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How Marquez reacted to a rare intra-team defeat on merit

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez has admitted that it was skill not physical condition that limited him in the opening round of the 2022 world championship last weekend, after finishing fifth at the Lusail International Circuit – some four seconds from race winner Enea Bastianini and two places behind Repsol Honda team-mate Pol Espargaro.

In his first race back since an enduro crash last October caused him to miss the final two grands prix of the 2021 season, Marquez wasn’t expecting any issues from the double vision problem that forced that most recent absence and a difficult winter.

But, still recovering from the career-threatening arm injuries of July 2020, he went into the season-opening weekend unsure what physical condition his arm and shoulder would be in.

Marc Marquez Honda Qatar MotoGP

Though able to ride fast and confidently through, in particular, the second of MotoGP’s two pre-season tests at the new Mandalika Bay circuit in Indonesia, the last remaining question mark the Spaniard admitted to having was surrounding how the shoulder joint would react to a full race distance.

Yet, in the end it wasn’t the shoulder that played a role in his relatively muted performance, but rather the other issue that he’s been battling against over the course of the pre-season: a radically different Honda RC213V that he hasn’t yet fully adapted to.

Honda flipped the balance of the bike this winter, moving away from the front-end focused machine that Marquez has preferred since joining the team in 2013 and instead creating a more neutral bike.

Partly designed to suit sophomore team-mate Espargaro and partly an attempt to future-proof Honda’s entire MotoGP project by creating a machine that is more rider-friendly in general, that experiment has been a success. But it’s come at the expense of having Marquez start the year in unfamiliar territory, and he’s now fighting a battle to adapt his whole style to the bike.

Marc Marquez Honda MotoGP

“The race distance was one of the main challenges,” he admitted after the race about his physical condition, “one of my questions marks, and I didn’t have any problems.

“Of course I feel tired, but like everyone else. I didn’t feel pain, and this was really important. It’s just that today there were four riders faster than us.

“I was optimistic before the race, thinking that maybe it would be a bit slow, but it was a really fast race.

“We are discovering different things with this bike, and it’s true that since we started from the first test I’ve improved, especially in Mandalika.

Mar 08 : A fairytale start to 2022 - Qatar MotoGP review

“Here, we didn’t touch it a lot because it’s the first race and we didn’t want to lose our way, so I just concentrated on the racing line, on the tyres. In Mandalika we will continue on that process, adapting the bike to my style.

“It is a big change, but the bike’s potential is there. The way to ride the bike is different but the potential is there. It’s also true that we were in a very special circuit in Qatar, so now in Mandalika, in Argentina, in Austin we will understand where we are.”

However, the issue that remains is perhaps a tougher one to find a solution to than improving his physical condition was. With the shoulder, there was a clear path to follow, even if the timeline was uncertain – but with the current problem, it’s so far proving somewhat harder as Marquez and his team find a way not just to help him adapt to the new bike but to find a middle ground that allows him to attack corners on it the same way as on the old one.

Marc Marquez Honda MotoGP Qatar

“There were two factors,” he explained, “the confidence with the front isn’t the highest at the moment and I’m struggling to understand it. In the practice you believe [trust] it, because if you crash, then OK. But in the race you can’t believe like you want. Another thing is that in Qatar, a historical thing is that I always suffer a lot with my style. Today was not different.

“I’m adapting, and even in a difficult situation like this, suffering a lot, we finished fifth, four seconds behind the first guy. A solid race. Not the best one, but a good one.”

In the meantime, he’s doing one of the many things he’s very good at off the bike – applying the psychological pressure on his rivals.

Beaten by his team-mate in a straight fight for the first time since 2017, Marquez admitted after the race that Espargaro was better than him on Sunday – but also pinned the perhaps unwelcome tag of title contender on both his fellow Spaniard and on race winner Enea Bastianini.

“During all the weekend Pol has been riding a bit better than me,” Marquez admitted. “The way that he gets the laptime is a little bit easier and it looks like he’s able to stop the bike a lot on the entry.

Pol Espargaro Honda MotoGP

“He’s using a lot of rear brake, and still I can’t use this amount because if I do I lose the rear.

“Since he’s got this bike, he’s rode really good, in Malaysia, in Mandalika, here. It’s good to have a good reference inside the box, but we’re in the first race and we need to understand what he did better.

“We’re at the first race and I’ve said before that the first race is always special, particularly here in Qatar.

“It’s a racetrack where we’re always looking at some different results. Last year, Maverick [Vinales] and [Fabio] Quartararo were very fast, [Johann] Zarco also was very fast and then in the season not fast enough.

“But I believe today that I saw two guys, Bastianini and Pol Espargaro, who are fast enough to be contenders for the championship.”

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