MotoGP

Crunching the Numbers: How Likely Is Marc Marquez to Win the 2021 MotoGP Title?

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Can Marc Márquez win the championship this year? Has he left his return too late to catch up? How fast will he be on his return to MotoGP at Portimão?

The answer to all of these burning questions is “we don’t know”, but that doesn’t stop us from asking them. And from trying to make our best guess at what might have happened by the end of the year.

The best place to start to answer these questions is the past. We don’t know how Marc Márquez will perform in the future, but we do know what he has done in the past. And by examining his past results, we can extrapolate in the hope of getting a glimpse of the future.

You also need something to compare Márquez’ performance against. So I have taken the points scored by Marc Márquez in every season he has competed in MotoGP – 2013-2019, as crashing out of one race in 2020 is not particularly instructive – and calculated the average points per race, and what that would work out to if he were to score that average over the 17 races which (provisionally, at least) remain of the 2021 season.

Points have been averaged for each of his seven seasons in MotoGP, as well as over his entire career.


Comparisons

To put that into perspective, I have also done the same for Andrea Dovizioso’s 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons, the Italian’s best years in MotoGP, where he finished second on the Ducati behind Marc Márquez.

I have used Joan Mir’s stats from his championship winning season in 2020. I have added in the scores of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi for 2015, the two riders who finished ahead of Márquez that season.

I have also extrapolated the results of the two opening races of 2021, and added those in for good measure. That is certainly a stretch, given the nature of the Qatar circuit and opening rounds. But it can be a useful yardstick for what Márquez will have to aim for.

Starting off with the average points for each season, it is astonishing just how strong Márquez has been in the seven full seasons he has competed in MotoGP.

In his 128 MotoGP starts, Márquez has amassed a grand total of 2275 points, an average of 17.8 points per race. Put another way, Marc Márquez’ average finishing position is better than third.

Rider Season Races Champ pos Points Avg points
Marc Márquez 2019 19 1 420 22.1
Marc Márquez 2014 18 1 362 20.1
Jorge Lorenzo 2013 17 2 330 19.4
Marc Márquez 2013 18 1 334 18.6
Jorge Lorenzo 2015 18 1 330 18.3
Valentino Rossi 2015 18 2 325 18.1
Marc Márquez 2018 18 1 321 17.8
Marc Márquez 2013-2020 128   2275 17.8
Marc Márquez 2017 18 1 298 16.6
Marc Márquez 2016 18 1 298 16.6
Valentino Rossi 2014 18 2 295 16.4
Andrea Dovizioso 2017 18 2 261 14.5
Andrea Dovizioso 2019 19 2 269 14.2
Andrea Dovizioso 2018 18 2 245 13.6
Marc Márquez 2015 18 3 242 13.4
Joan Mir 2020 14 1 171 12.2
Marc Márquez 2020 1   0 0

 


In terms of points averages for the seasons he has raced, Márquez has three of the four best average points per race, with only Jorge Lorenzo in 2013 getting close.

Notably, that was Márquez’ rookie season, in which he just beat Lorenzo to the championship by just four points.

The only other riders in the top ten averages are Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in 2015, who fought for the title in the year Márquez missed out.

What happens if you add in the average points scores from the first two races in 2021 and assume they will continue for the rest of the season?

Apart from the fact that this is an entirely unreasonable assumption – Qatar is a strange track, the riders and teams had 11 days in total at the Losail circuit, and conditions were such that neither the KTMs nor the Hondas really had a front tire which suited their bikes – it still adds some interesting context.

In this theoretical case, Marc Márquez’ 2019 and 2014 seasons still have the highest average points scored, with 22.1 and 20.1 respectively, but Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco comes in third, the Frenchman having scored two second places at Qatar, and now leading the championship. Two second places is 40 points, for an average of 20 points per race.

Jorge Lorenzo has the fourth highest average from his 2013 season in this scenario, the Spaniard scoring a higher average than Márquez that year, but losing out on total points after missing the Sachsenring race due to breaking his collarbone for the second race in succession.

Unlike at Assen two weeks’ previously, Lorenzo chose not to fly to Barcelona to have surgery to fix his collarbone and come back and try to race.

The zero points form that race were canceled out by Márquez’ disqualification from the Phillip Island round, when the Repsol Honda rider’s team failed to bring him in for a compulsory pit stop to change tires after the Australian circuit had been resurfaced, and Bridgestone found the tires it had brought were unable to cope with the stresses of the much faster circuit.

