HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

How hard can it be? A favourite mantra of mine. I sus­pect it might be a mantra favoured by Marc Mar­quez too, ever since he first swung a leg over his Yamaha PW50 as a pint sized four-year-old.

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At Motegi a few short weeks ago, Mar­quez’s ‘how hard can it be’ at­ti­tude took him to his sev­enth World Cham­pi­onship crown. A quite frankly lu­di­crous achieve­ment wrapped up with three races to go and all be­fore he hits the ten­der age of 26. On re­flec­tion, I’ve de­cided it’s a mostly fu­tile and more than a lit­tle de­press­ing ex­er­cise to com­pare my life achieve­ments at 25 with those of ‘Mighty Marc’. I would rec­om­mend you avoid mak­ing the same com­par­i­son. That is of course un­less your name hap­pens to be Valentino Rossi.

I am def­i­nitely not go­ing to de­cry the achieve­ments of Mar­quez – they are ev­ery bit as in­cred­i­ble as they ap­pear, and the fash­ion in which they have been achieved is sim­ply phe­nom­e­nal. In­deed, Mar­quez is cer­tainly on track to oblit­er­ate pretty much ev­ery record go­ing, in­clud­ing those of the ‘GOAT’ (Great­est Of All Time), Valentino Rossi. But maybe the pound-for­pound achieve­ments of Rossi at the same stage are closer than some may give him credit for.

Cast your mind way back to 2005. Rossi had just wrapped up his sev­enth ti­tle (he did it with 4 races to spare). Back then, Rossi looked ev­ery bit as in­vin­ci­ble as Mar­quez does right now. We’re all fa­mil­iar with the eerie par­al­lels be­tween the rac­ing ca­reers of Rossi and Mar­quez; the La­guna Seca corkscrew and the Jerez turn 13 in­ci­dents just to name a cou­ple. Delve a lit­tle deeper and Maybe Mar­quez isn’t as far ahead as you might think.

Mar­quez won his first seven ti­tles over nine sea­sons. Rossi also won his first seven in nine. In fact, from mak­ing their de­buts in the World Cham­pi­onship it took Mar­quez 11 sea­sons to regis­ter seven ti­tles, some­thing that Rossi achieved in a mere 10 sea­sons. When you look at the Premier Class, Rossi’s feats ap­pear even more im­pres­sive, with the Ital­ian win­ning five ti­tles in a row and with two dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers. Mar­quez has won his five ti­tles in six sea­sons, all on the Honda. Mar­quez def­i­nitely has the edge when it comes to youth. He was only 25 years and 246 days old when he clinched the ti­tle in Motegi. How­ever, Rossi isn’t as far be­hind as you might think. He was less than a year older than Mar­quez when he won his mag­nif­i­cent sev­enth at the rel­a­tively ten­der age of 26 years, 221 days.

I guess the rea­son for my cau­tion is that some folks might be a lit­tle pre­ma­ture in pre­par­ing for what seems an in­evitable corona­tion of Mar­quez as the GOAT in three years’ time, when he will have just won his tenth. In this game, no mat­ter how phe­nom­e­nal your tal­ent is, you’re only ever as good as your last re­sult and the Mo­toGP land­scape is one that can change faster than a 300bhp Honda at full chat. In­deed, rewind­ing back to 2005, as the 26-year-old Rossi acted out his ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ ti­tle cel­e­bra­tion at Sepang he seemed ev­ery bit as in­vin­ci­ble as Mar­quez does now. Some­how the land­scaped changed for Rossi. The fol­low­ing year, 2006, brought a fiercely quick, but some­what un­re­li­able, Yamaha M1 and a cou­ple of un­char­ac­ter­is­tic mis­takes not to men­tion du­elling with the late, great, Nicky Hay­den – com­pletely ob­sessed with ful­fill­ing his child­hood dream. The ti­tle got away. The year after that, 2007, saw the switch to 800cc ma­chines and the emer­gence of Casey Stoner on the Ducati, a man able to ride it like no other. That ti­tle got away. Rossi bounced back, claim­ing the ’08 and ‘09 ti­tles (his 8th and 9th) in typ­i­cal fash­ion but the leg break at Mugello in ’09 was his first ma­jor in­jury and marked the start of his bar­ren pe­riod. Two mis­er­able years at Ducati, a re­turn to Yamaha in ’13 which have had many high­lights but also the dis­ap­point­ment of the 10th ti­tle get­ting away from him in ’15. Re­mark­ably, Rossi’s quest for his 10th – Il Dec­imo, will con­tinue into his 40th year.

The fact re­mains that Mar­quez has won his seven ti­tles do­ing things with a bike that just shouldn’t be pos­si­ble. You can’t take your eyes off him. You hold your breath. He is re­defin­ing the sport just as Rossi, Agos­tini, Roberts et al have done be­fore him. Records are made to be bro­ken and Mar­quez will not worry for a sec­ond that Ducati re­main on a steep up­ward curve, that he’s largely avoided se­ri­ous in­jury in the Premier Class, that Lorenzo will be on the same bike next year or that there’s a gen­er­a­tion of young, hun­gry sharks, in the shape of Bag­naia, Mir, Oliveira and oth­ers look­ing to gob­ble him up. But the ca­reers of Rossi and Mar­quez have had so many par­al­lels up to this point who would bet against that pat­tern con­tin­u­ing?

I think Mar­quez stands a great chance of break­ing all records. But does he think he will fin­ish his ca­reer as the Great­est Of All Time? Prob­a­bly. How hard can it be?

Are Rossi’s days as the GOAT soon to be a dis­tant mem­ory?

Mar­quez the master.

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