Honda’s six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) has staged a miraculous comeback to action in Portugal this weekend, after nine months out of action through injury.
When the 28-year-old Spaniard rode out for FP1 yesterday morning it had been 265 days since he last rode his RC213V, but he was immediately back up to speed, finishing the session an astonishing third fastest, less than three tenths of a second behind the leaders.
At the end of the day he described his emotions on his return to the sport he loves, following last July’s accident that broke his right humerus (upper arm) bone. He said the overwhelming feeling was pure happiness at riding his RC213V and working with his crew.
However, his work was only beginning and as he rode more laps of the hugely challenging Portimao circuit the muscles in his arm were tiring. That’s why the former 125cc and Moto2 World Champion who was MotoGP World Champion in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 completed the first three free practice sessions outside the top ten, so this afternoon he had to go through the opening Q1 qualifier.
Marquez rode superbly to top that session, which promoted him to Q2, which he finished a stunning sixth fastest, only 0.259 seconds off pole position.
This puts him on the second row of the grid for his first race start since July 19, 2020. If Marquez can continue building speed like this then this comeback may one day rate as the greatest in the sport of motorcycle racing.
Marquez - winner of 56 Grand Prix races with his RC213V between 2013 and 2019 - had to endure three operations to fix his right arm. At times he was worried that his career might be over. However, a combination of massive inner determination, an intensive rehabilitation programme and great support from HRC, his Repsol Honda Team and his medical crew have enabled him to return in great shape.
The return of Marquez is great news for new team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who now has MotoGP’s strongest rider of the past decade against whom to measure himself.
Espargaro, a former Moto2 rival of Marquez, showed some real turns of speed at the opening two races and has continued to do so here, but he has struggled to put together consistently fast laps as he continues his acclimatisation to the RC213V.
He was 13th at the end of the first three free sessions and again in FP4, during which he had a high-speed fall at Turn 15. The 29-year-old Spaniard recovered from that incident to join Marquez in Q1, ending the session just behind the Marquez brothers, with Alex Marquez LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) a fraction of a second ahead of him.
The younger Marquez also had a tumble today, at the end of FP3, but bravely continued into FP4 and Q1, missing promotion to Q2 by two tenths of a second. The 2019 Moto2 World Champion will start tomorrow’s race from the front of the fifth row, with Espargaro alongside.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda RC213V) had a great ride to fifth place at Portimao last November but is having a tougher time this weekend. The 29-year-old from Chiba crashed at high speed in yesterday’s FP2 session when he braked for Turn One. His front tyre wasn’t fully up to temperature, so the tyre locked and he fell. He was battered and bruised after sliding for several hundred metres, but bravely returned after a visit to the medical centre. Despite pain he improved his lap time to end that session tenth fastest.
However, riding today was too painful, due to a combination of contusions and abrasions. Nakagami and the MotoGP medical team decided that the former Moto2 race winner should sit out the rest of the day to better prepare himself for tomorrow’s race, which of course will be a real challenge.
Portimao is the most recent addition to the MotoGP World Championship. The hillside circuit, situated just a few kilometres inland from the Algarve coast and the town of Portimao, hosted its first GP last November. The layout is unique for its fast, undulating nature, which requires riders and engineers to work harder than ever to get the most from their machines.