Marc Marquez: Six Titles In Seven Seasons - Where Does He Go From Here?

What was impressive about Marc Márquez wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title in seven years was not so much that he took the title with a win (as outstanding as it was), but how he got there in the first place. Márquez' record after Thailand is almost unparalleled in the MotoGP era: 9 wins, 5 second places, and a single DNF. Márquez' sole DNF came when he crashed out of the lead in Austin, a result of the engine braking problems the 2019 Honda RC213V suffered early in the season.

The only rider to have done anything like this before was Valentino Rossi in 2002. Then, in the first year of the 990cc four strokes, Rossi won 11 of the 16 races, and took 4 second places, with one DNF, caused by a problem with his rear tire. It was Rossi's third season in the premier class, a year after winning his first title aboard the 500cc two stroke Honda NSR500.

To find other parallels, you have to go back further in time. In 1997, Mick Doohan won 12 races out of 15, finishing second in two more and not finishing in the last race of the year, his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island. Before that, there was Freddie Spencer, who won 7 races in 1985, finishing second in 3 more, crashing in Assen and choosing to skip the final race in Misano. To find greater dominance, you would have to go even further back, to the days of Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta, who either won or retired in every race he started in during the period from 1968 to 1971.

Closer than ever

Márquez' 2019 season stands above all of those, however, for the sheer level of competitiveness of the current era. When Agostini was racing, the MV was in a league of its own, the Italian regularly lapping the rest of the field. In 1985, Spencer's only real opposition came from Eddie Lawson, and from his own successful attempt to secure the 500cc and 250cc titles in the same season.

Mick Doohan faced little competition beyond his teammates Tady Okada and Alex Crivillé in 1997, racing against a handful of riders on non-factory Honda NSR500s, under-powered Yamahas and Honda V-twins. The gap between the podium was huge in that era. The difference between first and third was under 10 seconds in only 5 of the 15 races that year. And it was over 20 seconds in 6 of the 15.

The advent of the four strokes helped shrink that gap, as did Valentino Rossi's instinct for showmanship. But even then, the Honda RC211V was head and shoulders above the competition. (Indeed, a case could be made that the RC211V is the best racing motorcycle ever made). The average gap between first and second is nearly nine tenths closer in 2019 and in 2002, but the real difference is with the rest of the field. In 2002, the gap between first and third was nearly 9 seconds, in 2019 it is less than half that. The top five were covered by over 20 seconds in 2002, now, that same gap covers the first nine riders.

Competitiveness of MotoGP 2002 vs 2019

Average gap 2002 2019 Difference Percent
1st-2nd 3.208 2.311 0.897 28.0%
1st-3rd 8.873 4.328 4.545 51.2%
1st-5th 20.649 9.631 11.018 53.4%
1st-10th 57.889 22.780 35.109 60.6%

Better bikes, and more of them

The biggest difference is in the breadth of competition in 2019. In 2002, only Honda and Yamaha were capable of winning races, whereas in 2019, Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, and Suzuki have all won races. The field only really became more competitive at the end of 2002, when Honda started handing out RC211Vs to the more successful satellite riders, Daijiro Kato and Alex Barros. In 2019, if you take away Marc Márquez, there are seven or eight riders in with a shot at winning.

What makes Márquez' 2019 championship stand out even more is the performance of riders on the same bikes. In 2002, there were three Hondas in the top four, and Rossi's teammate Tohru Ukawa finished third. This year, the next Honda is Cal Crutchlow in ninth. In 2002, the RC211V racked up a total of 14 wins with three different riders, in 2019, only Márquez has won on the RC213V.

In 2002, the Honda RC211V was widely regarded as the best bike on the grid. In 2019, even Honda's technical director Takeo Yokoyama acknowledged that they had built a flawed bike with a lot of horsepower, knowing that Márquez would ride his way around the problems and find a way to win.

"In the winter time, what we tried to do is, we knew that we had the best rider in the world, and so we gave him the power," Yokoyama said. "Because if you don't have the power in the middle of the straight, you can't do anything. Even the best rider in the world can't do anything. So we concentrated in the winter time to give him as much power as possible, knowing that there will be some other problems. But we decided, OK, the problems will come, but again, he's the best rider, so maybe he can manage."

Coming back from injury

He had to manage from the start of the season with a shoulder which was still recovering from serious surgery in December 2018. So bad was his shoulder last year that when the anesthetics rendered him unconscious, his shoulder spontaneously dislocated, Dr Mir, the surgeon who operated on Márquez said.

