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Marc Marquez: MotoGP’s best ever rookie?

8 August 2013

By Neil Morrison

As Marc Marquez danced his RC213V around the three pronged right-handed turns 16, 17 and 18 at the Circuit of the Americas for the final time, balancing and sliding on both his elbow and knee in third gear to become the youngest ever winner of a premier-class race at just 20 years and 63 days old, those in the know demanded calm and a bit of perspective.

After the race, the greatest motorcycle grand prix winner of them all Giacomo Agostini told Cycle News, “he is very fast now but it is difficult to keep that for the whole season. There will be tracks where he lacks experience… like Laguna.” Wayne Rainey, another serial champion warned, “He's racing against people who are as talented as he is now.” And they were right.

Yet fast-forward three months and seven races and the young Spaniard heads the MotoGP standings with a staggering 163 points after a comprehensive victory at Laguna Seca, a track he had only previously seen on TV and that was supposed to be the most difficult to learn.

Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, his nearest challenger, is 16 points adrift with Yamaha's reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo a further 10 back.

Marquez has notched up three race wins and been equally impressive in terms of consistency, normally a rookie's weak point, finishing on the rostrum in all races bar one. Even when he fell at Mugello the young Catalan was only three laps away from finishing in a comfortable second.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. A quick glance at Marquez's records in the smaller categories shows he eclipsed even his current peer's records.

When celebrating his 20th birthday in February this year, Marquez had amassed 26 grand prix wins. Pedrosa, nearing the end of his second successful 250cc campaign at the end of his teens, had 21. Rossi had 17 wins and Lorenzo 14 to show from their teenage years.

It isn't just the numbers that impress though. At times he has been ruthless with his rivals and doesn't shy away from close combat, no matter who's in his way.

Once they return to fitness, Lorenzo and Pedrosa are sure to prove a tough prospect for Marquez to contain, and the 2013 season is still only at its halfway point. But whatever else happens, Marquez's rookie achievements have already been spectacular.

Here we look at Marquez's season so far alongside previous giants of the sport in their rookie years.

Note: The data below, including the age and championship position is that of the rider just after the ninth race of their respective rookie seasons in the premier 500cc/MotoGP class. For the sake of comparison, the current point scoring system has been used calculate each rider's total score after nine races. Riders are ranked by the number of points scored...

1. Marc Marquez – 2013 – 20 years and 153 days old
Championship position: 1st
Number of points (on current point scoring system): 163
Number of race wins: 3
Number of podiums: 8
Number of pole positions: 3
% of races finished on podium: 88
% of races won: 33
Riders battling for championship: Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Rossi, Crutchlow.

Marquez astonished with his speed and style throughout pre-season and has been a consistent podium challenger since Qatar. He has shown an incredible toughness and ability to bounce back after massive practice falls in Mugello and Assen and took full advantage of Lorenzo and Pedrosa's mistakes to overhaul them in the championship.

2. Max Biaggi – 1998 – 27 years and 21 days old
Championship position: 2nd
Number of points: 148
Number of race wins: 1
Number of podiums: 6
Number of pole positions: 2
% of races finished on podium: 66
% of races won: 11
Riders battling for championship: Doohan, Criville.

After Mick Doohan eased to the most dominant season in the history of the 500cc class in 1997 the addition of four-time 250 champion Biaggi added some much needed spice for 1998.

After breaking lap records throughout pre-season, Biaggi became only the second rider in history to win his first premier class race after Jarno Saarinen. He eclipsed the field at the first round at Suzuka while Doohan was left floundering.

With his NSR being prepped by Erv Kanemoto, Biaggi's silky smooth style was aided by the class' switch to unleaded fuel, which Doohan claimed took the edge of the 500's vicious power band and made the bikes more like 'a big 250.'

Nonetheless Biaggi managed to set a new record of finishing each of his first four races on the podium and was never outside the top six in nine attempts. Although a lone marshal in Catalunya eventually halted his challenge to Doohan's dominance, Biaggi's reignited excitement to a class, which had been on the wane. The explosive start was at odds to his whimpering goodbye to the class in 2005.

3. Kenny Roberts Senior – 1978 – 25 years and 211 days old
Championship position: 1st
Number of points: 144
Number of race wins: 3
Number of podiums: 7
Number of pole positions: 2
% of races finished on podium: 77
% of races won: 33
Riders battling for championship: Sheene.

At the 1974 Daytona 200 Kenny Roberts labelled himself the real world champion in a conversation with Giacomo Agostini, “Because the world is America, not Europe.”

Clearly the Californian wasn't afraid of ruffling the feathers of the established European hierarchy and quickly set about dismantling it when he debuted the world championship in 1978. Although he was at first hesitant to travel to Europe while dominating the national scene he later said his mind was made up after '77 champion Sheene labelled him “no threat” to his crown.

Yamaha's full factory might was reserved for Johnny Cecotto but Roberts, aided by American Yamaha's support and crew chief Kel Carruthers' know how, rode brilliantly all year finishing six of the first seven rounds inside the top two, despite having only one machine for the first nine rounds.

To make matters more impressive he contested the first four rounds of the '78 250 championship, winning twice, as well as the Formula 750 class, learning as much as possible in the short time available.

After nine races he led Sheene by three points and was on course to become the first American 500cc champion. He still remains the only rider in modern times to win the title at his first attempt.

4. Dani Pedrosa – 2006 – 20 years and 276 days
Championship position: 2nd
Number of points (on current point scoring system): 127
Number of race wins: 2
Number of podiums: 5
Number of pole positions: 2
% of races finished on podium: 55
% of races won: 22
Riders battling for championship: Hayden, Rossi, Capirossi, Melandri.

Dani Pedrosa entered the premier class as Honda's golden boy coming off three consecutive championships and, like Marquez, his own records in the smaller categories matched and challenged the best in history.

