Title favourite or underdog? How Marquez really looks after testing

After all that – the first hints, the announcement, the Valencia test, the debut in new colours – Marc Marquez heads into the 2024 MotoGP season as… not the favourite. Not quite.

Instead, that tag belongs clearly to Pecco Bagnaia, universally recognised by almost every rider on the grid as not just the default ‘man to beat’ but as the rider in the strongest position ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix – with a 2024 Ducati that he says is an upgrade in every area and combines the best parts of the two predecessors he’d already won titles on.

But neither is Marquez out of it, and if you were to list the likeliest riders to win the title this year Marquez’s name really probably shouldn’t go any later than third.

Which is not to say that he starts the season third-fastest. He might be that, he might be fifth- or sixth-fastest, but even if he is there’s still a plausible outcome where 10 rounds into the season he has that championship-level speed once more.

Over the two 2024 pre-season tests, he has shown just enough glimpses – while leaving just enough plausible deniability – to keep the intrigue as high as it could be coming into his competitive Gresini Ducati debut in Qatar in two weeks’ time.

The rivals to beat

For all of that intrigue though, it’s not as if Marquez himself is being particularly cryptic in his answers. On evidence of what he had seen in Qatar, he set out his expectations in a more precise manner than you might expect.

“I mean, realistically for Qatar… if the race was right now, I think we can fight for the fifth-sixth position, more or less,” he told MotoGP.com.

“But the race weekend is different. These guys, especially Pecco, [Jorge] Martin, [Enea] Bastianini, they know very well the bike and they just go out and they push and they are super fast from the beginning.

“Still I am far from them but I try to learn the riding style, try to learn how they manage problems. And yeah, step by step, I have to be closer and closer.

“If it will be enough, I don’t know, but at the moment still a bit far.”

To the print media, Marquez reckoned there were “three or four or five” riders faster, three of them “especially” so.

Those three are, again, Bagnaia, Jorge Martin and Enea Bastianini – the riders in possession of that shiny new Ducati Desmosedici GP24.

As for the others, though Marquez didn’t name them, it’s probably a safe bet that he was considering riders like Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia), Fabio Di Giannantonio (VR46 Ducati) and maybe the still-concealed-seeming potential of KTM and its lead rider Brad Binder.

The intrigue remains

Top-five/top-six performance baseline isn’t necessarily the basis for a title charge – but there are caveats to mention here even beyond the obvious ‘this is Marc Marquez we’re talking about’.

For starters, his long-run pace was perfectly competitive at Sepang and there are some question marks over what it actually was at Lusail- given his transponder was apparently acting…

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Read More: Title favourite or underdog? How Marquez really looks after testing 2024-02-24 09:17:31

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