Recovery was harder than expected, despite Márquez working as hard at his recovery as he normally would at preparing for a season. He had his physiotherapist come to live with him, and had physio on the shoulder four hours a day, every day except Christmas and New Year. Even then, the rehabilitation took longer than either Márquez or Honda had hoped. At the Sepang test, he was at only 50% readiness, rather than the 80% Honda had expected. It was Jerez before he recovered the strength he lost over the winter, and the summer break before he was completely without pain.

To do all this – dominate the season on a bike only he could ride, while still weak and in pain from major surgery, and never finishing lower than second – is as near to perfection as it is possible to get for a MotoGP rider. Early this year, I asked Márquez if he believed he could ride a truly perfect season, winning every race. "Nothing is impossible, but it’s very, very difficult," he replied.

"Now I would say 'it’s nearly impossible'. Because the way that the championship is, everything is very equal, and if you just slip a little bit in FP3 you are not in the QP2 directly. In Montmelo for example I finished ninth in FP3. Everything is very equal, and to be very strong in all the races and to have the perfect bike is impossible. And now that everything is very equal, one manufacturer will be faster in this racetrack, another manufacturer in another racetrack. The most important thing is find the compromise for all racetracks and try to be on the podium. Trying to be on the podium in all the races is possible. But win all the races? Mmmm, very difficult."

Kindling the fire

So where does Márquez go from here? The biggest question for the Repsol Honda rider is whether he can maintain his level of ambition to keep on winning races and championships. The past is a poor guide here. In 2005, when Valentino Rossi seemed able to win at will on the Yamaha M1, a sweet-handling bike which was obviously inferior to the Honda RC211V, he started toying with the idea of a switch to F1, and lost focus on development for 2006, going on to lose that title to Nicky Hayden.

Mick Doohan, on the other hand, went on to dominate 1998 nearly as completely as he had in 1997. Only serious injury stopped him in 1999, a huge smash in Jerez effectively ending his career.

Where does Marc Márquez fall between these two extremes? Márquez is more Doohan than Rossi, always taking the win rather than risking losing out by engaging in battle. Márquez has a hunger for victory that outdoes even Doohan, and it does not look like being sated any time soon.

So he will have to find new targets to chase. In Thailand, after winning the title, he already named a couple of targets. His first aim is to finish the next race, and try to get on the podium, or even win in Japan. In past seasons, he has managed to crash out of races after wrapping up the title (though sometimes, like last year, through no fault of his own). The next aim is to wrap up the constructors and team titles. The constructors should be easy enough, but the fact that the Repsol Honda team is only 19 points behind the factory Ducati squad in the team standings is remarkable. The standings are determined by the combined points of both riders in each team: Márquez has scored 325 of the Repsol Honda team's 358 points.

Unstoppable?

Can he repeat again next year? Right now, it doesn't look like anyone is capable of stopping Marc Márquez from winning another title. Andrea Dovizioso came closest in 2017, but that was when the Ducati Desmosedici had a serious horsepower advantage over the Honda RC213V. This year has seen a new generation of challengers rise, with Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, and Maverick Viñales taking the fight to him. But Rins and Viñales seem flawed, lacking the consistency which Márquez has worked so diligently on in 2019.

That leaves Fabio Quartararo. Talk to people inside Honda, and they will tell you Quartararo is the only rider Márquez is truly afraid of, because Quartararo is not afraid of him. The Frenchman has been quick since the beginning of the season, but in the last few races, he has really taken the fight to Márquez. If Yamaha can find a nice chunk of horsepower over the winter, Quartararo could make life very difficult indeed for Márquez next year.

That, perhaps, is just the motivation Márquez needs. Where Márquez and his team have been so strong in the past few years is in their attention to detail. That expresses itself in a number of ways. In strategy: they were the first to try doing three runs in qualifying, rather than two, giving Márquez an extra shot with a new tire. They also use FP2 as race preparation, not bothering to throw a tire in at the end to ensure passage to Q2. They prefer to concentrate on race pace under conditions as similar as possible to the race, chasing times in the morning sessions of FP1 and FP3.

In preparation: Márquez and his team turn up to each race with a plan to minimize time lost. They try to cut down the tire choices as quickly as possible, preferably before the weekend even starts, preferring to concentrate on understanding tire wear over race distance rather than going back and forth between similar tires to see if one has marginally better performance than the other.

