As 2014 gets underway, we start our build up towards the upcoming MotoGP season. This starts all this week with a look back at the performance of the riders in 2013, rating the top ten in the championship, as well as exceptional performers last year. Later this month, we will start to look forward, highlighting what we can expect of the season to come, both in terms of riders and the new regulations for 2014. The new season starts here.
|Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda|
How would Marc Marquez fare in MotoGP? It was the question on everybody's lips at the start of 2013, as the young Spaniard left the class he had dominated to play with the big boys. It would be Marquez' moment of truth: throughout his career in the junior classes, he had always been in the best teams. Many outside observers also claimed he had been on the best bike in Moto2. In 2013, Moto2 teams who had competed against him were free to concede that Marquez had won despite his Suter, not because of it.
Their words were backed by Marquez' action. Accepted wisdom holds that a rookie year is for learning, for getting to grips with a MotoGP bike, having a few big crashes, chasing the odd podium and maybe even a win. Marquez did all that and more, but how he did it marked him out as one of a kind. His first podium came in his first race, the Spaniard benefiting from problems Dani Pedrosa suffered with the dusty Qatar surface. His first win came a race later, smashing what would be one of many records in MotoGP. Youngest race winner, youngest champion, youngest rider to set a fastest lap, youngest polesitter, youngest back-to-back winner, youngest to win four races in a row, most wins as a rookie, most poles as a rookie, highest points total for a rookie; the list goes on and on. Marquez broke records held by Freddie Spencer, Kenny Roberts, Mike Hailwood. These are very big boots to fill, yet fill them he did.
What impressed most of all was his maturity. Riders are expected to crash in their first year, and Marquez crashed a lot. But he chose his moments wisely, finding the limit in practice, crashing frequently, but staying upright during the race. Only once did he crash during a race, at Mugello. He did not make that mistake again. He learned quickly, not just adapting to a MotoGP bike in short order (his manager, Emilio Alzamora, said of him, 'in the first half of the season, the bike rode him; in the second half, he rode the bike') but also handling difficult situations well. Prime example was Phillip Island, where his crew made a mistake and caused him to be disqualified. Within 15 minutes, he had assimilated the situation, got to grips with it, and was his old smiling self. That kind of mental flexibility is Marquez' strongest point.
Marquez does not earn the full 10 out of 10, though. He made mistakes a plenty, crashing constantly, riding right on the edge of the acceptable, and taking risks when he really didn't need to. His move on Jorge Lorenzo at Jerez was a hard racing move, seen at that corner many times before. But his crash at Silverstone during warm up, under yellow flags, scattering marshals who were busy picking Cal Crutchlow's bike out of the gravel was downright dangerous. A little more situational awareness would not go amiss.
What was the high point of Marquez' rookie season? There are so many to choose from. His first win at Austin was obviously impressive, as was winning the championship at the first attempt. But I would rather highlight two other moments.
Le Mans - Marc Marquez had not had much time on a MotoGP bike in the wet. A few wet laps at Jerez in preseason testing, and some time on the bike at Valencia on a drying track, and that was it. The race at Le Mans started out soaking wet, Marquez struggling to figure out how to ride a MotoGP bike in these conditions. It took him five laps before he was matching the pace of the front runners. That was a sign that this kid might be special.
But to my mind, the high point of Marquez' year came at Motegi. A week earlier, his chances of wrapping up the 2013 MotoGP title had been thrown away after a stupid mistake by his team. In Japan, the weather caused practice to be lost on Friday and part of Saturday. There was even a minor off-shore earthquake just to shake things up, both literally and figuratively. This was a real test of his mental strength which he passed with flying colors, finishing the race in second.
There can be little question of the real low point of Marquez' season: the disqualification in the shortened race, after he failed to pit within the two lap window for the compulsory pit stop. It was the kind of event that has broken riders in the past, but Marquez shook it off quickly.
Yet Marquez' crashes also deserve a mention, none more so than at Mugello. The highest speed ever recorded for a crash, it was yet another record broken by the Spaniard, though one he would rather forget. He saved a locked front wheel after braking too hard just after the crest of Mugello's main straight, but that put him on a collision course with the wall. Before he got there, Marquez decided to bail out, jumping off the bike at around 300 km/h. As silly as the cause of his crash was, having the courage, the presence of mind, and the ability to analyze the situation in a split second speaks of his ability. Marquez' low point is as remarkable as the rest of his season.