Marc Márquez needed nine races in 2017 to reach the MotoGP championship point lead. This season, he claimed the top spot after just four rounds. That is just one example of the strength with which Márquez has begun the year. Case in point: At Circuito de Jerez-Ángel Nieto, the 25-year-old Spaniard won with total authority at a place that had previously “only” returned one victory, three seconds, and a third since his premier-class arrival in 2013. We may be facing a year similar to 2014 in which Márquez won the first 10 races of the season, beating long-established records in the process.
Just like four years ago, Márquez and his nearly perfect Honda—“perfection” is a term never used in racing—possess an almost-insulting superiority. Still fresh in our memory banks are images of the ridiculous advantage he held in Argentina; the “easy” win at “his” track, Circuit of The Americas, in Austin, Texas; and even the final sprint against Andrea Dovizioso at the Losail circuit in Qatar. It’s clear that right now Márquez is racing in a higher gear than his competitors.
The key to this undeniable upper hand can be found in the tool that the Honda engineers have placed in his control. After three years of technical difficulties that forced Márquez to risk all every time he entered the track, this season Honda has finally given him a bike that doesn’t demand to be ridden on the razor’s edge all the time. You can see this in his results, in the statistics, and observing how he rides the bike compared to last year. And you don’t have to be an expert to recognize the difference.
Last year Márquez’s hyper-aggressive riding was the result of needing to recover under braking what he’d lost in the acceleration phase. He has since changed into a Márquez with much more fluid and smoother lines. He no longer squares off every corner; his lines are now rounder. In 2017, Márquez left Jerez after the Spanish GP having crashed eight times in four race weekends. During the same time frame this year, he has half as many falls—another revealing number that shows the path on which Márquez is currently traveling.
Last year, again due to the characteristics of his motorcycle, Márquez was forced to race tactically, managing his resources. When it comes to race management, no more efficient rider than Dovizioso currently exists, as we saw various times this past season. Now, however, Márquez’s Honda is not affecting his style of racing. He can twist the throttle open wide from start to finish, which is what we saw in Argentina, COTA, and Jerez. I expect we will continue to see this trend—the echo of 2014 in MotoGP.
Putting statistics aside for a moment, here is perhaps an unexpected bonus from the clash in Argentina between Márquez and Valentino Rossi: Márquez won’t admit it, at least not until he wins the title—if he wins it—but Rossi’s accusations of dangerous riding and feeling in danger when he is near Márquez on the track have affected the six-time world champion. His way of responding is by racing to win alone. And Márquez may be able to do it with the help of the latest RC213V.