Crunching The Numbers: Is Marc Marquez Really Risking His Career By Crashing So Much?

Marc Marquez coming over the hill at Mugello in 2018

On October 21st, 2018, at Motegi, Marc Márquez wrapped up his fifth MotoGP title in six seasons, with three races to spare. He did so despite having suffered his 18th crash of the season so far during FP4, the front washing out as he released the brakes in Turn 7. He led the MotoGP class in crashes at Motegi, and would continue to do so through the final race in Valencia, amassing a grand total of 23 crashes at official events throughout the 2018 season.

He had gone one better in 2018 than he had the year before, finishing second to Sam Lowes in 2017, ending up with 27 crashes to Lowes' 31. In 2016, he was a lowly third in the crash rankings, ending the season with 17 falls, behind Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller with 26 and 25 crashes respectively.

That propensity to crash has caused many people to question just how long Márquez can keep taking the risks that he does. Former triple world champion Wayne Rainey, in a recent interview with Motorsport.com's Gerald Dirnbeck, voices a concern felt by many. "If Marquez falls down over 20 times again next year, maybe Marquez beats himself," Rainey said. "When you are off your bike, sliding across the grass at 200km/h, maybe you're OK for the first two meters, but then if you start flipping across the track, anything can happen. I'm hoping Marquez can find a way to be more consistent. He needs to stay on his bike more. It's not very healthy to make mistakes like that."

And yet, despite these mistakes, Marc Márquez was crowned champion with three races in hand. He was champion in 2017 as well, despite falling off 21 times more than runner up Andrea Dovizioso. The difference between Márquez and Dovizioso in 2018 was 18 crashes, and yet still Márquez won. He won thanks to sheer consistency, finishing on the podium in 14 races, and lining up on the grid for all 19 (though Silverstone's cancellation meant only 18 were contested).

Will it end in tears?

Marc Márquez may have fallen off 23 times during 19 rounds of MotoGP in 2018, but he managed to do so almost without injury. Is this just luck, or is there a method to his madness?

To find out, I analyzed every single one of Márquez' 23 crashes in 2018, noting which session he crashed, the corner where he crashed, the speed he was going when he crashed, what type of crash it was, whether he was injured in the crash, and what damage there was to the bike. I did all this looking for a pattern, trying to discern whether there was something about the way Márquez crashed which was different to other riders.

The question I was trying to answer was this: Is Marc Márquez lucky not to be injured despite crashing so often, or are the risks he is taking calculated to minimize the chance of injury?

For comparison, I looked at the crashes which had caused other riders to be sufficiently seriously injured that they were forced to miss races this year. I included only crashes which the riders themselves caused, as being hit by another rider, or being thrown from the bike due to a mechanical malfunction is not something a rider can be blamed for. This ruled out Tito Rabat, for example, as he was entirely innocent in the horrific incident which destroyed his leg. It also ruled out Jorge Lorenzo, because his crash in Thailand was caused by a mechanical failure in either the clutch or the gearbox.

Comparing the crashes which had injured other riders badly enough to cause them to miss a race with the crashes Marc Márquez walked away from, was there a material difference?

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Total votes: 57
Total votes: 38

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Comments

Very interesting article David. So that's how he does it. You have been a busy scribe, thank you.

I will read this one again before Friday evening. May have missed something.

Scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, scroll down.

Total votes: 48

Marquez is rolling too many dice on falls. It frightens me.
He IS a "skittle" who does it well.
It is part of his method, exploring the limit much closer to it than others.
The Honda front end and hard tire had made it "crashey" and this may be changing.

Marquez just said about this "Of course it's a number that I want to reduce, but if I need to crash 23 times again and be world champion it's not a problem for me. It's not a number I like, but in the end it's my way and I know when I need to push. But with experience year-by-year I try to manage in a different way."

I have been impressed by riders who crash the least (Edwards comes first to mind). But this kid, he is something else. Amazed. I want to see him get old. ONE fast crash is all it takes, and he has already had more than one of them! (BIG thank you for the squared kinetic energy to speed detail here. I was "a crasher" and got away w it under a hundred MPH. Closer to 150MPH? Didn't. I still have some negative effects all these years later. Being with a friend who careened into a wall at 170mph was...deeply disturbing). It gets "real" fast. And the concussions have an accumulative effect, even w an Arai (what the f*ck are racers thinking using second rate helmet sponsorships?!). Racers are getting minor concussions regularly.

Don't all riders compartmentalize with selective awareness? We can't tend to that stuff, or it draws you in. You get where you are going. Marquez? He has both trancended limitations, AND is pushing his luck. We know instinctively in addition to rational analysis. Watch just his two fastest crashes. Notice deeply how that feels. Sickening. Then to feel better watch a reel of all his saves. Beautiful!
Both are true.

THIS
IS
A
FANTASTIC
ARTICLE!

David, as I read this I was yet again filled with appreciation for you and your wonderful work. It is a dream to get this sort of thing handed to me. DEEP thanks and huge respect. I thought Santa Claus wasn't real.

QATAR IS HERE. Merry Christmas everybody!

Total votes: 15

Great article to get me through a boring work week.  I do have to disagree with one point though.

