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The factors that show Marquez’s Ducati MotoGP debut was a genuine success

OPINION: After bidding his Honda family farewell, Marc Marquez had his first outing on the Ducati GP23 he'll race in the 2024. While the six-time MotoGP world champion was contractually bound from discussing his first impressions, there was plenty to suggest that he will be back as a force next year

Marc Marquez, Gresini Racing

Marc Marquez, Gresini Racing

Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It’s a little after 11am on Tuesday morning of 28 November at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The media mass is assembled outside of the Gresini Racing garage, and has been for well over an hour – hands frozen, faces beaten by a biting wind underneath a cold and overcast sky.

Technically, this is the beginning of the 2024 season. And thus, the beginning of Marc Marquez’s time as a Ducati rider. To say this is one of the biggest and most important test days in the last 10 years would be something of an understatement. Hence the swell of bodies surrounding the satellite Gresini team’s garage.

At 11:14am, Marquez throws his leg over the GP23 he will race next year – the bike having been wheeled out of Johann Zarco’s Pramac box on Sunday evening and into Gresini’s – and was on his way for his first MotoGP laps in 11 years on something that wasn’t a Honda.

He completes eight laps on his first run on the Ducati, the best of which a 1m30.683s. At the time, it put him third in the standings. The position was immaterial. The time, however, was telling. It was just over two tenths shy of the 1m30.414s he posted as his fastest lap of an albeit short Valencia Grand Prix on the Honda last Sunday.

What mattered more, though, was his reaction when he returned to his seat in his new garage alongside crew chief Frankie Carchedi: a flash of a smile, internally a greater sense of relief? The latter we won’t know until 1 January 2024, when his contract with Honda restricting him and the team from saying much expires.

“The day was amazing,” Gresini sporting director Michele Masini told the media on Tuesday after the test. “The important thing is the feeling. The feeling was there, the atmosphere was there. We are a bit tired from this long season, but after today we cannot wait to start 2024.

“You know about [the] contract, I cannot say more, but I think today the timesheet can speak.”

Underlining the significance of the test, there was no shortage of interested observers in the pitlane for Marquez's first time on the Ducati

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Underlining the significance of the test, there was no shortage of interested observers in the pitlane for Marquez's first time on the Ducati

Indeed, it did. Marquez completed 49 laps in total on the GP23. In run three he improved to a 1m30.222s. On run seven, he posted a 1m29.460s. At 3:21pm, the media centre overlooking the start/finish straight erupted when the eight-time world champion tripped the timing beam and shot to the top of the timesheet.

Arguably, there was more emotion and passion in that moment than there was in that room throughout the entire title-deciding weekend. A 1m29.424s would follow on his 46th lap, putting him just two tenths shy of the time that put him ninth on the grid on the Honda last weekend. Had that been a qualifying effort, it would have put him 10th. At the end of the test, he was fourth and just 0.171s off the pace. His deficit to the leading Ducati of Marco Bezzecchi (on the same GP23) in third was a mere 0.093s.

He also ended the day without any crashes, having had his time with Honda cut short by a personal record 29th crash of the season in the Valencia GP after a tangle with Jorge Martin. This suggests two things: Marquez’s confidence in the Ducati’s front-end is good, and that he wasn’t pushing to his true limit. The latter fact is something his rivals will be thinking on over the winter. All of this is a far cry to the previous test in 2023, when Honda’s 2024 prototype was met lukewarmly by Marquez and the writing over his future with HRC was on the wall.

In sector three, Marquez set the overall fastest at 21.215s. Sector three comprises Turn 7 to the exit of Turn 11, Marquez seemingly gaining at Turn 8 where you charge on the brakes with some lean before arcing round a left-handed hairpin

On face value, none of this may seem like much. And indeed, there are caveats to consider. The grip on track on Tuesday – albeit overlayed with some Pirelli rubber from the previous day’s Moto2/Moto3 test – had a considerable amount of Michelin rubber on it from the race weekend. In testing, nobody’s run plans are easy to place and not everyone did time attack laps. As Bezzecchi put it, testing at Valencia generally “means shit”.

Assessing Marquez’s first test on the Ducati, therefore, is difficult. But there are certain metrics to consider that show that Marquez’s form was serious and this test for him genuinely mattered.

