After two hard-racing weekends in Qatar, the grid are ready to get suited and booted for another one as MotoGP™ takes on the rollercoaster Autodromo Internacional do Algarve near Portimão – and this time they’re joined by Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) as the eight-time World Champion gets back into the fray after nine months on the sidelines. Marquez headlined the pre-event Press Conference, alongside new Championship leader Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), Doha winner Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), his teammate and Qatar GP winner Maverick Viñales, reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and home hero – and last year’s winner – Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).
Marquez spoke first.
Marc Marquez: “It’s really nice to be back here with all of you, it was a hard nine months, really difficult. Tomorrow it will be time to make the most important step in my rehabilitation, riding a MotoGP bike. And it’s true I’m nervous, I have some butterflies in my stomach that aren’t normal for me. But I know after FP1 they’ll be gone, and it’s now time to enjoy it on the bike again. Today I met all the team, the Japanese staff as I saw the Spanish staff in a test, and they’re so motivated. And immediately I said, don’t forget we don’t have a target this weekend. I will be not the same Marc right from FP1, I need time. Still my rehabilitation is two things; physical and mental. We’re in the process but I’m really happy to be here and looking forward to riding the bike.”
How was it on the sidelines?
“It was really strange, especially in the beginning, then in the mid period it was normal already, I was just a fan watching on TV and enjoying it. It was hard to decide to not race in Qatar 1 and 2, I felt ready but not 100% and the doctors stopped me. I followed that advice. But it was hard, nine hard months, with not only the doubt if I’ll ride again but also whether I’ll have a normal arm. I was optimistic, and the people around me helped a lot to keep the motivation there. And we have the target, to ride a MotoGP bike again.”
Conditions on Friday could be mixed:
“I wouldn’t like to ride a MotoGP bike for the first time in a long time in the rain! But if I’m here it’s because I’m ready to ride in all situations and if it rains I’ll ride. I did a private test one month ago, that was the last time I rode a bike. I was on a flat track bike last Monday but the last time I rode a proper bike was here a month ago. The circuit was nice, and good. For these guys their confidence is high, my confidence is not high at the moment! I’m in a different situation I’ll start step by step. It doesn’t matter the circuit or the time, now is my preseason and I’m looking forward to riding my Honda.”
The others were also first asked about the eight-time World Champion’s return.
Johann Zarco: “I think it’s so good, and the main thing it’s important for Marc. I can’t imagine, the way he is, a guy with so much energy having to stay at home and doubting whether he would have his arm back to normal. I think the fans are happy but the main one is himself. The butterflies he says he has, I think I can imagine. But I’m happy for him that he can remove his doubts.”
Fabio Quartararo: “It’s great for him, first of all, after such a long time without jumping on a MotoGP bike, and for the Championship. When you’re an eight-time World Champion when you’re not here all of 2020… it felt strange and I think to have him back is great. I feel like for everyone, and the fans, to have the reference from the last years here will be great.”
Maverick Viñales: “I think it’s great for everyone, for anyone… if a rider is one year away, as a rider for me that would be a very difficult time. So I’m really happy he can be here, for sure our way of enjoying life is riding a bike. That’s our way. So the chance to ride the bike and be back here is something unbelievable, and I think we are all happy because riders can be rivals on track but off track we have a good feeling and that’s important. To have all the riders here, and especially to have Marc here, who’s one of the biggest guys in the Championship, I’m really happy for him.”
Joan Mir: “I’m happy for Marc that he’s here, the last years he was the reference. To have him here again will be a great opportunity for me to learn from him. I’m happy he’s back, let’s see how competitive he’ll be but to be here is the first step and I’m happy.”
Miguel Oliveira: “I cannot add anything different to what anyone else said. Obviously happy for him first that he can be a normal individual after he had such a terrible accident and after all getting back to do what he likes to do which is riding bikes, like all of us. I think from the competitive side we are all very excited because despite having good results last year there was still missing the dominator of the class in the last decade so makes it a little bit more motivating for all of us to have.”
Talk then moved on to the weekend ahead as MotoGP™ returns to the rollercoaster.
Johann Zarco: “Coming in as leader is pretty nice, it’s a nice feeling. The best position to start the European tour! I think here in Portimão, the bike is working well. We always think it will be more tricky and can be but the podium and second place for Jack last year is pretty important and it means the bike is competitive. And also the feeling I got last year was interesting and I was still on the way to improving my level. So I hope I’ll have this speed immediately from FP1 and keep it to qualifying and the race. I’m quite optimistic and I hope this position of being the leader will give me extra energy to keep pushing for another podium, and if everything is going well why not a step better with victory? But we need to start on Friday and see but I think the potential of the bike is high and I can wish for a nice result.”
Fabio Quartararo: “Last year I was also in a different situation, we were fighting for the Championship in Valencia and it was difficult even if the bike was not working so well, my spirit wasn’t the same and it was a mistake. It will be good to be here after great races in Qatar, I feel so good with the bike so I think it’s the best moment to see how our potential is on this track. But I’m feeling good, I have a lot of confidence with the bike and I think it can be not as bad as last year… and also a good track for us!”
Maverick Viñales: “I don’t think last year we had big problems here, we started Friday really strong but then we touched the bike too much and lost the way a bit. I don’t think we understood how to get the maximum potential at the track. But it’s the kind of track I like, where I can go fast, and it’s important. This year we arrive in a different way, last year we arrived from difficult times and even with that we had a really good rhythm at the end of the race. So I can imagine the bike has good potential. We’ll try to work and try to figure out how to get it. Qualifying will be key and we’ll see what we can do but I’m confident and I know the potential we have.”
Joan Mir: “I think the performance last year didn’t show much because I think we had a lot of problems, technical problems and it was a shame. This track I really like, I enjoy riding here and now we have a good opportunity to make a good result on Sunday. I’m confident, I think we can do great here. So let’s see!”
Miguel Oliveira: “Qatar was a difficult couple of rounds for us, the second race slightly better but we had a technical issue with the dash… despite that I think we had a stronger weekend. And coming here we’d like to continue on the journey we finished last year. There’s some expectation but we shouldn’t be worried about repeating or improving the result, just enjoying riding a GP that for me is a privilege to race in my home country, And enjoy the normal process of working during the weekend, and enjoy this beautiful track!”