As students of the art and science of motorcycle road racing – and whoever our favourite rider – none of us can deny the unique and unfathomable levels of machine control displayed on a weekly basis by four times MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez. No rational human can watch the 25 year-old Spaniard’s astonishing style and be anything other than confounded. Like him or not, Marquez is a nailed-on motorcycle racing phenomenon and is challenging long-established racing techniques – and, as riders ourselves, who among us isn’t fascinated by how he does what he does on a technical level?
But while he’s re-writing the rules of road racing cornering technique and setting records, Marquez is also courting controversy. During his MotoGP career he’s been at the centre of numerous clashes with other riders – perhaps they’ve been more apparent because of Marquez’ high profile, or perhaps it’s because of his riding style, or perhaps it’s because he’s simply endowed with colossal self-entitlement and refuses to be beaten. Or maybe he’s just making Valentino Rossi’s once seemingly untouchable record of nine MotoGP titles look increasingly vulnerable. If Marc carries on at this rate, even Agostini’s records will be within his reach.
But even as late as the second race of 2018, in Argentina, Marquez has found himself at the centre of a storm of approbation from riders, pundits and race fans as he literally barged his way through the field from a botched start and pit lane penalty, eventually colliding with Rossi and forcing his retirement from the race. It was a hectic, chaotic, helter-skelter performance that smacked either of an out of control kid or a cynically desperate young man – and while, on one level, it was a deeply entertaining spectacle, some suggested it wasn’t an edifying contribution to MotoGP’s standing as a world class sporting event.
Argentina 2018: in a glittering career it was not Marquez’s finest hour
After the race Marquez was reluctantly apologetic, conceding he made mistakes but clearly parroting a conciliatory line with the embarrassed, slightly surly frown of a misunderstood and unappreciated prodigy.
And all of which merely adds to the mouth-watering prospect of watching him go toe-to-toe on the same bike as the another great, self-entitled genius, Jorge Lorenzo, in 2019 – the only man to take Marquez on, in his pomp, and beat him to the world title.
BikeSocial, in conjunction with Marquez’ helmet sponsor Shoei, spent 20 minutes talking to Marc just after Free Practice 2 at the subsequently washed-out British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
When Marquez enters the Repsol hospitality unit and despite a schedule monitored to the second by a chaperone, Marquez takes time to chat to a young fan in wheelchair, posing for pics and cracking jokes. It isn’t a faked scene; he’s genuine and selfless with his attention.
In person, Marquez is relaxed and confident – not shy, but clearly weighing his words with the guarded care of someone speaking in a second language and knows every utterance could be analysed for good or ill. That’s why we’ve chosen to reprint, verbatim, what he says, to allow you to interpret his comments without bias – our comments are added, where necessary, in italics.
BikeSocial: Marc Marquez, six times World Champion, four times MotoGP champion, youngest MotoGP champion, most number of wins in a season, and you seem to be re-writing the laws of physics of how to ride a motorbike – so the question is, at 25, are you aware of the scale of what you are doing? Do you wake up in the night and think, ‘YES!’?
Marc Marquez: Never. Never. And I don’t want to realise. Everyone says, ‘Ah what you are doing is incredible,’ – I’m doing what I like, I mean, and I like to compete with the bike and I like to win. I don’t want to think about the records of course... the people [say], ‘Ah, you beat the record,’ and blah blah... but in the end my target is enjoy it on the bike and enjoy it on the podium.
BS: It’s like, focussing...
MM: ...focussing there and when I finish my career, then I will say, ‘Ok, I arrive there.’
BS: When I see you on the track, your riding style seems to be fun – it’s really, really important. You seem to enjoy the physics of moving the bike around.
MM: <laughs> sometimes you enjoy, sometimes you suffer. I mean, for example in Austria I enjoy it a lot, even though I finished second, but I enjoyed it because I feel the limit. Here, today, I suffer [Silverstone, Saturday after FP2] because I don’t feel the limit. The bike is shaking too much and it’s a compromise.
<In a preamble to the interview, I asked Marc how he was getting on at the track – he said, ‘New surface was difficult; is new, has more grip, but looks old. Because the bumps are amazing; I don’t know who built and who re-surface, but yeah, was difficult.’ I then asked him if the bumps were worse than last year: ‘Yes, oh yeah, yeah. I mean worse in a different way – but when you have a new surface you expect to have it flat, smooth... but I don’t know, they re-surface in a strange way...’>
BS: So it’s important for you to have fun but the bike to be at its maximum?
