GRR

MotoGP 2024: Can Marquez triumph with Ducati?

04th December 2023
Michael Scott

Something exciting happened at Valencia, scene of the closing GP of an absorbing 2023 MotoGP season. And it wasn’t the title battle between winner Pecco Bagnaia and challenger Jorge Martin on their dominant Ducatis. The greater event took place two days later, at the post-race MotoGP tests, the official start of the 2024 season.

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It was Marc Marquez, climbing onto a Ducati for the first time, and going straight up to the top of the time sheets. Actually, by the end, he’d been consigned to fourth, albeit by less than a tenth. Sunday’s pole-sitter Maverick Vinales had put his Aprilia on top, then hard-charger Brad Binder on the KTM.

More important was that Marco Bezzecchi was faster, by 0.078 of a second. For Bezz was also riding a 2023 Ducati. The difference was that Marco has had two years to become accustomed to the Italian bike. Marc just a few hours. Marquez, should anyone need reminding, is the post-Rossi giant of the MotoGP. He joined the class in 2013 and was champion at the first attempt – only the second rookie to do so, after King Kenny Roberts. That was with Repsol Honda, and he’s been on the orange bikes ever since. The first seven years were marvellous, with six championship wins making him Honda’s most successful rider. The next four were troubled, to say the least.

By 2020, Honda’s V4 RC213V was already lagging. Only Marc’s genius made it successful. In a way, this was negative, for it masked its faults. His determination took the pressure of development engineers. At the first race of the Covid-stricken year, at Jerez, in a trade-mark breathtaking comeback ride, he crashed hard, snapping the humerus – the large upper bone – in his right arm.

Fracture-plated, he was back the next week, but the effort damaged the repair. It was, he admitted this year, “my biggest mistake”. Thereafter the injury required two further operations. He missed races, but still managed three wins in 2021. More major surgery at the end of 2022 finally realigned the arm correctly. It was fixed at last. Marc was ready to fight again in 2023, to take on the now-dominant Ducatis.

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The Honda, by contrast, wasn’t ready. In his absence it had fallen even further behind, and developed a seriously nasty streak… if you pushed too hard, it tended to spit you off.

This was the story of Marc’s hopeful return. Crash after crash. Twenty-nine in the year was the most in any of the three classes. After a while, he would be seen to shake his head in baffled frustration, as he picked himself up out of the gravel again. He missed three races injured; and endured more (relatively minor) surgery.

Finally at round seven, the German GP, after four crashes in three days, he’d had enough. He withdrew from the race and announced that from now on he would no longer attempt the impossible. He was switching to safety mode.

Soon after the summer break, rumours began. Marc was to split with Honda. A flurry of rumour finally ended after the Japanese GP, where even in safety mode he managed to podium in a shortened wet race, at Honda’s own Motegi circuit. Attendant top brass, however, failed to convince him that they could turn the bike around. Days later, he confirmed he was moving to Ducati. And not to the factory, but a relatively junior of the three satellite teams, fielding year-old bikes. He would be joining younger brother Alex in the Italian Gresini squad.

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The finances remain unclear. He had to find a way out of the last of four years of his Honda contract, which would have cost somebody quite a lot; while the independent team’s resources would hardly stretch to a factory-style multi-million fee. His prospects were also uncertain. The team had claimed four wins in 2022 with Enea Bastianini, but it was at the bottom of Ducati’s technical pecking order.

No matter to Marc, who was as kind as he could be saying goodbye to Honda, and didn’t rule out a possible return. It wasn't the result he sought … but to be able to enjoy racing again. “Otherwise I have no reason to race.” Well, he certainly enjoyed his first test on the Ducati, although contractually obliged to keep his lip zipped until the end of December. “You can see the lap times,” he smiled dangerously.

Most concerned should be the other seven riders on Ducatis. Bagnaia and Martin dominated in 2023; Bezzecchi ran them close until injury intervened. Bastianini, Alex Marquez, Di Giannantonio and new recruit Morbidelli will remember the old adage: the first person you have to beat is the one on the same kind of bike. When that person is Marc Marquez, it could be a tall order. Has the king come back to claim his throne?

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • MotoGP 2024

  • MotoGP

  • Ducati

  • Marc Marquez

  • Race

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