The biggest question in MotoGP is about to be answered in Portugal.
It’s a simple question – Is Marc Marquez as good as he was? – but even the man himself does not know the answer.
Marquez is coming back from a major shoulder injury that kept him out of MotoGP racing for most the 2020 season and opened the door for Johan Mir to claim an unlikely title with Suzuki.
Now, as he jumps back onto a factory Honda that no-one could get remotely close to the front last year, Marquez is facing up to the challenge and admits he will be rusty and tentative.
“I will be not the same Marc right from FP1, I need time,” he said.
“Still my rehabilitation is two things: physical and mental. We’re in the process but I’m really happy to be here and looking forward to riding the bike.”
The return of Marquez has produced predictable positive comments from his rivals, although there is an underlying tension when they know the benchmark rider of the past decade could be back to spank them.
“I feel like for everyone, and the fans, to have the reference from the last years here will be great,” said Fabio Quartararo, who did plenty of winning last year and is now the factory team leader at Yamaha.
“When you’re an eight-time World Champion when you’re not here all of 2020 . . . it felt strange and I think to have him back is great.”
Marquez also said last year was tough.
“It was really strange, especially in the beginning, then in the mid-period it was normal already, I was just a fan watching on TV and enjoying it,” he said.
“But it was hard, nine hard months, with not only the doubt if I’ll ride again but also whether I’ll have a normal arm.”
Marquez had hoped to be back for the double-header in Qatar that opened this year’s championship and admitted he was not pleased when doctors forced him to wait.
“It was hard to decide to not race in Qatar 1 and 2, I felt ready but not 100 per cent, and the doctors stopped me. I followed that advice.”
Now he is ready but nervous, especially as the weather could be wet for the first day at the high-speed Portimau circuit.
“It’s true I’m nervous, I have some butterflies in my stomach that aren’t normal for me. But I know after FP1 they’ll be gone, and it’s now time to enjoy it on the bike again.
“I wouldn’t like to ride a MotoGP bike for the first time in a long time in the rain. But if I’m here it’s because I’m ready to ride in all situations and if it rains I’ll ride.
“I did a private test one month ago, that was the last time I rode a bike. I was on a flat track bike last Monday but the last time I rode a proper bike was here a month ago.
“My confidence is not high at the moment. I’m in a different situation I’ll start step-by-step. It doesn’t matter the circuit or the time, now is my pre-season and I’m looking forward to riding my Honda.”