MM: Yeah, sometimes shaking doesn’t mean that you have fun; shaking means it’s not under control 100 per cent. A slide and these kinds of things; then you have fun.
BS: Would you rather win a dull race, or come second and have a really good race? Which is more important: the winning or having fun?
MM: Winning, always, of course. I mean, we are for try to win and winning is the most important. But if you cannot win, you need to try to force the other one [rider] as maximum as you can. Sometimes you know that he has better tools – I mean a better bike – better pace, you have more chance to lose. But you need to force the other one [rider] because if you don’t force, you never know.
BS: It’s fair to say that some riders have criticised you sometimes for your approach to racing and one person in particular [Rossi] has even used the word ‘dangerous’. In Argentina this year it was a crazy race and a crazy situation; I’ve watched your racing since then and sometimes you seem a little bit more careful – especially I was thinking of Austria, the last corner when you could’ve run Jorge wider...
<challenging Lorenzo repeatedly on the final few laps of the Austrian race, Marquez appeared to be about to perform one of his trademark up-the-inside undertaking moves when he looked as if he backed out from forcing Lorenzo wide, and subsequently finished just behind his fellow Spaniard and 2019 teammate>
MM: No, I was not...
BS: ...no hesitation?
MM: No, wasn’t possible. But, you know, we’re riding on the limit...
BS: Of course... always...
MM: ...and how many times you see one rider overtake one, and a little mistake and take the other one out? You know, motorbikes, always we will have some contact. Of course the contact will be on the limit. For example what happening in Argentina I recognise that was my mistake. The condition of the track was difficult, I tried to overtake, I take the wet part, I release the brakes and then <claps hands> I have contact. I have been penalised for that, and I agree. And for that reason I go to the box of the other rider and I say sorry because was my mistake. But the problem is also the others – and it even happened to me a few times, that somebody touched me and I crash. You need to accept that we are racing and nobody want to crash and nobody wants to touch – but this is racing.
BS: So there’s been no change in your style? I saw an interview with you where you said, ‘This is me!’
MM: Yes, of course. The thing is I don’t want to change and I will not change my style, but I want to learn from my mistakes. And what happened in Argentina was a mistake. So I need to learn about this and try to avoid in the future. But for example in Austria we had a small contact with Lorenzo, in Brno with Lorenzo again we had a small contact; it’s there, it’s there, the contact. But of course I don’t want to change my ID.
BS: It seems to me one of the reasons [for your contact] is because there are parts of the lap in which you are so much faster than everyone else.
<Marquez’ corner entry is often much faster than anyone around him – because if he then loses the front at the apex he can often recover it and still make the apex. It’s his differential in corner approach speed that can result in a collision>
MM: Yes! You know one of the reasons in some races or in practice sometimes you have contact with some riders because they are two seconds faster or slower... I remember when I arrive in 125 I was two or three seconds slower than the fastest ones [riders] and they overtake me like, wha, wha, wha... <mimics bikes passing closely with his hands> – contact in the practice! But it’s normal because they are coming in a good lap.
BS: Moving on, there’s only one man who’s broken your run of consecutive MotoGP titles; you would have five but for Jorge. Next year he’s your teammate. So the Repsol Honda team is almost a Marquez family, with Alberto [Puig, team manager], Emilio [Alzamora, Marquez’ manager and mentor] and your father [Julià Marquez, ever-present in Marc’s garage]. Do you think Jorge coming into that environment has an even bigger challenge?
MM: No, because in the end it’s not a Marquez family. Alberto was [from the] Pedrosa family! He was the manager of Pedrosa and he works many, many, many years for Honda. So he is Honda. And if he needs to take me out and put another rider [in] because he thinks it’s better, he will do. Because he works for Honda. It’s true I have now in Honda a good relationship with the technicians and everything... but, you have the same tools. When I arrived here in Honda, Pedrosa was already seven, eight years here. So I arrive here and everything was new. But you have the same tools as the other one. And of course the engineers in the beginning will listen more to the rider with more experience inside the team. But if another rider starts to be fast, forget about this, forget about experience, the relationship – this world is like, you win, you have the bike and everybody respects you. If you don’t win, then <snaps fingers> they just take you out.
BS: You must be interested to see how Jorge is going to get on because his style is so opposite to yours.
