Marc Marquez has had a rough 2021 so far. Since his return from the injury which kept him out of MotoGP for almost the entire 2020 season (the only exception being Jerez, where he sustained the fractured humerus in the first race, and overstressed the first plate inserted to fix the bone during practice for the second), he has struggled. His record: ten race starts, six crashes (one each at Mugello, Barcelona, Austria and Silverstone, and two at Le Mans), and twelfth in the championship with just 59 points. Of the six races where he has been classified, he has finished fifteenth, ninth, eighth, seventh twice.
Oh, and first. Marquez came to the Sachsenring as an underdog, despite winning at the circuit every year since 2010, in the 125cc, Moto2, and MotoGP classes. He arrived off the back of a crash at Barcelona, and then cemented his underdog position by 'only' qualifying on the second row, missing out on pole for the first time since 2010. But by the end of the first lap, the Repsol Honda rider had taken the lead, and would not relinquish it.
Why did Marquez win at the Sachsenring? Well, first of all, because the circuit is all left handers. It is Marquez' right arm and right shoulder which has been troubling him most, with a lack of strength and a lot of pain taking away some of his natural ability to balance a motorcycle on the knife-edge between triumph and disaster. Secondly, because there wasn't much braking to be done at the Sachsenring, the circuit a long flowing ribbon of tarmac folded up on itself and crammed into a tiny area. That, too, spared Marquez' shoulder.
And finally, because Marc Marquez is just exceptionally good at left-handed or counterclockwise circuits. His overall victory percentage is remarkable enough as it is: the Spaniard has won 57 of his 138 races, a rate of 41.3%. But when you split the tracks out by left- and right-handed circuits, the contrast is stark.
At the clockwise tracks, Marquez has 29 victories from 98 races, a winning percentage of 29.6%. But at the counterclockwise tracks he has raced at - Motorland Aragon, Circuit of the Americans in Austin, Indianapolis, Laguna Seca, Phillip Island, the Sachsenring, and Valencia – he has a strike rate of 28 wins from 40 races, or exactly 70%.
Just splitting it by racetrack direction is an oversimplification, however. There is much more to it than that, as becomes apparent when you break it down by circuit. At Indianapolis and Laguna Seca, he has a 100% record in MotoGP winning 3 out of 3 and 1 out of 1 respectively. Sachsenring is even more impressive, his 100% record comprising 8 wins from 8 visits in MotoGP, and the last 11 races he has contested there in all three Grand Prix classes.
Marquez was on course to keep his 100% record intact at Austin in 2019, when an engine braking problem caused him to lose the front and crash out of a very comfortable lead. That crash meant he has won only 6 out of 7 in Texas, or 86% of races.
Not all left-hand tracks are equal
But there are also tracks where Marquez has more of a problem, despite being counterclockwise. At Phillip Island, a circuit ideally suited to Marquez' style, he has only won 3 races in 7 appearances, for a win rate of 42.7%, or a little over his average at all circuits. And his record at Valencia is positively poor, at least by Marquez' own sky-high standards: 7 races, 2 wins, and average of 28.6%. That's even lower than his average at right-hand tracks.
There is every reason to put Marquez down as the favorite at the Motorland Aragon circuit, however. On results alone, his record there is second to none. Of his 7 appearances, he has converted 5 into race wins. And of the two races he didn't win, he crashed out of the lead twice: in 2014, by not coming in to swap bikes on time when it started to rain, and in 2015, on lap 2, in the year the bike wasn't working and Marquez was trying too hard to win races when the Honda RC213V wasn't up to it.
There is another reason to think Marquez will do well at the Motorland Aragon circuit. It is very much his home circuit, even though it is further away from his hometown of Cervera than Barcelona. Marquez feels at home at the Alcañiz track in no small part because of the layout. The track has 10 left-hand corners and 7 right handers. The left handers are long and fast, and need throttle control and a gentle touch to manage the spinning of the rear tire. They are tailor made for a rider who spends all their time on a dirt track bike, as Marc Marquez does.
Doubts weighs heavy on his shoulder
The main obstacle Marquez faces is the fact that recovering from the surgery on his arm is taking so long. Though the humerus itself is strong, the issue is that the various surgeries have exacerbated an older problem. In the surgery to fix the frequent shoulder dislocations he suffered in the 2019 season, the surgeons nicked a nerve. That is causing issues, especially in combination with a lack of strength in the right shoulder and arm. Judging by the photos Marquez has shared on social media, the musculature in his right shoulder is still not the same as his left shoulder, though the difference is now only minor, a huge improvement since the beginning of the year.
Marquez has been learning to ride around these limitations, however. Even in the races he has crashed out of this year, he has shown promise. At Barcelona, he made his way from thirteenth on the grid to sixth before crashing out. At Assen, he started from twentieth and crossed the line in seventh. At the Austria round, he was sitting in second and looking ominous when the rain came, and only a stupid mistake caused him to crash. At Silverstone, he qualified on the second row, despite a horrendous 275 km/h crash on Friday, the second fastest of his career.
