Hands up. Who saw this coming? OK, I might have tipped Jorge Martin to shine in Austria when we recorded the Paddock Pass Podcast last week. Looking at the bare facts, it was impossible not to do so. The Red Bull Ring has long been a Ducati track. The Spaniard’s record in the lower classes was immense here. And the season openers in Qatar showed the former Moto3 world champ’s knack for learning at a rapid rate. Watch out for the #89 during the second weekend, I said, thinking it would take him some time to get up to speed at the calendar’s most fearsome course.
But I’d be lying if I said I expected this kind of performance in what was just the 23-year old’s sixth MotoGP race. Martin was sublime around the Red Bull Ring’s lethal armco-lined straights, taken at well over 200mph. He led 24 of the race’s 27 laps, and forced the reigning world champion, no less, into a number of late mistakes that compromised his chances of a late attack.
Perhaps most impressive of all was Martin’s manner of victory. Aside from exceeding track limits enough times to necessitate a warning – 13 of the grid did the same on Sunday – he was faultless from the moment he took control on lap four. From the outside it appeared the race-long pressure asserted by Mir would surely tell before long, especially seeing as he “felt really bad physically” with 15 laps to go, those injuries picked up in Portimao still not fully healed.
But Martin didn’t blink. He was even asked if Mir’s advances as the laps ticked down were the toughest he had faced in his seven-year stint in GPs. “Today I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I felt pressure in the past where if I wasn’t winning I would stay home without a ride. In those moments I think is where I really matured, when I felt (it).” The very best athletes make stellar feats seem par for the course. Yet, considering the respective struggles of Ducati’s three title contenders on Sunday, what Martin could do was anything but.
And what he could do was also in contrast towards the tail end of the first half of the season. Martin was “super angry with myself” after he was forced to retire out of the Dutch TT in June because of his Portimao scars. But “during the summer break I had some changes in my life. I cannot speak a lot about it, but I think now I am more focused and with a clean mind.”
That clean mind has enabled him to rack up some pretty impressive numbers in just his first six races: he’s just the fifth rider to claim a maiden win in his rookie MotoGP season in the four-stroke era. He has picked up a premier class victory quicker than greats like Giacomo Agostini, Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey. Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and, to a lesser extent, Brad Binder – the other names to accomplish this feat in their rookie campaigns – didn’t fare so badly in the rest of their careers. On what we’ve seen so far, Martin has a massive future ahead.
It’s all a far cry from how last season ended. Personally, I had my doubts on Martin’s prospects this year. His talent has long been clear. But his time in Moto2 paled when compared to riders with whom he shared the grid. Once he contracted Covid-19 last August, we saw little of him toward the front in the season’s second half, a smash-and-grab win at Valencia aside. Martin rarely bounces well, with injuries a common theme throughout his career. And his decision to move up to MotoGP with Ducati, rather than KTM, could have perhaps been handled better.
Yet no one wracks up 20 pole positions in Moto3 without having some of that magic. In the junior class, Martin was able to do things that no rider has mastered in the category before or since. It wasn’t just the slew of pole positions and that relentless ability to piece together a lap of perfection. He nearly always did it alone, a rarity in Moto3. He could also stretch a race from the first laps, putting full trust in a package when the fuel tank was full, and tyres not at perfect working temperature.
And he was tough. Martin broke the radius bone in his left wrist at that year’s Czech Grand Prix. But he made a heroic return in Austria seven days later, coming home third. The manner in which he won the title in Malaysia, withstanding Marco Bezzecchi’s bruising tactics early on before breaking clear emphatically in the closing laps.
Those were no ordinary feats. And in just six races he has been able to put into practice a few tricks that allowed him to run ahead of the best of them. Fabio Quartararo, for one, was impressed. “The talent of Jorge, is really high,” he said. “Just a few corners how he takes care of the tires is something that for a rookie is strange. I was not able to do that like he’s doing in 2019. It’s difficult because when you come from Moto2 to MotoGP you have many other things to think because you have the traction control, the maps, power, engine brake, the tires, the fuel… So, a rookie and he’s able to think about all these things, I think mentally he’s really strong.”
A host of names are likely to return for the Austrian Grand Prix stronger. Mir and Suzuki will have fine-tuned its new ride height device further. And Marc Marquez and Pecco Bagnaia will be seeking retribution after strange tyre performance hampered their restarted races. Yet there is no reason to think Martin isn’t capable of a second stirring result in as many weeks. “For sure we have another chance,” he said on Sunday. “I think we still have some margin, some points of the track where we can improve maybe one or two tenths.”
This felt like the start of something special.
By Neil Morrison @NeilMorrison87
Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp