Honda’s six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) returns to action this weekend following a lengthy rehabilitation from injury sustained at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Marquez’s comeback is the most eagerly awaited in the history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. From Sunday’s race at Algarve International Circuit until season’s end in November the 28-year-old Spaniard’s intention is clear – to gradually return to the kind of form that made him the dominant rider of the modern era.
If he succeeds in this challenge he will emulate the extraordinary achievements of another Honda hero – Australian legend Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda Team Honda NSR500), who returned from a career-threating leg injury to win five consecutive 500cc World Championships, from 1994 to 1998.
Marquez broke his right humerus (upper arm) bone last July and has since undergone three surgeries to fix the injury. The first two, last July and August, were to insert titanium plates around the injury site. The third, in December, was to add a bone graft, taken from his pelvis, to cure a non-union problem.
In mid-March he was given clearance by his medical team to return to riding. First he rode a minibike around a kart circuit and then he graduated to riding a Honda RC213V-S road bike at the Barcelona and Portimao MotoGP venues. His hope was to return to racing at last month’s 2021 season-opening Qatar GP, but medical experts advised him to wait a little longer.
Now Marquez is ready to race again, aboard his RC213V, winner of seven of the last nine MotoGP Constructors World Championships.
Marquez has never raced at Portimao, but the day he spent there last month helped him learn the layout of the circuit.
His first race weekend since July 2020 will also give him the chance to work with new team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who on Sunday will contest his third MotoGP race with Honda.
Espargaro made his Honda debut three weeks ago, in the first of two back-to-back races in Qatar; the Qatar GP followed by the Doha GP, both at the Losail circuit. The 29-year-old Spaniard showed excellent speed in both races, but circumstances didn’t play in his favour, putting him eighth and 13th.
Conditions at Losail are always unique – the races are run under floodlights during the night and riders have to contend with sand blown onto the circuit from the surrounding desert. Also, this year’s front-tyre allocation didn’t suit the RC213V, which needs a strong front tyre to allow riders to exploit the machine’s excellent corner-entry performance.
Espargaro is very much looking forward to the Portuguese GP, when conditions will be more typical and he will be able to start working in a more normal way to get the best from his RC213V. Last November the 2103 Moto2 World Champion had a great race at Algarve International Circuit (often called Portimao), finishing fourth, just one place off the podium.
The man who chased Espargaro across the finish line in that race was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), who also had a challenging time during both Qatar race weekends, trying to find a front tyre that would work for him.
The 29-year-old from Chiba is therefore delighted to return to Portimao, where he will be able to push his RC213V to the limit once again. Nakagami had by far his best season yet in 2020, bettering that fifth-place finish twice, with hard-fought fourths at the Andalusian and European GPs. This year he is confident of fighting for his first podium.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) is even keener to get going to Portimao than his team-mate. The 24-year-old Spaniard tumbled out of the first two races of 2021 for the aforementioned reasons, so his straightforward aim for this weekend is to get back into the groove and build his speed for his second season in the premier-class.
Marquez, winner of the 2019 Moto2 World Championship, finished ninth at Portimao last year. This result was one of five top-ten results in his rookie MotoGP season, which was topped by second places at the French and Aragon GPs.
Algarve International Circuit, situated in hilly countryside a few kilometres inland from the Algarve coast and the town of Portimao, welcomed the MotoGP paddock for the first time last year. The circuit was an instant hit with riders and teams. The layout is exceptionally twisty and undulating, which makes it hugely enjoyable and a major challenge for MotoGP riders. Engineers work hard to improve the manoeuvrability of their machines, to allow riders to change direction quicker through the twists and turns to reduce their lap times.
Portugal hosted MotoGP rounds between 2000 and 2012 at the Estoril circuit, near Lisbon. Honda winners during that time included Valentino Rossi, Alex Barros, Toni Elias, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.
The first Portuguese motorcycle GPs were staged in 1987 and 1988, but both these events were run at Spanish circuits – Jarama and then Jerez – because Estoril was awaiting safety upgrades.
The 2021 MotoGP season stays on the Iberian Peninsula for round four, at Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto.