Marc Marquez vs Jonathan Rea: Is Winning Enough?

Marc Márquez and Jonathan Rea have rewritten the history books in recent years. Their successes in MotoGP and WorldSBK have made them legends of their disciplines and while it’s highly unlikely we’ll see them line up on the same grid in the future they share more than their status as world champions.

Alex Ferguson famously said “some players have world class moments, others have world class careers.” The legendary soccer manager was talking about the difference between being a transcendent player and one that only ever flashes their potential. If you want to be a legend you have to do it every time you lace up your boots.

If you want to be a legend of motorcycle racing you have to be all-in at every opportunity. Any time that you’re on the bike is an opportunity to assert your dominance. Racing is the ultimate test of nerve. Can you dig deep enough into your soul to constantly get the most from yourself? Can you take the will out of your rivals?

New rivals

Márquez and Rea have both done this consistently but this year both faced their toughest tests. For Márquez it’s been the coming of a rookie sensation, Fabio Quartararo, and for Rea it’s been a MotoGP refugee, Alvaro Bautista. Both rookies came to the 2019 season with something to prove.

The decision to hire Quartararo was heavily criticised at the time. The Frenchman had arrived in the Grand Prix paddock as a phenom in 2015. He was a double CEV champion that the rulebook was rewritten to accommodate. He was the coming man while still a child. Bad career decisions had put him on the back foot and almost left him on the career scrapheap.

Bautista finished the 2018 MotoGP season in great form, and was even a factory Ducati rider this time last year, but his end of season surge was too little, too late to salvage a Grand Prix career. His form came too late and the seats were already filled. He went to WorldSBK with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove.

For the Spaniard he went to ride a brand new Ducati Panigale V4R that was similar in character to his Grand Prix machine. He brought a very different style of riding to the Pirelli shod championship. He rode in a style completely at odds to what the norm was in the World Superbike championship. He forced Rea to up his game.

Look and learn

Quartararo might be seventh in the standings but he’s been the toughest test of Márquez because he came to the premier class as a sponge. He grew up in racing looking at Márquez as the top dog. In the same way that Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo looked to Valentino Rossi and learned from his approach and riding style the new generation of riders look to Márquez. Quartararo made his CEV debut in 2013, Márquez' rookie year in MotoGP, and he was able to look at how the Spaniard brought a new riding style and approach to the fore.

Márquez was raw in early 2013 but by mid-season he was the man. He was winning races and had nothing to fear about the premier class. In his head he was already the best rider in the world and by mid-season he had turned podium pace into victories. The rookie campaign from Márquez was so ludicrous that it reset the bar for all subsequent rookies and Quartararo is one of the few that can be compared. The Frenchman might not have won a race yet but he’s had poles, podiums and been knocking on the door of a win. Márquez just consistently refuses to cede anything to his younger rival.

How can El Diablo do this though? How can he do what Rossi, Lorenzo or a host of more experienced riders can’t? The simple answer is that he can because he’s been trained differently to those riders. He’s been trained in a style of riding and commitment that is different. We saw Jorge Navarro have a world-class save in Moto2 free practice. He saved a sure fire crash by cracking the throttle and riding out of a front-end slide. It was vintage Márquez. Young riders saw a new style of riding and, like when Kenny Roberts dragged a knee to win races, the rest of the field followed suit and made it work but it wasn’t natural for them. Young riders have seen how Márquez rides and they emulate him.

Fresh new challenge

Quartararo is the toughest test because he’s new. Márquez can look at the rest of the grid with the confidence that he’s better than them. Quartararo is much more of an unknown. It’s always been so for riders. Sheene to Roberts to Spencer to Rainey to Doohan to Rossi to Márquez. The line of succession has always seen a young rider come through and learn the lessons of an older rider and move the game on. The rookie learns from the veterans' mistakes and improves their technique to the nth degree. In any line of work this is how you improve. Some riders, like Rossi, hold on to the mantle for longer than others but time is the only winner in racing and eventually your time runs out at the top.

