until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Marquez/Honda: Could he really leave early, and where can he go?

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

When he crashed out of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez did something quite peculiar: he looked down at his stricken Repsol Honda with a pose that very much said ‘what the hell was that?!’ – a moment that perhaps best captures not just his current situation but the dilemma that both he and the Japanese manufacturer face as they try to turn a fractured relationship into a future.

Marc Marquez

Returning to action full-time this year and fully fit for the first time, in his own estimation, since July 2020, Marquez has found himself on a 2023 Honda that appears nothing short of truly terrible. He’s not the only Honda racer overriding an aggressive and slow RC213V and hurting himself in the process, something evidenced by the fact that three of the four Honda full-timers have now broken bones already this season.

And despite the ray of light provided by a Circuit of the Americas win by Alex Rins and sticking plaster solutions like a new frame built not by Honda but by German Moto2 manufacturer Kalex, a significant lasting upturn doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon – something that has obviously triggered speculation that Marquez will look for something else in the near future.

The reality is, right now his focus is obvious. The 30-year-old is coming to the final years of his time at the top, and he wants to build a legacy: he wants to win more races and more titles. He’s been robbed of three years of his career from 2020-22 by the arm injuries of the 2020 season opener at Jerez and the subsequent botched recovery, and the target now is making up for lost time – on any bike that he can.

Right now, of course, he’s tied to Honda for at least another year and a half. Signing an unprecedented four-year extension to his deal in 2020 means he’s contracted to remain with Honda until at least the end of 2024 – and is doing so on what is rumoured to be the most financially lucrative deal ever offered in MotoGP, with whispers of as much as €25million a year, more than double what Ducati offered Jorge Lorenzo to lure him away from Yamaha.

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And, while some might believe that there’s a way out of that contract at the end of this current season, that’s probably very unlikely. For one, most performance clauses that do exist tend to exist only to benefit the factory and not the rider – an option to replace someone who is underperforming but with no reciprocal benefit for a rider who finds himself stuck on a bike like the current RC213V. Maybe Marquez’s stature would afford him a rider-favouring clause but, given the contract is so lucrative and the Honda was still carrying him to win after win when it was signed, it doesn’t feel too likely.

Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, there’s the presumable financial penalty he or his new factory would have to fork out should he choose to walk out early. Normally in these situations that amounts to at least a year’s salary. In this situation, that’s an awful lot of Euros – and while Marquez is certainly more motivated going forward by race-winning potential than by wages, it’s a huge amount to see disappear out of anyone’s bank account in a single fell swoop.

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In that case, then, it’s more realistic that we’re going to see him making a move at the end of next year – assuming, that is, that Honda cannot make a dramatic U-turn in the development of its bike in the coming months.

But who would ever be interested in a six-time world champion – especially one potentially willing to work for a lower wage than before thanks to his burning desire to get back on the top step of the podium? Logically, the answer to that is everyone.

Sure, Yamaha (in its own development black hole and with a particular history with Marquez) might not be the first name that he rushes to, but all three of the series’ European manufacturers should absolutely be ready to fight it out for Marquez’s signature, with bikes and deals that all offer strengths and weaknesses of their own.

The Aprilia, ultra-stable as it is on braking, would arguably be the machine most suited to Marquez’s style, and while the offer would likely be the most conservative financially, it’s the one factory that should have an obvious space for him if Aleix Espargaro is serious about stepping back into a testing role at the end of his own current deal.

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KTM brings the benefit of a factory, a team and a title sponsor that Marquez is very familiar with. A former factory rider for the Austrian brand in his 125cc days, with a team that was largely poached away from Repsol Honda, and backed by his long-time personal sponsor Red Bull, it would be the smoothest transition for him – and would probably also be the best-paying.

Then there’s Ducati, a team that right now doesn’t really have space for Marquez without displacing someone else – and which has routinely publicly played down the prospect of targeting Marquez. And, in any case, would he be prepared to join Ducati knowing he might be expected to play second fiddle to the established home favourite Pecco Bagnaia – or even perhaps being asked to step into a satellite ride?

One thing is all but certain though: should Marquez’s management put the word on the street that he’s considering a swap, then other factories will make offers, for two reasons.

One is obviously the chance to sign a racer seen by his peers as the most talented of his generation, knowing that, if he can still be competitive on a Honda, he can win with ease on their machines.

And the second is connected to the first. Addition not only by addition but also by subtraction. If you’re the one to sign Marc Marquez, you’re not just securing him for yourself, you’re denying him to everyone else.

Sure, Ducati might have a stacked talent line-up – but the prospect of Marquez on an Aprilia and not a Honda right now is the sort of thing that keeps rivals awake at night.

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