Rider Season Races Champ pos Points Avg points
Marc Márquez 2019 19 1 420 22.1
Marc Márquez 2014 18 1 362 20.1
Johann Zarco 2021 2 1 40 20.0
Jorge Lorenzo 2013 17 2 330 19.4
Marc Márquez 2013 18 1 334 18.6
Jorge Lorenzo 2015 18 1 330 18.3
Valentino Rossi 2015 18 2 325 18.1
Fabio Quartararo 2021 2 2 36 18.0
Maverick Viñales 2021 2 3 36 18.0
Marc Márquez 2018 18 1 321 17.8
Marc Márquez 2013-2020 128   2275 17.8
Marc Márquez 2017 18 1 298 16.6
Marc Márquez 2016 18 1 298 16.6
Valentino Rossi 2014 18 2 295 16.4
Andrea Dovizioso 2017 18 2 261 14.5
Andrea Dovizioso 2019 19 2 269 14.2
Andrea Dovizioso 2018 18 2 245 13.6
Marc Márquez 2015 18 3 242 13.4
Francesco Bagnaia 2021 2 4 26 13.0
Joan Mir 2020 14 1 171 12.2
Alex Rins 2021 2 5 23 11.5
Joan Mir 2021 2 6 22 11.0
Marc Márquez 2020 1   0 0

 


Behind Marc Márquez’ 2013 season follows the 2015 averages for Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

Only then do we get to two more averages from 2021, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo both having scored an average of 18 points from the first two races.

Those 18 points are only a fraction more than Marc Márquez’ points average from his 2018 season, as well as his average points haul from every one of the 128 MotoGP races the Repsol Honda rider has competed in.

You have to look a long way down the rankings before you get to the next rider score from 2021. Past the rest of Marc Márquez’ season averages, as well as Valentino Rossi’s average points haul from 2014, when he finished runner up to Márquez.

In 19th overall sits Pecco Bagnaia, who has an average of 13 points from two races. Behind Bagnaia is Joan Mir’s average from his championship winning 2020 season, which he won with a mere 12.2 points per race on average.

What if we plug all these numbers into a formula to calculate a predicted (and I use that term very lightly indeed) final points tally for the 2021 season?

If we take the average of points scored so far, and multiply those by the total of 19 races scheduled for 2021 (if all goes ahead as planned of course) for the riders who have raced so far this year, and then take the average points for Marc Márquez and the other high-scoring riders from previous years, and multiply those by 17 (the races remaining in 2021), we get a slightly different picture.

Rider Season Champ pos 2021 Points Avg points Theoretical score
Johann Zarco 2021 1 40 20.0 380.0
Marc Márquez 2019 1 0 22.1 375.8
Fabio Quartararo 2021 2 36 18.0 342.0
Maverick Viñales 2021 3 36 18.0 342.0
Marc Márquez 2014 1 0 20.1 341.9
Jorge Lorenzo 2013 2 0 19.4 330.0
Marc Márquez 2013 1 0 18.6 315.4
Jorge Lorenzo 2015 1 0 18.3 311.7
Valentino Rossi 2015 2 0 18.1 306.9
Marc Márquez 2018 1 0 17.8 303.2
Marc Márquez 2013-2020   0 17.8 302.1
Marc Márquez 2017 1 0 16.6 281.4
Marc Márquez 2016 1 0 16.6 281.4
Valentino Rossi 2014 2 0 16.4 278.6
Francesco Bagnaia 2021 4 26 13.0 247.0
Andrea Dovizioso 2017 2 0 14.5 246.5
Andrea Dovizioso 2019 2 0 14.2 240.7
Andrea Dovizioso 2018 2 0 13.6 231.4
Joan Mir 2020 1 22 12.2 229.6
Marc Márquez 2015 3 0 13.4 228.6
Alex Rins 2021 5 23 11.5 218.5
Joan Mir 2021 6 22 11.0 209.0

 


On this basis, Johann Zarco would be champion, with a total of 380 points. Whether the Pramac Ducati rider can maintain his form such that he finishes second in every race for the rest of the year (or at least averages 20 points over the remaining 17 races) is a very big question, especially given the breadth and strength of the MotoGP field.

Looking behind Zarco, we start to get a sense of what Marc Márquez might be capable of in 2021. If he can match his 2019 average – another tough ask, given that extraordinary season and the fact he is just coming back from a year away from racing – then he would score 376 points. Most years, that would be more than enough to win the title.

If Márquez were to match his 2014 points average – the year in which he won 13 races – then he would end 2021 with a total of 342 points.

That is almost identical to the projected scores for the Monster Energy Yamaha duo of Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo.

In a normal year, the Yamaha riders’ average of 18 points per race might be just enough to win a title: the champion’s average points haul per race over the past 20 seasons has been 19.1 points.

