The news that MotoGP champion Marc Marquez is set to miss several races after a second surgery on his broken arm presents a huge opportunity for his rivals. But any claims that the 2020 season will be devalued simply don't wash with three-time 500cc world champion Wayne Rainey, as he told LEWIS DUNCAN
Much has been made of Marc Marquez's crash which resulted in a broken right arm at the Spanish Grand Prix, and his subsequent absence from the MotoGP Andalusian GP, which some believe will devalue the title should another rider usurp him this season.
That reality looks more likely now, after Honda confirmed Marquez had to undergo a second operation on his arm after the plate suffered stress damage. As a result, the six-time world champion will miss this weekend's Czech GP at Brno, potentially putting him at a 75-point disadvantage should Fabio Quartararo win his third race of the season.
With an extra race to be added at the end of the year - which Autosport understands will be the Portuguese GP at the Algarve circuit - this could offer Marquez a slim hope of being a title contender come the end of a year, while some observers have written off the campaign as being further devalued by its short length.
The last point seems to totally write off the achievements of past champions - including three-time 500cc world champion Wayne Rainey, who sat down for a chat with Autosport from his home in California to discuss the current championship and more.
Autosport: Because you guys only had 13, 14 rounds back in the day, what are your thoughts on claims that a shorter season devalues the MotoGP title?
Wayne Rainey: "First of all, because of the pandemic, everything's been compromised, the whole world is compromised. So just to get to put a championship together with 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 rounds, is more than enough. Look how excited everybody is just after that first race. Same thing our side here in the States when we ran MotoAmerica.
"People love racing, this is part of their [life], the excitement that fans get by watching the world's best riders duke it out. If the championship is grown to 21, 22 races, and then now it's down to 12, it doesn't affect me at all, doesn't affect the way I look at it.
"It's the same for everyone. Riders, they all line up at the same time, everybody's there, it's the same commitment, nothing is different.
"The only thing is is that if you make a mistake early, it might be more difficult to make that up down the road because you don't have all those races to crawl back. You have to take that into consideration when you put your race programme together and calculate how you're going to try to win the championship this year."
AS: That's a good point, because last year Marc crashed at Austin, but he had 17 rounds to catch that back up. Because you knew a season was only 13 or 15 rounds long, was the pressure still the same knowing that you only had a short window to make up for any mistakes?
WR: "100%. We looked at a 12 or 14 round championship as the world championship. 'Okay, this is what we have, this is the number of rounds'. We never really looked at it like 'Oh, I wish it was longer or more rounds'.
"Whether it's a six race calendar or 12 race calendar, I believe every single team and rider is doing the best they can, giving it the max they can every single time they're on the bike" Wayne Rainey
"We lined up going into the first pre-season test, we knew what to expect. And I expect that to be no different now. All these riders, all these teams in MotoGP all lined up knowing this was the calendar.
"Whether it's a six race calendar or 12 race calendar, I believe every single team and rider is doing the best they can, giving it the max they can every single time they're on the bike to get the most performance for the race on Sunday, get the result and then on Monday reset for the next race. I don't see it being any different, no matter how long the calendar is."
Honda boss Alberto Puig courted controversy when he claimed the winner of this year's title "shouldn't be satisfied" if they did so with Marquez injured. Marquez, amongst others refuted this, and Rainey - more than most - is better positioned to comment.
In 1992, a serious leg injury for Honda rival Mick Doohan opened the door for the Yamaha star to claim a third 500cc title. And in 1993, Rainey lost a the chance to win a fourth when he crashed at the Misano race late in the season and was paralysed from the waist down - which ultimately cleared the way for Kevin Schwantz on the Suzuki to take the championship.
AS: Alberto Puig made some comments last month that the rider who beats Marc to the title while he's injured wouldn't be "completely satisfied", suggesting that the title would be in some way devalued. What's your take on that?
WR: "Knowing Alberto, he probably didn't mean to say that to get out into the press. Maybe [he] meant it like kind of an off the cuff comment. But, if anybody should know that that's not true [it] would be Alberto. If that was a serious comment, he won his first and only grand prix [at Jerez in 1995] because Mick fell off, but I wouldn't think that he wouldn't say that 'hey, I didn't win that race because Mick wasn't there'. I think he thought 'Mick made the mistake, I won the race' and it's no different here.
"Marc was leading race, went off track, [made a] hell of a save, [put in a] damn good ride back up through the field. And then it was an awesome ride until he made a mistake again. He has nobody [to blame]. Those other riders, they didn't make a mistake. So I think those guys, they're not looking at it like, 'hey, I don't think this championship's diminished or this race is diminished'. And I think Marc would also say the same thing.
"What you said about Mick and myself in '92, which a rider in a season can't say, where there is a situation like that, that hasn't happened to each and every one of us? You could say the same thing about Kevin and I in '93. I was leading the championship, I had my accident, it took me out, Kevin (below, right) went on to win the championship. I in no way look at that saying, 'well, that's been diminished because I wasn't there'. I made the mistake, Kevin didn't and he was the world champion. That's what it's all about.
"You race the 12 race championship, the only way you can be champion is [by being] the guy with the most points at the end of the championship. Each and every race counts, and especially in a sporting and season like this odd one, you have to be there every, every single race. Marc made the mistake, not Quartararo, so they line back up and then see what happens at the next one. So no, not at all, it's not diminished at all."
