It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like Marc Marquez’s absence from the 2020 season did MotoGP a favour.
After all, six Marquez titles in seven seasons (all bar two of them absolute runaways) was making what’s traditionally the most ferociously competitive championship in top-level motorsport look predictable.
How much more entertaining was this year’s title fight – where it was hard to even keep count of how many championship contenders there were? Where Yamaha, Ducati, even KTM all had runs of great momentum, before Suzuki claimed it with Joan Mir.
And it was understandable that there was some… “gloating” is the best phrase… over the circumstances and consequences of Marquez’s absence.
He only had himself to blame for the ridiculous decision to try to compete in the second Jerez race just days after his initial surgery – a decision that seemingly led to the complications that ruled him out of the rest of the year and now looks set to wreck his 2021 title bid too.
And Honda’s descent from championship-dominating steamroller to also-ran in Marquez’s absence was pilloried as a self-inflicted wound caused by years of designing a bike around Marquez’s wild talents and ending up with a machine no one else could ride competitively.
It didn’t help that it was left relying on Marquez’s rookie brother Alex, already a highly contentious signing given that more experienced options were available when the struggling Jorge Lorenzo retired.
Thanks to an irresponsible approach to Marquez’s recovery, flawed development strategy and short-sighted, nepotistic, recruitment policy – said its critics – Honda was now deservedly nowhere.
They weren’t necessarily wrong, either.
But even if Marquez and Honda only have themselves to blame for their current plight, it would be a sporting tragedy if this was how his MotoGP reign really ended.
It’s far too early to say what impact this injury and trio of surgeries will have on his long-term career, but at best it looks set to wipe him out of two title fights.
To me, Marquez was the greatest motorsport performer of the 2010s. What he did in conquering MotoGP immediately stands, in my opinion, above even Lewis Hamilton’s recent achievements in Formula 1.
He had already defied physics plenty of times on the way to his 125cc and Moto2 titles.
Yes, his rookie MotoGP championship win in 2013 was helped by main rivals Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa picking up injuries mid-season and the Honda being a very potent bike to arrive on back then. But even with those helping hands, he still beat Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi to the championship as an absolute MotoGP beginner.
Winning the first 10 – yes, 10 – consecutive races of the 2014 season, and then another three later on, was an emphatic way to show that title no.1 was no fluke. And after learning from the 2015 blip, there was no stopping Marquez.
There was nothing robotic or monotonous about his riding through those dominant years. He was still winning with last-corner moves, with comeback charges, with unbelievable lean angles, with slides that should’ve sent him skywards but were somehow caught with barely a time loss. All amid growing question marks over how good the Honda actually was, too.
That painful exploratory lap on a Jerez morning is not how this story deserves to end, or how he should be remembered if he returns at a lesser performance level.
There’s a glorious new MotoGP generation coming through, but they should have to prove themselves by overcoming the era’s benchmark on-track. And they haven’t yet.
Marquez has been unfortunate to be overshadowed in the wider public consciousness by Rossi, even though Rossi was fading by the time Marquez arrived on the grid.
The celebration set-pieces are far less natural for Marquez, he’s far less likely to start psychological warfare with a rival and even his on-track achievements might feel as if they’re just what Rossi was doing a decade earlier – despite Marquez having done it in a more competitive era overall.
Maybe a heroic post-injury comeback and a valiant defence against the young pretenders is what Marquez needs to get the wider recognition he’s always deserved. It’s certainly what I’m hoping to see at some point in 2021.
Yes, he came back too soon. But motorcycle racing history is packed with examples of over-eager riders hopping from hospital to bike, and many get away with it and enter legend for it.
Yes, Honda put too much emphasis on him alone. But he won 44% of all MotoGP races across 2013-19. Pre-injury, Marquez was a very logical man to put emphasis on.
Don’t let justified delight at the wide open 2020 title fight or justified frustration at how Honda and Marquez went about their business convince you that MotoGP is really, genuinely, better off without him on the grid. Marquez deserves to write a proper next chapter in his extraordinary story and anything else would be heartbreaking.