In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | July 29, 2020

In The Paddock

COLUMN

The Whoosh of History in the Making

Did you watch the opening MotoGP round from Jerez? Did you hear that whooshing sound a couple of laps from the end?

That’s the sound of history in the making. Or to put it another way, marking the ceremony known as “the changing of the guard.” This was always going to be portentous but was surely never meant to be quite so violent or so sudden, as the return to MotoGP after the long lay-off demonstrated not only how brilliant top-level racing can be but also how cruel.

And that while we may accord god-like status to those of towering talent and ability, racing can also demonstrate that they remain just human.

That’s what everybody thought at the time. Marquez’s crash left him with a broken right humerus—the big bone between elbow and shoulder. This signaled an inevitably long absence. It didn’t mean that his reign was over but it would perforce be interrupted.

Marc Marquez at MotoGP Jerez 2020
To see Marc Marquez ride out of pit lane on Saturday was nothing short of remarkable. Photography by Gold & Goose

This was reckoning without a level of determination that refreshes that perception of superhuman powers that brought him back to the track and back on the bike four days after what anyone would consider major surgery. As it transpired, it was too soon and the inevitable pain meant he had to withdraw from the race but not before placing 16th out of 22 in FP4, sliding the rear and pushing the front to a lap time less than a second down on the best.

Amazing. Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Ride.

Quartararo’s first and second wins in Spain were a personal landmark and appears to be a bellwether for the abbreviated season to follow. The championship was only two races old out of an eventual 13 (assuming it goes the full distance, which not everyone in the paddock believes it will). But with the main rivals from Honda (Marquez) and Suzuki (a walking-wounded Rins) already sidelined and missing the big points for at the least the first two or even three races, and with fellow Yamaha riders Vinales, Rossi and Morbidelli looking clearly beaten, it was a massive step in the right direction for the fab Frenchman. The 21-year-old stripling didn’t put a foot wrong both weekends. As is normal for his increasingly immaculate style.

But can race wins without Marquez really count? For the points, yes, but before he crashed, Marc was well into one of the most epic comeback rides ever, scything through from 16th to third with more to come.

Then again, the comeback was only necessary because of his earlier mistake. And he did crash. The first error was a typical Marc super-save, after losing the front—a situation from which we’ve seen repeated miraculous recoveries. The second was a much rarer event for him—a high-side after losing the rear.

He had, he explained on his return after surgery, been enjoying the race hugely but that time he took a white line and both tires let go.

In the end, the winner only has to beat those still going. And the status of the win is not important. The effect on the championship is.

Marc’s misadventures, not to mention fellow Honda rider Crutchlow’s terminal morning tumble, reveal much about the RC213V, in spite of both having gone back to the more familiar 2019-style chassis. The bike is not to be trusted if you want to go fast enough to make a difference. The other Honda riders, both Moto2 race winners, and one a double World Champion, prove it. Nakagami was 20 seconds adrift in a distant 10th in the first Jerez race, the younger Marquez, Alex, another seven away.

It takes superhuman talent and determination (i.e., Marc Marquez) to turn the Honda handful into a regular winner.

So, when can he realistically return? The humerus is a tricky bone: the first words you’ll see on Google are “diaphyseal fractures are slow to heal.” I have personal experience, and it took 12 months and three operations to repair. For Marc to get back on his bike after four days is just astounding.

Now for the portents and omens. It obviously makes sense to see Marc’s crash as a career-ender, but it is doubtless an interruption to what had, until then, been an almost unbroken spell of complete domination. A charmed life. Reminiscent of his Honda predecessor Mick Doohan, rampant from 1988 to 1994, who then stopped abruptly up against the fence. And if you’re superstitious, it was at the same corner of the same track where Marc crashed. The circumstances were different, but Mick also strayed onto a (damp) white line.

With the remaining 11 races crammed into fewer than four months, Marc’s chances of adding a seventh title are small, no matter how soon he can start building points.

Fabio, meanwhile, looks like he’s sitting pretty. As long as he doesn’t suffer a similar fate. CN

 

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.