Marc Marquez entered MotoGP surrounded by hype and with high expectations. After a wet test at Valencia, where he showed he was fast, but not quite how fast, the Spaniard went to Sepang, where he posted very good times in a private test. At the full Sepang MotoGP tests, Marquez was genuinely impressive, never finishing outside the top 4.
At Austin, Marquez stunned observers. The young Spaniard, still only a rookie in the MotoGP class, with only a few days on a MotoGP bike under his belt, dominated at the Austin test, topping the timesheets on all three days of the private test. It was not as if he didn't have any competition at the circuit: both the factory Yamaha and Honda teams were at the Austin test, and Marquez beat Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi to set the fastest time.
So it was something of a surprise when Marquez failed to duplicate his impressive pace in Malaysia and Texas when MotoGP rolled up at Jerez for the final test of the season. Though Marquez was 3rd fastest in the wet, once conditions improved - though they were never perfect - the Repsol Honda rookie got left behind a little, finishing the second day in 7th spot, nearly 1.2 seconds behind fastest man Valentino Rossi, and 5th spot on day three, 0.6 behind Cal Crutchlow. Marquez left the three day test as 6th overall, six tenths behind the fastest man of the test Cal Crutchlow, and over a tenth behind Stefan Bradl, his main rival during the 2011 Moto2 season.
So what happened? Where did Marc Marquez' speed suddenly disappear to? When asked by reporters on Sunday, the Spaniard had a few explanations. "Today was difficult," Marquez acknowledged, "but I think it's normal. It was the first time in dry conditions on this track." Jerez was a track where Marquez had had to spend time learning to adapt his lines, he said. "In the beginning, I struggled a little bit to find the best line with a MotoGP bike, because I had the riding style of Moto2. Step by step I learned the lines, and then was a little bit better, but I just did 35 laps, and we need to work a lot with the set up of the bike."
What were the differences between the Moto2 and MotoGP lines? "Maybe with Moto2, you use more lean angle all the time. With MotoGP, in the beginning I used that line, and also because the grip of the track was not so good, I was sliding too much, and was maybe taking too many risks and I was not fast," Marquez said. His manager and mentor Emilio Alzamora had helped him adapt his style, working through one section at a time. "With Emilio, who was by the track and with data we saw that we changed my style corner by corner. First we concentrated in the first part, then the second part. Trying to be more smooth too, because maybe with the gas, when the grip of the track is not so good, if you are too aggressive, it's worse," Marquez explained.
Adapting to the Bridgestone tires, and their exceptional levels of grip in the wet, had also taken time, Marquez said. "It's different because with Bridgestone tires also you can push a lot, you can have a lot of confidence in the tire because the grip is so high. Also on corner exit the grip is better, but you know that if you make a mistake the electronics side is working, for a rider is much safer." There was much more work to do, though. "In wet conditions I improve a lot, but OK, I did one fast lap but the consistency was not so good. But for the first time in wet conditions, especially the tires are the biggest difference from Moto2."
But why was Marquez so fast in Austin, but nowhere near as competitive at Jerez? The answer, according to Marquez is simple: data. At a new track like Austin, everyone starts on a level playing field, whereas at Jerez, where MotoGP has tested so many times, the MotoGP regulars have a massive amount of set up data to fall back on. "Maybe Austin was new for everybody and nobody had the set up for last year," Marquez ventured. "Here, you know, yes it's true the bike changes a little bit from last year, but more or less everybody knows the set up or they have a base. But we didn't have a base." The nature of the track was also a factor, he explained. "It's the first time that we rode at a circuit like this, because in Malaysia and Austin it's completely different. This one [Jerez] is much smaller, and also, you know, the corners are more round and this is a little bit more difficult for a rookie rider." That will be a problem he faces all year, given that he will have to spend the first day of practice learning MotoGP lines around tracks. "But you know, it's the thing that this year we will have this problems on Friday."