What does this mean for Aragon? After qualifying at Silverstone, Marquez expressed some optimism. "We are riding better and better," the Repsol Honda rider said. "On my side I feel better and of course we’re improving the small things. Looks like we are closer to top guys. The main thing is be constant at all circuits. In the second part of (the season) it looks like we are able to do it. In Austria I was competitive. Here we are competitive. Then Aragon and Misano are arriving. We need to keep that level."
Marquez was more cautious in the press release issued by Repsol Honda ahead of this weekend's race. "Aragon is always a track that I enjoy racing at and we have had strong results there in the past. But we can’t rely on what we did in the past, in 2021 we arrive there in a different situation so have to approach the weekend in the correct way, see our level and see what our opponents are doing. It’s great to be back racing at MotorLand after missing the rounds in 2020 and hopefully we can put on a good show for the fans. In recent races we have been closer to the front so the aim is to continue this and see what’s possible on Sunday."
Fast Fabio has a hill to climb
What of Marquez' rivals? At the moment, Fabio Quartararo looks pretty much unbeatable, having won 5 of the 2021 season's 12 races so far. But Quartararo's record at the Spanish circuit is not strong. His best result came in 2019, when he finished fifth nearly 9 seconds behind Marquez. The two races in 2020 were positively disastrous: the Frenchman finished eighteenth in the first round at Aragon, and improved to eighth a week later at the Teruel round at the Motorland Aragon track. Perhaps with a bike he has the right feeling with, he can put up more of a fight. But he comes with something to prove.
Other Yamahas fared much better at Aragon in 2020. Maverick Viñales finished fourth in the first race there on the Monster Energy Yamaha M1, then seventh a week later, though 14 seconds behind the winner. That winner was Franco Morbidelli, on the 2019 spec Yamaha M1 in the Petronas team, adding to a respectable sixth place a week earlier. The Yamaha should be relatively competitive at the track.
The Suzukis were strong at Aragon last year, Alex Rins winning the Aragon 1 race with Joan Mir finishing third, then repeating a double podium a week later, with Rins taking second and Mir third at Aragon 2. The Suzukis have stood still for the first part of the season, but the rear ride-height device might put them back on a more level footing, especially out of Turn 15, the last corner of the bus stop chicane leading onto the back straight.
Happy Honda hunting ground
The other manufacturer which was strong at Aragon in 2020? In the first race at Aragon, Alex Marquez took his first dry podium, finishing second on the Repsol Honda, while LCR Honda's Takaaki Nakagami crossed the line in fifth. Cal Crutchlow took eighth place, making it three Hondas in the top eight.
A week later, Nakagami started from pole, though he crashed out on the opening lap as a result of nerves. He was followed by Alex Marquez, who crashed while battling with Johann Zarco for fourth spot, leaving Cal Crutchlow to finish first Honda in eleventh, just ahead of Stefan Bradl, filling in for Marc Marquez.
But the performance of the Hondas at Aragon demonstrated that the bike is competitive there. That bodes well for Marc Marquez to repeat his victory at the Sachsenring. Especially given the Repsol Honda rider's record at the Motorland Aragon circuit.
To finish first...
Victory is not a given, of course. Marquez has made a string of mistakes this season, with six crashes from ten races as a result. Add in a bunch of crashes during practice and he leads the 2021 crash statistics with 16 overall, one more than his teammate Pol Espargaro and two more than Tech3 KTM rider Iker Lecuona, despite having had two fewer rounds in which to rack up those crashes.
The lack of strength in his right shoulder has robbed him of the ability to save crashes on his elbow, as he used to do in previous years. If he can stay upright and avoid mistakes, however, Marquez has to be the favorite to win at Aragon.
After Aragon, there is one more track where Marquez arrives as favorite. When the MotoGP paddock heads to Austin – which they seem determined to do, despite the worsening issues with hospital capacity in Texas – Marquez arrives at another track where he has rarely been bested. Indeed, you might argue that it is a track where he has only been beaten by his own Honda RC213V in 2019.
Feet of clay
The last of the left-hand tracks is Valencia, but that is not a track where Marquez has been able to dominate. Too many tight turns and twisty sections for the Spaniard to use his supernatural ability to drift a bike through fast corners. There, he lines up as just another rival on the grid, with a lot of work to do.
That is true of the remaining right-hand circuits on the calendar too. Marquez has 3 wins and 2 other podium finishes at Misano, and his introduction to Portimão was less than successful. The chances of victory at the remaining races do not look promising.
Perhaps we will have to wait until 2022 to see the real Marc Marquez return. Or perhaps we will see a new version of Marquez, a rider who has learned to adapt to his weakened right shoulder and ride around the problems. Or perhaps Marquez will always be hampered by his right shoulder, and will never return to the kind of dominant form he displayed in 2019.
Until then, we will only get glimpses of the Repsol Honda rider's former glory at counterclockwise circuits like the Sachsenring, Aragon, and Austin. Sunday will show whether Marquez still rules at going fast and turning left.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, supporting us on Patreon, by making a donation, or contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.