When a spicy soundbite of one competitor talking about another hits the headlines, that often comes with an unfortunate side effect – these headlines being interpreted as something the person behind the quote specifically targeted to get out there as a message.
And because of this, it is important to get have the full context – in this case, specifically the context behind Marc Marquez praising KTM’s MotoGP programme in a TV appearance earlier this week.
Marquez did not book himself for an appearance on Sport und Talk – airing on the Austrian ServusTV channel operated by Red Bull, a major sponsor of both Marquez and KTM – with the mandate of singling out KTM for praise. And he did not offer his praise out of nowhere, unprompted, but rather when specifically asked about the brand’s current MotoGP efforts.
And that segment, a small part of a talk show that spanned over an hour, was with KTM motorsport boss Pit Beirer sat right next to Marquez – so he was hardly going to call the RC16 an ugly piece of dreck designed by buffoons.
With all that said, now the actual words can be left to stand for themselves.
“When they started they were last, and step by step they came back,” said Marquez of KTM. “And yeah, OK, now they’re the second manufacturer in the championship – but soon, very soon, more than what you expect, they will be the first one.
“Because in the end in competition the key is ambition. If you have ambition, you will arrive. And they have ambition.
“They are doing good moves on the engineers that go in, good moves on the riders, on the teams. So… yeah… you know, I am impressed a lot with what they did.”
“Very soon”. Sooner “than you expect”. Whatever the context, that is an enthusiastic endorsement. Especially so from Marquez, a rider who for so much of his career has been very selective in what things he would be open about, and what things would receive a guarded response.
And even if you feel the context softens the quote, the Marquez-KTM link itself is only strengthened by it. Envisioning a potential KTM future for the six-time MotoGP champ has been a favoured past time of many a MotoGP writer, myself included, and Red Bull has always been a central party in that. And it is quite a striking visual to see Marquez on TV, chuckling along with Beirer as a common benefactor as Red Bull prods them on a potential alliance in the future.
Ultimately, both Marquez and Beirer have been unerringly on-message when it comes to that specifically. Though KTM is pursuing a six-bike line-up for 2024, while that pursuit remains up in the air Beirer got to bat away a question about recruiting Marquez by pointing out that the KTM/Gas Gas axis already has five riders for four seats (given the Pedro Acosta/Augusto Fernandez/Pol Espargaro predicament). And Marquez trotted out his well-worn “I have a [Honda] contract for next year” – which is not quite “I’m staying”, but given everything does suggest any sort of 2024 departure isn’t seen as particularly viable as it stands.
But 2025, that is a whole different kettle of fish. Marquez will still only be 32 at the start of that season, and while various KTM higher-ups have taken turns of late to pour cold water on the idea it needs Marquez, KTM works team boss Francesco Guidotti did acknowledge to Sky Italia earlier this year that 2025 could be an altro discorso – another story.
Guidotti is, of course, the very same man who brought Marquez into KTM’s factory 125cc stable many years ago.
The current dynamic between Marquez and KTM in the MotoGP-wide popular consciousness means Marquez can hardly be too annoyed if his KTM praise is interpreted as a ‘come and get me’ plea. Or, at the very least, an even more pointed message to Honda on whose examples to follow if it wants to retain his services.
This also came through in Marquez’s press conference appearance on Thursday at the Red Bull Ring, where the ServusTV interview comments came up.
“In the end, all manufacturers have the same ambition,” said Marquez.
“All manufacturers try to find the best, but looks like these last years the European manufacturers, they were faster on the steps of the development of the bike and this was the main difference.
“Why? I’m not an engineer, I’m not inside the factory completely to understand why.
“But it’s true that KTM is in an aggressive mode in the way of taking [headhunting] engineers, to find the best for the project. And they are European-style.”
KTM’s big-name hires, apart from the aforementioned Guidotti recruited from Pramac Ducati, have included tech guru Fabiano Sterlacchini, also from Ducati, the crew chief-rider combo of Christian Pupulin and Jack Miller, also from Ducati, and crew-chief-turned-performance-engineer Alberto Giribuola, also from Ducati.
Marquez continued: “I had good words for KTM – but not because I was pretending [being polite]. It’s because if one rider is fast and doing a good job, you’re saying ‘he’s very fast, he’s very good, he’s doing great results’. And when one manufacturer is doing a good job, you must say.
“And KTM’s evolution in the last years was good. Also Ducati’s, and Aprilia’s. We need to focus on ourselves to understand what they did better to try to copy and improve.”
Marquez did not deviate from his stance of wanting to change course at Honda first and foremost.
“It’s true that now the most important is that everybody understands the situation is critical, and that we must change something together.
“I say ‘we’ because I feel part of this project and I want the best for this project.”
But rather than look at the changes made on the project level, he said he would evaluate Honda’s progress “only on the racetrack” rather than in the boardroom – “like they evaluate my level [on the track]”.
While a new aero package is being made available to the works team this weekend after LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami gave it a successful enough MotoGP race weekend baptism at Silverstone, whatever gains it yields would surely not be sufficient to Marquez if, come the in-season Misano test in September, he tries the 2024 prototype and finds it wanting.
And even if he is reasonably satisfied, such are the quirks of MotoGP factory contract timelines that he will effectively enter ‘free agency’ just a few months after – whatever Marquez’s 2025 deal is will almost certainly be rubber-stamped when his presumed 2024 season with Honda is still in its infancy.
And such words of praise towards KTM from ‘under-contract Marc’ mean it would be illogical for ‘free agent Marc’ not to massively explore that particular avenue.