Will the Marc Marquez Gresini Ducati switch pay dividends for the eight-time world champ? AMCN was at the team launch to hear first hand from the man himself.
The Marc Marquez Gresini Ducati switch is the most exciting bike change in MotoGP since Valentino Rossi left Yamaha 13 years ago and it was always going to be greeted with anticipation. But Marc Marquez – and his new team – tried their best to quash the sky-high expectations surrounding their chances for 2024 at Gresini Ducati’s presentation in Riccione, Italy.
The eight-time world champion was adamant “getting into the top five” is his current objective as he prepares himself for arguably the most crucial of his long and decorated 11-year premier class career. To think of fighting for the championship this early, he said, was futile: “The last two years I wasn’t able to win a race,” he said.
“Of course expectations are super high from the people watching,” he acknowledged in his first time wearing Gresini’s baby-blue livery. “But my work is to try to forget about all these expectations, to try to work in my garage. Calm doesn’t mean not fast. Of course I will try, and I’d like to be fast. But I can’t pretend to fight for the victory from the beginning, because the last four years were a nightmare for me.”
This may sound like Marquez is feeling a bit tentative but scratching away at the surface it was plain he was emanating a quiet calm throughout the glitzy team launch. Asked to grade how he currently felt mentally and physically out of 10, the No 93 immediately replied: “Mentally I feel I’m at 10. I’m relaxed, I’m happy. That will go down when the races start, but I have excitement and hope.
“Physically I feel better compared to the past years.”
However, attempts to pour cold water on any title talk fell a bit flat following sporting director Michele Masini’s comments just after the Valencia test. Asked if the team would be aiming to fight for the championship after watching his new rider test just for one day, he replied: “I’d be lying if I told you the opposite!”
Nearly two months on and Marquez – still under contract to Honda last November and therefore unable to speak to the media – could finally give his first impressions of the Ducati Desmosedici GP23 he rode on a blustery day. Track conditions were such he couldn’t get a real feel for the bike which won 26 of last year’s 39 races (Sprints included). But he let slip there is enormous potential in areas his Honda RC213V had struggled so significantly in the past two years.
“In Valencia the (fast) time arrived because I felt comfortable,” he said of his fourth-fastest time at the post-season test, 0.171sec from pace setter Maverick Viñales. “In the first run, when I started to push a bit, the lap time came. I’m more curious to try the bike at Sepang or Qatar – circuits where I’m struggling more. I’m always fast at Valencia. It was a good way to start. I was calm because I only had one bike in the garage – normally at the Valencia test I have four! They told me if I crashed the test would be finished.
“I need to understand (its behaviour) when I push. But immediately from the first run (I understood) the way to approach the corners is completely different. The Honda had some very strong points. But (with the Ducati) the exit of the corner was really good, really smooth. I still need to learn how to use that extra power and grip that we have.”
While stepping onto the grid’s most sorted package, which doesn’t require any development work over the preseason, doesn’t seem like a stretch to seasoned observers but gelling with his first new team in 11 years most certainly does. Marquez spent the three days before the presentation with his new team, including crew chief Frankie Carchedi. The pair bonded over a game of energetic padel tennis in that time.
Yet Marquez stated there is no reason to even try to recreate the environment he enjoyed in Repsol Honda.
“To create the same atmosphere (as my previous team) will be impossible because that was created over 13 years. In the end we need to create a professional atmosphere, with good people. From the first moment, I’ve felt very comfortable.
“But in the end comparing atmospheres is not the target. We’re here to try to find the performance and results. With time, tests and races we’ll have better relationships. They’ll start to understand me better, and I’ll start to understand them better. It’s a natural process.”
The 30-year-old also expressed his gratitude to the Gresini team for its patience in 2023. “They were the only ones willing to wait for my decision,” he said, referencing the time-consuming deliberation over whether to end his long relationship with Honda, which was only decided after October’s Japanese GP. And there were hints that he doesn’t see a stay in essentially Ducati’s third satellite team as anything other than a stopgap for a year.
