It’s not just about the [motor] bike

He's on pole again today

Spanish sensation, Marc Marquez, first attracted my attention when he won last season’s 125cc class and it struck me that he had a mature head on very young shoulders. Given that he’s currently challenging for the Moto2 title in his rookie season, I thought him worthy of closer examination and it’s evident he’s been a record setter from day one.

Marc first climbed astride a bike aged five to compete in motocross and minibike races. It took him  just three years to become the Catalan 50cc motocross champion. A switch to track riding brought even more success and by the time he was 10, he had claimed the Catalan Open title. Moving up to 125cc engines, he continued his rich vein of form with back-to-back Catalan titles in 2005 and 2006. A successful debut season in the world renowned CEV Buckler Spanish Championship saw him achieve his first victory in Jerez. In 2008, promoted to Moto 125cc class for Team Repsol KTM, aged just 15 years and 56 days, he made his championship debut in April at the Portuguese GP. In the British GP at Donnington, he became the youngest ever Spaniard (15 years and 127 days) to earn a podium finish and in 2009, as a factory KTM rider,  he became the youngest Spanish rider to claim pole position at the French GP (16 years and 89 days) and, that season, finished a creditable 8th overall.

With KTM pulling out of the 125cc championship, Marc secured the backing of Red Bull in 2010 to switch to Derbi bikes as he joined Finnish team Ajo Motorsport. Marc took his first pole at the 2010 Spanish GP but crashed heavily, injuring his shoulder, when his exhaust pipe fell off and went under the rear wheel. His first win  came in June at Mugello. Further victories followed in succession at Silverstone, Assen and Catalunya making Marc the youngest rider to win four successive races. His fifth successive win came in Germany, at the Sachsenring, giving Derbi their 100th victory in GP racing.  Marc was the first rider since Rossi in 1997 to win five successive races in 125cc racing.

He was less successful in the following races, dropping to third in the standings at one point behind Nico Terol and Pol Espargaro, after being taken out by Randy Krummenacher at the first corner at Aragon’s Motorland circuit, where he’s again racing this week end. Four successive wins from Motegi in Japan moved Marc into a 17-point lead over Terol with only two races remaining. At Estoril, due to heavy rain, the race was red-flagged with Marc  running second to Terol. On his return to the grid for the second race, due to a fall and a trip to the pits, Marc started at the back of the field. Nonetheless, he recovered to take the race and extend his lead before the Valencia finale. His 10th victory of the season moved him to within one point of tying the record set by Rossi in 1997. However, Marc fell short of tying the record as he took a measured and intelligent 4th place at the final race to become the second-youngest World Champion after Loris Capirossi. He stepped up to Moto2 this season where he’s Monlau Competicion team’s sole rider on a 600cc Suter bike.

The 2011 season started badly with Marquez not recording any points in the first three races as he struggled to remain upright on the bike. Since recording his first win at the Monster Energy GP in Le Mans, he’s turned the Moto2 class into a thrilling spectacle as he closes the gap between himself and championship leader Stefan Bradl. In the previous race at Misano, Marc took victory ahead of Bradl to narrow the margin to 23 points with five races left to decide the 2011 title.

Bradl, whose last victory came at Silverstone in round 6, has maintained his lead by virtue of his impressive consistency in finishing on the podium, although Marc’s fearsome form of five wins in the last six races has rocketed the rookie up the standings to challenge his more experienced rival. In addition, the 2010 125cc World Champion, starting today on pole, will hope to derive some benefit, in front of his home crowd, from 3 days of private testing recently undertaken at Valencia.

The most intriguing possibility, however, is that Marc Marquez will move up to MotoGP in 2012. Honda is rumoured to have a spare RC2123V just waiting for the Spanish prodigy. Given the huge budget of his current Catalunya Caixa/Repsol Moto2 team, a switch to MotoGP would be perfectly feasible. Whether he wins the Moto2 title this year or not, staying in Moto2 for another year possibly carries more downsides than upsides. Everyone will expect him to win the title, possibly for a second year in a row. But, he might not win. Losing a title is a great deal easier than winning it. Going to MotoGP when the formula changes will level the playing field somewhat, with everyone new to the 1000cc machines (though Casey Stoner has said that they will be very similar indeed to the 800s, with only the greater braking distance offering extra opportunities for passing), while waiting another year means that everyone has an extra year to learn the 1000s while Marc Marquez tries to repeat in Moto2.

Not unnaturally, his opponents in Moto2 would be delighted if he went to MotoGP. Indeed, one Moto2 team member commented that their goal for 2012 would be winning the title assuming Marquez would not be contesting it. However, Marc’s move could spell trouble for Dani Pedrosa who currently heads Spanish petroleum giant Repsol’s assault on the MotoGP class.  Marquez would give Repsol another string to their bow, particularly if Pedrosa fails to get close to winning a title again in 2012. As per the rules, Marquez will have to spend his rookie MotoGP year on a non-factory team. But in 2013, moving to the factory team might be the perfect opportunity for Repsol/Honda to replace one Spanish superstar with another.

The MotoGP rookie rule prevents Marquez from going directly to a factory team, but you would be mistaken in thinking that the team Marc would be riding for was  in any way inferior. It is likely that Marquez will have full factory support albeit with a separate Catalunya Caixa team. While it will not be the factory Repsol Honda team, and will therefore comply with the letter of the law. It will, however, be a “Repsol Honda Lite”, and drive a coach and horses through the spirit of the rules. The team will exist solely to house Marquez until he is ready to take over the mantle of top Spanish representative for Repsol. That moment looks ever more likely to be 2013 unless Dani Pedrosa stays healthy and in contention for another season.

Sunday Postscript: Marquez crashed! Fortunately, it was only on the podium, after one of the most thrilling races of the season, where the lead changed hands so many times even the commentators lost count. Finally, Marquez was able to put daylight between himself and the very large chasing pack to take his 17th career victory and 7th this season. Bradl limped home in 8th, so the gap at the top of the leader board narrows to only 6 points, ahead of the race in 2 weeks time in Japan. Meanwhile, Casey Stoner and Nico Terol both won their respective classes and consolidated their championship positions.

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