They said that on pace alone, he could be champion, but Marc Marquez is young, a wild rookie racing against class and experience; racing against Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi; he’ll crash too often in his search for the limit; probably injure himself; a title challenge built on speed will fade due to a lack of consistency as the broken body parts grow more severe. Yet, in the Grand Prix of Valencia, Marquez raced a race of maturity beyond his 20 years to claim the MotoGP World Championship in his rookie season.
On his way to the title, Marquez successfully turned Motorcycle racing on its head; put his competitors on their arse while he raced on, on his knee and elbow. The only thing to tumble quicker than the records was Marc himself, but only once in a race: the Italian Grand Prix, his only non-score, only non-podium finish. Even in crashing the Spaniard broke records rather than bones: the day before that Italian failure, Marquez left the track at 223mph and fell at a record-breaking 209 – the fastest two-wheeled crash ever. With nothing more than a grazed chin, Marquez soldiered on.
The march had started under the lights of Qatar’s curtain-raising night race where, in his first race on a ‘big bike’, Marquez claimed a third place finish, setting the fastest lap on the way. It took only one more race – Austin, Texas – for Marquez to taste victory from pole-position; the revolution had started; the era of Marquez was upon us.
The writing was on the wall as soon as pre-season testing was under way in Malaysia: Marc’s pace was undeniably impressive but greater praise came from Valentino Rossi rather than the time sheets; “He is very spectacular and the bike moves and he slides and he always touches his elbow on the tarmac. He is very good and is already so fast. He is particular because he has a strange riding style, maybe something new. Jorge and I ride in a more classic style but Marquez is something different.”
Something different indeed. As the wins and podiums followed podiums and wins, and Marquez became youngest this and youngest that, his competitors began to flounder: Pedrosa had been all too aware of his new team-mate’s speed when Marquez had beaten him in the season’s opening race and again in Austin but it was Lorenzo who experienced first-hand what Marquez was both willing and capable of doing: Lorenzo left the door ajar entering the final corner of the year’s first Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez and Marquez forced his way through. A re-enactment of the Rossi/Gibernau episode of 2005 at the same corner saw Lorenzo unceremoniously shoved wide. Marquez had truly arrived, and now Lorenzo, the reigning champion, knew it.
Many were in awe of the last corner manoeuvre but the shove would have been far from Lorenzo’s mind when his Yamaha threw him at a damp scenery in Assen. What many had predicted for Marquez had happened to Lorenzo; his collarbone snapped, his powers weakened as Marquez grew stronger.
The same fate awaited Pedrosa in Germany where Lorenzo would aggravate his injury whilst Marquez rode on, unchallenged for victory. Lorenzo and Pedrosa were imploding, self destructing and handing it to the ever playful Marquez; a smiling assassin unaware of the grief his talent was causing his compatriot rivals.
Only during warm-up for the British Grand Prix could Marquez empathise: his Honda deposited him at Vale Corner and the somersaulting Spaniard’s shoulder couldn’t take it. Popped back in place, that same shoulder saw Marquez lead into the final corner of the race just hours later and victory would have been Marquez’s if not for an inspired pass from Jorge Lorenzo.
It was a race to summarise the course of 2013: a close fought rivalry between Marquez and Lorenzo with Pedrosa occupying the best seat in the house, keeping an eye on his rivals, his heart on that illusive title and picking up any victory that came his way.
There would be controversy along the way and the relationship between Pedrosa and Marquez, under the roof of the Honda Racing Corporation, was tested, pushed to the brink at times but with no major public fallout. Only in Australia did the house come close to falling down: a bizarre situation courtesy of Bridgestone’s failings saw a catastrophic miscalculation by Honda. The debacle ended with Marquez the victim of a non-existent crime, punished for others mistakes and disqualified from the race. The situation would turn to dust once, if, Marquez won the title, but the hangover from the controversy lasted for some days.
In the season-closing Grand Prix of Valencia, Marquez rode a mature race to clinch the World Championship in his rookie year – the first rider to do so since ‘King’ Kenny Roberts in 1978. Pedrosa’s challenge had faded and it was only Lorenzo who could spoil Marquez and Honda’s party, but even the wily fox Lorenzo had no answers.
What then, of Valentino Rossi, the last superstar rookie to rip up the form book? His challenge never really came; the one victory at the Dutch Grand Prix showed a glimmer of the extraordinary talent that is known the world over but Rossi’s star is fading, the Marquez universe is where MotoGP belongs now. For the ever-increasing Marc Marquez fan club, Rossi is in the past, Marquez is in the now; Marquez is the future; Marc Marquez is the Champion.