In The Paddock
Among many strange events, 2020 is not just the Year of the Rookie, but also the Year of the Brother.
Put it another way: to succeed in motorcycle racing, have a sibling with the same ambition. Then ideally you want to keep him at arm’s length.
Brotherhood is one way to explain Alex Marquez’s extraordinary second place at Le Mans on Sunday, October 11.
To be fair, brotherhood also largely explains why he is in the top Honda team at all. Moto2 title notwithstanding, a class rookie was not the most obvious choice to recruit for one of the highest-level seats in MotoGP.
But it hasn’t necessarily all been a cushy ride. The younger former bedroom-sharer of the (still sadly absent) current best rider in the world has suffered for years under the shadow of Marc. The forensic scrutiny began when he arrived in Moto3 in 2012, when he scored just a pair of lower top-10s, somewhere short of Marc’s first-season benchmark of six top-10s, including a podium.
On Sunday in France, Alex stepped out of that shadow and finally made good on the long-ago comment by both his brother and their father that “Alex is faster than Marc was, at the same age.”
From 18th on the grid to a strong second was a fine achievement, after a first men’s-class season on the high-level factory Honda. Particularly since it was achieved in difficult wet conditions that put the likes of Rossi, Crutchlow and Morbidelli (among others) in the gravel. Alex had only twice ridden a MotoGP bike in the wet—at Valencia in the end-of-2019 tests, and at Le Mans in FP1, when he placed 12th, a full second off the pace.
The Marquez boys were already the first brothers to win GPs on the same day back in 2014 when the younger narrowly beat Jack Miller to the Moto3 title while Marc took his second MotoGP crown. They repeated the feat they repeated four times in 2019, in a year when again each won a World Championship.
In fact, 24-year-old Alex has matched 27-year-old Marc’s record of titles in the junior classes. But it took him longer. By the time Marc was 24, he’d already won four MotoGP championships.
Throughout, Alex has suffered for his senior sib’s success. He could hardly do anything but fall short, the bar was set so high. And to be honest, poor guy, he’s done it again. Marc’s first MotoGP year had six wins and the title. Alex, on the same factory Repsol Honda, has not performed discreditably, with few crashes and a general steady level of improvement in a highly competitive field. But second at the French GP was his best, by a big margin.
Good work. But it’s been nothing like “faster than Marc at the same age.”
They are not the only brothers with 2020 wins: Brad Binder achieved a classic dry-weather rookie MotoGP victory at Brno, underlining the promise of his Moto3 title and narrow miss in Moto2. Younger brother, Darryn, (22 to 25) took his first victory in Moto3 a couple of races back. To continue the comparison, each achieved his first Moto3 win in his fifth year in the class—so Darryn’s matched Brad so far.
Then the Espargaro brothers. The younger, Pol, has had better breaks and much more success than Aleix—15 GP wins to none, plus a Moto2 Championship. Neither has won for a while, and at least until the KTM came good this season were both stuck with lower-level bikes. Which doubtless contributes to their cordial relationship. But I recall Pol expressing mixed feelings to me when he was about to join Aleix in MotoGP the following season. “You want to beat your brother, but you will always give him some extra room compared with other riders.”
Think about it. Of course, you’d want your brother to do well. But not quite as well as you. The concept of sibling rivalry is not imaginary.
The brother business does raise interesting questions about nature or nurture. Are racers born or made? Is talent in the blood and in the fingers? Or is it a science that can be learned and applied?
Can’t answer that but can confide another aspect.
If you have a brother and want to avoid wishing he wasn’t going better than you—then make sure he’s in a different series.
That’s what the only brother who actually did win at Le Mans on Sunday has managed with distinction. Sam Lowes races GPs and is in distant but real contention for the Moto2 title this year. His (very) identical twin Alex is Rea’s factory Kawasaki teammate in WorldSBK, and in the top five. And each can genuinely delight in the success of the other.
Good tactics, Sam and Alex. CN