Marc Marquez, the 20-year-old boyband member lookalike who is disrupting the MotoGP establishment this season, has the comfortable appearance of a rider who has been handling this kind of pressure for years as he parries questions about whether he can win at Silverstone on Sunday.
"It's possible, but maybe too difficult," he says. "Last year I struggled a little here, so we will see. We will try our best. Anyway, I am happy and I feel good."
This son of Spanish working-class parents is shattering the MotoGP record books as he contemplates taking five race wins in a row at the British round of the championship. No MotoGP rookie has achieved this in the 64-year history of the sport (last year Marquez rode in the Moto2 feeder class).
Is he surprised at finding himself leading a grid by 26 points that includes the reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo, the nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi, and the British fireball Cal Crutchlow? "Yes, but it's a great surprise," he concedes. "I'm happy to be in that situation. Now we have to keep at the same level in the last seven races."
Lorenzo kept in the championship fight today by leading practice with a circuit in 2 minutes 2.734 seconds. Marquez was just 0.224 sec slower over the 17-turn course, while Crutchlow was fifth fastest, 0.771 sec behind the leader.
But the focus is on Marquez and all the time that he was talking, the greatest personality to hit MotoGP since Rossi, now 34, arrived in 2000, had a sparkle in his eyes that suggested he knows something that no one else does. Maybe he senses already that he can maintain his cool and become the first rookie to win the MotoGP title since the American Kenny Roberts shattered European egos in 1978.
Others saw the signs of Marquez's latent genius years ago. "He was a bright kid," Luis Capdevila, a family friend from the years when Marquez started racing at the age of four recalled. "He had fast reactions, and eyes that took in everything. If you gave him advice he absorbed it immediately."
"He was very mature – he seemed like a 23-year-old rather than a 12-year-old kid," said Emilio Alzamora, a former world champion who is now Marquez's manager. "His passion for bikes was obvious, and one day I suggested that he should change his line in the corners, to peel into them later. He just did it – he learns really quickly."
Angel Viladoms, president of the Spanish motorcycling federation, recalled a time when Marquez was still in his early teens: "Marc told me: 'I really love doing 200kph [125mph]!' He worried me so much."
Marquez holds a mechanical advantage over most of his rivals here at Silverstone – his 1000cc Repsol Honda RC213V (below) is the finest bike on the grid. Its V4 engine kicks out more than 230 horsepower, sufficient to propel the bike to 210mph on the fastest tracks.
Crutchlow, 27, who has achieved four podiums this year on his Yamaha YZR-M1 to Marquez's 10, said: "The Honda has always been faster than the Yamaha in acceleration and top-end speed. The Yamaha used to be better on braking and stability, and had more corner speed, but now the Honda is good there as well."
Experienced MotoGP watchers would agree that Crutchlow is merely being factual about his situation, and not making excuses. Indeed, he is brutally honest about the skills gap that he labours to close every weekend.
"Friends who've watched Marquez say that he rides out of control and is nearly crashing," Crutchlow said. "But he's fully in control of the bike – it's just the way he rides. Marquez can get the bike a foot out of line, but he still makes the corner."
Marquez leans his 350lb Honda so over in the corners that his arm scrapes the ground, prompting the leathers manufacturer Alpinestars to make him a new suit with the elbows reinforced with aluminium.
"I'm a non-conformist," Marquez admitted. Alzamora, his manager, added: "Marc is learning so fast that it's hard to keep up with him. Is he risking too much? He's searching for the limit, and you can always search a little more."Reuse content