He caused an immediate stir by finishing a comfortable second in his first race at Jerez, and produced a Rossi-esque ride through the field in Istanbul where he took just 12 laps to rise from 16th to first, before crashing on the last lap.

Despite his own serious concerns about how his 51kg frame could muscle the 990 around, he took his first triumph in China at Round four. By the season's half way mark he claimed his second MotoGP win with an imperious display at Donington, cementing his second place in the standings.

In a year when no rider dominated, Pedrosa's early consistency earmarked him as a true championship contender.

5. Giacomo Agostini – 1965 – 23 years and 67 days old
Championship position: 2nd
Number of points: 125
Number of race wins: 1
Number of podiums: 6
Number of pole positions: -
% of races finished on podium: 66
% of races won: 11
Riders battling for championship: Hailwood.

Count Agusta always wanted a household Italian name for his all-conquering MV team and plucked a young Agostini from the Italian 250 championship for the 1965 season to partner the imperious Mike Hailwood.

It was to be a learning year where 'Ago' would juggle his 500 duties with the 350 and Italian championship. He finished second to Hailwood six times overall, often close to a minute behind, with the MVs making light work of the Matchlesses and Nortons in pursuit.

Although the class lacked depth the 23-year old showed flashes of brilliance along the way, finishing third in his first ever TT on the 350. Later in the week he was holding a safe second in the Senior before crashing out at Kate's cottage. There may have been a prickly atmosphere between the teammates to start with but Agostini's midseason performances demonstrated he held his place on merit.

Soon there was great mutual respect from Hailwood. Agostini was a charming, fearless womaniser much like Mike. What was there not to love? Ago claimed his first win in at the ninth round in Finland and when Hailwood announced he was moving to Honda 'Ago' knew a championship assault wouldn't be far away.

6. Wayne Rainey – 1988 – 27 years and 254 days
Championship position: 3rd
Number of points: 125
Number of race wins: 0
Number of podiums: 4
Number of pole positions: 1
% of races finished on podium: 44
% of races won: 0
Riders battling for championship: Lawson, Gardner.

Wayne Rainey entered the 500 class in 1988 with Kenny Roberts' Lucky Strike squad after two years racing Superbikes in America. Initially penned to ride alongside veteran Randy Mamola, a team fall out meant Australian Kevin Magee was drafted in and Rainey had higher expectations placed upon than he imagined.

Although he was devastated by rival Schwantz and team-mate Magee's early victories, Rainey went about learning how to ride the 500 and extract the most from his Dunlop tyres with his trademark commitment and consistency. He only finished outside the top six once in the first nine races, notching up four podiums and a pole position in the process.

Had he not suffered from near terminal tyre wear during the fourth race in Jerez he may have been on the winning step of the rostrum even sooner.

As his mentor Roberts later said of the season, “he just kept getting better. He wanted all the information like a big sponge, soaking it all in, [asking] how am I doing this and that.”

The eventual three-time champ admitted a cutting from an American journalist's season preview had been a source of great inspiration. It read, “Wayne Rainey is a good rider, but he'll never be a great rider. And he'll certainly never be a Randy Mamola.” How he would prove him wrong.

7. Jorge Lorenzo – 2008 – 21 years and 55 days old
Championship position: 4th
Number of points (on current point scoring system): 114
Number of race wins: 1
Number of podiums: 4
Number of pole positions: 3
% of races finished on podium: 44
% of races won: 11
Riders battling for championship: Rossi, Stoner, Pedrosa.

Jorge Lorenzo walked out of the Fiat Yamaha garage at Qatar in 2008 just as he left his Aprilia 250 squad the year before. Shoulders swaggering, chest puffed out, holding the stares of everyone that looked his way.

He left no one in any doubt of how he had gotten this far: talent and sheer self-belief.

At first the unique combination of Fiat Yamaha, Michelin tyres and breathless corner speed seemed the perfect retort for Stoner and his Ducati. He captured pole position at the first three rounds, finishing on the podium each time and winning in Estoril.

His then well documented string of heavy crashes began in China, before reaching a nadir in Catalunya when he knocked himself out, prompting a period of self-doubt - made worse by further foot fractures at Laguna Seca.

Two more podiums came later in the year but more importantly as Lorenzo admitted, “you learn more from crashes than wins.” It proved to be an educational year with flashes of incredible speed.

8. Freddie Spencer – 1982 – 20 years and 224 days old
Championship position: 4th
Number of points: 94
Number of race wins: 1
Number of podiums: 4
Number of pole positions: 2
% of races finished on podium: 44
% of races won: 11
Riders battling for championship: Uncini, Roberts, Sheene.

By July 1981, the writing was on the wall for Honda's four-stroke oval piston NR500. The factory returned to the 500cc class in 1979 after an 11-year absence but the bike had yet to score a point.

They were working on how to amend this embarrassing chapter in their history and the simpler, more agile NS500 V3 was born. And they had the perfect rider in mind to turn its throttle.

The prodigiously gifted Freddie Spencer had been drafted into Honda's factory squad at the tender age of 18 and after impressive displays in the Trans-Atlantic races and the American Superbike series the Japanese were in little doubt this was the man that would end their wait for the elusive 500cc crown.

Spencer showed his worth from the off, finishing third at the opening round in Argentina, just over a second behind first placed Roberts. Despite Erv Kanemoto's experience and know-how the bike suffered many teething problems, and he failed to finish three times in those opening nine rounds.

Spencer did take his first win around Spa's high speed curves to take away Hailwood's 21-year old record of becoming the youngest rider to win a 500cc race at just 20 years and 196 days old.

Then one sunny Sunday afternoon in Texas, not far from his Louisiana home, 31 years later…


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