Making his Marquez….the new sensation
By Phil Hall
You can’t pick up a journal or open a web page that is concerned with motorcycle road racing these days without becoming an innocent victim of the Marquez steamroller. Whereas, several years ago, it was Valentino Rossi and every minute detail of his life that was the media’s obsession, nowadays it is the little Spaniard who is monopolising the column inches.
Now, I must say at the outset that I am a MM93 fan, and have been so since he first arrived on the scene in 2008 at Estoril. It was apparent that here was a very special talent. Despite not winning a race for his first two seasons and finishing a lowly 13th and 8th in 2008 and 2009, it was clear that, given a good machine, the kid was going to go somewhere.
So it was no surprise then that, with a change to the then dominant Derbi machines, Marquez swept the 2010 season, scoring 12 pole positions out of the 17 races competed and winning 10 of them to claim his first world title (in the 125cc class)
He quickly moved on to Moto2 and, with Repsol backing and a top bike, he was again the dominant force. 15 races, 7 wins and 7 pole positions in 2011 should have been enough for his to win the title at his first tilt. But an accident at Sepang in Malaysia and subsequent issues with double vision as a result of the bang on his head meant that he missed out, finishing 2nd in the title chase.
There would be no such mistake in 2012. 17 races, 9 wins 7 pole positions. The Moto2 title was his and MotoGp beckoned. The clear need to have a new superstar in MotoGp with the tedium of Jorge Lorenzo’s dominance plus the failure of Rossi to fire at Ducati meant that Marquez’s move to MotoGp, bypassing the so-called “Rookie Rule” was inevitable.
Sage heads were scratched and beards tugged as the experts divided themselves into two camps. There were those who thought that he would find MotoGp as easy as he had found the smaller formulae and those who predicted disaster on a grand scale should his somewhat radical riding style be carried over into competition on the “big” bikes.
History tells us that the members of the first group were substantially correct. Marquez adapted almost immediately to the power characteristics of the big bikes, and, far from being daunted by it, he used it to his advantage in ways that other riders either hadn’t thought of doing or had been afraid to put into effect. He won the second race of the year and went on to break nearly every record in his maiden season in MotoGp, competing in 18 races, winning six of them and scoring 9 pole positions along the way. Out of the 18 races, he was on the podium 16 times.
It was a shut-out of a season and, by the time Valencia was done and dusted, the world of Grand Prix racing had seen the arrival of its next superstar.
Long before this, however, the pundits were poring over records and making the inevitable comparisons. “Are you the next Valentino Rossi?” a reporter asked, “No,” replied the ever-smiling assassin, “I’m the next Marc Marquez.” And, if nothing else is clear, this is. Comparisons of different riders from different eras of racing are as pointless as they are frustrating.
Every generation has its superstars. For many, it is still Mike Hailwood who was the best. His versatility and longevity make him a logical favourite. Others favour Agostini (pointedly glossing over the era where the MV was clearly superior by a huge degree over its competition) while still others, (mostly fans from this generation), say that Rossi is better than them all, even coining the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) acronym.
As I said, comparisons are pointless. And, coming from such a young and relatively inexperienced rider, Marquez’s comment could easily be seen to be arrogant, but, in fact it is not. The fact is that, like every new superstar that arrives on the scene, they have to forge their own reputation and create their own set of statistics. No rider goes out onto the track thinking that, if he can just win this race, he will go ahead of some other rider on the all-time winners list. Such fixation with the stats is the province of the armchair experts of which ranks I am one.
But, Marquez looks likely to break every record for any era in Grand Prix racing. Why, only last weekend in Argentina, he eclipsed a record that has been held for 41 years by the great Giacomo Agostini; the first rider to win the first three races of the season while starting from pole position. Does that really mean anything? Probably not. Does it mean anything to him? The same answer probably applies. Perhaps one day at the end of his career he will look back on all the litter that has been left behind by his imperious sweep through the ranks and wonder how long it will be before somebody breaks his records, but, right now, his focus is winning the next race, nothing more, nothing less.
