Can Marquez really 'sleep well' after four crashes in three races? - The Race
MotoGP

Can Marquez really ‘sleep well’ after four crashes in three races?

Jun 8 2021
By Valentin Khorounzhiy

“Of course I’m not happy about the result but I’m happy about the way I did those seven laps. I prefer to do a good seven laps than just finish the race and stay on the bike.”

Marc Marquez is in a unique position among the MotoGP grid in that he can afford to crash. He has the big-money 2024 deal, he has the goodwill built up at Honda for the years of helping it to glories, and he’s coming off an injury.

He doesn’t really need points – points stopped mattering when Marquez fell out of the lead at Le Mans. Get 25 there and suddenly the championship race has a new participant, but he didn’t.

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But Honda, seventh in the teams’ standings with its Repsol-backed factory outfit and fifth in the manufacturers’ championship, just seven points clear of Aprilia, would probably appreciate some points – and they went begging again at Barcelona when Marquez fell out of seventh place.

“It was my intention today – not an intention to crash, but my intention to start and push,” Marquez told MotoGP.com after the fact.

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“Because I knew the others would try to manage a little bit the tyres, but I just started and pushed.

“Like this, I will sleep well today. OK, I crashed, but I showed to myself that I can [be fast].”

There is logic to Marquez’s words, certainly. It is prudent to stress his right arm – and his long-suffering right shoulder – at the very limit. And Marquez’s fitness limitations mean an onus is placed on making as much as possible of the opening laps and then hanging on.

“Today I enjoyed, I was pushing. I was Marc,” he said to the written media. “And for me it was the best seven laps in the year. I was riding like I wanted to.

“On the grid, I said ‘OK, today it’s time to take a risk’. Doesn’t matter where we are, doesn’t matter where I come from, I don’t care what the people can say – just I believed that today was the day to take a risk, because for me just to burn fuel and burn the tyres and ride for P12, P14, there’s no meaning.”

They were, indeed, a good seven laps considering how little progress was made immediately at the start. Marquez actually lost a position to Iker Lecuona at Turn 1, although was then handed two when his team-mate Pol Espargaro and Valentino Rossi lost out while battling through the outside of Turn 2.

The two factory Hondas then blew past either side of the Ducati of Francesco Bagnaia in the run-up to Turn 5, and Marquez picked off Lecuona into the Turn 7-8 complex, before pouncing on a struggling Franco Morbidelli down the inside of the reprofiled Turn 10.

Brad Binder was taken care of at Turn 1 on the third lap, Maverick Vinales got himself out of the way by running out wide at Turn 10. And two more overtakes would follow to complete the set – eventual second-place finisher Johann Zarco at Turn 10 and Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia at Turn 1.

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But a few corners after Marquez had climbed to fifth, Zarco and Espargaro got back ahead, and though Espargaro and Marquez then swapped positions twice more on the following lap, Marquez finally fell out of contention while chasing after the Aprilia at Turn 10.

“I know that was three-four laps critical there, that the others were riding in 1m40s-low, that was not my pace – but I said, OK, if I keep [up with them] these three laps, I will be able to keep all the race with them.

“But in the three laps, I took too much risk. I was behind Aleix, I was losing a lot on Turn 2, on acceleration of Turn 3, Turn 4, then I lose a little bit more on acceleration of Turn 5, I lose a little bit more on the acceleration of Turn 9 and then I tried to recover on the brakes.

“I didn’t make a massive braking point because Vinales was behind me and he braked even later than me – but he was able to stop and I wasn’t able to stop. Just I locked the front and I crashed.”

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It all amounted to around six proper overtakes and an eventual crash. On its own, it’s acceptable.

But is it really that all that acceptable coming off a two-crash French GP and a fall at Mugello? After all, this is exactly the kind of form Alex Rins has been coming under fire for – and like Marquez, Rins has put together some excellent early-race charges that have done nothing to shield him from criticism.

Honda is in dire straits at the moment in MotoGP. Because Marquez isn’t fit, it isn’t clear how much less competitive this RC213V is compared to the 2019 version – because ultimately nobody but him could do much with that 2019 version, but he alone did so much that it didn’t matter.

Marquez – who describes his current campaign as “opposite” to 2019 because back then he’d crash in practice and stay on in the race – pinpoints two problem areas: acceleration and corner entry. As far as problem areas go, these are massive.

So is Honda really being served well by Marquez going gung-ho and then crashing, rather than seeing out the race distance and learning as much as he can about both his race stamina and the behaviour of the bike?

Marquez seemingly has an answer for that, too. Like the Mugello crash at least meant that he’d have more energy for Barcelona because he hadn’t done the gruelling race distance in Italy, so does the Barcelona crash mean there would more energy for the post-race test, which he openly described as being “much more important” than the actual race.

The Honda man completed more laps than any other driver on Monday (87), finishing 11th-fastest. That bodes well for his improving physical state, and should be a boon for the Sachsenring, which will helpfully serve up a majority share of left-handers.

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In the end, Marquez’s current form comes down to a matter of perception. Would Honda’s blushes have been particularly spared by a top-10 from Marquez that the other riders proved incapable to deliver, what with Pol Espargaro and Marquez’s brother Alex in a real rut and Takaaki Nakagami picking up two long-lap penalties? Maybe not.

Equally, the repair bills are never nice, and Marquez’s mechanics can’t have felt great about having put in the work all weekend and then drawn a third straight zero.

It simply can’t be that Honda is as nonchalant about Marquez’s four crashes in three races as he seems to be.

But it’s also clear the week-in week-out stakes are lower this year – and so if Marquez replicates his past form in the German GP in two weeks’ time, effectively proving his 2022 credentials, it will all be forgotten in an instant.

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