Márquez, too, is constantly working on his preparation, using his training to try to further hone his technique and look for ways to improve. He rides motocross and a lot of dirt track, and not just on ovals. Around Spain, more and more dirt tracks are springing up with a mixture of left and right corners, and Márquez uses this to get a feel for how the bike reacts. And he works on sliding the front, feeling when it goes, always at the limit in his quest to understand just how grip works on a motorcycle.

Pushing the envelope

Marc Márquez has moved the bar in motorcycle racing, like all great riders who came before him. The challenge he now faces is that the riders coming after him have grown up watching him race, studying him on video, reading about his training techniques, working to emulate him. He has gone from upstart chasing the champions who came before him – the Valentino Rossis, the Jorge Lorenzos, the Dani Pedrosas – to being the champion the young upstarts are coming after. He caught riders who carried the target on their backs, and has now transferred it to his own.

Márquez is not yet done winning. Though he has no real sense of his legacy – no riders do: if you gave them a choice between winning a championship but being forgotten, and becoming a legend while not winning again, they would choose the silverware every single time – there are still targets left to achieve. Consistency was an objective for 2019, and one he and the team fulfilled admirably. Bar the crash in Austin, of course: an error Márquez can try to eliminate for 2020 and beyond.

We are in the middle of the Márquez era, with little sign of it ending. Marc Márquez will keep winning, and should pass Mick Doohan as the most successful Honda rider in the next race or two, Márquez currently having 53 premier class victories on a Honda to Doohan's 54. Giacomo Agostini's premier class haul of 68 wins is not far off, while Márquez is just 11 victories short of Angel Nieto's total of 90 wins in all classes.

Next generation

That will take Márquez another couple of seasons, and on towards his thirties. By then, we will have a better idea of just how much of a challenge Fabio Quartararo can put up against the current King of MotoGP, and also get a sense of the coming generation. 2021 could see wholesale changes in MotoGP, with the old guard making way for young blood. Cal Crutchlow will be gone, Valentino Rossi could be gone, even Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso could have left MotoGP by then.

Can Brad Binder, Jorge Navarro, Luca Marini, Augusto Fernandez, Remy Gardner, Fabio Di Giannantonio join Quartararo, Rins, Viñales, Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira in taking on Márquez? Can his younger brother Alex continue the remarkable progression he has made in 2019 to challenge Marc in 2021 and beyond?

We may be in the middle of the Marc Márquez era in MotoGP, but that doesn't mean the rest will just lie down and accept defeat. The Cannibal may still have an insatiable appetite for victory, but he has a whole army of talent arrayed against, trying to stop him.


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Total votes: 49
Total votes: 16

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Comments

... that one day Marquez will leave Honda. They have obviously laid down the red carpet for him and are willing to throw all their other riders under the bus to get him championships. But I think most people would agree that to be a true GOAT these days you need chips with different manufacturers, and I am thinking KTM might be the next phase with the Red Bull connection. Maybe not 2021, but in time.

Total votes: 48

The only reason riders leave their current teams is when they feel they are not getting the appreciation or respect they deserve. For example, Rossi left Honda because he felt Honda thought it was the bike winning, not him. He left Yamaha over Jorge Lorenzo, first because they signed Lorenzo, and then because he felt they were listening to Lorenzo more than him. Stoner left Ducati because he felt they weren't listening. Lorenzo left Yamaha because he felt they were favoring Rossi over him after 2015.

As long as Marquez believes Honda is listening to him, and is willing to do what he wants so he can keep winning, he won't leave. So far, HRC have changed the way they operate to keep him happy, breaking their cycle of rotating engineers in and out on a fixed cycle. This is unheard of. 

Until that attitude to Marquez changes, Marquez stays. If Honda hire the rider they see as his successor, he might leave. If they start hinting that Marquez is winning because of the fantastic machine they are building, he might leave.

He won't leave because of some notion of 'legacy'. As I tried to point out in the article, riders only care about winning, races and championships. They would swap their place in history for another title in a heartbeat. It's not about going down in history, it's about showing those a**holes who have the temerity to race you that you are better than them. That's all. That's the part which fans don't get.

Total votes: 50

With much respect, I’ve said here before and will say once again that I don’t understand the misperception that elite competitors think their rivals are “a**holes who have the temerity” to compete against them. I’ve never been close to being a world champion myself but I’ve trained and competed against world class athletes. I have 3 sister’s-in-law who are Olympians. As in top 10 in the world. I’ve never known any of them to have or need animus against their competitors, like as though that level of competition either dictates or requires you to dislike your competitors to be successful.

