The countdown continues for Marc Marquez as he awaits the first race of 2014 in Qatar. The reigning MotoGP World Champion sat out the recent Malaysian and Australian tests due to a fractured fibula, and acknowledges that he will be at less than 100% for the season opener, but is confident about participating. The Repsol Honda rider talks about how he approaches his sophomore season in the premier class, in which he faces the difficult challenge of defending the title.
The question to which every team, rival and fan wants to know the answer: How is the World Champion after his injury? Have you recovered?
"We're getting better. The bone is mending, which is important, and every time I have a review with Dr. Mir he tells me that my condition is improving. I'm gradually exercising more, so we'll see how we are in Qatar. Clearly I will not be 100 % fit, but I shall try to be as prepared as possible."
How do you see the World Championship season stacking up, without having been on track the last two months?
"Obviously I would prefer to get to Qatar fully prepared after a normal preseason, but the situation is what it is. I'll have to be patient, especially in the first practice, as it’s been about a month and a half since I last got on the bike. The fact that the first Sepang test went very well and we were able to try many things gives us piece of mind, but it is clear that we have things still on the ‘to do’ list from preseason so we will have to work a little harder at the first few races. The priority in Qatar is take things calmly."
In early February you were onboard the Honda but has the bike changed much from last year's machine?
"No, the 2014 bike is a bike very similar to last year’s. Obviously we had to adapt the bike to the new regulations, particularly in terms of fuel consumption. The chassis and swingarm are different, but the bike behaves in a very similar way. The important thing is that we have improved. With these changes and the base from last year we feel better, but now we also need to evaluate things at different circuits."
How do you see this season with a new battle between the three Spanish riders, the rejuvenation of Rossi and the Open class?
"The 2014 World Championship will be hard, and even more so having watched the preseason from home. There have been many riders setting good times. It will also be interesting to see how the bikes perform in the Open category, because especially in qualifying they could often place ahead us thanks to the soft rear tire. Competition will be high –it is clear that the main rivals for us are Lorenzo and Pedrosa in theory, but Rossi has had a great preseason; he has a great pace, which is what he was missing last year. We shall also see what role is played by Ducati, the debut of Pol Espargaro in MotoGP and of Aleix Espargaro with the Open bike... I’m sure it will be a fun season for the fans."
After winning the title, this year you are the favorite to defend it. Do you feel the pressure?
"The pressure is there: To be champion, to defend the title. I'll have to be careful, because right from the first session we will have the world watching us. For the first race we have the excuse of having missed preseason, so also we ourselves will have to see how it goes. The important thing is to get points and then in Austin it will be another normal weekend.
"I’d like to arrive in Qatar more prepared, but we must have patience, especially in the first practice. We'll have to work a little harder at the opening races."
You've never been the defending champion before. Is retaining the title a big goal?
"It will be interesting to have the experience of defending a title, as before I always won a class and moved on to the next one. This year, even though I am staying in the same class, it is a new challenge for me. I’ve never had this experience before and think it will be nice. I’m not running the number 1 late, because 93 has brought me luck and I did not want to change it, but I know I'm the current champion regardless and we will try to defend the title."
What memories does the Qatar GP bring back for you?
"I have good memories of Qatar, especially from my first race in MotoGP last year. Throughout the weekend I was very nervous, both in practice and in the race. I was restless ?even more so than in Valencia, when the title was at stake. Despite this, it brings back fond memories. I took my first podium, had a good race, rode behind Dani and fought with Valentino on the final laps. It was a weekend I will never forget."
Let’s ask you a Moto3 question. How is your brother after his injury and what chances do you see for him this season?
"This year, Alex has the challenge of developing a new bike after changing from KTM to Honda. Last season he surprised me; I knew he had potential, but he even won a race –which shocked everyone. He has worked hard this winter with the recovery plan for his shoulder and is slowly improving. He has not had much time and this has made him a little weaker in testing, but now I think he is much stronger than last year."
From Moto2 to MotoGP World Champion. How has your life changed much since you clinched the title at Valencia?
"It is true that after winning the MotoGP title I noticed a significant increase in my profile, and not only on the track. Logically, going from Moto2 to MotoGP there is a noticeable change throughout the entire season, but especially when I got the title everything exploded. People recognise you more, you feel appreciated by the fans and this is very important. Feeling their affection makes you feel more confident in yourself and in being yourself, because you see that you have been accepted. This for a rider is a dream. It is clear that sometimes you’d like to be a 'normal' person and go unnoticed on the street, but when people stop you and ask you for a picture, both inside and outside the circuits, it makes you happy."
Finally, give us a prediction for the top three this season, in what will be the 20th anniversary of the Repsol Honda team.
"My prediction for MotoGP is, although it sounds bad: Me first and Dani second to cap Repsol Honda’s 20th anniversary, and Jorge (Lorenzo) third.”