First Person/Opinion: Has Marquez Won His Last MotoGP Title?

First Person/Opinion: Has Marquez Won His Last MotoGP Title?

© 2024, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

First Person/Opinion
By Michael Gougis

There was no one guarding it, so I climbed six or seven feet into the air onto a tiny television platform with no guardrail and started photographing from the apex of Turn 10 at the MotoGP pre-season test at Qatar. Not the brightest idea, but I’m willing to take risks to get “the shot” that I might not get otherwise.

From Turn 10, you can see the riders hurtle out of Turn Seven and snake their way through the esses, kissing the apexes and flicking the bikes right-left-right before slamming on the brakes for the tight left-hander.

Before I could read the number on the approaching machine, I could spot Marc Marquez. Even from a distance, his stance and movements on the Gresini Ducati looked awkward compared to the other riders. They flowed across their machines; Marquez seemed to stiff-arm his body movements. His body posture at the apex of Turn 10 looked hesitant. When asked about his physical condition after the tests, he said, “The doctors will tell you my arm works, but …” and then shrugged.

Much of the MotoGP pre-season narrative has been around the return of Marquez to a competitive machine. Fourth-quickest in his first outing on a Desmosedici at Jerez raised expectations that wins were a given and a title a strong possibility. I mean, it’s Marc, he’s on last year’s title-winning bike, how could he not walk away from the field?

I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. And after talking to Marquez after the tests, I don’t think he believes he’s a title contender or even an immediate race winner, either. And based on his own words, I think Marquez may have won his last MotoGP title.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Marquez in person several times over the years. One of the tenets of interpersonal communication is that non-verbal communication tells you more than mere words. The Marquez who showed up at the post-Qatar test media scrum’s non-verbal communication spoke volumes. His tone of voice, his posture, all were 180 degrees different than the Marquez of 2019, even the Marquez of a couple of years ago at Circuit of The Americas. His speech is quieter. Some of the swagger in the walk is gone.

Marquez Valencia 2019
Marc Marquez (93) won the 2019 Valencia MotoGP race with an injured shoulder. He scored 12 wins and 6 second places out of 19 starts that season. Photo by Michael Gougis.

My therapist says that sometimes you have to take people at face value. Marquez has consistently downplayed his chances during the 2024 off-season. And while others say he’s sandbagging or being coy, I think he’s telling the truth. His non-verbal and verbal communication are in complete alignment when he says that starting with the expectation of winning will lead only to frustration, when he says he needs to rebuild his confidence.

If you take his words at face value, it’s easy to look at his recent history and see how a rider could get to that mental and emotional place. The last four years of his career have been pain, surgery and trying to get a Honda RC (Recalcitrant Cycle) 213V to stop throwing him onto the ground and into the air. The 2023 Honda was a nasty piece of work, based on the number of times all of its riders crashed and how desperately nearly all of those riders sought work elsewhere in the paddock!

Marquez’ ability to ride through the pain barrier has been sorely tested. Crashing 29 times in a season will test anyone’s confidence. He’s come a very, very long way from the heights of a career where he seemed to be able to do anything, anytime, and get away with it.

And Marquez knows that the clock is ticking on his career, knows it in a way that few people other than professional athletes and models know. He talks about being older, about how younger, very fast riders are coming up through the ranks. And he sees it from the perspective of a rider who used to be untouchable, and is now all too vulnerable.

“Every athlete has his moment, and then his performance starts to decline,” Marquez said in an interview on Thursday before the season-opener at Qatar. “I have had my MotoGP moment. Now I have to work to slow the level of the decline.”

Marquez suffered several mechanical malfunctions during pre-season testing, and at one point the scoring monitors in the press room at Qatar flashed the message, “93 Marquez Retires At Turn 15.” And I wondered, just for a second, if that message might be true on a number of levels.

I see it this way: Marquez is telling the absolute truth about what he expects for 2024. His famous post-Jerez test smile in the Gresini garage was simply one of relief. He could push the machine hard and it wouldn’t bite him. He says he just wants to have fun again, and that having fun will come not from winning, but from riding a machine that he trusts and can push. I can see Marquez in the mix for the win at COTA and the Sachsenring, but top three to six everywhere else.

Marquez Jerez Ducati
Marc Marquez (93) was quick at Jerez in November 2023 on his first outing on the Gresini Ducati, but has set modest goals for 2024. Photo by Michael Gougis.

Of course, I not only could be completely wrong, but I hope I am. We’re talking about Marquez here, the man who has won MotoGP races with essentially one functioning arm. If his confidence grows, and the 2023 Desmosedici is up to the task, there’s every chance that he could blast to the title. If Marquez feels like he can push, I would not want to be side-by-side going into a corner next to him. Everyone knows what a healthy, hungry Marquez can do. If he does win a title, it’ll be a comeback like that of Mike Hailwood and his stunning return to TT dominance.

Whatever happens, I just hope Marc gets to be Marc on a racebike again – riding with abandon, pushing, squeezing more out of the machine than anyone thinks possible. Whatever the results, that – to me – would be a win for us as fans and for him as a rider and a human.

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