Marc Márquez confessed that Honda vice-president Shuhei Nakamoto made a wish before Sunday night’s Qatar MotoGP, the opening race of the 2013 season and the young Spaniard’s debut in the top category. “‘We’ll see each other on the podium,’ he told me,” said the 20-year-old Repsol Honda rider. “Nakamoto has a lot of confidence in me.”
Márquez didn’t disappoint. The debutant finished third after a near-perfect race behind Spanish winner Jorge Lorenzo and his Italian teammate Valentino Rossi, who fought a spectacular duel with the youngster to gain second place on his return race for Yamaha. Márquez’s Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa was fourth with Britain’s Cal Crutchlow fifth.
Márquez got off to a nervous start, dropping from sixth on the grid to eighth, but fought back up, passing Pedrosa on the way, to engage in a battle with his idol Rossi, who himself had to scythe through the field after a mistake on lap two that saw him run off the track. “It’s great, because we battled on the track, but off it we have been speaking as if nothing had happened,” Márquez said.
The seven-time MotoGP champion, happy to be back to his best after two miserable years at Ducati, was no less impressed than anyone else with the performance of the youngster. “I was thinking that, seeing what I have seen today, I will have to try to beat him as much as I can in the first half of the championship, because when he starts to feel comfortable it is going to be very difficult for me to surpass him,” said the 34-year-old Italian.
Defending world champion Lorenzo repeated his feat from last year of winning the race from pole position, leading from start to finish under the floodlights of the Losail circuit in Doha. His Yamaha may not have the speed of the Honda — Marquez’s bike reached 344km/h, his 338km/h — but it glides around the corners and almost never suffers grip problems. The Mallorcan was already two seconds up by lap five and ultimately won by a near six-second margin.
He, too, was impressed by his young compatriot’s performance. “I thought Pedrosa would be on the podium, and he wasn’t because there is a lot of competition,” he said. “Márquez had an almost perfect debut, he is very good.”
Lorenzo’s victory completed a clean sweep for Spain in all three categories in Qatar. In the Moto2 race Pol Espargaró took the checkered flag on the Kalex, while Spaniards occupied all top four positions in the Moto3 race: Luis Salom was first, followed by Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins and Márquez’s little brother, Álex.
The season continues in two weeks’ time in Austin, Texas, where the Circuit of the Americas will host its first ever MotoGP race.