Six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez has broken his silence about his 2020 injuries in by far his most open media appearance since his fateful crash.
He opened up at the 2021 Repsol Honda team launch on Monday to admit that he’s learned hard lessons in the past few months about his own physical and mental limits, and to concede that rushing back into action was a mistake – the blame for which he feels is shared by his whole team.
In the opening race of the delayed 2020 season at Jerez last July, Marquez ran wide early on and dropped down the order.
He made an incredible recovery through the field but over-stressed his tyres in the process, meaning he wasn’t able to save a second wobble and crashed out, being struck by his RC213V in the process and shattering his upper right arm.
Marquez then incredibly attempted to return to action only five days later, fresh from surgery to have a titanium plate attached to his humerus.
However, in too much pain to ride, he was forced to withdraw from the Andalucian Grand Prix – and then suffered a second setback only a few days later when he snapped the already-stressed titanium plate at home.
Since then, it’s been a dark time for the previously-dominant champion, as he battled infection and slow healing in his broken arm and two more surgeries that left him missing the entire 2020 season.
Still not fully recovered, and still not sure when he’s going to be able to return to MotoGP action, Marquez nonetheless sounded upbeat about his prospects at the team presentation.
He’ll miss testing but aims to race in Qatar
Marquez said what he’s learned from his experiences is that sometimes time is what you need most of all.
“Of course at the moment I don’t have an idea when I’ll be back,” he admitted, “but I’m always trying to be optimistic and to have another goal.
“My goal was to try and be at the Qatar test, and I won’t be there.
“But that week I will have a doctor’s check, and my next goal will be to try and be at the [first] Qatar race, if it’s possible.
“If it’s not possible, I’ll try and be at Qatar 2. If that’s not possible, I’ll try to be in Portimao.”
But he won’t rush his return this time
That talk of participating in one of the first three races of the season still seems on the optimistic side, but Marquez underlined the much more cautious approach he’s now taking.
“First of all, the most important thing is to make sure in the doctor’s check that the bone consolidation is going in a good way, and when he says that it is fixed then I’ll continue with the rehabilitation.
“It will take time, though. I am already working, but not in an aggressive way. When the bone consolidation is OK and it is fixed in a good way then I’ll try to continue working in a good way to recover the muscles and be in a good way to ride the bike.
“When I feel that the bone is fine and the muscles are in a correct way to ride a MotoGP bike I will do it.”
For two months “nothing was improving”
Despite the severity of the crash and amid rumours of damage to his radial nerve (which thankfully escaped unscathed) that could have dramatically ended his career, Marquez is adamant that he never thought about the worst case scenario even when things were dark – though there were tough times mentally as well as physically.
“It was tough and it was hard, both on the mental side as well as the physical side,” Marquez admitted.
“It was hard around September and October, because in that period, every week the feeling in my arm was exactly the same.
“It wasn’t going in a worse way, but there was nothing improving. It felt like something inside was moving.
“I had many different checks to try and find the infection, but on every analysis it was always negative.
“Something wasn’t in a good way, but the doctors were telling me that I must wait. I was waiting, but it was never improving, and those two months were very hard.
“But after the third operation, it was hard because it was 10 days in the hospital when the feeling wasn’t the best one, but after that I started to feel some steps.
“I tried to always be optimistic, and I never thought about never being able to race again – I just thought about when the next race, the next test was.”
He knows rushed comeback was an error…
While the past seven months might have been the toughest of his career as he watched on from the sidelines, he says the only lesson he’s taken away from it is that rushing back to action was a mistake.
“In 2020, I didn’t take many positive things from it but I learned a few things – and one of them is that of course we take a lot of risk and we try to come back as soon as possible, but this isn’t the most important thing,” he conceded.
“We made a mistake coming back in Jerez, and we have to accept it.
“Of course it was a consequence of many things, but in the end the last decision was mine and I felt like I was able to do it.
“I learned from the situation for the future, and luckily for me now it’s going in a good way.
“It’s the only thing I learned from the year, because the rest was just a big casino.
“It’s been another experience from me, from a personal side. Something that I will use in the future.
“I don’t know if I’ll feel the same way again if I get injured again, although of course I’ll take the same risk on track.”
…and it was down to him (and everyone else too)
He’s also tried to avoid attributing blame for that mistaken comeback.
