It’s tough at the top, when the rest of the world wants to bring you down. It’s even tougher when the man at the top is a five-time world champion at just 23 years of age, but that’s what the rest of the MotoGP grid face in 2017 if they want to overhaul Marc Marquez.
After sealing the third MotoGP title of his four-year spell in the premier category, Marquez is enjoying some well-earned downtime before pre-season training and testing begins in January.
His challenge in 2017 will be one he has experienced before: retain the world championship by beating the likes of Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and anyone else who feels they have what it takes to ride a motorcycle faster than anyone else in the world.
This year though, there will be new challenges. While the Repsol Honda outfit have opted for familiarity in retaining Marquez and his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, it’s all change around them Yamaha bid farewell to Lorenzo after nine years and three world title together, with the promising Maverick Vinales taking his place to partner Rossi. Lorenzo heads to Ducati where he joins Andrea Dovizioso, replacing Anrea Iannone in the process.
Does all the changes give Marquez an early advantage in defending his crown?
“Not much, honestly,” Marquez tells The Independent. “Many riders change, but in the end when you have the talent on another bike suddenly you go fast. Lorenzo moves to Ducati, it will be interesting to see how Ducati is with a top rider, because we know that it is a strong bike on some circuits but the question is can it fight for a championship?
“Then of course I’m interested to see Vinales with Yamaha, because I think he will be a tough rider and competitive for the title. Of course Rossi will be there too, but for me both Yamaha riders will be the strongest competitors for the championship.”
What motivates Marquez now, as he told The Independent earlier this month, is the will to keep on winning. But there is something else that Marquez can achieve that only eight riders have managed to do, and that’s win three straight world championships. He failed to achieve that in 2015, and no one has managed it since Rossi’s streak of five straight titles in the first half of the last decade.
Marquez does not want to get ahead of himself though, with his focus firmly on 2017, and he believes that not only will the rider changes next season give him little to no advantage, but it also means he needs to up his game even further to keep hold of the world championship.
“What really motivates me is all the changes of the other riders who move to another manufacturer,” he continues. “This motivates you in the sense of ‘ok they’ve moved to another manufacturer and will be stronger, but I need to beat them again’.
“So this is the main motivation, but then of course when you have such a great team like my one, I feel really comfortable with them so this is the main motivation, to see that one more year we are still the same team and we are strong.”
But what proved clear last season is that there was no clear frontrunner when it came to the bikes. Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki all registered wins in 2016 among nine different riders to stand on top of the podium. The Ducati remained incredibly fast in a straight line, the Honda flourished at the tracks with long, flowing corners and the Yamaha was clearly the best bike on the brakes and out of the tight turns. Marquez already knows that his bike, as well as himself, must continue to improve if they are to emerge triumphant come next November.
“Where the bike can improve is with the directions, and we need to work to find one compromise to be consistent with the bike in the circuits, because now we go maybe to one circuit where we have the best bike, and another circuit we are one second form the best bike,” he explains.
“So we need to find the right compromise to have the best bike to have a consistent bike because it’s important for the championship, and one of our weak points is the direction.”
The reward will be obvious. Marquez has no intentions of relinquishing his riders’ title next season, and he wants to wrestle the manufacturers’ championship back from Yamaha for the team too. If it all works out as planned, then who’s to stay the Marquez isn’t the next name to join the exclusive club of riders to win three straight world championships.