Marc Márquez and Jonathan Rea have rewritten the history books in recent years. Their successes in MotoGP and WorldSBK have made them legends of their disciplines and while it’s highly unlikely we’ll see them line up on the same grid in the future they share more than their status as world champions.
Alex Ferguson famously said “some players have world class moments, others have world class careers.” The legendary soccer manager was talking about the difference between being a transcendent player and one that only ever flashes their potential. If you want to be a legend you have to do it every time you lace up your boots.
If you want to be a legend of motorcycle racing you have to be all-in at every opportunity. Any time that you’re on the bike is an opportunity to assert your dominance. Racing is the ultimate test of nerve. Can you dig deep enough into your soul to constantly get the most from yourself? Can you take the will out of your rivals?
Márquez and Rea have both done this consistently but this year both faced their toughest tests. For Márquez it’s been the coming of a rookie sensation, Fabio Quartararo, and for Rea it’s been a MotoGP refugee, Alvaro Bautista. Both rookies came to the 2019 season with something to prove.
The decision to hire Quartararo was heavily criticised at the time. The Frenchman had arrived in the Grand Prix paddock as a phenom in 2015. He was a double CEV champion that the rulebook was rewritten to accommodate. He was the coming man while still a child. Bad career decisions had put him on the back foot and almost left him on the career scrapheap.
Bautista finished the 2018 MotoGP season in great form, and was even a factory Ducati rider this time last year, but his end of season surge was too little, too late to salvage a Grand Prix career. His form came too late and the seats were already filled. He went to WorldSBK with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove.
For the Spaniard he went to ride a brand new Ducati Panigale V4R that was similar in character to his Grand Prix machine. He brought a very different style of riding to the Pirelli shod championship. He rode in a style completely at odds to what the norm was in the World Superbike championship. He forced Rea to up his game.
Look and learn
Quartararo might be seventh in the standings but he’s been the toughest test of Márquez because he came to the premier class as a sponge. He grew up in racing looking at Márquez as the top dog. In the same way that Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo looked to Valentino Rossi and learned from his approach and riding style the new generation of riders look to Márquez. Quartararo made his CEV debut in 2013, Márquez' rookie year in MotoGP, and he was able to look at how the Spaniard brought a new riding style and approach to the fore.
Márquez was raw in early 2013 but by mid-season he was the man. He was winning races and had nothing to fear about the premier class. In his head he was already the best rider in the world and by mid-season he had turned podium pace into victories. The rookie campaign from Márquez was so ludicrous that it reset the bar for all subsequent rookies and Quartararo is one of the few that can be compared. The Frenchman might not have won a race yet but he’s had poles, podiums and been knocking on the door of a win. Márquez just consistently refuses to cede anything to his younger rival.
How can El Diablo do this though? How can he do what Rossi, Lorenzo or a host of more experienced riders can’t? The simple answer is that he can because he’s been trained differently to those riders. He’s been trained in a style of riding and commitment that is different. We saw Jorge Navarro have a world-class save in Moto2 free practice. He saved a sure fire crash by cracking the throttle and riding out of a front-end slide. It was vintage Márquez. Young riders saw a new style of riding and, like when Kenny Roberts dragged a knee to win races, the rest of the field followed suit and made it work but it wasn’t natural for them. Young riders have seen how Márquez rides and they emulate him.
Fresh new challenge
Quartararo is the toughest test because he’s new. Márquez can look at the rest of the grid with the confidence that he’s better than them. Quartararo is much more of an unknown. It’s always been so for riders. Sheene to Roberts to Spencer to Rainey to Doohan to Rossi to Márquez. The line of succession has always seen a young rider come through and learn the lessons of an older rider and move the game on. The rookie learns from the veterans' mistakes and improves their technique to the nth degree. In any line of work this is how you improve. Some riders, like Rossi, hold on to the mantle for longer than others but time is the only winner in racing and eventually your time runs out at the top.
Márquez has been the leader in the club house for years and maybe Quartararo is the rider to replace him in the future. For Márquez he’ll know that he has nothing to fear from the majority of the grid, he’s beaten them since day one, but this year we’ve seen Alex Rins go toe to toe with him and win. If Quartararo were to beat Márquez and win a race it wouldn’t be a surprise. That’s why Márquez refuses to concede an inch to his rival.
In qualifying in Thailand he crashed pushing too hard and admitted afterwards that the crash was inevitable. Why push so hard though? Because it’s all he knows. It was the same on Sunday when, with a world title to be won, it was crucial for Márquez to win the race. He wasn’t thinking about the title celebrations on the final lap, he was thinking that he can’t give Quartararo an inch. He can’t let his rival open his account of premier class wins. If that can be delayed for two weeks it’s a good day for Márquez. If that happens on the day that he claims the title, that becomes a great day.
It is not enough to succeed
It was the same with Rea in WorldSBK last weekend. In France he wanted to wrap the title up as early as possible and assert his dominance on the field. Bautista and Ducati shocked everyone by winning the opening 11 races of the year. They shocked everyone even more by collapsing in the second half of the season like a house of cards. Rea and Kawasaki knew that this year was a title that in May they didn’t believe was possible.
This was a stellar season in a world-class career. This is Rea at his zenith. In free practice he crashed in wet conditions because he wanted to keep kicking his rivals when they were down. Don’t give them an inch, take away their hope and you’ll keep winning. This approach back fired with the crash because it showed that even Rea can make mistakes. The mistake however came in practice rather than the race. How many times have we seen the same from Márquez over the years?
Márquez and Rea have shown that winning isn’t enough. They want to constantly prove their dominance. They have rewritten the record books and shown themselves to be the greatest MotoGP and WorldSBK riders of all time. They’ve done this by always pushing to the limit because they know that someday they’ll face a challenge of the next Márquez and Rea. Keep the hope from your rivals to delay that for as long as possible.
Is winning enough? It’s not even close to being enough.
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