He’s back. At last. Providing all goes smoothly in practice and qualifying, next weekend at Portimao we’ll see six-time champion Marc Marquez back on the MotoGP grid for the first time in nearly nine months.
But how will he fare? Will this be a tentative, still-recovering, version of the man who’s dominated his era, or will he be competitive from the outset?
Our writers have their say:
KEEP EXPECTATIONS LOW
I hate to be the realist here, but if Marc Marquez is fighting for the podium at next weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, I’ll eat my hat.
Sure, he’s the supreme talent of his generation, but he’s also been out of action now for nine months.
Try stepping away from anything for nice months, be it knitting, driving a car or racing a MotoGP bike, and you’re going to be rusty when you get back – and Marquez is no different.
Will he be competitive by the end of the season? Yeah, I’m sure he will be, but just like with the rest of his recovery, it’s going to take time.
But here’s the other thing to consider: we know how talented he is, and we know how dominant he was previously, but it’s just possible in his absence that the game has changed a little too.
We’ve seen a whole new crop of guys upping their game, battling at the front, and learning how to win. That won’t make things any easier for Marquez to jump back into it.
The best thing is though, we’re going to get a hell of a show as we watch to find out.
I’m not even going to be disappointed if he proves me completely wrong and gets right back to winning ways, either!
POINTS WILL DO IN PORTUGAL
Portimao is probably not the ideal track for Marquez to be making his comeback at – the undulating Portuguese venue is mean physically, and his rivals have a head start over him after contesting the first-ever MotoGP race here last year while he was still sidelined.
Will Marquez having tested a RC213-S road bike at the track last month help? Maybe a little.
— Marc Márquez (@marcmarquez93) March 20, 2021
Truthfully though, fatigue will probably be much more of an issue than actually getting to grips with the circuit – Marquez has never lacked adaptability.
So, lower reaches of the top 10 look possible to me, and maybe even a top five if Marquez holds up over a race distance. The Honda went reasonably well at Portimao last year – not Aragon well, but well.
And on a wider scale I can’t imagine it’ll take Marquez more than three or four races to return to the top step of the podium.
A CAUTIOUS MARQUEZ WON’T BE A SLOW MARQUEZ
If Marquez is to avoid another couple of months of medical leave, he’ll be taking his race return at Portimao cautiously.
But it’s Marquez, so cautious for him is probably a top five finish, but realistically it’ll be somewhere in the top 10.
I don’t think it’ll take Marquez that long to get to grips with the Portimao track, but it’s a demanding one, and with nearly nine months away from competitive racing, he’s not going to be rushing to the top step of the podium that quickly, at least for a couple of races.
The landscape of MotoGP has also changed just a tad in his absence. A record-breaking number of riders and teams up and down the paddock have had their first taste of pole positions, podiums and wins and they will not make it easy for the six-time series champion to just jump back on and dominate again.
Still, second, seventh, 15th, wherever Marquez finishes the race, it’ll be quite the event, and I’m very excited to finally see him back racing.
HE’LL BE CHAMPION
Marquez pulled off so many impossible feats across 125cc, Moto2 and his first two MotoGP seasons that since then I’ve just assumed he’ll be capable of absolutely anything.
So I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he marched straight back onto the grid and won at Portimao.
Realistically, the long absence, his caution over when to return and Honda not being the most competitive bike right now all count against that.
But I’m certain he’ll find a way to be in the mix near the front.
And beyond Portugal… well taking the championship table right now at face value, Marquez has 17 more races to outscore leader Johann Zarco by 40 points. That looks highly achievable!
Obviously it’ll be a major shock if Pramac Ducati rider Zarco was a championship threat all year long, so it’s Yamaha duo Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales tied on 36 points plus reigning champion Joan Mir on 22 that Marquez really needs to look at.
But that’s still a pair of competitive Yamaha riders potentially taking points off each other all year, and a Suzuki rider who still can’t qualify properly.
Unless Marquez is still substantially below-par physically on his return, I’d still rate him as title favourite from here.