Marc Márquez says Australian racing icon Mick Doohan has played a key role in his MotoGP comeback after a long stint off the bike with a broken arm.
Márquez scored an emotional 100th premier-class podium with second place at the Australian Grand Prix, finishing just 0.186 seconds behind winner Álex Rins. It was a weekend that featured some classic Márquez tricks, including an improbable front-end save and a gut-instinct tyre gamble that almost had him snatch victory on the final lap.
The Spaniard was overjoyed after the race, dismounting part way around the cool-down lap to celebrate with the 40,000-strong race-day crowd.
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“Today I enjoyed it again,” Márquez summarised, admitting that the two years since he broke his arm had been painful and unfulfilling.
Phillip Island was the fourth race of Márquez’s comeback from a fourth surgery to fix his right humerus, which he broke at the first round of 2020, now nearly 30 months ago.
The Spaniard had previously attempted to return to the bike just days after the original breakage, which forced him into a second surgery to fix a damaged bone plate, and again three rounds into the 2021 season, which he ended early to undertake a bone graft to treat an infection.
He withdrew from the sport in the middle of this season to undertake last-chance surgery, rebreaking the arm and restarting his rehabilitation, after it was discovered the bone had set at an alarming 34-degree rotation in part thanks to his attempts to rush his return.
Recovery has been a long and emotional journey, and prior to his fourth intervention the Spaniard admitted he had no idea whether he’d be able physically capable of riding a bike again. His core target was to re-attain a pain-free life, with his career a second priority.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, he revealed he’d sought the counsel of fellow Honda legend Mick Doohan, the five-time 500cc champion, on the eve of making the career-defining decision.
“With Mick Doohan we had many phone calls, especially before the fourth surgery,” Márquez said. “I talked with him a lot because I had many doubts in my mind, but the one advice he gave to me — because he was in a similar situation with the leg — was that maybe you cannot ride like before anymore but you can ride in a different way and be competitive.
“So this is what I’m trying to do and step by step.”
Doohan had similarly suffered enormous injury in the prime of his career, badly breaking his right leg to the point doctors considered amputation in 1992.
His leg was ultimately saved, and Doohan attempted to come back just two months later to defend his dwindling championship lead, which was eventually overturned by Wayne Rainey.
He then endured an arduous 1993 season with his leg not fully healed.
It took until 1994 to rediscover his previous form. He won the first of five successive titles that year before retiring in 1999 after breaking his leg again.
Speaking to Fox Sports, Doohan said his biggest piece of advice to Márquez was to give himself time to heal rather than attempt to rush his recovery.
“He just needed to heal correctly and have all the surgery done correctly,” he said. “It was just really more about getting himself back to good health, getting himself strong and taking the time out.
“I‘ve been there before where you try and push through injuries. It just prolongs the healing, and then you’re never really on top of it.
“So I‘m glad that Honda were able to give him the time to go off and do what he needed to do.
“I don‘t think he or them were expecting him to come back this year. It’s clearly worked well to do the surgery, and he seems to be riding well. He’ll only get stronger and stronger from here.”
Doohan said the biggest obstacle to the go-slow approach wasn’t doubt but rather the complete absence of it — the rider’s sometimes misplaced self-assuredness that they can always be competitive.
“I don’t think he ever doubted himself,” he said. “It’s just frustrating.
“You know you can ride but physically you‘re not capable of riding the way you’d like to ride, and so then you make mistakes and it compounds the whole situation.
“Whether or not you doubt whether you‘re capable of riding like he used to be able to ride is another thing, but you sort of always believe that if you’re able to get back to full strength, you’ll be able to compete the way you did before.
“It’s just part of the game.
“I think he’s showing that now. Now it’s really down to the technical side. Honda need to get their act together as well.”
But that confidence, properly harnessed, is what can power a rider through their darkest days.
“There‘s no doubt whether you’ll be able to [come back],” Doohan said. “I knew that I’d have to I adjust my riding style, so that was just about how that was going to work, but I was believed that I could still win races. That’s what keeps you going.”
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And Doohan is confident, having seen Márquez’s progression in the month since his return, that the six-time MotoGP champion will still be a force to be reckoned with.
“He seems to be capable of riding the bike similar to how he had been previously, so I‘m confident that given the right equipment he’s going to be at the front,” he said.
“In my eyes him and Quartararo are still the main ones. They’re all great riders out there, and the top five are amazing, but those two guys just have a little edge over them, and I think on the right equipment both of those guys will have a great battle.”
But despite his rapidly improving form and physical condition, Márquez says his sights are still steadfastly set on sustainable success rather than short-term victories.
“It’s true that these next races will be important, but my most important moment will be next winter, when I need to train well and try to fix all the things I want to be competitive in 2023,” he said.
“Then, like Mick said, time will answer you. So we will see.”