Márquez has been the leader in the club house for years and maybe Quartararo is the rider to replace him in the future. For Márquez he’ll know that he has nothing to fear from the majority of the grid, he’s beaten them since day one, but this year we’ve seen Alex Rins go toe to toe with him and win. If Quartararo were to beat Márquez and win a race it wouldn’t be a surprise. That’s why Márquez refuses to concede an inch to his rival.

In qualifying in Thailand he crashed pushing too hard and admitted afterwards that the crash was inevitable. Why push so hard though? Because it’s all he knows. It was the same on Sunday when, with a world title to be won, it was crucial for Márquez to win the race. He wasn’t thinking about the title celebrations on the final lap, he was thinking that he can’t give Quartararo an inch. He can’t let his rival open his account of premier class wins. If that can be delayed for two weeks it’s a good day for Márquez. If that happens on the day that he claims the title, that becomes a great day.

It is not enough to succeed

It was the same with Rea in WorldSBK last weekend. In France he wanted to wrap the title up as early as possible and assert his dominance on the field. Bautista and Ducati shocked everyone by winning the opening 11 races of the year. They shocked everyone even more by collapsing in the second half of the season like a house of cards. Rea and Kawasaki knew that this year was a title that in May they didn’t believe was possible.

This was a stellar season in a world-class career. This is Rea at his zenith. In free practice he crashed in wet conditions because he wanted to keep kicking his rivals when they were down. Don’t give them an inch, take away their hope and you’ll keep winning. This approach back fired with the crash because it showed that even Rea can make mistakes. The mistake however came in practice rather than the race. How many times have we seen the same from Márquez over the years?

Márquez and Rea have shown that winning isn’t enough. They want to constantly prove their dominance. They have rewritten the record books and shown themselves to be the greatest MotoGP and WorldSBK riders of all time. They’ve done this by always pushing to the limit because they know that someday they’ll face a challenge of the next Márquez and Rea. Keep the hope from your rivals to delay that for as long as possible.

Is winning enough? It’s not even close to being enough.

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MM's achievements exist on an entirely different level to Rea's. 1 MotoGP title outweighs multiple superbike titles. Multiple MotoGP titles makes you an all time great of the sport.

Great piece. I dare to say Marquez right after Sunday’s race was happier with the race victory than with bagging the championship. And even then, he hardly seemed ecstatic. I think he was already thinking about next year, or the years beyond, before he even tasted the champagne. His hunger for winning - in the biggest sense - is so elementary and instinctive that it doesn’t even bring true happiness. He seems only fulfilled for a brief moment, before the addiction acts up again. 

Ahh, Mr English, might you be stoking up a little fire here just for the fun of it? Not just one but two GOATs? I shall keep a dignified distance from such outlandish claims (unless the debate gets lively, cos it's always a good laugh when that gets going).

Though both riders are indeed something special. Maybe it's my age but it really doesn't feel like 5 or 6 years since Marquez arrived and stole the show. I think though that the next 2 (to pass VRs total iirc) will be harder and passing Agostinis harder still - frankly, I don't think he'll get there, the youngsters are coming, he's  "it", and as you say, they look and learn.

As for Jonathan,  this year suggests it just needs a little less chippy version of Bautista on a decent bike. Redding? Maybe. In some ways he's destroyed his opposition this year  and you can see he thinks he's the real deal, which is half the battle.  More to the point, it looks like the rest of the field agree, theres hint of desperation on some faces recently.


Rea is the most successful SBK rider of all-time by any measure but it's dominance over what is a quality field that is his most enduring quality. He's not Marquez, because quite frankly who is!, but if Rea had the opportunities and desire to have jumped to MotoGP he would have been successful. I was only making the comparison to Marquez because their mentality over their title clinching weekends was the same; crush the opposition. Winning is sweet but your rivals losing is even sweeter. Neither really focused on the title in their weekends and that's what impressed me.

