The opening day of the 888 Grand Prix of Portugal saw the return of a certain Marc Marquez to the track. The Repsol Honda Team rider had been out of action for 265 days following an extensive injury lay-off, but the eight-time World Champion made his long-awaited comeback in Friday’s Free Practice.
Earning himself a more than impressive P6 on the combined timesheets, the Spaniard once again found himself pushing the limits of his RC213v on his final time attack, flirting with disaster on more than one occasion.
It left fans in awe of his ability to ride, however, many of his competitors weren’t quite as taken aback by how seamlessly he reacclimatised to the power of the MotoGP™ bike. One of which was current Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), with the Mallorcan claiming it would be strange if he wasn’t fast.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. We know the Honda works well here. We know the real potential he has. He has arrived 100% fit. He’s pushed 100%. It’s normal that he’s going so fast. He hasn’t surprised me at all with what he did. I just hoped he’d be at this level. It doesn’t matter that he’s a past Champion and I’m the current Champion. I’m just giving my 100% and will always do that”
Fellow title rival Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) welcomed the return of his compatriot, saying “it is always nice to see other riders on track” while Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) told us “it really shows what he is made of.” Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) attributed his speed to his “mental strength,” which left its mark on the Doha GP victor.
“He was pretty impressive and now he will go faster and faster every time. So we have exactly the same Marc that left. He will be there to fight for the victory on Sunday, because he was already on P6 today. So he will be really fast and every time faster. So I'm not really worried for Marc because he is already impressive and fast.”
Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) was another to be delighted by the Catalan’s return to form.
“We all know how extremely talented this guy is and the things he does on a motorcycle: just watch the session. You see him do some things and you think ‘how did he pull that off?!’ Even today and I think he was riding with some margin. For me it made me smile when I saw him smiling this morning in the garage because you know how much this sport means to him and what it means to all of us."
"It’s the thing we love and what we want to do and when you cannot do it for nine months then it’s not an easy thing, especially with all the recovery he’s had to do. To see him back out there doing what he loves and what he’s fantastic at makes us all happy that he’s there and it will elevate all of our levels.”
Not everyone was happy about Marquez’s P6 FP2 finish though, with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder losing out by his failure to crack the top of the timesheets.
“I had a bet with my guys that he would be top three in the first session and he was third! I expected him to be super-strong.”
Perhaps best surmising the riders’ feelings on the matter was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), asking us what did we think was going to happen!
“For me he’s the best rider in history. So what were you guys expecting? For him to finish 20th? No, I don’t think so. For me it’s Marc Marquez again.”