The Spanish prodigy Marc Marquez will tomorrow night get the chance to appease or frustrate disciples who have hailed the 20-year-old as a potential MotoGP champion this year before he has even started a race on his 800cc Repsol Honda.
Marquez, who won the 600cc Moto2 feeder category last year, lines up against MotoGP giants Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi in the opening round of the 17-race MotoGP series under floodlights on the 3.34-mile Losail circuit in Qatar.
Pundits have noted Marquez’s searing speed in pre-season testing and his vivid riding style – his elbow frequently scrapes the track in corners – as evidence that he can scoop the world title at his first attempt on a 250bhp MotoGP bike.
The youngster himself – he is only two months past being a teenager – takes a slightly more balanced view of his prospects. “We don’t discount anything because nothing is impossible, but the key is to try and be patient,” Marquez said. “If your mentality is that winning is essential, it will be dangerous.”
Marquez has gained a reputation for uncompromising riding tactics on his way to his two world titles and 26 race victories in the 125cc and Moto2 classes. He has been recruited to replace the retired two-times world champion Casey Stoner in the factory Honda squad, where he is surrounded by wise heads steeped in racing lore, including team principal Livio Suppo.
Marquez set a front-running pace in the official tests at Sepang in Malaysia, and then dominated a private Honda/Yamaha session at Austin, Texas, on a track new to the MotoGP calendar. Now his more fervent believers claim he could join the Italian Max Biaggi (1998) and the Finn Jarno Saarinen (1973) in winning in his MotoGP debut. Some even claim that he could take the world title first time out.
“We are likely to see a rookie racing to win the MotoGP world championship for the whole of the season,” the 1993 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz has said. “I am sure he has got all of his team telling him to take his time, let the races come to him and not go out and give points away.”
The nine-times world champion Rossi, who returns to Yamaha this season after two win-less years with Ducati, said of Marquez: “I like his skill, his style and his aggression, but he risks too much.”
“He is going to be exciting for the sport,” Nicky Hayden, the Ducati rider and the 2006 MotoGP champion, said. “He rides very hard and he is very hungry.”
But more pragmatic observers will say that Marquez is unlikely to be able to match the season-long racecraft and the gruelling mental stamina developed by Lorenzo, 25, and the 27-year-old Pedrosa, over several seasons in MotoGP. If Marquez could win a couple of races this year and challenge Rossi, and perhaps Britain’s Cal Crutchlow, for third place in the championship, he would have handled himself brilliantly.
Crutchlow starts his third season in MotoGP with France’s Tech 3 Yamaha team, where he has performed superbly. But he will be frustrated by the fact that Tech 3 is a satellite team, and he may not receive the latest go-faster parts received by Lorenzo and Rossi on the factory Yamahas.
Another Brit, the 20-year-old Scott Redding, could challenge for the Moto2 title on the Marc VDS team’s Honda, while at Brands Hatch, reigning champion and title-holder Shane Byrne kicks off his defence of his British Superbike crown on his 1,000cc Kawasaki.Reuse content