The pressure is building on rookie record breaker Marc Marquez to become the first rider in five years to successfully defend the MotoGP world championship — and a pain-filled start to his campaign is not helping.
Marquez, 21, was an uncomfortable 11th fastest in the opening practice session for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix, slowed by pain as he recovers from a broken leg suffered six weeks ago.
Marquez missed two preseason test sessions which has destabilized his bid to become the first rider since Valentino Rossi in 2008-09 to win back-to-back championships.
Already the youngest ever winner of the premier class world title, Marquez is consigned to the fact that he will be less than 100 percent for the season-opening race in Doha. But, crucially, he then has a three week lay-off for further recovery before race two at COTA in Austin, where he expects to be much closer to full fitness.
It was in Texas last year that Marquez announced his arrival in the big time by winning his first MotoGP race in just his second start with the factory Honda team.
“I expected less pain on the bike, I will use painkillers for tomorrow,” Marquez said after first practice in advance of the Qatar GP.
The main problem is in right-hand corners at full lean angle when Marquez pushes on the foot-peg to assist in turning his Repsol Honda RC213V.
But, even before his broken leg, Marquez knew there was pressure for him to repeat his historic 2103 MotoGP championship.
He made sure of that by firing off the fastest-ever motorcycle lap at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia at the opening preseason test.
“I will try and fight for the title again,” he said. ”But I will feel more pressure than last year especially because if I finish fourth, fifth or sixth position this year, it will be a disaster. And even if I am second it only be OK.
“But this is a positive thing because under pressure I work quite good. Last year I had the result that any result was perfect but this year I will feel some pressure.”
The Qatar race will be one of damage control for Marquez. He needs track time after missing test sessions and to take as many points from Sunday’s race without big risks.
The real measure of Marquez’s early season form will come at COTA on April 13, when he defends his debut win in the Texas GP.