Two comparisons to look at in MotoGP history have repeatedly been brought up over the last few months since Marquez announced he was quitting Honda a year early to pursue his confidence-rebuilding move to Gresini Ducati. The first is Valentino Rossi’s first test on the factory Ducati in 2010 following his switch from Yamaha.

Rossi was 15th out of 17 riders and 1.8s off the pace. Rossi was carrying a shoulder injury at the time and the Desmosedici back then was nothing like the bike it is now. However, in two years on the Ducati Rossi scored just three podiums and would later admit that this career move was a mistake.

Marquez kept things clean in his first day with Gresini and was close to the top of the Ducati pile

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marquez kept things clean in his first day with Gresini and was close to the top of the Ducati pile

Then there’s Jorge Lorenzo’s first ride on the Ducati in 2016 in the Valencia test. The three-time world champion’s first approach with the Ducati was far more positive. He was eighth at the end of the second day of running and only 0.769s off the pace. Lorenzo endured a difficult 2017 debut season for the Italian marque, scoring three podiums, but would win three times in 2018 before joining Honda the year after.

Marquez, then, is already closer on pace than either Rossi and Lorenzo were. However, Marquez is on a bike that won the world championship with Francesco Bagnaia, and so is well dialled in. Yet Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez were all just getting to grips with the bike in their first tests and not diving too deeply into their machines’ settings.

Largely, the above comparison – if still worth noting - means not a lot. But the more pertinent parallel is the best sector times from Tuesday’s test. In sector three, Marquez set the overall fastest at 21.215s. Sector three comprises Turn 7 to the exit of Turn 11, Marquez seemingly gaining at Turn 8 where you charge on the brakes with some lean before arcing round a left-handed hairpin. Before 2023, it was on the brakes and in left-handers where Marquez really outclassed the Honda and his rivals.

“I checked the data before being here [to speak to the media] to see Marc’s style and it was really good from the start,” factory Ducati rider Enea Bastianini observed. “It has been really early for him to be fast, because the Ducati for this is a good bike for the first impact.

“After, I saw also his time attack and it was really good. Probably he’s the Ducati rider much faster in Turn 8. He’s impressive in that corner. Then for the rest, normal. I’m curious to see how the next season, because if this is complicated, then the next one will be more complicated for everybody.”

On Tuesday ahead of the test, Ducati’s general manager Gigi Dall’Igna conceded Marquez was not wanted by the Italian manufacturer. But now he’s here, his feedback will be of great interest. On the Monday, Ducati sporting director Davide Tardozzi told Autosport that Marquez will “raise the level” in Ducati and even bet that he would be fastest in the test. Almost.

None of his fellow competitors were particularly surprised by Marquez’s pace. Bagnaia noted that “I think he can be very happy, satisfied with our bike”, while Fabio Quartararo correctly predicted Marquez’s 1m29.4s lap. Whether you buy into what we saw in Valencia testing or need concrete confirmation next year when racing begins, what is clear is that Marquez’s Ducati debut was in every aspect a success.

Early indications suggest that Marquez's adaption to the Ducati is progressing nicely

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Early indications suggest that Marquez's adaption to the Ducati is progressing nicely

Marquez’s body language has said a lot over the past year during his nadir with Honda. In the Valencia test, it told a new story. When Autosport asked Masini if he’d seen a genuine shift in his mood over the course of seven hours on 28 November, he said simply: “I’ve seen…”

Lap times are one thing, but it’s what preceded them that truly contextualises his test. A badly broken arm in a Spanish GP crash in 2020, four operations, two bouts of diplopia and two winless campaigns forced him to leave behind his extended family at Honda to take on a challenge that, if it fails, will do significantly more damage to his career and reputation than staying at HRC for the final year of his contract would ever have.

Since his move to Gresini was announced, Marquez has always maintained that winning was never the priority: it was simply about rediscovering his joy of riding again and removing doubts the last four years had hammered into him. After the Valencia test, it’s beginning to look like both of those things have already been achieved.

If Marquez can rediscover his form on the Ducati, the 2024 MotoGP season promises to be full of talking points

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

If Marquez can rediscover his form on the Ducati, the 2024 MotoGP season promises to be full of talking points

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