Believing that he was following the best advice from his medical team and that he felt able to ride the bike, Marquez insisted that just like winning titles, the lost crown caused by trying to ride again too soon was something that he shared with his entire squad.
“In the end, it was a decision from everyone,” Marquez underlined.
“When we win a title, we speak about the team, the people around me, and when we make a mistake we must speak about everything too.
“Of course, the last decision is mine, but when Honda, my team and everyone around me received a good feeling from the doctors then of course we tried.
“You know what riders are like, how they are – if they say you can try, you will try.
“I felt like I was able to, but what I felt wasn’t what my body needed. This is the main thing.
“At that point, I didn’t want to push the doctors, though. We’ve taken many risks in the past, with other injuries, and sometimes when it’s going in a good way [people say] it’s a miracle or we did something that wasn’t human.
“We made a mistake to ride again so soon in Jerez, but the problem is that if I had rode in Brno and not Jerez, it would have been the same mistake a few weeks later because the bone still hadn’t consolidated.
“In the end, everyone made a mistake together.”
What happens next
With that firmly behind him, it’s now time for Marquez to move on – and to get back in action.
When exactly that’s going to happen is less certain, with the lessons of the past months leaving him in no mood to rush things.
But the good news is that it’s likely to be sooner rather than later.
Marquez is recovering well as the bone in his arm rejoins (aided by the piece grafted from his pelvis in December’s third and final surgery), but he’s also got extensive rehabilitation work to complete before his arm is strong enough to wrestle around a 300bhp MotoGP machine. They’re all steps to be completed now that he’s on the road to recovery again.
“At the moment, the expectations are that I won’t arrive at the Qatar test,” he said.
“In the middle of March I have another check, and that’s where they’ll check the bone consolidation, and they will decide.
“When it’s OK, I’ll continue with my rehabilitation in the gym, with my physio.
“My target was to be at the test in Qatar, but the doctors said no and I accepted it.
“My target now is to be at the race, but they will decide – that is the process.
“I will ride a MotoGP bike when I feel in an acceptable way, in a good condition.
“Even if the doctors told me tomorrow that I can ride the bike again, I’m not in a condition to do it.
“We will see. I don’t have any clear target other than that I won’t ride in the test in Qatar.
“The main target right now is to feel better this week than I did last week.”
Espargaro wants him back asap
Marquez’s continued absence and the many steps he still needs to take en route to full fitness create a double-edged sword for his new team-mate Pol Espargaro.
On the one hand, Marquez is the clear leader at Honda and the best rider to have around for the Japanese manufacturer’s engineers and other riders to know what the bike is capable of.
On the other hand, his current situation creates something of a void that Espargaro could take advantage of to assert himself within the team from the get go.
Yet for Espargaro, there is no dilemma of the sort – he is insistent that, not only for the good of the team but for his own good, it would be best if Marquez returned and recaptured his form as soon as possible.
“We have the satellite team [LCR], they’re going to also have factory bikes with Alex [Marquez] and Taka [Nakagami] – they are very, very, very fast riders, together with [test rider Stefan] Bradl that has been doing many laps during the pre-season in the winter tests – he’s allowed to – and he’s going to be in the Qatar test so for sure I’m going to learn a lot from him,” Espargaro acknowledged.
“And then let’s see when Marc arrives in the team.
“Hopefully it’s in the first race in Qatar. We don’t know, he doesn’t know. Hopefully it’s going to be as soon as possible.
“What is sure is that we need Marc because Marc is the number one of the team, he is the fastest with the bike and I want really to learn from him and the faster he comes [back], the more I’m going to learn from his side and the faster I can improve.
“The best way of improving is to be beside the best rider in the world, and he’s the one.”
Espargaro’s been studying how to not crash a Honda
While Espargaro is still awaiting the moment of truth of his own debut on the RC213V, he says he’s been studying one aspect of Marquez’s riding in particular as he strives to make his transition from KTM to Honda as smooth as possible.
“From that last month I’ve been thinking [about] different situations where for example Marc has been saving those crashes that at the end gave him a lot of points,” he said.
“If he would not have saved those crashes, maybe he would not win a lot of races.
“So my question is how Marc was doing that, and it seems in the past years that it’s part of the Honda DNA, and I need to learn how to manage that situation.
“In KTM I was sometimes doing that but I need to learn even more how to do that.”