Time Will Tell?

Story by David Booth//
April 26 2022

It’s a dilemma now too obvious to ignore. MotoGP fans are thinking about it. A few racing analysts are openly speculating about its ramifications. And I suspect Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is already strategizing a new future. Whether it happens today, tomorrow or next season, not six months after Valentino Rossi finally walked away from MotoGP for good, the chances are we’re soon to lose Marc Marquez, as well.

Unlike Rossi, who wrung pretty much every ounce of speed out of his very tired 42-year-old body — it certainly appeared past its due date last year, didn’t it? — Marquez, at 29, should still be in his physical prime. His speed is unquestioned, his desire unwavering and his willingness to put everything on the line seemingly as strong as ever.

Unfortunately, his body may no longer be willing. Fresh from his huge highside in Mandalika came news that he’ll be skipping the Argentine round as well. That will be two zero-points rounds in a row; not exactly the script written at the beginning of the year, when many were speculating that the eight-time world champion would be returning to former glory.

As it now stands, he’ll likely be somewhere below 12th in the standings after the Argentine round finishes, perhaps behind even Moto3-transplant Darryn Binder if the South African has another rookie-dominating ride. Oh, to be sure, Marquez could once again confound us all, returning to COTA — something not yet assured — in his typical challenge-crushing form, the beginning of yet another of his patented podium-dominating runs.

Unfortunately, that’s looking ever more unlikely. The fact remains that the man who once seemed impervious to injury now seems like the permanently walking-wounded. Crashes that he once ran away from — to catch the last two minutes of qualifying — now seem to leave him increasingly damaged. Marquez was once seen as a phenom, not just for his incredible speed — or for his seemingly precognitive ability to save front-end washouts — but for his amazing resilience to crashes that would have lesser mortals reaching for crutches. All manner of explanations were postulated for his incredible resilience — from superior fitness to gymnast-like flexibility — but whatever the source of his incredible powers, the fact remains that Marquez escaped crashes that would hobble even the most stoic of racers.

Until now.

Surprisingly, it is not his slow-to-heal right arm — the result of returning to competition too soon after 2020’s horrendous Jerez crash — that has waylaid the 59-time MotoGP victor, but, as you’ve no doubt been reading, another case of diplopia, double vision to you and I.

Now, double vision is hardly uncommon. Hell, pretty much everyone reading this has probably suffered from a little alcohol-induced blurriness. Marquez’s problem, however, is much worse, induced as it is by a banged-up noggin, causing damage to nerves that control eye movement. One of Marquez’s nerves — the fourth right nerve that controls the eye’s upper right oblique muscle — is so injured that he can’t, well, see straight.

The bigger issue is that this double vision problem is on the verge of becoming chronic. The eight-time world champion, of course, sat out the last few races of 2021, when he had a similar injury, caused by a motocross-training accident. More problematic still is that way back in 2011, he had a similar career-threatening vision-altering crash in a Moto2 practice session, one so severe that it needed to be rectified by surgery.

The current issue is that the more frequent the injury to the same nerve, the more likely subsequent injury becomes. Marquez and his doctors seem loath to contemplate more invasive procedures and are resorting to what they call “conservative treatment.” That’s rest to you and me. But such recuperation takes time and, judging by Marquez’s seemingly increasing fragility, complete rejuvenation is becoming less and less likely.

So, what choices might the greatest racer of his generation have? Well, he could, I suppose, decide to have another bout of corrective surgery. But that would basically guarantee that the 2022 season is another washout. Marquez might also do what he’s always done: Ignore physical frailties and return as soon as possible to his high-speed high-wire act. Unfortunately, number 93 crashes more than almost anyone — he’s led MotoGP in get-offs almost as often as he’s been world champion — and that would seem to be a short road to even more physical distress. Or he could stop using front-end washouts — and rear-wheel highsides — as his “traction feelers” and ride in a more cautious manner. But then he’d simply be his brother Alex, and MotoGP really doesn’t need another faded former-champion backmarker.

Now in the third straight injury-wracked season in a row, pundits are finally starting to wonder whether this eye affliction will be Marquez’s Waterloo. Even 93-worshipping Crash.net, is concerned “over how easily the nerve can be re-damaged,” causing racing analyst Keith Huewen to start thinking about the once unthinkable: “It’s definitely better for him physically (to retire). It looks like Marquez is at the end of a career that looked like it had a fair way still to run.”

Whatever one thinks of number 93 — I’m not a fan — the last decade of motorcycle racing has been defined by his incredible balletics, unspeakable speed and, unfortunately, monstrous crashes. Like all those too brave for their own good, he may be taken from us before his time.

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