommend that we send Marc the contact details for all our calendar girls and hope that these ladies can provide some distraction for the good of motorcycle sport. The problem is that the way things are with young Master Marquez he could probably date all 12 at one GP – and still win!