I like weeks like this one. Weeks that have a serious dialogue about the changing culture of Motorsport. This looks to be one of those weeks.
Marc Marquez, the best rider on the planet and maybe the single most entertaining entity in Motorsport today, had a hellacious crash just 5 days ago at Jerez. In a race where he saved a similar incident at the same corner only a handful of laps prior, he scrambled back from 16th to 3rd in what would have been one of his career-defining moments. And for Marc, that says a lot.
But he went down again. This time, breaking his arm. Stretched off. A man that once jumped off a motorbike at 215mph and only got scratches. A man that damaged his retina at Sepang in 2011, costing him a Championship in Moto2… and trust me, that was the best-case scenario. This time, not so lucky. The immediate fear was that nerve damage could be a potential career-ender if you lose the feeling in your hand.
But Marc clearly has some sort of angelic pact, because there was no damage to his nerve. They operated successfully, and he’s back at Jerez already. He’s due a fitness test within the next three hours to decide whether he can race again. Yes, he was operated on 48 hours ago. Don’t be surprised if he passes.
This is the same sport that had Jorge Lorenzo take a 130mph high side at Assen, have him fly to Barcelona to get a plate put in on Friday, fly back on Saturday, and drugged up to the gills on painkillers, came home in 5th. It was one of the most superhuman feats I’ve seen in SPORT, let alone Motorsport. I remember Valentino Rossi coming back from a broken leg in 3 weeks at Aragon. They’re considered legendary stories in MotoGP history nowadays…
…And maybe that’s the problem.
I remember a little while back recording an episode of the podcast, I said that many describe racing drivers as heroes. Ryan King, my co-host, turned to me and said: “Nah Dre, I think we should look at them more like gladiators.” That analogy stuck with me. Because he’s right. They put their bodies and livelihoods on the line for glory, money, fame, and passion. And many paid the ultimate price for it. And many a time, we worshipped them for it. With us as an audience, we treat people in Motorsport the same. Despite it being a sport of engineering, many a time I’ve said, we will always care most about the squishy bit behind the wheel, or in this case, handlebars.
Ten years ago, we’d have looked at this differently. Cheering him on. Five years ago, we’d still be in awe but probably with our head in their hands. This one, today? This one feels different. I’ve seen the reaction, and many are straight-up screaming “Don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk!” As Bob Dylan used to say, the times they are a-changing’.
We’ve gained empathy. We care more. We have more understanding of the risks. And we’ve seen the consequences. From Marco Simoncelli to Jules Bianchi, to Luis Salom. Each loss was more tragic than the last. And we know what an asset Marc is to Motorsport. He’s not a needle mover in MotoGP. He IS the needle. He was the only really captivating element of a largely tame Jerez race otherwise. And we’re all well aware by now that the Honda is like an upscaled version of the board game Buckaroo.
But Marc feels like he has to. If Quartararo wins comfortably again on Sunday, Marc could be as many as 50 points down. And in a shortened calendar set for maybe as little as 13 races. Any damage mitigation done here could be invaluable if he’s to retain his title. Don’t forget that Dovi has two bankers in Austria coming up as well, where Ducati is undefeated since its addition in 2016.
And that’s the confliction with us as fans. Half of us are in still in awe talking about how inhuman he is, with that logical back-of-the-head thought screaming: “He’s insane, it’s too soon!”. But we’re dealing with gladiators. Men and women who are willing to pay the ultimate price with what they do. And low-key, we’ve always admired them for that. So how the heck do you police people like that? Or rationally tell them no, if you’re not a Doctor?
Lorenzo’s Assen crash was promoted by the sport itself no less than a couple of hours ago. The term “alien” adopted from the early 2000s, is now absolutely embedded within the culture of the sport. And I think that’s why we’re all so conflicted now, suppressing what we know about how we got to this point.
Personally, I hope the Doctors waive him out. No one-race is worth your career or your health. We describe these riders as not human. But that’s just it… they are. They break and are as stubborn and infallible as the rest of us. Because this will happen. And it will keep happening. And I hope we as an audience question the very culture of this sport we love because Marc Marquez riding a 200mph motorcycle just three days after having his arm put back together, is as ludicrous as it sounds. I hope we don’t ignore that for our own adrenaline kick on a Sunday afternoon.