until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Marquez's first Ducati race was more ominous than it might look

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

There were certainly moments in Marc Marquez's 11-lap Gresini Ducati MotoGP race debut in the Qatar Grand Prix sprint that encouraged getting seriously carried away.

After a whole pre-season of playing down expectations on a personal level, and the wider impression that Marquez's Ducati GP23 was just not quite on the level of the works-contracted riders' GP24s, there was the six-time MotoGP champion putting serious pressure on a two-time champion in Pecco Bagnaia, the heavy pre-season favourite.

It was a battle for the final podium spot, too.

That dream didn't really last. Marquez eventually made an error coming through the Turn 13 right-hander while in Bagnaia's wake, hopped over the outside kerb and was eaten up by Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro coming out of the next corner.

His race never really fully recovered from that, with the end result being a fifth place that was part-underwhelming but also - unmistakably - part-ominous.

"Of course I could be happier if I finished more in front. But I'm happy," he insisted.

"I've always said that I need to be realistic, I have my targets, and I want to fight for those top-six, top-five positions. And it's what I did today. Of course I tried for more - yes. I wasn't able - yes. There were four riders faster than me.

"In one part of the race I felt super good, I was even catching the front group - but then I paid in the end, like it's normal in the race. You use the tyres more, you pay in the end."

For Marquez, it was very matter-of-fact - this is where he deserved to finish. The pace, he says, still isn't quite three, a couple of tenths off of the likes of Jorge Martin and Bagnaia (and, certainly in Qatar, Espargaro) at their peak. The tyres were overheating, front and rear, and the pace was being conditioned by that more than anything.

On the other hand, there was the admission that Qatar no longer felt the "nightmare" it had been in previous years on the Honda, and that it felt good to be able to both get to Q2 directly and to place high up the grid without using a frontrunning rider as a reference on the fastest lap.

And even Marquez himself can't - and doesn't - shy away from the fact that there was potential for more in the sprint.

If not for a slightly suboptimal opening lap (which he expected) spent in a "strange" tussle with Fabio Di Giannantonio, if not for that error behind Bagnaia in which he says his Honda riding style instincts kicked in and he "exaggerated" the corner... well, Marquez didn't say 'what if', but a podium is the obvious answer.

Sunday's full-distance race will still be the big test, given how badly he would fade on the Honda last year - which is obviously a Honda thing, but which Marquez himself seems to hint could be a Marquez thing, too. His right arm is not what it used to be after everything it went through, and Lusail tests that right arm substantially.

Then again, Marquez never gelled with Lusail anyway. And here, after 11 laps, he was right there with Bagnaia at the flag - two tenths behind him, 1.9s behind winner Martin.

It's the kind of start that will make his rivals sleep a little less well tonight.

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