Make no mistake, Marquez is the breath of fresh air and newness that MotoGp desperately needed. Yes, there are and have been criticisms. In the lower categories, he gained more than his fair share of enemies with his bold and sometimes careless riding style. He was even sent to the back of the grid at Phillip Island once for an incautious move during practice. It didn’t make any difference, though. He scythed through the pack and won anyway. There were those who predicted that he would continue his ultra-aggressive style once he got to MotoGp and that it would result in sanction, lurid accidents and a quiet “meeting” at the back of the pit boxes while the “establishment” sorted him out a bit.
Of course, none of these things happened. His performance in MotoGp has been exemplary despite the media attempting to “beat up” some on-track incidents into something that they weren’t. Nor has there been the spate of outrageous accidents that blighted the first season in MotoGp for Jorge Lorenzo, for example. And, as far as we know, Marquez has won many more friends than he has enemies since joining the big boys club. If there WAS a “meeting” it probably took place inside the Repsol pit box with the team manager pointing out the value of a MotoGp bike and reminding Marquez that he should ride as hard as he dared but that he should also keep in mind just how much one of the treasures he is riding is really worth.
And it has been the boyish charm and ever-smiling appearance that has been what has won over many former detractors. Pre-Marquez, MotoGp was in a media “black spot”. Former golden boy, Casey Stoner had retired, the top two “aliens” were the dour and colourless Lorenzo and Pedrosa and the news out of the former superstar’s camp was bad, continued to BE bad and looked like continuing to be so with no relief in sight.
MotoGp NEEDED a banner rider. Someone who could lift the perception of the game at a time when it was languishing and, in Marquez, they got their wish, in spades.
Sure there are still criticisms. In Australia, we call it the “tall poppy syndrome” the tendency to pull down the high-fliers, mostly out of jealousy. But, some of the criticisms are justified. Marquez is said to be a bit too “loose” still, riding the ragged edge and leaving no room for error should something go wrong. There is a degree of validity in this argument. The downside of it is that that is what he does best. Nobody wants to see the best riders in the world NOT giving it 100%. It is that “dancing on the edge of disaster” aspect of Marquez’s riding that makes what he does so fascinating. His outside pass on Espargaro at Estoril a couple of years ago clearly showed that, while he is, like all of us, bound by the laws of physics, he has found a way to BEND them a little in ways that we mortals would find impossible.
He has been criticised for winning too easily. Again, it seems churlish to suggest that he should slow down to the pace of the pack when he doesn’t need to, but there is some validity here, too. It is now plain that there is only one “alien” at the moment. Marquez is working at a different level than all the rest of the riders, but, clearing off into the distance to win easily is not a recipe for good watching, nor is it a recipe for good TV. So, perhaps Marquez needs to take a leaf out of Rossi’s book and copy one of the former champion’s tricks. Rossi would often qualify on pole but, at the drop of the green, he would fall back a little into the pack, allegedly to let his tyres warm up properly. He would then work his way back to the front, arriving there somewhat later in the race and then go on to win. Yes, it was contrived, but it DID make for an interesting race.
There are dangers in this strategy, of course, but it has its attractions, too.
Marquez has been criticised for being Spanish. Plainly there is nothing he can do about that, but the domination of Grand Prix racing by Spanish riders isn’t his fault either. Fact is that the Spanish have put in place a mechanism that identifies future champions, grooms them and brings them online when they and the sport are ready. I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again. If we don’t like the dominance of the Spanish, we need to stop whinging about it and do what they have done. We need to copy their system and beat them at their own game.
Barring injury and with motivation to keep racing, I see no reason why we won’t be seeing the dominance of MM93 for some years to come. And it isn’t up to him to improve the spectacle, it’s up to the rest to lift their game and get out and take the fight to him.
Finally, a little word about hypocrisy. When Mick Doohan was dominating Grand Prix racing in the 90’s we sat glued to our sets watching him win, time and time again. I don’t recall hearing anybody at the time saying how “boring” it was watching “Our Mick” win 5 world championships.
There have been a raftload of records broken by this young man on the way to where he is right now. I see no reason why more of them won’t be. And, in years to come, when we sit on our front verandahs and regale our grandchildren about the “good old days” we will secretly thank the powers that be that allowed us to be witness to the extraordinary talent that was and is Marc Marquez.