“It was a super difficult decision (to leave Honda) and it took time,” he said. “That’s why I waited until after Motegi. But the aim is the same as 2013. I’ve said many times, if I’m here it’s because I feel I have the chance and level (of ability) for the top five places. I can’t say I’ll be fighting for the championship because to do that you need a bit extra in many points. But I think I can fight for the top five.
“I chose this direction to prolong my career. The easy way was to stay at Honda. There was less pressure on myself, more money in my bank account. But that wasn’t the target. Maybe in the future our paths will cross with Honda. To be able to have doors open (for the future) I need to be fast on track.”
And looking toward the 22-round season ahead, Marquez has identified two clear names whom he must aim to beat.
“I’m now on a bike that, especially two riders, (Pecco) Bagnaia and (Jorge) Martin, have spent many, many years with. They’ve won many races, and (in Pecco’s case) championships. They are super fast and they will have the 2024 bike… we can say ‘the same bike’ (as me). But I arrive here and I can’t pretend to be on the same level straight away with them.”
Only time will tell. But with races in Argentina (Round 3) and Austin (Round 4) – two tracks where Marquez has regularly produced superlative feats in his championship winning years – featuring early in the calendar, only a fool would bet against the #3 challenging MotoGP’s leading names before the season unfolds too far.
ONE-ON-ONE: MARC’S CREW CHIEF, FRANKIE CARCHEDI
Taking over from Santi Hernandez, Marquez’s crew chief since 2014, is no mean feat. Together the Spanish duo amassed five premier-class crowns and 53 wins across 10 years. But Englishman Frankie Carchedi is undoubtedly up to the task.
“My objectives are really clear. My job is to make sure he’s happy, to get him as fast as possible so he can compete at the front, and to do that as quickly as possible. I have no idea how long that will take.
“I’ve always been one that, no matter the first race result, the next one’s better. The calendar’s too long, 44 races. The whole thing now is about the Sepang test. We’ll build from there. We haven’t even thought about the first race. Come Valencia we’ll see where we started and where we finished!”
Reluctant to read too much into his new rider’s performance at the Valencia test, Carchedi is instead focused on getting Marquez comfortable on his Ducati GP23, and expects the combination to get more competitive as the season wears on.
“He did less than 50 laps at Valencia and the conditions were awful so it was difficult to work on the bike. The only changes we made were for the wind and cold, plus he had just one bike. We go to Sepang with an open mind to see where we are.
“Who knows where that is? All we can do from then is improve as the year goes on.
“Communication is brilliant. It’s a completely different project for him. Everything is either strange or different for him – some good, some bad.”
Carchedi was also keen to point out the difficulty of changing manufacturers in the current era
“Look at recent history and name me a rider who has been fast in their first year with a new manufacturer. There hasn’t been anyone other than Casey Stoner and that was a different era.
“So it’s about understanding each other. You always try to put how he works and how I work together and adapt. It’s not just about being mates; it’s literally understanding what he wants to go fast.
“It takes time. I had a bit of a picture from Valencia, but Sepang will be where I can understand how he rides.”
ONE-ON-ONE: GRESINI’S SPORTING DIRECTOR, MICHELE MASINI
“It’s like a dream inside another dream. Back in 2021 when we revived Fausto’s (Gresini – team founder, now deceased) dream to come back as an independent team, Nadia Padovani (Fausto’s widow and current team owner) brought the group close and fulfilled this.
“To take on an eight-time world champion like Marc is a dream but for now, it’s about keeping our feet on the ground. We have to learn in these next tests because with this new weekend format we don’t have so much time to get Marc comfortable. At the moment I don’t want to think about any targets. For now we’re just focused on gaining kilometres at the Sepang and Qatar tests.
“Everything was new. A lot of eyes were on us but Marc was quite relaxed and focused on every single shape of this test. We feel a big energy now. We have the best technical package at the moment. The most important thing is the human side. We can have more than a factory team. We are less people than a factory team; we’re like a family. When you enter the garage in the morning you feel something familiar. It’s not like a job. Everyone is there with a shared dream and we want to use this to our advantage.”
WORDS: NEIL MORRISON PHOTOS: GRESINI & GOLD&GOOSE