Can Marc Márquez win the championship this year? Has he left his return too late to catch up? How fast will he be on his return to MotoGP at Portimão? The answer to all of these burning questions is "we don't know", but that doesn't stop us from asking them. And from trying to make our best guess at what might have happened by the end of the year.
The best place to start to answer these questions is the past. We don't know how Marc Márquez will perform in the future, but we do know what he has done in the past. And by examining his past results, we can extrapolate in the hope of getting a glimpse of the future.
You also need something to compare Márquez' performance against. So I have taken the points scored by Marc Márquez in every season he has competed in MotoGP – 2013-2019, as crashing out of one race in 2020 is not particularly instructive – and calculated the average points per race, and what that would work out to if he were to score that average over the 17 races which (provisionally, at least) remain of the 2021 season. Points have been averaged for each of his seven seasons in MotoGP, as well as over his entire career.
To put that into perspective, I have also done the same for Andrea Dovizioso's 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons, the Italian's best years in MotoGP, where he finished second on the Ducati behind Marc Márquez. I have used Joan Mir's stats from his championship winning season in 2020. I have added in the scores of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi for 2015, the two riders who finished ahead of Márquez that season.
I have also extrapolated the results of the two opening races of 2021, and added those in for good measure. That is certainly a stretch, given the nature of the Qatar circuit and opening rounds. But it can be a useful yardstick for what Márquez will have to aim for.
Starting off with the average points for each season, it is astonishing just how strong Márquez has been in the seven full seasons he has competed in MotoGP. In his 128 MotoGP starts, Márquez has amassed a grand total of 2275 points, an average of 17.8 points per race. Put another way, Marc Márquez' average finishing position is better than third.
|Rider||Season||Races||Champ pos||Points||Avg points|
In terms of points averages for the seasons he has raced, Márquez has three of the four best average points per race, with only Jorge Lorenzo in 2013 getting close. Notably, that was Márquez' rookie season, in which he just beat Lorenzo to the championship by just four points. The only other riders in the top ten averages are Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in 2015, who fought for the title in the year Márquez missed out.
What happens if you add in the average points scores from the first two races in 2021 and assume they will continue for the rest of the season? Apart from the fact that this is an entirely unreasonable assumption – Qatar is a strange track, the riders and teams had 11 days in total at the Losail circuit, and conditions were such that neither the KTMs nor the Hondas really had a front tire which suited their bikes – it still adds some interesting context.
In this theoretical case, Marc Márquez' 2019 and 2014 seasons still have the highest average points scored, with 22.1 and 20.1 respectively, but Pramac Ducati's Johann Zarco comes in third, the Frenchman having scored two second places at Qatar, and now leading the championship. Two second places is 40 points, for an average of 20 points per race.
Jorge Lorenzo has the fourth highest average from his 2013 season in this scenario, the Spaniard scoring a higher average than Márquez that year, but losing out on total points after missing the Sachsenring race due to breaking his collarbone for the second race in succession. Unlike at Assen two weeks' previously, Lorenzo chose not to fly to Barcelona to have surgery to fix his collarbone and come back and try to race. The zero points form that race were canceled out by Márquez' disqualification from the Phillip Island round, when the Repsol Honda rider's team failed to bring him in for a compulsory pit stop to change tires after the Australian circuit had been resurfaced, and Bridgestone found the tires it had brought were unable to cope with the stresses of the much faster circuit.
|Rider||Season||Races||Champ pos||Points||Avg points|
Behind Marc Márquez' 2013 season follows the 2015 averages for Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Only then do we get to two more averages from 2021, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo both having scored an average of 18 points from the first two races. Those 18 points are only a fraction more than Marc Márquez' points average from his 2018 season, as well as his average points haul from every one of the 128 MotoGP races the Repsol Honda rider has competed in.
You have to look a long way down the rankings before you get to the next rider score from 2021. Past the rest of Marc Márquez' season averages, as well as Valentino Rossi's average points haul from 2014, when he finished runner up to Márquez. In 19th overall sits Pecco Bagnaia, who has an average of 13 points from two races. Behind Bagnaia is Joan Mir's average from his championship winning 2020 season, which he won with a mere 12.2 points per race on average.
