Many would argue that Marc Marquez aboard the Honda RC213V is a spectacle yet to be matched in motorcycle racing.
The Repsol Honda Team rider’s wild riding style includes throwing his torso out of the fairing, diving into corners with immense speed, lifting the rear tyre when braking and sliding the rear end.
In the past, Marquez has compared his unmissable late braking to iconic early 1990s racer Kevin Schwantz, who was known to wrestle his machine in a “do or die” style. But the current World Champion has revealed he aims for a smoother riding style in the future, like MotoGP rival and Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso.
Marquez and Dovizioso’s many MotoGP battles have drawn comparisons between Schwantz’s rivalry with MotoGP great Wayne Rainey. While Schwantz’s dirt bike origins meant that he often got away with threading the needle, shattered windscreens and boots pointing to the sky, Rainey was characterised by his smooth, calculating riding style.
“I’m maybe more like Schwantz because I brake on the limit and Dovi brakes under control. But my target is to change my style, try to be more Dovi-style… smooth, lean a little bit less and accelerate more.” – Marc Marquez
Marquez’s erratic riding characteristics are all the more emphasised when he’s racing against riders with smooth, balanced styles who aim to get the best of both worlds, creating fusion between bike and rider for the perfect combination of speed and stability.
Ducati rider, Dovizioso has recognised Marquez’s riding style as an inevitable result of Honda’s bike development, doubting that either rider’s style would work on the opponent’s machine: “My style is a bit more relaxed… you have to ride our bike in that way. You can’t ride the Ducati like Marquez, just as I couldn’t ride the Honda in the same way. Both make a big difference.”
“The battle is good because Marquez’s approach on the brakes and the line is the complete opposite to mine.” – Andrea Dovizioso
But pushing to the limits can often come at a cost. After wrestling his bike back from the edge one too many times in a crash-infested 1994 season, Schwantz’s injuries began to take their toll – and seeing Rainey suffer injuries that left him paralysed, Schwantz decided to retire from competitive motorcycle racing.
It is these MotoGP events that plague riders in their decisions to raise the bar. While Marquez is usually remembered for his 70–degree leans with knee and elbow dragging across the tarmac, there is another characteristic that doesn’t go ignored – his aggressive passing manoeuvres that often result in crashes.
“I’m scared on the track when I’m with Marquez.” – Valentino Rossi
Fellow MotoGP riders have openly expressed their disapproval of Marquez’s overtakes, including nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi. Following the 2018 Argentina GP, in which Marquez frantically made his way to the front of the grid, Rossi referred to Marquez’s riding style as scary in a passionate piece on riders risking their lives in the quest for two-wheeled glory.
“From Friday morning on, Marquez did this to Viñales, to Dovizioso, to me, and on Saturday morning, and today he went straight through four riders. If you start to race like this, you raise the level to a very dangerous point. I was scared today when I saw his name on the board. He is destroying our sport, because when you do 300km/hour on the track, you have to have respect for your rivals.”
“If all the riders race like Marquez, this will become a very dangerous sport and it will finish in a bad way.” – Valentino Rossi
As a game changer himself, with adaptability that meant he could conquer 125s, 250s, 500s and the all-new MotoGP category, his voice is arguably more heard than others. Valentino Rossi’s ability to morph his riding style around ever-changing MotoGP technology has kept him at the sharp end of the field for many of his 400 grand prix appearances.
In his glory days, other racers climbed the ranks to rival him, with the most successful being Jorge Lorenzo. The now test rider said the Yamaha M1 is still ideal for his riding style after sampling the latest-spec bike in the Sepang shakedown earlier this year.
Like Schwantz, injuries (along with sub–par performance) forced him into retirement from full-time MotoGP competition last year. But the Spanish rider’s smooth riding style has influenced and paved the way for newer riders, such as Fabio Quartararo.
“I looked a lot at Jorge Lorenzo. He seemed to be very smooth while riding. I really think that is exactly the way to ride a motorcycle.” – Fabio Quartararo
“It’s hard to explain, but you have to ride aggressively with the Yamaha MotoGP bike, but you also have to ride smoothly. I learned that with MotoGP, you have to pay attention to the rear tyres and how to manage the wear. It’s hard to say what I’m missing… I’m still improving every stint.”
On the modern era, British rider Cal Crutchlow believes upcoming riders are struggling to be innovative and explore their own riding styles. He explains “I still think I have a superbike style, the way I hang off the bike. I don’t put my elbow on the ground, which is the new MotoGP style.”
“You see some idiots sticking out their elbow in the middle of the corner to get it on the floor, Marc Marquez style. There’s absolutely no need, it’s just because Marc does it. It’s ridiculous to watch.”- Cal Crutchlow
Turning the clock back to the 1970s, some would say American rider Kenny Roberts was doing a similar thing, all the while changing the way motorcycles were ridden; exploiting the weakness of the chassis and rubber, pushing beyond all grip and using his knee as a gauge.
In riding paved surfaces as if they were dirt tracks, forcing the bike’s rear wheel to break traction to steer around a corner, and hanging off the bike with duct tape for knee protection, he changed the future of GP racing.
The first game changer of the modern era pushed his luck just as Marquez does today and though the Spanish rider’s tyres skitter back and forth across the precarious line of traction, he manages to effectively crash without falling, channelling chaos into race victories and world titles.