<Lorenzo is a famously neat, tidy rider; wheels in line and rarely visibly sideways – in contrast to Marquez’, whose wheels are rarely in line. A greater contrast in styles is hard to imagine>
MM: Of course, I’m interested to see how he’ll work with the Honda, because it’s another riding style and nobody in Honda at the moment rides in that way. It will be nice to see, will be nice to understand, and sometimes I say this to other journalists: I prefer to have one of the riders who can beat me in the championship with the same tools. Because then is no excuse. You have him in the same box with the same tools; if he can do, you can do.
BS: It will be interesting to see how Jorge adapts the Honda to fit him.
MM: This will be interesting to see... he will adapt. But we don’t know; nobody know, even me and even him, I think, if he will adapt in the first practice, the first race, or in the first year. I mean, you never know.
BS: It’ll be interesting to see if you can learn from him too.
MM: Of course, we will learn a few things from him!
BS: Will you see his data? MM: Always. In our team, everything is open. I mean, you remember in the past with Valentino and Lorenzo and they put up a wall [between them in the pit garage]? But, the data recording is by cables and wireless and so the wall is nothing, it’s just psychological.
BS: Can we talk about your riding technique? I read somewhere you stopped racing the Superprestigio because you were picking up bad habits?
<Superprestigio is an end-of-season dirt track race held (until this year) in Barcelona, between riders across disciplines. Marquez has won it twice.
The last rider to conspicuously adapt a riding technique – from dirt track to tarmac – was three times 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts Senior, in the late 1970s. In his early career, Roberts switched back and forth between tarmac and dirt oval racing, and his experience controlling brutally overpowered engines sliding around on dirt allowed him to transfer the technique to tarmac. Instead of the preferred neat, arcing racing lines used at the time to avoid unsettling the bikes, Roberts pitched his Yamaha YZR500 into the corner early, opened the throttle, got the rear tyre to break traction and was content to oversteer the bike and effectively shorten a corner – and accelerate faster onto the next straight.
Roberts used this skill to help him win his first 500cc GP title in 1978, in his debut year in the class – a feat since matched only by Marc Marquez, in 2013.
Since then tarmac riding techniques have altered slightly to suit new technology – more front grip and better suspension and brakes has led to backing the bike into a corner, dangling a leg off the inside into a corner helps turn it, lean angles have increased to make elbow down commonplace, electronics help riders spend more time balancing on the knife-edge of traction and changed the way they use the throttle. And different riders have different techniques for applying this technology; some ride with a violent swagger, pitching and sliding dramatically, and some ride with finesse and delicacy.
But over the years, in terms of technique, no-one has significantly deviated from or even added to the fundamental principles established by Roberts. Until Marquez.
Between his arrival into the MotoGP class in 2013 and now, Marquez has taken what at first seemed a string of miraculous front end slide ‘saves’ and turned them into a technique he can almost use at will, throwing his body under the sliding bike as it tips over, and effectively using his elbow and knee as a dirt track rider does his leg, supporting the sliding bike and keeping tyres in contact with the ground; it’s something no-one else can do. It’s a unique talent – with the possible exception of the great Freddie Spencer, who saved a few front end slides in his time but not to the same degree and frequency>
MM: No, no, not really like this. I start with Superprestigio because I learn with everything, but I didn’t race in 2017 because 2016 was a really tough season. I was coming from 2015 and I struggle a lot, a lot of stress. And Superprestigio, okay it’s fun, but it’s another race and you have another pressure and you need to win. You are there and people are waiting for the victory. And then I say, ‘Okay, I need a holiday.’ Sometimes it’s good for the body after a very stressful season to have some relaxed time.
BS: I’ve watched your riding style and watched your racing, and around two years ago people were saying, ‘Oh, Marc has made another save, and another save...’ – and I started to think, I’ve watched you at the Superprestigio and I know on flat-track when you plant your foot...
MM: Yes, yes, yes...
BS: ...and all the weight comes off the tyres and it’s all through your leg...
MM: Yes, and the tyres are like floating...
BS: ...yes, and I watch you and I’m thinking, ‘This is not luck. This is not you saving, this is almost a skill, something you don’t do deliberately but you know you have something special that they can’t do...’
MM: Yes, of course it’s not luck because [it happened] already many times... but if you say to me how to do, I don’t know.
BS: <incredulous> Seriously?
MM: I mean, it’s just a reaction. It’s something like, why when you crash or when you fall down you put the hands [out]? Why? Because it’s a reaction. You think how to do? No. So it’s the same. I just lose the front, reaction is knee and elbow. You know? Everything is... pffft... on the floor. Like somebody put out their hands? So my reaction is knee and elbow.
