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MotoGP

The moment we realised Marquez/Honda was over

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

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Next up as our contributors pick their highlights from The Race's 2023 content, Editor Matt Beer looks back at the weekend where the first signs emerged that the Marc Marquez-Honda relationship really might have run its course - and how Val Khorounzhiy captured the implications of events at the Sachsenring.

Working with The Race's adorably fractious odd couple Simon Patterson and Val Khorounzhiy on MotoGP is one of my favourite parts of being here. There were several occasions this year when in the 45 minutes after a MotoGP race chequered flag, Val would take the plunge on diving straight into a column while Simon rounded up riders' views in debriefs, and the results were always hugely enjoyable to read.

This piece about the absolute state of things in the world of Marc Marquez and Honda on the Sachsenring weekend wowed me at the time for the speed with which Val crystallised all the implications of the crash-after-crash-after-crash madness we'd just seen into a searing column. Looking back on it now, it's also a fascinating little snapshot in time because, at that moment, saying so firmly 'this has to end' still felt like calling for the unthinkable and impossible. Marquez surely wouldn't quit Honda. There wasn't even really anywhere logical for him to go, for a host of complex reasons.

Turned out he could and there was. So he did. The process of him getting to that point was an extraordinary story that kept us going for months. And it's set up an even better one for 2024 - one that's going to give Val and Simon plenty of things to be opinionated about.


Honda’s path from Formula 1 laughing stock to Formula 1 champion in a relatively short period of time is a reminder to its MotoGP programme just how quickly things can turn around in racing even through just natural progression.

But if its status as F1 laughing stock was underlined by an era-defining outburst from its lead competitor Fernando Alonso in a 2015 Japanese Grand Prix – when he derisively described Honda’s product as a “GP2 engine” during a race on home soil – what it went through with Marc Marquez this weekend at the Sachsenring was a remarkable multi-pack of ‘GP2 engine’ moments.

Marquez flipped the bird in his bike’s direction on Friday after narrowly saving a big crash, which then followed anyway on a subsequent run. He shunted three times in qualifying. He openly admitted he effectively – relative to his own usual standards, anyway – threw in the towel in the sprint. And then he crashed again on Sunday morning and caused himself to be ruled out of the race.

And had he raced, it would’ve been a humbling experience anyway. Eight Ducatis placed in the top nine – at a push, he may have beaten three or four of them, or crashed again trying to. And all this at a track where, before Saturday, he’d not lost a race since 2009.

“As you saw this morning, it’s a circuit that I like, and straight away when I went out, pom, I was on the limit,” Marquez said on Friday. Indeed, his best session was his first – he finished second in the opening practice.

Marc Marquez

“And it’s easy to ride here but then you reach that limit and you stay there because the limit is there and you cannot do anything.”

“The others start to arrive to your limit and then pass your limit,” he added on Saturday.

The most telling picture perhaps wasn’t even the middle finger. It was his media appearance while deciding to pull out – Marquez giving a couple of answers about how he simply didn’t “feel ready” to race to Spanish broadcaster DAZN, then, as captured by MotoGP.com, blanking follow-up questions from other media outlets with an apparent “thank you, sorry”, getting on the back of a scooter and getting out of there.

We don’t need to over-react to this – he was surely in pain given everything that went on in the weekend, not just the small fracture to his finger in the Sunday morning crash but all the bruises that the other falls will have left and a hurt ankle. And he did make it clear in the interview that he was targeting Assen.

Yet if you’ve followed Marc and his media habits, this did feel different. He addressed the media with a broken hand after the Portuguese Grand Prix mess, he’s often had press scrums scheduled on weekends where he wasn’t even racing. He is something of a politician, clearly always measured and analytical in what he says, but he does prefer to say something over saying nothing. This time, it feels, there may have been nothing more to say.

Marquez is under contract with Honda through 2024. Neither party has publicly suggested anything about that contract potentially being broken. And, after 59 wins, 100 podiums, six championship wins, one of them a strong contender for the greatest MotoGP championship performance of all time, this is not the note you want to end it on even if you can.

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But it no longer fits. Marquez has repeatedly made it clear since coming back from his career-altering 2020 arm break that he is not continuing his career to finish fifth, sixth, seventh. The 30-year-old has also repeatedly made it clear that the fact the clock is ticking on his ‘championship window’ is weighing on him. The idea for this four-year Honda deal, he’d admitted earlier this weekend, was four titles. Even one is absolutely unthinkable right now.

What he wants, the current Honda RC213V cannot give him. What the RC213V is, this weekend has strongly suggested, is something he cannot accept. Yes, Marquez’s argument is that the bike catches out riders anyway even if they don’t push beyond its capabilities – Joan Mir was barely fighting for points at Jerez yet crashed four times, was his exact comparison – yet Marquez knows this bike and where he can take it better than Mir.

And where he can take it is clearly not worth anything right now.

The fact the RC213V won with LCR’s Alex Rins at the Circuit of the Americas – it wasn’t the best bike there, but it was impressive in being good enough to capitalise on a Pecco Bagnaia crash – was a glimmer of hope. But this is the true picture. The rebuild needed is clearly massive. And it will not take days, or weeks, or months.

!

For Marquez, waiting even ‘months’ isn’t really good enough. Beyond that, it makes no sense. This isn’t his timeline. He doesn’t want to hurt himself, obviously, but he cannot accept waiting. And if even earlier in the season the RC213V at least looked like a generational talent could score points frequently enough with it to stay in the mix somewhere, the two Ducati outings at Mugello and the Sachsenring have proven conclusively that is not the case. There are only scraps on the table. For anything else, you need a better bike.

It is unthinkable. It is insane. It would be humiliating. It would be sad. It would be a PR nightmare.

But for the sake of the rider and the programme, so that both could breathe again, maybe it really is time to think about a goodbye.

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