until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Marquez can vanquish last remaining doubt over his title bid

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Like bits of masking tape being removed line by line, the real picture of Marc Marquez's first season at Ducati - and what he can accomplish with the Desmosedici - has been gradually revealing itself over the course of the off-season and now the start of the campaign.

After the Qatar Grand Prix, the cards are more or less on the table - and it looks like a strong hand.

For all of the talk of the 2024 Ducati's supremacy over the '23 bike, Marquez finished Sunday's race with both Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin more or less in sight, while insisting that both are still riding better than he is.

And he left Qatar, a mostly clockwise track he has never been too at ease with, with a fourth-place finish - which, over the course of his career in grand prix racing has so far meant a title at the end of the campaign every single time.

Despite this, the three riders who finished ahead of him would not fully commit to the idea of Marquez the 2024 title contender when asked about it after the race.

"He did a good job, for sure," said Bagnaia. "It's Marc Marquez, eight-time world champion, so I expected to see him competitive.

"I don't know for the championship - but will be for sure one of the rivals."

Brad Binder and Martin concurred.

Brad Binder, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin, MotoGP

And that need not be seen as arrogance. If Bagnaia, Binder and Martin feel a little bit more proof is needed, that's only fair, because so does Marquez himself.

A lot of Marquez's debriefs during the weekend emphasised how much room there still is for him to improve on the bike.

Riding the Ducati still, unsurprisingly, does not come as second nature - and more work is to be done on used tyres after a 21-lap grand prix in which Marquez "suffered a bit more than enjoyed".

Marc Marquez, Gresini Ducati, MotoGP

"I still feel that I'm improving my riding style, step by step," he said.

"There will arrive a point that there will be a wall [in my Ducati progression]. Then you need to find a small hole [in that wall], just some tenths here [or there]."

The problem is, that progression is unlikely to be linear from track to track. It is something Marquez had already emphasised in the pre-season, and it is something that came up again in Qatar.

Which is why the Portuguese Grand Prix is such a big test of his 2024 credentials.

Marc Marquez, Honda, MotoGP

"Portimao will be an important weekend," Marquez acknowledged. "Because normally in the test, in Malaysia and here, I took time to arrive at a good laptime. The fact that we had a test here, two weeks ago, helped me a lot this weekend.

"In Portimao we will start from zero. There is where we need to understand where we are."

Marquez's track record at Portimao is a hard one to parse.

He was out for the season when the track joined the calendar in the COVID-disrupted 2020.

The first of two Portimao grands prix in 2021 - well, he was back racing in MotoGP for the first time since that '20 injury, so there's only so much you can read into that. And when it came to that second race in 2021 he was again sidelined, this time with a concussion/diplopia recurrence.

The following year, he was a muted sixth just barely, defeating Honda stablemates Alex Marquez and Pol Espargaro, who he otherwise dominated that season. It came a week after he probably should have won at the Circuit of the Americas if not for a technical issue at the start - so he was demonstrably competitive, but we know now that his arm wasn't totally right.

And last year, there was pole position and a sprint podium with a badly-outmatched Honda, before Sunday's race ended with a stupid crash (that injured Marquez, Miguel Oliveira and Jorge Martin) as Marquez tried to punch above the RC213V's weight.

Portimao MotoGP crash

So, it's inconclusive. But it will clearly be a test - Portimao's physical, it's fast, it's treacherous and it's got more right-handers than left-handers. If Marquez really is finding himself to be a slow learner on the Desmosedici, he might be in a bit of trouble.

But what if he isn't? What if he's just a frontrunner again straight out of the blocks?

Then, whatever he or anybody else says, this thing - this title challenge - is for real.

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