It would be
easy to write 2020 off as a total disaster for HRC. In the absence of Marc Marquez
the most successful manufacturer in premier class history languishes behind
Yamaha, Ducati, KTM and Suzuki in the Constructor’s standings. Repsol Honda,
the squad that prides itself on winning each of the past three triple crowns,
is ninth in the Team Championship. Only Esponsorama Ducati and Aprilia Team
Gresini have less points.

But numbers
aren’t everything. To view the season thus would be to grossly overlook the
efforts of Alex Marquez, the latest new name to grab the headlines in this
exceedingly strange and unpredictable year. The reigning Moto2 world champ
became the 15th different rider to climb the premier class podium in
2020 with an astonishing second place at the French Grand Prix. And it would be
no wild exaggeration to say it was as impressive as anything we have seen from
the ‘new guard’ that have lit up this year.

reigning Moto2 champion passed 16 riders in an epic ride through the field from
18th to 2nd. The younger Marquez had just 45 minutes in Friday
morning’s wet FP1 to understand how to brake smoother, altering his body
movements and feather the throttle on a 260bhp machine when the track was
sodden. Yes, Alex had little to lose, but compare his performance to title
contenders Fabio Quartararo and Joan Mir, both going through it for the first
time as well. 

2013/05/19 – mgp – Round04 – Le Mans – MotoGP – Marc Marquez – Repsol Honda – RC213V – Action

It brought
to mind his older brother’s first MotoGP race in the rain at this very circuit back
in 2013. Marc had never ridden a 280bhp machine with wets prior to that
typically dark, damp afternoon that brings a chill normally reserved in
northern France. In the early laps it showed, as he dropped from first to eighth. But by lap number eight Marc had
worked it out; adjust his movements, braking and being kind on the throttle.
Eight laps (or just under 15 minutes) in, he was the fastest rider on track.

In some respects, Alex’s efforts on Sunday were spookily similar (by the eighth
circulation he was lapping faster than the winner Danilo Petrucci). But in
others there is evidence to suggest this was even more impressive than Marc’s
feat seven years before. First, he was on the front foot from the start,
gaining eight positions on lap one. “I attack on the first corner that
was a little bit risky,” he
said after. His ascent through the top ten was deeply impressive. And in the
closing laps he was gaining on Petrucci despite having words with himself. “Two
laps to the end, (I said), ‘Take
it easy, Alex. Don’t crash now.”
Even the impassive Alberto Puig was moved to state: “I think now a lot
are starting to understand what we saw when we hired him for this and for the
next few years.” Quite.

On the whole, there
has been plenty to admire in Alex’s rookie campaign. These haven’t been easy
circumstances to step into the snake pit that is MotoGP currently, where
lapping 0.4s off the pace leaves you outside the top ten. Remember, he learned
of losing his seat in Repsol Honda before he had even raced – not exactly a show of
confidence in his early potential during testing. Injury has dogged Marc and
Cal Crutchlow all season, leaving Honda dependent on Alex and Taka Nakagami for
results, a far from ideal situation for a rookie.

there’s the bike. By all accounts the 2020 RC213V is not an easy animal to
tame. It’s no coincidence two of its riders have endured the worst
injury-plagued campaigns of their careers when attempting to ring its neck.
Adjusting the bike to Michelin’s 2020 rear tyre has been tough. The added edge-grip
has been great for the class’s inline fours, bikes which run wider, sweeping
lines. But Honda’s machine aims for the apex when hard on the brakes, requiring
different lines and braking style than before.

It’s also clear there
were some miscalculations regarding the inertia of the 2020 RC213V engine,
depriving their riders of what is Honda’s strongest weapon: strength on the
brakes, entering the turn.“It feels like we have a lot of
inertia, which is pushing the bike in corner entry,” explained Crutchlow in August. “You have to hold the [front] brake a long time, which makes the rear tyre
lose full contact with the road.
Then when you turn the bike and open the throttle
you’re on the wrong piece of tarmac.”

Yet Alex has kept his
head down. He has learned from those two difficult years when he first came to
Moto2 that little good comes from crashing regularly. Yes, his qualifying
record is poor and there have been some iffy results when points have got away
from him. But name me a rookie campaign (other than his older brother’s) that
hasn’t had its share of lows.

He’s shown a capacity
to learn quick. Take the back-to-back races for example. Alex’s time at the
Andalusian Grand Prix was 9.1s faster than the previous week’s Spanish Grand
Prix. He was 16.9s faster over 27 laps at Misano 2 compared to Misano 1. Those
are huge gains to find in seven days.

You know a rider is doing something truly impressive when Cal Crutchlow (the man
that Alex will in fact replace at LCR Honda in 2021) is moved to offer praise. Back
in Barcelona, the Briton was quizzed about Alex’s performance at the previous
race, the Emilia Romagna GP. “He rode a fantastic race. A superb race. You have
no idea how hard the Honda is to ride as a rookie. And he’s learnt very well.
He’s finished all the races. He’s doing a good job. He’s getting on with it.”

The last
point stands out. Compare Alex’s box with Jorge Lorenzo – the rider who was supposed
to be there in 2020 – a year ago. There have been no tempers, no critiques of
Honda said in the heat of the moment, or no loss of motivation in light of bad
results. The 24-year old has faced this challenge with humility and resilience.
Those close to Repsol Honda say his team are responding. It turns out those
world titles in the junior classes, which came fighting Jack Miller and Brad
Binder no less, didn’t turn in his favour by chance.

I guess
this isn’t surprising. It feels like Alex has been fighting to prove he is more
than just the brother of a certain eight-time champion his entire career. Being
Marc’s sibling carries its own weight. “(It’s) extra pressure,” he told me last year. “It’s
easy to control when the results are coming easiy. Like in Moto3 the first year
I was already there, then world champion the next year. Then everything was
really nice. But bad results came in ’15, ’16, a lot of crashes. Then in that
point it’s difficult to control. Because the people were trying to compare
me with my brother. It’s not easy to be compared with Marc. But I learned
from that year to control this pressure, to not think about what the people are
thinking about you. Now I know that I made my own way, my career.”

Despite his surname, Alex has had to fight for everything he’s earned in his career to date. And Sunday’s race was evidence that he’s yet another (if more familiar) name his older brother must be wary of when he does eventually return.

By Neil Morrison @NeilMorrison87

Photos by CormacGP/Repsol Honda Team @CormacGP

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