Marquez: the greatest ever?
Neil Morrison talks about the reigning Champion, who is fast closing in on the all-time greats.
Few athletes that have recently celebrated a 25th birthday can sit back and reflect on as decorated a career as that of Marc Marquez, reigning MotoGP™ World Champion and the sport’s leading name. Already the sixth most winning rider in history, the ever-smiling Spaniard’s nervy third place at Valencia last November carried him toward a sixth world title – his fourth in the premier class and an unprecedented feat for a rider competing at his age.
As the baby-faced kid from Cervera has matured from wayward, risk-it-all protégée to the measured conqueror of all before him, his gravity-defying feats on the bike have remained a constant across ten incident-packed seasons in Grand Prix racing… as has his ability to leave a trail of broken records in his wake. From his earliest days in MotoGP™, Marquez was stripping history’s very best names (Freddie Spencer for youngest MotoGP™ race winner, then youngest MotoGP™ Championship winner; Mike Hailwood as the youngest rider to win two premier class titles; Mick Doohan for the most premier class wins over a single season) of titles that seemed destined to remain out of reach for the class of today.
And Marquez is poised to make yet more history in 2018. Thanks to a settled team, a much-improved engine, and a contract renewal that will see him remain at Repsol Honda until 2020, we have seen little through preseason to suggest a fifth premier class crown is out of reach. A third consecutive title would see him level Doohan’s haul of five while taking him ahead of Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Hailwood and Eddie Lawson. Only Giacomo Agostini (nine) and Valentino Rossi (seven) have amassed more. Not bad for a man only half way through his twenties.
Titles aside, the numbers he has amounted across five years in MotoGP™ are just as astonishing. Marquez has won 35 times, or 38% of the 90 races he has started. He’s stood on the podium on 63 occasions (70%) and his haul of pole positions stands at a ridiculous 45. In other words, at one in every two races, Marquez has started a race with a clear track ahead. Compare that to Rossi’s win rate in MotoGP™, which stands at 29%, while his podium percentage is a weighty 62. Or countrymen Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, who have won 25% and 15% of their premier class races respectively, and whose podium percentages stand at 63 and 56. Racing during an era of depth and talent that gives the class of the late 80’s/early 90’s a run for its money, Marquez’s numbers bear even more weight.
It is tempting to believe the diminutive Spaniard when he states, “I don’t want to think about a number [of titles] or about a name or about the limit,” as he did at Valencia last year. For appreciating his talents is more than analysing the records and the stats. He carries the capacity to not only make the impossible possible, but to ensure the impossible seems like a regular, everyday feat, be it crashing on an out lap in a title decider and still winning (Estoril, 2010) or passing 32 riders in 20 laps without breaking sweat (Valencia in 2012).
From running and salvaging a pole position lap from a machine failure with two minutes to spare (Austin, 2015), to saving a front end slide at 95mph for 50 metres at 64 degrees of lean (Valencia 2017) these are acts of breath-taking brilliance; moments of supposed impossibility, mustered with the ever-smiling nonchalance that recalls Rossi in his pomp. More than numbers, it’s these feats of physical improbability that set Marquez apart.
Little wonder his rivals can do little else but marvel at his ability. Last year fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow said it best: "He's just a freak...in a good way, obviously. Everyone used to talk about aliens. Now there's only one alien, and the rest are normal. What he can do with that bike, nobody else in the world can do." Five wins in 2018 could see him leapfrog Lorenzo as the fifth most winning rider ever. Only Agostini, Rossi, Angel Nieto and Hailwood would lie ahead. Going off recent evidence, you wouldn’t bet against Marquez reeling them all in.