It seems an awful long time since the final pre-season test in Qatar, during which Jorge Lorenzo assuredly stated he and Yamaha were in better shape than the season before, and Marc Marquez wore a strained and haggard expression; the ongoing toils of wrestling a wayward Honda RC213V evident to anyone in his presence.

Struggling to come to terms with new electronics software, a bike with a vastly different engine design, and adapting to ever-changing Michelin tyre characteristics were enough to occupy Marquez’s thoughts between and during testing in those winter months. Furthermore, there was a sense of frustration at Honda repeating the ills that had plagued performance the year before.

At that moment the notion that Marquez could even challenge for the world title seemed far-fetched, let alone win it with three races to spare. “If on Sunday last year you didn’t feel well or had the wrong setup, you could finish fourth or fifth,” he said at the close of testing. “This year will be different. You have to be ready or you will finish eighth, ninth or tenth.”

Those comments and the subsequent panning out of events make his securing of the crown at Motegi all the more remarkable. His feats as a class rookie in 2013 were astonishing. As was his cruise to the trophy a year later, including that devastating ten-in-a-row run that started the season. But in 2016 we saw a rider evolving and maturing, using his mind as much as that renowned ability, making this, possibly, his most impressive championship to date.

Never was that mix more evident than the flag-to-flag race in Germany, when, a cool headed decision to pit for slicks on a track containing showed clear-sighted thinking and the required testicular heft. Then there were the showings at Montmeló and Assen, Austria and Misano. Although wins weren’t forthcoming, the manner in which he accepted defeat for the greater, long-term good was striking.

Not that this forward thinking approach has led to Marquez being any less spectacular to watch. Quite the opposite. Just look at those miraculous saves in free practice at Assen and Brno. Or his frightening falls in practice at Austria, Aragon and Silverstone. These events underlined a new way of thinking: go all out on Friday and Saturday so you’re all-to-aware of the limits come Sunday.

“This year I’ve also had many [saves] during practices,” he says. “I’ve been looking for the limit many times in those sessions in order to be safer during race.”

Sure, title contenders Valentino Rossi and Lorenzo made a series of uncharacteristic mistakes along the way. But, in Rossi’s case, three of those stemmed from Marquez’s unshakeable self-belief, to not use HRC’s early woes – and Movistar Yamaha’s initial position of serious strength – as reason to allow frustration to overflow. Instead, circumstance further fuelled that fire within.

“I remember during the winter test, many people in the paddock were saying that winning the title this season was almost impossible for us. I felt very motivated at that moment,” he said. “My belief is that nothing is impossible and you must always keep working.”

It was that belief that carried him to a points haul of 170 by the summer break – compare that to the other Honda mounted men, who had chalked up 96, 42, 40 and 18 at that time – and ultimately gave him enough breathing space in the season’s second half.

Small and diminutive in stature he may be, but Marquez also possesses a gift at getting the best out of those around him. You get the impression crew chief Santi Hernandez and the band of engineers around would carry out any command at his behest. His words at Motegi on early season meetings with Honda conveyed a natural leader at work, both headstrong and convinced of his own conviction.

“I had several meetings with Honda during which I promised them that I’d be more conservative and I focused on getting as many points as possible in the first races, but they had to help me in the second half of the season. I asked them to show everyone how Honda is able to react to challenges, because we were so far from our top level.

“I said to all my engineers, ‘I believe in you, so I will change my mentality in the first races but in the second part of the season I need your help’. And really, little by little, we’ve been cutting our gap to the others.” Marquez said.

His actions in the wake of Luis Salom’s untimely death in Montmeló cannot be understated either. A day on from the incident, as Lorenzo and Rossi lost themselves in petty claims over the Safety Commission’s actions, Marquez sat calmly, commanding Saturday’s press conference while explaining the process with patience, composure and clarity – perhaps a snapshot of the man that operates when the garage door is firmly shut and the engineers are huddled around.

Honda’s ‘16 engine was by no means perfect. I’ll never forget speaking to a well-placed engineer that regularly works on a RC213V when the series returned to Europe. “Honda can introduce many new parts to combat this. But at the end of the day the engine will still be this engine.” His point? Nothing HRC can throw at the bike will paper over this large crack.

It’s not just a credit to Marquez then, riding above the bike’s capabilities, but to Honda for making considerable strides with electronics and aerodynamics from August.

It leaves you pondering just what he will do if rumour is to believed and Honda’s ’17 engine is more user-friendly without sacrificing power. His record of five world championships in seven seasons means he could retire tomorrow and be remembered as one of the all-time greats. Looking ahead and you would be hard pressed to name a premier class record that is beyond this young Catalan’s reach.

Photo by CormacGP

Recommended Articles