Marc will be beaten at some stage. In racing only the clock is undefeated but by virtue of stacking his CV so early in his career he'll likely still have plenty more titles to celebrate because it will take the next generation consistently beating him. The latest and greatest, young and strongest always learn from their immediate champions. Fabio has shown that he has done that as a rookie and that's why he's strong. The rest of the field has had their heads beaten in by Marquez so for Marc there's nothing to fear from them. From the younger riders it's different. They've learned from Marquez and his riding is their norm now. Marc pushed the limit high but someone will eventually push it higher.

Rallying is a good example. 25 wins for Colin McRae, 26 for Carlos Sainz were big numbers to chase for the most WRC wins. It took a long time for that mark to be set. Seb Loeb had matched it within five years of his first title and set the bar for all that followed him. The King is dead, long live the King is very apt for racing. You're the greatest and fastest until you arent and then someone else takes the mantle. And someone always steps up to the plate

I don't disagree with anything you've said with the exception of perhaps two small points, both of which are matters of opinion;

Would Rea have been that successful in MotoGP... He's 32 so would have been up against Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa at more or less their peaks, soon followed by Márquez. That's quite a field to beat.

And secondly, how long Márquez will reign. Now, I'll confess to the possibility that my views are coloured by wishful thinking, but all the same, I think there's a fair chance Quartararo, Rins and maybe even Viñales will mess him up in the next one or two years, but especially the first of these three. That isn't just because he's got mighty close in the last couple of races but because of marquez' reaction. I'm reminded of VR the year it was announced that MM would be in MotoGP the following season. He was being asked something about his plans for the next year, something along those lines, and he said 'find a way to stop marquez'. And this was before the kid had even started, I think. In other words, he could see this huge, game-changing threat coming. I may be over-interpreting but I think we're seeing something slightly similar from Márquez now. I'm not saying he's running scared but I don't think I've ever seen him dig quite as deep for the win as he did last weekend, and despite what other far more knowledgeable or better informed observers have said about him still having unfathomed reserves, my sense is that Quartararo was within a tiny fraction of marc's limit. Once one of these rivals beats him two, three times in succession, we may see the beginning of the end of his sheer dominance.  That may not herald a change in champion by the way as they are just as likely to take points off each other across the season, but equally, they could take points off Márquez to the advantage of the most serious rival.

Rea in MotoGP is the same as any other rider. It comes down to opportunities. If he had a good option (let's say Repsol Honda in 2010) he could have been well placed for when the Honda started to improve and the start of the 1000cc era. If he went to a bad bike and bad team obviously it would be very different.

I think Rea is on a similar level to the tier one riders of recent motogp years and would have separated himself as being more consistent and faster than those riders we see have a few wins and podiums. 

How long can marquez reign? It's never as long as we think! Who would ever replace spencer? Rainey came soon after him and then doohan and rossi and stoner and marquez. Until someone beats them those guys were all the best we'd ever seen and then suddenly it was someone else. Marc is the most talented and complete rider I've ever seen but it would be foolish to think that in ten years hell still be this dominant. Someone always steps up! 

Best I've read on the subject of winning Steve. At the end of the day as we age our eyesight slows us down but our will to win never stops. Marquez and Rea may slow down physically and the younger guys will start winning but the desire to win will always be there. Anyone who has been around Kenny Roberts or Giacomo Agostini for 5 minutes can feel it. It's what keeps Valentino Rossi going. If you've ever raced you know the feeling.

His demeanour is what suggests his potential to me. He is open, communicative, and clearly enjoying himself. GOATs can only be viewed in regression, and can only be described as better once the facts are available. Rossi surpassed many previous champions for all sorts of reasons, much as Agostini did. But they are not directly comparable for all sorts of reasons too. Even apples have varieties.

The best approach is to just enjoy top quality racing when you see it, hope not to witness tragedy, and know that it could have been you. If only......

Great article, and insight into minds of champions.

Rossi was amazing

Marquez is amazing

Quatararo / Rins will be amazing.

But nobody will be a GOAT on 2 wheels, or in any other sport like Toni Bou, 26 consecutive world championship titles in 13 years, and 5 perfect seasons. Everybody else is just playing at it. Yet he never seems to get a mention anywhere, not many people notice trials riding these days.