In The Paddock Column
Cycle News In The Paddock
Marquez’s Big Move, And What It Means
Marc Marquez jumping ship from Honda to Ducati is the biggest rider news since Valentino Rossi’s multiple bed-hopping. It raises at least two burning questions.
The first concerns the effect on the status quo. By joining the largest gang on the grid, is Marc risking becoming just another fast Ducati rider? Or is the aging multi-champion’s formidable combination of talent and willpower still strong enough to turn them into also-rans?
Will the Spanish intrusion into an almost all-Italian and almost all Rossi-protégé group sow dissension in the ranks?
Time will, of course, tell, but the smart money is on the second likelihood. Anyone who has studied and appreciated Marquez’s progress over the past decade can only be in awe. His run of championships from 2013 to 2019, missing only one year, is evidence enough of his riding prowess. The determination has shown even more strongly in the bad years since coming back prematurely from his broken arm in 2020, and in his willingness to risk further injury in trying to make an increasingly clumsy Honda RCV achieve the impossible.
The second concerns Honda, the winningest marque in Grand Prix history. What the hell will they do now? Who will they find to fill the boots of the man who won more titles for them, even than Mick Doohan?
It’s a tough question that will take time to answer. Hopes for 2024 will rest on current Repsol rider Joan Mir and new LCR recruit Johann Zarco, both former World Champions, alongside Taka Nakagami and whoever takes the potentially poisoned shilling to replace Marc next year. Will it be the hapless Iker Lecuona, who is hardly in a position to resist the invitation?
Marc’s decision to switch, breaking his existing HRC contract at who knows how much financial cost, is clearly founded on accelerating disillusionment with a bike that, step by step, has fallen behind the European opposition—a trait shared by Yamaha and sidestepped by the departed Suzuki. The consequence for the rider has not only been a slump in results but an accelerating number of crashes and consequential injuries.
The second concerns Honda, the winningest marque in Grand Prix history. What the hell will they do now?
This year alone, despite missing five of 14 races, he has recorded the most crashes of anyone—20. Last year, 18, the year before 22. And several of them have hurt.
No wonder he withdrew from both German and Dutch races this year—an uncomfortable career first. Thereafter he adopted a different approach: no more “riding over the limit, time to step back and keep riding just to get some information.” Being Marc, that lasted only until a quirky circuit in India and bad conditions in Japan gave him a sniff of a result, and at the latter, he claimed his first podium in almost a year.
Perhaps the greatest influence came at home. Last year, younger brother Alex rounded out three declining years on the Honda with 21 reputation-damaging crashes and a dismal 17th overall. Switched to Ducati this year, he was transformed into a frequent challenger up front and on the podium at only the second round.
One can only imagine the dinner-table conversations between the two.
Loyalty to one manufacturer has two dimensions. Firstly, the relationship with the motorcycle is all the more important as skills become increasingly specialized. Secondly, long-term career implications. Staying on board opens the possibility of becoming a test rider and/or a brand ambassador after retirement.
There are some notable precedents also for the benefits of jumping ship, going all the way back to the 1950s and Geoff Duke, who had won four 350/500 titles riding for Norton, then dumped the technically stuck-in-the-mud British factory to win two more on a Gilera.
In the next two decades, Mike Hailwood narrowly failed to add to his tally of four 500-class MV Agusta titles after switching to Honda in 1966, but Giacomo Agostini (whose arrival at MV had precipitated Mike’s departure) was successful in adding an eighth crown to his MV tally on a Yamaha in 1975.
The next to win titles on different makes was Eddie Lawson, whose abrupt departure from Yamaha to Honda in 1989 upset his former employers and also seriously incommoded Honda incumbent Wayne Gardner, their 1987 champion.
Rossi famously gave Honda the elbow to continue his run of seven titles at Yamaha in 2004, then broke the mold by switching to Ducati, a disastrous move that came close to ending his career. Then he returned to Yamaha and is an official brand ambassador, in spite of running Ducatis in his MotoGP team.
And great rival Casey Stoner won his first title at Ducati and his second on a Honda.
Marc easily equals all of these in stature, and his arrival at Ducati—even in a satellite team—will surely upset the incumbent riders. But will he beat them? And will he become the latest to win several titles on different makes?
For my money, yes. CN