Not for the first time, six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez has returned from an injury-induced break from competing in the championship and immediately made an impact on the title fight.
And that’s subsequently landed him in controversy – after opening lap contact with defending champion Fabio Quartararo at Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix left the Frenchman watching on battered and bruised from the sidelines and Marquez’s fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami at risk of missing his home race at Motegi next weekend.
An extremely costly Sunday for @FabioQ20's world championship hopes! 💥
Luckily, Fabio escaped any serious injuries and he'll be back fighting once again next weekend! 🙌#AragonGP 🏁 pic.twitter.com/texxuflvXE
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) September 18, 2022
However, while the factory Honda rider might have found himself at the centre of a storm of attention at Motorland Aragon, there’s certainly been more than a fair share of displaced anger directed towards him since.
Some were quick to frame an honest racing mistake from Marquez as at best a wild move and at worst a more sinister and deliberate attempt to somehow shape the 2023 title fight.
But while it’s certainly possible to at least blame him for the mistake that triggered that cascading chain of events that followed, it’s unfair to say that it was particularly reckless. Aggressive, for sure, but with the former unbeatable champion continuing to suffer the after-effects of his time away from MotoGP, that kind of move in the opening laps of racing has become more normal for him in the opening laps.
As he’s aware that he’s still not physically capable of dominating races the way he has in the past, his new strategy now seems to be to utilise his lightning-fast starts to push forward into a good position early on.
Getting into the slipstream of Brad Binder’s incredible move from 10th to second in the opening corner, Marquez used that to his advantage and, in the process, perhaps asked just a little too much of his rear Michelin tyre.
Not on the racing line (something normal in the opening corners) and on a cold tyre, the start of the rear slide that resulted is probably something that could be described as a rookie mistake – and not the sort of thing that pre-2020 Marquez would have ever fallen victim to.
But, coming as a result of him pushing on, it forced him to back off just a little bit to bring it back under control – and with the Yamaha of Quartararo in very close proximity, it meant there wasn’t much that the championship leader could do but run into the back of Marquez, causing him to crash heavily.
Marquez called it a “racing incident” in which Quartararo was “very unlucky” to be so close to the back of Marquez.
It was an assessment that the majority of his fellow riders and – crucially – Yamaha team boss Lin Jarvis accepted, with the veteran manager quick after the race to admit that he too saw what happened as nothing more than a normal racing incident, albeit one with significant consequences for his rider’s attempts at retaining the crown.
“We’ve studied the crash three or four times to try and understand the dynamic,” he said afterwards. “Unfortunately if you’re in the middle of the mix, in the bunch, things like this can happen. Marquez was in front, and Fabio hit the back of his bike.
“He’s angry, he’s upset, but from what we can see, it appears to be a racing incident. Obviously, Marquez made up many places at the start of the race, was riding very, very aggressively, and Fabio was just too close to him.”
That was echoed by Jarvis’s former rider Maverick Vinales, too, a man with a newfound respect for the sort of riding that happens all the time at the back of the pack following his tough end to 2021 learning how to ride an Aprilia. Something he’s talked about multiple times in the past, he said the way Marquez was riding is completely normal further back on the grid.
“If you are starting 16th, there is a jungle,” he said. “It’s not even normal. When you start at the front, everyone is calm, normal. But in the back no one respects anything, they just let the brakes go. But that’s normal. The first corner here is very slow, and you have many corners after it where many things can happen like this.”
However, Marquez’s contact with Quartararo was only the first of a crash-strewn first lap, with second contact coming two corners later with Nakagami when the factory rider seemingly veered across the track and right into the side of the Japanese racer, catapulting him off his bike at high speed and into the path of the oncoming pack.
Putting the blame firmly on his rear ride height device, Marquez explained that despite feeling something amiss after the contact with Quartararo, he raced on – and when he activated the device to lower the rear suspension coming out of Turn 7, everything took a turn for the worse again.
A scary moment for @takanakagami30 after contact with @marcmarquez93! 😮
Credit to those behind that did so well to avoid Taka and his bike! 👏#AragonGP 🏁 pic.twitter.com/sLgaKob6St
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) September 18, 2022
But while the first clash might have been brushed off as a racing incident, not everyone accepted that the second was entirely out of Marquez’s hands, either, with Pramac Racing’s Johann Zarco the loudest in claiming that Marquez’s actions after the impact with Quartararo were perhaps over the line.
“I think he exaggerated a bit too much, Marc,” he explained. “I love his style and for me he’s kind of the stronger one – I said on Thursday that he would be strong, but a move like this in a race when he felt like he had a problem was maybe too much. It was kind of a crazy first lap, almost all because of one guy.
“I don’t like to say that because I like Marc, but for today, it was over the kind of limit that we have now.”
And while he admitted that he saw during the race the piece of Yamaha fairing wedged into the rear of Marquez’s machine, Zarco was also adamant that claiming it was the sole cause of the subsequent crash with Nakagami (and not accepting blame for racing on a damaged bike) was somewhat disingenuous of the eight-time world champion.
“It’s a way to find a reason for the accident,” he said, “to not put the fault on him. I don’t want to say that all the fault is on him, because clearly he had something in the bike, but he had this already in Turn 5 and when I saw him sliding in Turn 5 that he would slow down in Turn 6 and try to understand what was happening on the bike – but he insisted in going far because in Turn 16 he was still riding.
“Maybe it’s the devices and all that, but something was already wrong with the bike in Turn 5. It’s his word against mine though, and he is stronger than me!”