LCR Honda Castrol Team Launch: Alex Marquez Q&A On Qualifying, What He Wants From Honda, What He Needs To Work On

For 2021, HRC have shifted Alex Márquez over from the factory Repsol Honda team into the satellite LCR Honda squad, albeit with full factory backing. It was a decision taken before the Covid-19 delayed 2020 season even started, and the younger Márquez brother had even had a chance to prove himself.

With two podiums, consecutive second places at a wet Le Mans and a dry Aragon, Alex Márquez proved the doubters wrong, and made many wonder if HRC hadn't jumped the gun on demoting him to LCR in favor of Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard had made enormous progress through the second half of 2020, and left a very different impression at the end of the season compared to the start.

His one weakness was qualifying. Alex Márquez' best grid position was tenth, at Aragon 2, the only track where he managed to qualify on the fourth row. He usually found himself starting from a couple of rows further back.

This is one area which Alex Márquez will have to work on for 2021, and one he has attempted to address during his preparation for the coming season. After the online launch of the LCR Honda Castro Team, the Spaniard's side of the LCR garage, Alex Márquez spoke to a group of journalists to look ahead to 2021. Here's what he had to tell us:

Q: You were a big surprise last year, and people will look at you in a different way. Will this year be easier?

AM: I hope it's more easy. It’s good that people look at you in a different way. The second part of the season was a little bit of a surprise, because the first part was not really good. It was not a disaster but it was a difficult time for me. The second part was really good. I was improving day by day. I think I still have many things to learn and to improve from that category. Last year was a strange year and a bit too short.

So now we will go to tracks where I’ve never been with a MotoGP bike. For sure there will be tough days but I think we have a good package, I have a really good team, and I think we can make a really good job. For me, like I say every year, the key is working. We will start working hard in Qatar, trying new things, trying new parts. From there I hope to start the season in a good way and it will be important to have a good flow. But like I said: My target is not results. For sure the results are a consequence of good work, but the target is to follow the tendency I started in the second part of last year.

Q: Do you know what you need for your second year? You said you had been working on focus. You always used to train with Marc, to get better and push each other. Do you miss him now in training?

AM: For me, in the second year, you know a little bit more where you need to improve, where I need to focus more. For sure the main thing is to improve the quali. Normally on Sunday I have good pace, good rhythm, but starting from the back it's difficult to improve. So for sure in that point with motocross, with flat track I was trying to improve in that area, to be a bit more aggressive, to be smooth and aggressive at the same time, with new tyres and try to be as fast as I can. Also physically, I know more what I need for the Honda bike. It’s a physical bike and difficult. With one year already know more what your body needs. Specific things like working in some areas was good for me.

It’s different to not have Marc by your side to work when training, motocross, gym and everything. But he was also injured in the last two winters with both shoulders, first the left one then the right one. So it doesn’t change a lot for me this winter unfortunately. It was one more winter that he was injured. I was again with Vierge and other riders to try and improve and be better again year by year.

Q: Do any mental training to improve focus?

Not specifically. When I go flat track or something I try to make a long run to be concentrated on the pace all the laps. So not doing five minutes then stop, then five more minutes and another stop. These are the things I prefer to work on about myself.

Q: How can you improve your qualifying?

AM: Well, quali is always…. I’m fast in a rhythm. Not always, not in all the tracks but I was competitive at more or less all the tracks on Sunday. In the end everybody have a similar pace, you need to always be there, one tenth down or up. Maybe my best quali was Aragon, starting from eleventh. But you lose a lot of time in the first laps. We calculated at some races I was losing like four seconds in the first lap, seven seconds in the first three laps. This is impossible to recover in the race. So it's something I need to improve. Also, I need to understand the tires a bit better, because I come from many years on Dunlop in Moto2. Michelin is a different thing. When it's new you need to be aggressive but also smooth. Something I need to take more profit from, and I will focus this preseason to always be there and to make some time attacks.

Q: Seems something changed with the bike last year and it helped you make a step. How much was that step the bike and how much you? And what have you asked Honda to change on the bike?

