For the first time, MotoGP goes to CoTA unsure of who will win. In previous years, the only question has been how much Marc Marquez would win by, assuming he doesn’t fall off at the slowest corner on the track. We used to think the same about Sachsenring and Aragon. We still did after Germany but then came Aragon. On a left-handed circuit, Marc suffered the treatment he’s made a habit of handing out to the champions that went before him. Pecco Bagnaia beat him to notch his first win in the top class after setting a new absolute lap record, preciously the property of Marc, in qualifying. Bagnaia is 24 years old, four years younger than Marquez.
Looking back at the Sachsenring race, Marc’s winning margin was 1.6 seconds over Miguel Oliveira who only ceded victory a couple of laps from the flag. Third-placed Fabio Quatararo was a further fives seconds back. It didn’t look too different from previous years when one man and one man only occasionally had the ammunition to challenge Marc on the track where he’s habitually topped every session. True, he qualified fifth but the first victory since the final race of 2019 made it too easy to think that things were back to normal. Marc, while clearly overjoyed to prove he could still win, said all the right things. He knew he was a long way from where he needed to be.
But surely Aragon, his true home race, would provide another morale boosting victory. He qualified a little better, fourth, but increasingly desperate attacks in the closing stages failed to dent Bagnaia’s concentration or precision. This time the rest were closer too, Mir in third was two and a half seconds back. And this time Marc allowed a little of what he’s been through to show. We were allowed to know that there were times when he didn’t think he’d ever have a properly functioning arm again, never mind the strength to do the things he used to do on a motorcycle.
One of the many problems with shoulder injuries is that they take time, lots of it, to repair. There are no short-cuts, as Marc has so ably demonstrated. Racers who suffer from them late in their careers, like Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson, tend to call it a day. You could argue that Marc Marquez has time on his side, well you could but for the fact that all of his competitors I’ve mentioned are younger than him. As even the greatest of champions finds out, once that aura of invincibility has been dented it takes very little time to disappear completely.
Marc comes to CoTA, where he once won by over 20 seconds (not a misprint), wrestling not just with the mental and physical trauma of recovery but with a completely changed racing landscape. As Valentino Rossi once remarked, once the sharks smell blood….
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