What if we plug all these numbers into a formula to calculate a predicted (and I use that term very lightly indeed) final points tally for the 2021 season? If we take the average of points scored so far, and multiply those by the total of 19 races scheduled for 2021 (if all goes ahead as planned of course) for the riders who have raced so far this year, and then take the average points for Marc Márquez and the other high-scoring riders from previous years, and multiply those by 17 (the races remaining in 2021), we get a slightly different picture.
|Rider||Season||Champ pos||2021 Points||Avg points||Theoretical score|
On this basis, Johann Zarco would be champion, with a total of 380 points. Whether the Pramac Ducati rider can maintain his form such that he finishes second in every race for the rest of the year (or at least averages 20 points over the remaining 17 races) is a very big question, especially given the breadth and strength of the MotoGP field.
Looking behind Zarco, we start to get a sense of what Marc Márquez might be capable of in 2021. If he can match his 2019 average – another tough ask, given that extraordinary season and the fact he is just coming back from a year away from racing – then he would score 376 points. Most years, that would be more than enough to win the title.
If Márquez were to match his 2014 points average – the year in which he won 13 races – then he would end 2021 with a total of 342 points. That is almost identical to the projected scores for the Monster Energy Yamaha duo of Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo. In a normal year, the Yamaha riders' average of 18 points per race might be just enough to win a title: the champion's average points haul per race over the past 20 seasons has been 19.1 points.
Only six times previously has the champion averaged 18 points or fewer per race: Valentino Rossi in 2009, Marc Márquez in the three season from 2016-2018, Nicky Hayden's epic 2006 title, and Joan Mir's thrilling 2020 season.
Taking Marc Márquez' career points average of 17.8 points per race for the remaining 17 races would see the Repsol Honda rider end the season with 302 points. That could possibly be enough for the Spaniard to take the title: it was more than his own points totals in 2016 and 2017, and more than Nicky Hayden's total of 252 points from 17 races, which was enough to secure the title in 2006.
Is any of this meaningful? There are so many confounding factors that it makes predicting how 2021 will play out pretty much impossible. For a start, there is the fact that the 2021 MotoGP field is tighter than it has ever been before, as witnessed by the fact that the second Qatar race produced the closest top 15 in history, with less than 9 seconds between winner Fabio Quartararo and Miguel Oliveira in 15th.
If 14th place finisher Stefan Bradl had been one tenth a second faster per lap, he would have crossed the line in seventh, 4.3 seconds behind Quartararo, and ahead of Joan Mir. If sixth place Pecco Bagnaia had been a tenth faster per lap, he would have finished second, 0.4 seconds behind Quartararo. If Maverick Viñales had been a tenth a lap faster, he would have won the race just ahead of his Yamaha teammate, rather than crossing the line in fifth.
Then there's the fact that the first two races are totally unrepresentative. Neither the Hondas nor the KTMs performed up to expectations, as the soft front tire was too soft for them to be competitive, and the weird conditions in Qatar meant they didn't have a full and proper understanding of the medium front.
Jack Miller had a shocking couple of races, the first one because of an issue with his rear tire, the second after a clash with Joan Mir. The reigning champion never really found his feet in Qatar, though he had a strong first race, and a tire issue in the second. Surprise star of 2020 Franco Morbidelli had a disastrous first race, lost all his confidence in his setup, then went back to a setup from the beginning of 2020 in search of some confidence in his bike.
Then there's the wildcards: is the Aprilia really that much better, and can Aleix Espargaro establish himself at the front? How strong will Pol Espargaro be on the Repsol Honda? Is Jorge Martin's performance at the second race in Qatar a harbinger of an exceptional rookie season in 2021, or just a fluke due to circumstances? All of these factors will have a major influence on the points distribution, and suggest that scoring points consistently has never been more difficult.
The great unknown
Finally, of course, there is the big question itself. Just how good is Marc Márquez? How much speed has he lost in his year away from racing? Will the fear of crashing affect him, either in terms of outright speed, or being a little more gun-shy in battle? Will he hold a little in reserve, or will he be just as fierce and fearless as he was in the past? Can he get on with the 2021 Honda RC213V, and the 2021 Michelins, which are so very close to the 2020 Michelins which spat him off at Jerez?
This is the great unknown, and we can only speculate. But after this weekend, we may have the first glimpse of where Marc Márquez and the rest of the MotoGP field stands, and a slightly better idea of how the season might play out.
Finally, more for fun and the sake of completeness than anything else, I have included the average points per season for every MotoGP/500cc champion since 2001, as well as for the most successful season for Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Valentino Rossi. The figures here are almost impossible to compare; they span four different types of motorcycle (500cc two strokes, 990cc four strokes, 800cc four strokes, and 1000cc four strokes) as well as untold changes to the technical and sporting regulations which have closed the field up enormously. But they do give an overview of who has dominated in which eras.
|Rank||Rider||Season||Races||Champ pos||Points||Avg points|
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