AS: It's interesting you mentioned Puig's win in 1995, because he later clarified his comment saying his view came from personal experience. But I suppose a rider thinks a win is a win regardless of how it happened, because they didn't make the mistake?
WR: "Exactly. Quartararo had the gap out there. Watching Marc, he came through and then when he pushed the front made that miraculous save, he rode it back out onto the track, and then he made a few more mistakes trying to get going again. But he was catching those guys four tenths of a second lap because he went right through everybody, was on Maverick [Vinales].
"Some people said, 'he hit that line when he went down', but if you actually look at that same corner at that same time, Maverick was actually more on the inside of the paint. The only difference that I saw was that Marc had more lean angle and that thing stepped out. It reminded me of back in the day in grand prix on 500 bikes. That thing just stepped out and it was a huge highside.
"But Marc coming through, especially with the mistake that he made and coming back through, a podium would have been an awesome result. And when that thing first let go, I'm sure he thought, 'damn, a podium would have been OK'. But this championship, you're not going to win every single race, you have to be on the podium, or as close as you can to the podium and try to put pressure on the other rider hoping that they can make a mistake."
AS: If Marc has to miss races, does the pressure on Fabio for example grow because there is almost more expectation for him to capitalise on Marc's absense? Is this something you had back in 1992 with Doohan?
WR: "When you lead the world championship, it's the greatest thing in the world, especially if you win the first race. In 1990 when I won my first world championship and the first race was at Suzuka, and we put a big whoopin' on them.
"He's leading the world championship, but he's got Maverick there, and Dovi looks good so there's a couple of other guys that look like they could capitalise. It looks pretty exciting to me. I don't know how wounded Marc is, but he can also be a threat" Wayne Rainey
"I put a big stamp of authority from the get go, they knew that I was going to be the guy that is going to be the strongest. But on Monday after Suzuka I put that out of my mind and it was all about getting ready for the next race.
"Now Quartararo is just gonna chip away and do the best he can. If he can win, that's great. If he gets second or third, that's okay. If he gets fifth or sixth, it's where you have to finish these races, especially with a shortened season.
"He's leading the world championship, but he's got Maverick there, and Andrea Dovizioso looks good so there's a couple of other guys that look like they could capitalise. It looks pretty exciting to me. I don't know how wounded Marc is, but he can also be a threat."
AS: What did you make of Marc attempting his comeback so soon after a pretty big injury? As a racer, do you feel indestructible when you have those big offs and are able to be in a position to ride again so soon?
WR: "You're probably asking the wrong guy that! I was one of them worriers... I recall one time I broke my femur under my kneecap, the medial condyle; it's where your knee bends. We had surgery and I was trying to get range of motion and I had a lot of scar tissue build up.
"I remember they put an epidural in my back so I could train and I started riding motorcycles again, mini bikes in the dirt at first. Then at night we would take this epidural, which would numb me from my waist down and I couldn't feel my legs at all. Then my trainer would just work the knee trying to bust through that scar tissue.
"Seeing these riders come back after a big break, like Marc had or some of these other riders have like, [Jorge] Lorenzo did there a few years ago. That's just the way they're wired. 'If I can just get back there and just stay close, I can get some points'. You at least want to try to see if you can do it, and I think that's the mentality of it."
During the Spanish GP weekend, it became apparent that Yamaha had one of the slowest bikes through the speed traps. While it managed a 1-2 in both Jerez races, it could find itself struggling in the upcoming Brno and Red Bull Ring races. Having ridden Yamaha machinery throughout his career, Rainey notes that Yamaha's philosophy on bike building hasn't really changed since his day.
AS: Yamaha seems to be having engine problems again, and they were slow at Jerez. What was the Yamaha philosophy like back in your day?
WR: "Back in my era Yamaha was one of the slowest consistent top speed bikes on the grid. I remember at Hockenheim, we were close to 25km/h slower than what [Shinichi] Ito's Honda was at Hockenheim.
"But it's so much more than just having ultimate top speed. As we see at a track like Jerez, you just need a bike that's rideable, manageable with the electronics. And the way that the Yamaha, it's natural DNA as far as chassis goes, it's been a very rider friendly bike.
"Yamaha struggled last year with that acceleration torque and all-out speed compared to its competitors. But I think some of the tracks that they're racing on this year, it's not going to affect them as much" Wayne Rainey
"But, the Honda, their philosophy was 'we got to show that we can engineer with the most horsepower' and in seasons past that has caught them out and maybe even cost them championships. I think it ebbs and flows. I thought the Yamaha looked really good this year and they struggled last year with that acceleration torque and all-out speed compared to its competitors.
"But I think some of the tracks that they're racing on this year, it's not going to affect them as much. You've got the uphill at the Czech Republic, and what other tracks do they go to with where you need power?"
AS: They have two races at Red Bull Ring in Austria.
WR: "That could be one for just all out brute torque, getting out the corner and going through the gears. But if they have a power issue, maybe that's where it's gonna affect them. But I think in the end of the year it all evens out.
"Quartararo has had a lot of pole positions on a bike that wasn't necessarily the fastest one..."