Marquez returns to MotoGP this weekend at Portimao
Nine months since last starting a race and even longer since last finishing one, the time has come for Marc Marquez to return to MotoGP. Fans have been waiting for Marc to hit the race track for months now, but their prayers have been answered as he heads into his first race at Portimao.
It’s been a long road to recovery following his crash in Jerez, and translating that into racing terms pulls it into focus: Fabio Quartararo, Brad Binder, Miguel Oliveira, Franco Morbidelli and Joan Mir are now all premier class race winners. Mir is the first MotoGP World Champion in ten years not called Marc Marquez or Jorge Lorenzo. Ducati are the reigning Constructors’ Champions and Team Suzuki Ecstar the Teams’ Champions.
Johann Zarco leads the 2021 Championship, many on the grid are in different colours and some familiar sparring partners have gone. Some are new faces entirely and there’s even someone different on the other side of the Repsol Honda Team garage as Pol Espargaro continues to settle in. This has all happened in what feels for many like a breathless, exciting rush – and will likely have felt to Marquez like the longest months of his life.
All eyes will be on Marquez from FP1, and having not raced on the Algarve last year, there will likely be thousands of words given to balancing taking it easy vs track familiarisation vs getting back on a MotoGP bike after so long vs expecting the eight-time Champion to put in a lap record in five seconds. Some will expect the answers within five minutes and others within five Grands Prix, but the questions themselves are the bigger draw. How long will it take to see the number 93 on full power?
The aforementioned Zarco, meanwhile, arrives as Championship leader and is one person who believes the grid got faster in 2020. The layout of Portimão wasn’t the best fit for Ducati last year with the exception of Jack Miller, now at Ducati Lenovo Team, as the Australian took second.
The task will be for the rest of the Borgo Panigale machines – especially Zarco and Francesco Bagnaia – to unlock Miller’s secret to second place in 2020, and for Miller it’s to grit his teeth slightly after arm pump surgery and try and get back nearer the front.
Yamaha have a similar balancing act to take from last year’s first visit to the Algarve. Franco Morbidelli put in a stunner for another podium finish as his machine seemed to edge out the factory riders later in the season, but so far in 2021 fortunes have been slightly reversed as Fabio Quartararo and Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate Maverick Viñales arrive with a win apiece; second and third in the Championship.
For Suzuki there are also plenty of questions left unanswered on the Algarve. After winning the title before the Portuguese GP last year, Joan Mir had a self-described disaster of a weekend as he had issues in practice, qualified well down the order and then eventually pulled in during the race with a mechanical problem. Teammate Alex Rins, meanwhile, said he made the wrong tyre choice – leaving Suzuki at full chat a somewhat unknown quantity.
The closest top ten in history, the closest top 15 in history, and now an eight-time World Champion returns to the fold. For Marquez Portimão is unchartered territory, for the rest it’s somewhat more familiar turf, but for everyone on the grid it’s going to be a very different race weekend to the last one: the previous benchmark is back.
MotoGP Championship top five
- Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 40
- Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 36
- Maverick Viñales – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 36
- Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 26
- Alex Rins – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 23