Look, everyone always expected that Marc Marquez’s Ducati debut at Tuesday’s Valencia MotoGP test would be a relatively contentious affair, given the Marmite nature of the six-time world champion and the sometimes vitriolic, sometimes devoted opinions that fans have towards him.
But one thing is absolutely certain: if you don’t think his instant pace already makes him a 2024 title contender, you’re delusional.
For those who missed it (or who aren’t quite sure what they saw), he ended the single-day outing at the Spanish circuit fourth fastest, a mere 0.178s off fastest man Maverick Vinales.
It was also only 0.078s behind the quickest Ducati of Marco Bezzecchi, someone who very much gave the impression of sticking in a set of soft tyres specifically to beat Marquez as the latest step in their new feud after Sunday’s race.
For some extra context, Marquez’s lap time came after (amusingly) only 46 laps of the Valencia circuit, a place where some crude maths suggests he’s lapped nearly 1300 times previously on a Honda RC213V.
It would have left him 11th on the grid for Sunday’s race, was faster than his best race lap (set in Saturday's sprint) by nearly half a second, and, taking into account that the track was about 0.3s slower on Tuesday thanks to cooler conditions, could have easily rivalled his best ever Honda lap if things had been warmer and less windy.
It was, in summary, very impressive indeed - but it wasn’t a surprise to anyone inside the paddock.
Marquez's 1m29.4s lap is exactly (to the tenth of a second) what Yamaha racer Fabio Quartararo says he predicted before the test Marquez would do, while newly-crowned double world champion Pecco Bagnaia still had an ‘I told you so’ look on his face when he admitted that it wasn’t quite the test-topping time he suggested Marquez would achieve but wasn’t far off it.
Which makes it really strange that people seem to think that his testing performance doesn’t somehow catapult him into immediate title contention for next year.
Speak to anyone inside the paddock, seasoned race watchers as they are, and they’re in total agreement. I literally haven’t heard a single person in the Valencia media centre who thinks he isn’t.
The most common criticism I've seen on social media has been that it’s ‘only testing’ and that no one hands out points for Tuesdays at Valencia (a lesson that Vinales is painfully aware of).
But while that’s the case, there’s more to Marquez’s first day on his new ride than just the lap time.
Prior to Tuesday, the conversation was largely around how long it would take him to adapt (though there isn't the strongest case for suggesting that he might struggle on that front given he won MotoGP in his rookie season).
It’s safe to assume that the adaptation process is now largely complete, meaning that next time out at Sepang when testing resumes in the new year we can expect to see the most Marquez of trademarks: low speed front end crashes that he might or might not save as he gets on with the business of learning exactly where the Desmosedici’s limits are.
Then there’s the claim that he could 'normal' riding while everyone else was testing.
Well, sure. But the guy is riding a year-old 2023 bike that he doesn’t have to develop into something better. He’s got all of this winter to ‘just’ ride it, meaning that his start to the season is going to make Enea Bastianini’s three wins from the first seven races of 2022 look rather tame in comparison.
Finally, there are lingering injury concerns.
If the way that Marquez has been riding in the latter part of 2023 (pushing above and beyond any time there’s the slightest chance of a decent result) hasn’t put those to bed, then his instant Ducati pace should confirm that he now very much has two working arms and just as much motivation as ever to win.
Marc Marquez himself, of course, is still silenced. He’s still technically contracted to Honda until December 31, so while it might have allowed him to ride the bike on Tuesday, it didn’t let him (or anyone else in his new Gresini team) speak about it.
But there’s a lot you can learn from body language. The return of his smile the minute he took off his helmet for the first time said a lot, as did his swagger when I bumped into him in the paddock an hour or so after the chequered flag went out.
He knows he’s back, and it shows.
Which should leave plenty of his rivals with nightmares over the two months of the winter break.