AM: I think it was an evolution of both. The bike doesn’t change a lot during the season. It's true that in Misano 2 and at the test we did a really big step, this is true. But it’s not like people said: you changed all the bike and had a different Honda. It’s a natural evolution for every rider that goes to MotoGP in the first year. You need to learn a lot of things. Also with no preseason it was difficult to manage the situation.

From that point we could start to change the setup. I was more on Marc’s side of the setup that he use normally. In the first part of season we know that set-up is a little bit critical on front tyre. But it’s the way to turn the bike, and to be a little bit faster with that bike. I was in that direction with setup, it was good for me. I was more confident and the feeling was incredible from one day to the other one, how we improved it. It was also a natural way to improve.

For this year I think Honda focused more on small things. As we know, they cannot change the engine. So they focus on small things. So I think this year we’ll have a really similar bike, but with evolutions of the second part of last year. I think it can be a really good bike. I know that Honda worked really hard this winter and will have new parts to try in Qatar. Hopefully those new parts will work.

Q: Have you actually asked for anything specific? Any area you wanted to feel better?

AM: We have a lot of power, but we need to use that power. It's the way that all the Honda riders are asking, to use all that power, because at some tracks we cannot use all the power and we are losing some grip or how to transfer the power to the rear tire. So it's where we are pushing more, but I think Honda have clear ideas. But like Takeo said in the past few days, they have a clear idea of the way, so I hope it will work from Qatar to the end of the season?

Q: You're in a new team, who do you know from before? Have you met them already? How do you think it will work?

AM: I know everybody because I met them in Portimao at the last race, I asked for a meeting just to know the people because normally we have the tests in November but we didn't have that opportunity. So I asked for a small meeting. I know all the people from the paddock because you know each other.

With some I worked in the past, Jaume Carrau in the Spanish championship, also with David [Garcia] who will be the data guy that comes from Moto2, he was my technician there. With Beefy I have a good relationship, we have been all winter on WhatsApp and so on. It looks like a smaller team, but a family team and this is the most important thing for a rider and for my personality I need this kind of group. I think we'll be fine and I'm looking forward to be in Qatar and get to know better the people.

Q: The fact that the bike is an evolution, does that help with changing team?

AM: Yeah sure, it's a little bit easier. But this pre-season will be very strange because only one track, five days testing and two races at the same track, we will be crazy for the second race in Qatar! It will be like a simulation or something like this because so many laps, too much laps, in that track.

But it will be really important and to have the same bike more or less to start will be good to catch the feeling again. After all the winter you need like one day to get the feeling again. So it's important to have more or less the same bike, and from that second day we will start to try different things and give the feedback to Honda.

Q: Taka [Nakagami] and you were the main Honda riders last year. This year is Pol Espargaro's first year on the Honda, Marc is recovering from injury, does that put more pressure on Taka and you to be the number 1 Honda at start of year?

AM: More than last year? I don't think so. Because with Marc injured, in one part of the season, for example at the Misano test, it was difficult, and all the pressure was on me and Taka to develop the bike and to try the new parts. And in that part, I didn't feel prepared to be in that position, honestly. But now I feel more prepared and I felt that I can make that role, and the preseason will be important for Honda because we have many different things to try. So I will try to give my best from the beginning and to try to help Honda to see and to follow the good way.

Q: What can you bring to the LCR Honda team after coming from the factory team?

AM: Well, I hope results! This is the main target for every rider, it's the main target for every team. And for sure LCR wants results, Honda wants results, I want results. But like I said before, this is a consequence of hard work, of dreaming, and hard work every day. And I know I will have a really good crew on my side and a really good team, so I will try to give my best, to give my 100% from the first day to the last one, to be competitive and be there. The first thing I want is to be in the front and to repeat the results like last year, but I know that for that, I need to work.

So that's what I will do from the first day, it's what I was making all this winter, training hard to be ready for Qatar. Now I'm looking forward to starting the preseason in Qatar and to be with my team. Apart from that, I hope that I can also bring a good ambiance to the team. I'm a really open guy, I love team spirit, and I will try from the first day to have a good ambiance in the box with the guys.