This approach some riders take by, as you describe, “adopting a safe position” by folding arms together is crazy.  Folding your arms across your chest increases the chance of your body rotating faster if you start to tumble (think an ice skater spinning and then increasing their speed by bring all their limbs close to the centre line) and your risk of tumbling with arms crossed is probably higher as you aren’t using your arms to resist it and stabilise your body.  Not only that, just about every rider I have watched tumble through the gravel or on tarmac with their arms crossed has bounced along their head as they did so.  That’s not good for your head…. Or your neck.  I’d rather a broken arm than a broken neck.

From memory, Gibernau was one of the first to start this practise and I thought it was silly then.  Unfortunately others have taken it on (oddly enough, more in the lower classes). 

For the most part few riders do it, but we have been very lucky that there hasn’t been a serious injury using this practise. Seeing as Marquez is the best rider in the world, others will start to copy, I hope they dont.  Marc is unique in his ability to avoid injury, but the main reason for that is his flexibilty, not how he positions himself.

Total votes: 31

which of course don't count as a crash but I would be very interested if someone has done the numbers to show how many he has saved on each side.  Saving the bike by pushing the bike back up with the elbow or knee eventually he will be at such an angle that something will tear/dislocate and it may well be that an attempt to save on the left hand side was the start of his shoulder issues.  Having said that I remember an attempted save he tried a few years ago and I was stunned he didn't tear his inner thigh as the leg just shot backwards while the bike and the rest of Marc kept moving forwards.

Total votes: 22

That crash at Mugello 2013 was at 211 mph/340 kph. Was that the fastest crash ever? I remember he was pretty banged up on his jaw. But that seemed to be the extent of his injuries. Amazing. But he will reach an age where he'll not be able to keep crashing as he does now. 

Total votes: 16

Pirro's was up there too, at the same track and point.  I can still pitcure it unfolding in my head and it nearly turns my stomach, still.

Edit - so, looks like Pirro's crash was *only* 165mph...considerably less than 211mph.    

Total votes: 19

This is really good to see this level of analysis done. It really helps to understand the rider and his unique abilities.  The fact they he can consistently find the limit and back it off for the race shows why he will be the greatest rider we see in our lifetimes. He's lifted the bar each year with his approach. Love him or hate him the guy has got talent and a brain. I think he'd be a good test pilot in another life, willing to push boundaries to get the utmost out of the machine. 

This insight just makes me think how pathetic my skills are in comparison (but still good enough to be your substitute test rider Herve!!!! My offer still stands 😂😂)

Thank you David!!

Total votes: 16

I'm watching the 2018 season over again and am surprised by how all of the rounds have been dry (races), at least through Rd 15.  Can't recall how Argentina was ruled, but believe that race ended up as essentially dry conditions.  On the other hand, I feel like many of the pre-race sessions were affected by rain during several weekends (but, admittedly, I have not been watching practice rounds, etc).  

I would be curious to see how wet vs dry conditions may impact the crash numbers for MM, here.  

Thank you for all of the effort put into this, David!

Total votes: 14

Just shows that Marc is not only physically gifted, but his mental game is beyond anyone else on the grid. Thank you for a stunning analysis! Marc is on another level. 

Total votes: 23

With something as chaotic (sensitively dependent on initial conditions) as the results of a crash, diagnosing is a lot easier than forecasting. I'd propose that past behaviour of this system is of little use in predicting its future behavor. This seems like a classic predictability problem.

Total votes: 19

It seems Marc has adopted the adage "Crash, crash again, crash better" :-) 

Hopefully Jorge's arrival will help to sort out the front end issues with the bike. I will definitely check out your spreadsheet. Thanks David, for putting all this info together!! 

Total votes: 11

Great article, thanks David. Worth my subscription before the season's even started!

So looking forward to this season, really not long to go now - at last.

Total votes: 16

If he stopped tomorrow, healthy or otherwise he’s still one of the best there has ever been, by quantitative achievement or intangible and mysterious ability. 

If he doesn’t destroy all of the records, in the most competitive era in history, by the time retires I would be amazed.

Still, a much welcomed deep dive into an incredible phenomenon.

nothing, but nothing comes close to motomatters. The quality of analysis here is unrivalled in motorsport.

kroppers for prez yo!

Total votes: 15

There is real risk in each & every crash, despite the best protective gear and safer circuits than ever before.

Marc Marquez has survived a lot of crashes. M.M.93 only rarely gets injured. One significant eye problem and at least one shoulder iirc. He has had the benefit of natural flexibility, warming up well, using the best gear & lots of luck.

I hope no one has an injury this weekend. Racing is risky, danger is part of the deal.

We made it through the off season, thanks for your help Motomatters.

Total votes: 19

How many crashes has Marquez caused due to his riding style? He is undoubtly one of the greatest riders i have ever seen. But i also believe him to be a poor sportsman due to the way he rides. I do not mean he is not a gentleman off the track or while his helmet is off. But he is going to hurt more people. Think through his years in the support classes - with his almost killing Wilariot - as the most egrious. There are countless others - full throtle under a yellow and missing Cal and corner workers by miliseconds; punting Redding in Moto2; using Lorenzo as moving berms on track; Petrux at Mugello; etc. he is after all why MotoGP instituted a penalty system. Again, i am sure he is a gentleman off track. But he is a danger and poor sportsman on track.  

Total votes: 12