Perhaps the most easily recognisable rider outside of the elite MotoGP category, Marc Marquez is blazing a trail in Moto2 as he aims to improve on last year's runner-up spot.
The Red Bull-backed athlete won the 125cc title in 2010 and then took the intermediate Moto2 class by storm in 2011 as he won seven races in an incredible rookie year. However, a crash in a practice session at the penultimate round of the year, the Malaysia GP, resulted in a problem with his vision which forced the youngster to miss the final two races.
After an operation and missing a large portion of the 2012 pre-season, Márquez was declared fit just in time for the opening race in Qatar, which he won. Second at Jerez and another win in Portugal placed him at the top of the Moto2 standings going into last weekend's French GP, but a crash in the Le Mans rain for Márquez saw rival Pol Espargaró take the overall lead by a single point.
Still hot favourite for the Moto2 title and with a move up to MotoGP in 2013 looking ever more likely, redbull.com tracked down the 19-year-old in the Le Mans paddock...
Marc, it must have been a tough lead-up to the season with everything that went on...
“The winter was difficult because things were really hard with the vision injury. I had an operation and after that it was better, but the improvements were very slow. It was hard when the doctors told me that maybe I wouldn't be able to ride in Qatar, or Jerez, and I didn't know how long it would take to fully recover.
“I think my mentality improved a lot during the winter because it was so difficult, and I think this experience will help me a lot for the future. It was especially difficult in the first two races, because we had only done a private test at Albacete (in Spain) which was just a few laps to check the vision before we went to the final official pre-season test at Jerez, which we rode at. We arrived in Qatar for the first race, and the level was not so good. It was hard to get there. The confidence with the bike was also a problem, because I was pushing but I was unsure on the bike. I just tried to remain calm, and that was the most important thing I think.”
With things so uncertain when you got to the first race at Qatar, what was the aim?
“Before going to Qatar I was very happy just to be there, because it was incredible I was even there. The doctors had told me 'Maybe you'll make it', they didn't know when I'd be ready. So just to be there was great. But then, when you're actually there, you want to be at the front. It was particularly difficult though because in the practice sessions I was finishing ninth, tenth, eleventh, sixth at best.
“Then, in qualifying, after taking it step by step I felt better with the bike in terms of confidence. Perhaps my level with riding was the same as at the test, but my confidence had improved a lot and I qualified on the front row.”
In Qatar there was a bit of controversy surrounding the move you made on Tom Lüthi to take the lead on the final lap, but is it ever possible to hold back when you see an opportunity like that?
“When I was second sure I was thinking about finishing the race and getting some points for the Championship, but when you are in the situation I was and you see a gap you just want to push and to try to win the race.
“Last year I gained so much experience with that because I crashed many times when trying to pass many riders, but in Qatar I saw that [opportunity] and after the winter I had been through I tried to win, and I pushed 100%. On that lap everything went okay but I could possibly have crashed as well, so I was happy to be there and I won the race.”
It was a fantastic start to the season with the results in Qatar, Spain and Portugal, and you were the title favourite at the start of the season. Who are you looking at as your main rivals?
“There are always lots of riders in Moto2 but the most dangerous, I think, are Lüthi, Espargaró and [Andrea] Iannone. In Moto2 you need to stay 100% concentrated all the time, be constant all the time, and try to get some points for the Championship in every race.”
You're only 19 yourself but who are the young riders who have caught your eye so far this season?
“In Moto3 a lot of young riders have landed in the Championship, for example [Romano] Fenati, [Niccolò] Antonelli, [Alex] Rins, who are all very good. There is also my brother (Alex). When he made it in as a wildcard at Jerez I was a bit surprised because there are so many riders who are improving all the time.”
There have been plenty of rumours surrounding a likely step up to MotoGP for you next year...
“My dream is to arrive in MotoGP one day and compete with the best riders in the world, but I don't want to think about that now. I want to concentrate on Moto2 100% and I don't want to lose any focus by thinking about other things.
“I'm very happy with how things are going at the moment, and with regards to the future we will see. I don't want to make any mistakes and take two steps back. When you do take a step forward, you need to have a very high level of confidence to be able to make that step.”