What Marquez’s ahead-of-schedule first Ducati podium really means


Marc Marquez’s second MotoGP race weekend as a Ducati rider, at the undulating and unforgiving Portuguese rollercoaster Portimao, was long-tipped to give some important answers about where his 2024 season is actually going.

After the Saturday sprint, it has already provided those answers – and they aren’t ones his rivals will particularly like.

Gresini’s Marquez hasn’t suddenly transformed himself into an overwhelming title favourite, but he now must be in the conversation. Even with the caveat that his first podium as a Ducati rider in the sprint was aided by Pecco Bagnaia’s off and Jorge Martin’s continued chatter issues.

“Pecco, [Maverick] Vinales, Martin are the fastest ones,” he insisted to British broadcaster TNT after the race.

But the main doubt he’d harboured coming into Portimao was whether he would take too long to be up to pace at a new circuit on a bike that he is still learning.

That doubt was borne out of his testing performance at Sepang and Qatar, two tracks that he doesn’t particularly like and where he wasn’t really too rapid out of the blocks, but got up to pace after a couple of days of test running.

There was no Portimao test running preceding the Portuguese Grand Prix (unless you count the off-season road bike outing featuring most Ducati riders, which you shouldn’t). And it hasn’t really seemed to matter.

Marquez was quickest in first practice (in low-grip, unrepresentative conditions), then fourth in second practice (in much more representative conditions). He has been quick throughout the weekend, and eighth place in qualifying, largely borne out of a crash, misrepresented his underlying potential.

He has maintained that Bagnaia and Martin, the two Ducati benchmarks, are still a step ahead – and, though he has shied away at talking about any advantage the 2024-spec Ducatis may have over his 2023, it does seem like the GP24 is already the better package.

Marc Marquez leads his brother Alex in the Portimao MotoGP sprint race, 2024

But if you look at just the 2023 Ducatis, a familiar pattern is taking shape. Marquez hadn’t really looked that different to his team-mate Alex Marquez or to VR46’s Fabio Di Giannantonio in testing, yet now that the laptimes actually count he is making the difference compared to his fellow GP23 riders.

The same had transpired at Honda last year. He was just quicker than them, whenever he felt he had to be.

And that’s how it panned out again in Saturday’s 12-lap melee. There was Marco Bezzecchi, mired in 11th after a poor opening lap. There was Di Giannantonio, crashing out of 12th. There was the younger Marquez, 13th at the flag. And there was Marc himself, on the podium.

Marc Marquez racing to the right on his Ducati MotoGP bike at Portimao

On the podium by virtue of some ridiculous overtaking moves, too. He bullied eventual winner Maverick Vinales with an audacious around-the-outside move on the second lap, and uncorked a very much on-the-limit lunge to deal with Martin on the final tour.

Maybe he’s too on the limit already. The qualifying crash was “a big mistake”, the result of activating the rear ride height device too early through the corner.

“The thing is that, of course, it’s in a different posit-” he started to explain, presumably about to point to the difference in activation between the Honda and the Ducati.

But then he quickly fronted up again: “I mean, it was a mistake. I cannot explain.
“My mechanics said ‘why did you push?’. I said ‘I pushed’.”

He chuckled, repeating: “I pushed. And I didn’t expect that I’d push. And I pushed too early. And on the images it’s easy to see.”

That crash he’ll pay for again tomorrow, as otherwise a spot on the first two rows was – as he himself admits – very much up for grabs.

And then, even in the successful sprint, a mistake had too – that cost him against Vinales.

Like in his final Honda season – though to a much lesser extent – it feels he’s still unwilling to settle for results when maybe he should.

The worst Marquez’s 2024 season could be was that of an anonymous ‘also-ran’ struggling to apply himself on a new bike. As of the Portimao sprint, that possibility is effectively off the table.



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