BS: So it’s not like in short track; some guys scrub the front... fold the front in and go in...
MM: In this [short] track I never do this, honestly. Some of my friends, they try this style, this technique, but I never do – I don’t have the confidence to do <laughs>. It’s strange, yes?
BS: Yes, because it seems to me that’s what you’re doing on tarmac. You must think, when you’re on the grid with other riders – and especially after Valencia last year when you went into the first turn and ploughed through... and that race was so important...
<It was the final race of the season, Marquez was points leader and favourite to win the title, but Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso had a mathematical chance of taking it if Marquez finished low in the points or crashed. Despite the temptation to play it safe with a finish, Marquez challenged for the lead and almost crashed, sliding the front for 50 metres at 95mph and 64° of lean angle. He finished the race in second place>
MM: Yes, but I was behind Zarco and my pace was much faster and I was struggling to keep concentration because I was too slow.
MM: Yeah... but then when I overtook him, he always overtook me because his target was to win the race. It’s normal – I was fighting for a championship, but his target was win the race. In that case I overtook him and I say, ‘Okay, he will not overtake me in this corner, I will keep in front and I will open a gap.’ But I brake too late. And I make the mistake because of Zarco, not because I was pushing too much.
<At this point in the interview I’m already over my allotted time with Marquez and, although keen to get away to a rider safety meeting – quite an important meeting, as it turns out – he stays for some final questions>
BS: Okay, we have some quickfire questions: do you think we will ever see a female MotoGP rider or MotoGP champion?
MM: I hope. I hope especially in Moto3 or Moto2. MotoGP, the physical condition is more demanding. But they can, of course. I hope.
BS: If you could have one racing moment again, which would it be? The best moment?
MM: The best moment? Valencia 2014. I already won the championship a few races ago, but on Sunday my brother [Alex] won the [Moto3] championship and it was incredible.
BS: if you could change one moment, what would be... apart from Argentina!
MM: No, no, this was a mistake. But the first six races of 2015. I mean, especially Montmello and Mugello, I crash twice. That I would change.
<If Marquez had finished those races, he probably would’ve won the 2015 championship as well as the 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 titles, making five in a row. Instead, it was won by Jorge Lorenzo. The fact that Marquez blames himself for losing the title, as opposed to crediting Lorenzo for winning it, speaks volumes about a champion’s mind-set>
BS: Who is the best rider of all time?
MM: No name. I’m not agree about this, because if I need to say a name I would say Agostini – why? Because he has more championships. But every situation is different...
BS: Okay, so who is your favourite?
MM: My favourite... mmm... a good reference is Valentino. What he’s doing is impressive.
<This is remarkable honesty from Marquez, whose childhood racing idol publically denounced him in 2015, entered a bitter and one-sided war of words, and continues to rail against Marc’s ‘dangerous’ riding. From the momentary look of hurt in Marquez’ eyes as he speaks, it’s clear Rossi broke his racing heart in 2015>
<At this stage the interview needs to be wrapped up, but we need a few words from sponsors, Shoei>
BS: Who comes up with the graphic ideas on your Shoei?
MM: The graphic ideas – I work with one guy, his name is David Mata, from davedesigns.es and we work with him...
BS: ...and they’re your ideas?
MM: With my ideas, always. Always he has some ideas, because sometimes you look and you need to have some ideas. And always in Japan, the special helmet idea is coming from Shoei.
BS: How many helmets do get a year – do you have one every session?
MM: No, no, no... normally, for example, this season, I have only five or six...
BS: Yes, the man at Shoei was saying you had 26 crashes but only five new helmets!
MM: Yeah, because the helmet never normally touches the floor. But many people say, ‘Ah, give me a helmet, you have a lot!’ But these are very special helmets and we only have five or six, no more. Of course if you crash then they replace.
BS: And you don’t have your Mugello helmet, from [the] 200mph crash [in 2013]?
MM: I have! We sent it to Japan, because they want to analyse, but now I have at home.
BS: Thank you Marc.
MM: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure.
<The interview ends politely even though he’s clearly late for the safety meeting. I get the impression Marc genuinely enjoyed talking, which – for someone who must be asked the same questions ad nauseam – is commendable. He’s a truly remarkable racer, and a remarkably normal, likeable human being. We’re lucky we’ve got him and the thought of booing him on a podium, or cheering when he crashes, is simply unconscionable and bafflingly moronic. This one is special>