Not since Valentino Rossi’s switch to Yamaha from Honda in 2004 has there been as much excitement in the MotoGP paddock as Marc Marquez’s move from Honda to Gresini Ducati ahead of this season.
The eight-time world champion was offered a big-money contract to extend his trophy-laden 11-year stay at Honda. However, the Spaniard – who is winless since 2021 and has had a wretched luck with injuries – opted to join his brother Alex at the satellite Gresini team this season.
The 31-year-old will ride a year-old version of the title-winning Ducati Desmosedici, and he couldn’t have asked for a better place to start the second innings of his MotoGP career. At the Lusail International Circuit – which will host the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar this weekend – the Gresini team has won the last two races courtesy of former riders Enea Bastianini (2022) and Fabio di Giannantonio (2023).
However, Marquez has sought to temper expectations as he expects battle for the championship to remain between two-time defending champion Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati and runner-up Jorge Martin of Pramac Racing.
Marquez is the last rider to win three titles in a row, while Bagnaia is the clear favourite to match that record this year, the man he looks to emulate may himself be a dark horse this time.
Marquez finished fourth-fastest in pre-season testing in Qatar last month, but having had to adapt his riding style with the Desmosedici GP23 bike, he has a point to prove. “My target is to try to feel competitive again, then I’ll smile and have the motivation to push and keep going,” Marquez said at a press conference on Thursday.
“Expectations are super high, but I know what I’ve been through in the last four years. I need time. No rush. I don’t pretend to win from the beginning because it would be a huge mistake, especially because I haven’t won a single race (since 2021). And now I arrive in a manufacturer where there are two-three guys, especially Pecco, Martin and Bastianini, who are riding this bike superfast, super good. I need to learn from them and adapt,” he added.
Marquez’s cautious approach is pragmatic. In the last four seasons, he has crashed numerous times while often attempting to push Honda’s bike beyond its limits and thus had to undergo four surgeries on his arm.
Marquez’s last title came in 2019, and he is now bidding to become the oldest premier class World Champion in the MotoGP era. Marquez said he is feeling “comfortable” on the Gresini Ducati, but is “not ready to fight for the podium
“Of course, it was a completely different pre-season because I was used to riding, just trying things for the bike and developing a bike,” Marquez said. “But this winter was the complete opposite. I was focused on myself, trying to adapt my riding style to the new bike, and from the beginning I was not feeling bad. Still, there are many things to learn and many things to improve, especially learning from the top guys inside Ducati. At the moment I feel comfortable, not ready to fight for the podium, not ready to fight for the victory, but step by step we need to create the base and try to understand during the race weekends where we are.”
He also admits that he is now at a stage in his career that he must start to ‘learn’ from the younger riders around him to remain competitive. “We cannot forget that every athlete has his moment and then starts to drop. Then you need to work harder and harder to keep flat. Young guys arrive, like Fabio in his first year, now Pedro, Pecco, Martin that are riding faster. So I need to learn from the younger riders and try to keep that level as long as possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, Alex Marquez – who is in his second season with Gresini Racing – says he is excited to share the garage with his more illustrious older brother. “You have to take things as a joke and even more so when it’s your brother,” Alex said on Thursday.
“There’s a healthy rivalry. I arrive prepared and with a lot of enthusiasm, very positive. Then during a 21-race season there will be problems and there will be better and worse moments. But to start well is a big step. So we are ready, I feel very good every day being competitive and above all having the bike much more in my hand. It’s going to be a special weekend, the first race with Marc and for the whole team.”