Does this mean Marquez will return to dominate as he has done, seldom interrupted, since he moved to the big class for a rookie title win in 2013? Before his crash at the opening round last year, he had finished 95 of 128 races on the podium, 56 times on the top step. The rest of the pack were all racing to beat Marquez. Things are a little different now, however, both technically and personally.
Honda’s RC213V V4 was already something of a brute, with pernickety handling making corner entry fraught. Marc was rider enough not only to manage it, but even to turn it to his advantage. Other Honda riders struggled, and often crashed.
Now the most successful factory in bike racing had been without his input for a full season, and the engineers had clearly lost their way. One of the first things Marc did on his return was to reject the latest 2021 bike for a 2019/2020 hybrid. He said he wanted something familiar while he worked his way back to speed. A euphemistic way of criticising the latest model.
Then there are the rivals. Marc is 28. Last year’s champion Joan Mir is 23, current points leader Quartararo 22. (The fading Rossi, by comparison, 42.) It’s not that Marc is too old, just that his challengers are that much younger.
Most importantly, while he’s been away they’ve had the place to themselves. They’ve acquired strength and confidence that come from winning races. Something that happened only seldom before Marc got hurt.
The king is back, yes. But the palace has changed in his absence.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.