There are plenty of MotoGP riders who clearly have genuine respect and even friendship with their rivals (they go beyond saying diplomatic niceties in press conferences to posting friendly ribbings on social media, hanging out with each other when no cameras are rolling, etc). Sure there’s hostility between some riders some of the time, kinda like we find in almost every other area of life, but I have seen no evidence suggesting that’s the norm and I find it hard to believe that the mentality of a top 10 in the world motorcycle racer is much different than the mentality of a top 10 competitor in the disciplines I know and have been involved with directly. If Marc thinks his rivals are a**holes who dare to challenge him he has the most successfully duplicitous public persona I have ever witnessed and you have remarkable insight to his actual, completely contrary way of thinking.

In my experience it’s about winning, but usually not about hating. It’s not a binary choice. I’m not saying that as a fan, I’m saying that as an athlete. 

Total votes: 18

It is certainly true that some riders get on very well off track. Some deep friendships are forged at the racetrack. But once the flag drops, friendships are set aside. That is when riders resent the temerity of another who dares to be in front of them. 

My impression from working in the paddock is that different riders have different attitudes to friendship. Marc Marquez does not have the kind of friendship with riders that, say, Cal Crutchlow has with Jack Miller. But that is perhaps because he is much closer to his team. Whether that is deliberate or not is hard to know. But it doesn't hurt.

Total votes: 14

Even for an old guy like me, a little animosity comes into play even with friends.  On the track as an amateur and even now just goofing around at a track-day, there is something adrenaline inducing about being passed.  It takes the form for me of "How dare you?!".  It's toned down these days but still there : )

What makes MM tick?  I don't pretend to understand but whatever it is, it's working at the highest level.  He has that invincible feel in every race and the fact that we're thinking FQ who hasn't even won a race is illustrative of just how solid he is.  

Total votes: 9

I don't think doing it on different bikes matters as much as doing it again and again and again. Doing both adds icing to the cake, but  a champ winning three titles on three different bikes probably wouldn't be seen as the equal of those with 6, 7, 8 titles on a single marque ('scuse the bad pun).

While Márquez is unquestionably riding better each year, I feel, at this point in time anyway, that from here on it'll get much tougher. I mean no disrespect to Dovi, Lorenzo, Rossi, but none of them has ever looked to me as being truly capable of consistently beating Márquez. Lorenzo maybe, but Dovi has always seemed to lack that extra something to be a dominant figure (which both JL and VR have in spades) and Valentino has been just past his prime. But Quartararo? Right now he looks like the real deal. I haven't seen any others that look likely as I can never really spot the exceptional talents in the lower classes but I'm sure they're there.

Total votes: 21

I rode from Sydney to Philip island in 1997 to watch Doohan and was there to watch him crash in the race.

It was disappointing but a great weekend regardless.

Total votes: 18

In the comments re the Zarco/Nakagami article, absolutely not beyond the realms, though MM seems to view the history and achievements of others in a slightly different way;I get the impression he'd love Alex joining him at Repsol more than anything!

Thanks David for such an imperious, detailed and in-depth feature that really gives perspective to an old guy like me that's been roaming around the racetracks of the world since the 70s! Like Márquez, I hope we don't ever get used to the quality and depth of your work! Most of us old timers know, despite the 'Age Of Superheroes' (Best Credit Mat Oxley there..) and some of the hairy circuits, the gaps were big, brilliantly shown by your work here. Even I didn't go as much when Mighty Mick ground his admittedly weaker opposition into the ground, though you can't blame him for saying 'What do you want me to do, slow down?' We used to get more excitement watching the nippers..
This is certainly another Golden Age, particularly in the whole presentation and presence of MotoGP, though perversely, the dominance of Marc could be what damages this-though witnessing races in Asia makes it clear that Márquez is every bit the new world hero, in emerging markets it isn't necessarily all about #46. 

I tell you what I really find exiting and fascinating in the years to come; yes, if MM does try another brand, though that is hypothetical and therefore not something to dwell on. No, I'm exited by the upcoming Moto2 & 3 chargers, there really does look to be some talent as David has pointed out. But HOW do you spot a talent like Quartararo when he wasn't really showing he could hop on the widely accepted best kindergarten bike and do a 'Zarco'? Granted, he's very young as was certainly a prodigy but that last Moto 2 season didn't show much, well, not to mere mortals like myself?! That will be the next thing worth watching, the contract cull of 2020 and who will be taking it to Márquez, what ever he's on, in 2021. Can't wait!

Total votes: 20

I wonder if Marc realy would want his brother next to him at Repsol.

trashing everybody else is one thing, trashing your own brother week in week out on the same equipment... won't make X-mas dinner more fun.

Total votes: 17

My perception is that with the exception of Brad Binder (joining in 20) the best talents from recent and current Moto2 and 3 are already in MotoGP. Np one from 2019 Moto2 or 3 is really standing out for me, it looks like a lot of riders that are succeeding partly because the best competition has moved upwards, or because others are being inconsistent.

But then I believed Quarteraro's Moto2 successes were probably due to the SpeedUp chassis working better than Kalex at some circuits and 2019 has proved that very wrong.

Total votes: 16

As things stand, I think that's a fair assessment. I would personally add Marquez Jr and Jorge Martin to the list.

The one thing that Brad has, that very few riders across all 3 classes have, is that he can win races on a dog of a bike. And that's a talent that has won Marc Marquez at least two championships, possibly more.

You voted 4. Total votes: 19

Forgot Martin who was eventually very good in Moto3 and is improving in 2, especially given KTM.
Too early to call him for MotoGP, next season should give better indication.
I didn't include younger Marquez as he has been too slow to achieve consistency in Moto2 and has been beaten by his teammates too often to demand a position in MotoGP, he will end up there anyway either as a Marquez or as a Moto2 champion!

Total votes: 11

What i see that sets MM apart from the other riders of his age or younger  is the way he was raised. From our couch we can see a tight knit family and, i think that, this is what gave him the mental strenght the work ethics etc. That sets him apart,  also we see that he keep this way of life and working with his second family his team, to me at least is unheard for a WC to help his team unload the boxes

 

In another note thanks David for another excellent article 

Total votes: 19

Well said.

He needn't find motivation. He is the bar, and they are coming. This is great! With you on placing a watchful eye on a Yamaha dyno number now. The next pieces of puzzle, there are just a few.

His temperament is innate. It is a stable, joyful and powerful one. He will keep churning just like this for quite some time. And like you said, stay at Honda.

Say what you will of Moto2, but the formula has contributed to a bar bashing end of the polite era and more riders having a platform to excell on. Coupled with DORNA shifting the rulebook towards parity and a snugged up grid, we get to see more Marquez and less Ago.

Thanks for the 02-19' "competitiveness" look. The number of race winners we had in 2017 was fantastic. The number of last lap and last corner battles we have in highlight footage is fun. Little Suzuki, funky formula Orange and NASA Red bring curious joy. Interest in test programs and organizational structure is up. We can see and understand aero tech. Strategy in FP and Q is changing. Risk taking is up, elbows are down. The Michelin rubber makes more balanced and conventional bike dynamics, enjoyable to watch them move around.

Great era.

(P.S. the season isn't over. Zarco is going to do better than it looks like most are expecting as per another article's comments, and that makes it that much more interesting. Aquatastic Quartararo is about to clinch Rookie of the yr and be 2nd Yamaha, top independent awaits. Vinales grabs 3rd. Rins is due for a good Q and perk up performance. Several riders are recovering from injury to impress. Dovi and Miller aren't done and have 2 good tracks coming. Jorge's 2020 plan is yet to land. So forth. Really interesting, eh?!)

Sushi Sunday is here. Weather looks mixed. Surprises?

Total votes: 19

I hope and expect MM's greatest challenge to come from Quartararo, Binder and Jorge Martinez.

FQ for obvious reasons. Binder because he's tough and has more than enough on less than perfect bikes to ride whatever KTM gives him agressively while being unfazed by Marquez. Of course I assume KTM will make substantial improvement. And Jorge Martinez because his speed is not in question, I just think he jumped to the wrong bike on the wrong time in Moto2. But he remains the fastest guy out there and hopefully this season has tought him about not waiting for the perfect bike to ride fast.

Sure there's a lot of wishful thinking involved, but I think nobody on the grid today, except FQ, can possibly match Marquez's speed and consistency.

Total votes: 10

I reckon Canet has the right mentality.  He has that Marquez "never give up" vibe... especially when he bins it.  He is up and running to the bike to get it back to the pits or into the race.   

its strange but, not many riders do that.  Far too many sulk off or chuck a tanty.  Marquez is one of the only ones that is running to the bike before he has even finished crashing.

Total votes: 10