Q: You had a great relationship in Moto2 with David Garcia, your data guy, why did you want him to come to the team, and what does he bring to the team?

AM: I was with him just one year in 2019. But I pushed a lot to have him already in Marc VDS, because I remember the first meeting I had with him was in Austria in 2018, something like this. He was a really direct guy, he asked me, "why do you want me?" and I said to him, "because I want to win the title". That was the only reason.

Then after one year working together, I have a really good feeling. With one year, it's really difficult to go into the box and the guy already knows more or less what you need or something like this. So I think it's a guy who can give really good things, not only to be but to the team. He was also the data guy for Pedrosa in the Repsol Honda team, so he already knows the MotoGP category, and I learned that year that with the data, I was all the time in contact, all the time working, with [crew chief] Ramon [Aurin] and [data engineer] Marco [Barbiani], I was more in contact with Marco than Ramon, because Ramon has more technical things than this. But with the data, and in the second year that I need to learn a lot of things, it's really important to have the right person on your side. So for that reason, I pushed for him, and I'm happy also to have him in the team and to continue this history with him.

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I had written AM off before he got on a Motogp bike and I was wrong. He had a great second half and this interview shows a serious racer with a seriously impressive approach. I'm not a MM93 fan nor a Honda fan nor a Julia fan but Alex is winning me over. Those are the eyes of a man who won't be satisfied until he's at the top. I believe he will be WC in the not too distant future.

Marc was instantly a contender at every level he raced. Very aggressive to watch too. The last race I saw at indy I sat high over T1. Two riders railed that turn differently than their competitors; Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez, steering with their throttle at a late apex and setting up T2 better. Casey high sided out of his race and Marc stomped the field in Moto2. Meanwhile, Alex seems more of a grinder. It seems to take him a lot longer to becme competitive. Still, I was impressed with his last Moto2 season and his first MotoGP season. I hope he can cure his Q attempts because he will contest for wins if he can start in the first 2 rows. I am a fan of his approach.

Brian, it isn't just me and you that way underestimated Alex. To our credit AND his, what he did last year was fantastic and quite unlikely. What a surprise! Always a good one when a rider finds their groove on the big bike.

Not surprised that he says he wants what the Factory wants. Smart statement. Makes sense when all the riders have said the same thing and the plan is in motion on the dramatic imbalance and rideability/front feel turning in debacle. However, the statement that the bike change over the year was normal sorting has an interesting bias. One of course is political, smoothing over and moving on, kissing brass ass. But another is the primary subjective experience of a rookie settling in to the MotoGP bikes. It was a much bigger deal that HE adapt to new everything. That was real, and he had MUCH to change. Which he did exceedingly well, as Brian notes. And in his thinking-sensible straightforward way. SO very a different temperament than Marc as Robert says. So Alex really did experience a bike that changed little relative to HIS subjective experience. Which, in Alex's way if being out together, is seen in objective matter if fact framing. (That bike got turned upside down after The Marc finally rolled snake eyes). Marc is a freer less mentally involved personality, more disappearing into the being and doing. Neither is good nor bad, each has merits and is the best tool for varied aspects of riding. It shows in riding style. Alex constructed parts of the whole. Marc threw the whole in and the parts arrive. 

Alex's measured quieter thoughtful ways could lead you to think him soft, less driven or passionate. Opposite of Marc, whom could be mistaken for a relaxed not serious kid. Don't make that mistake. Look for it, his passion is BIG. He is ambitious. He can be very aggressive. He is exceedingly confident, more than it usually appears. What he ISN'T is caught up in ego or Biaggiesque neurotic distractions. I am going to remain with an updated read that Alex will be good, but don't see what we see in a standout excellent top MotoGP rider. But then, in his understated manner, it could be latent?

Satellite Teams as desirable atmospheres is a fun newer common perspective eh? Wonderful effect of parity in the bikes. So many great bikes now! You can see the HRC Factory nod in LCR's blue. The amusing reverberation effect may be the Factory Teams sitting down in an exceedingly serious corporate manner "so we must make our garage a friendly family atmosphere, does anyone remember what that is?"