Only six times previously has the champion averaged 18 points or fewer per race: Valentino Rossi in 2009, Marc Márquez in the three season from 2016-2018, Nicky Hayden’s epic 2006 title, and Joan Mir’s thrilling 2020 season.

Taking Marc Márquez’ career points average of 17.8 points per race for the remaining 17 races would see the Repsol Honda rider end the season with 302 points.

That could possibly be enough for the Spaniard to take the title: it was more than his own points totals in 2016 and 2017, and more than Nicky Hayden’s total of 252 points from 17 races, which was enough to secure the title in 2006.


Crystal Balls

Is any of this meaningful? There are so many confounding factors that it makes predicting how 2021 will play out pretty much impossible.

For a start, there is the fact that the 2021 MotoGP field is tighter than it has ever been before, as witnessed by the fact that the second Qatar race produced the closest top 15 in history, with less than 9 seconds between winner Fabio Quartararo and Miguel Oliveira in 15th.

If 14th place finisher Stefan Bradl had been one tenth a second faster per lap, he would have crossed the line in seventh, 4.3 seconds behind Quartararo, and ahead of Joan Mir.

If sixth place Pecco Bagnaia had been a tenth faster per lap, he would have finished second, 0.4 seconds behind Quartararo. If Maverick Viñales had been a tenth a lap faster, he would have won the race just ahead of his Yamaha teammate, rather than crossing the line in fifth.

Then there’s the fact that the first two races are totally unrepresentative. Neither the Hondas nor the KTMs performed up to expectations, as the soft front tire was too soft for them to be competitive, and the weird conditions in Qatar meant they didn’t have a full and proper understanding of the medium front.


Jack Miller had a shocking couple of races, the first one because of an issue with his rear tire, the second after a clash with Joan Mir. The reigning champion never really found his feet in Qatar, though he had a strong first race, and a tire issue in the second.

Surprise star of 2020 Franco Morbidelli had a disastrous first race, lost all his confidence in his setup, then went back to a setup from the beginning of 2020 in search of some confidence in his bike.

Then there’s the wildcards: is the Aprilia really that much better, and can Aleix Espargaro establish himself at the front? How strong will Pol Espargaro be on the Repsol Honda?

Is Jorge Martin’s performance at the second race in Qatar a harbinger of an exceptional rookie season in 2021, or just a fluke due to circumstances?

All of these factors will have a major influence on the points distribution, and suggest that scoring points consistently has never been more difficult.


The Great Unknown

Finally, of course, there is the big question itself. Just how good is Marc Márquez? How much speed has he lost in his year away from racing? Will the fear of crashing affect him, either in terms of outright speed, or being a little more gun-shy in battle?

Will he hold a little in reserve, or will he be just as fierce and fearless as he was in the past? Can he get on with the 2021 Honda RC213V, and the 2021 Michelins, which are so very close to the 2020 Michelins which spat him off at Jerez?

This is the great unknown, and we can only speculate. But after this weekend, we may have the first glimpse of where Marc Márquez and the rest of the MotoGP field stands, and a slightly better idea of how the season might play out.

Finally, more for fun and the sake of completeness than anything else, I have included the average points per season for every MotoGP/500cc champion since 2001, as well as for the most successful season for Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Valentino Rossi.

The figures here are almost impossible to compare; they span four different types of motorcycle (500cc two strokes, 990cc four strokes, 800cc four strokes, and 1000cc four strokes) as well as untold changes to the technical and sporting regulations which have closed the field up enormously.

But, they do give an overview of who has dominated in which eras.

Rank Rider Season Races Champ pos Points Avg points
1 Valentino Rossi 2003 16 1 357 22.3
2 Valentino Rossi 2002 16 1 355 22.2
3 Marc Márquez 2019 19 1 420 22.1
4 Valentino Rossi 2005 17 1 367 21.6
5 Jorge Lorenzo 2010 18 1 383 21.3
6 Valentino Rossi 2008 18 1 373 20.7
7 Casey Stoner 2011 17 1 350 20.6
8 Casey Stoner 2007 18 1 367 20.4
9 Valentino Rossi 2001 16 1 325 20.3
10 Marc Márquez 2014 18 1 362 20.1
11 Jorge Lorenzo 2012 18 1 350 19.4
12 Jorge Lorenzo 2013 17 2 330 19.4
13 Valentino Rossi 2004 16 1 304 19.0
14 Marc Márquez 2013 18 1 334 18.6
15 Jorge Lorenzo 2015 18 1 330 18.3
16 Valentino Rossi 2015 18 2 325 18.1
17 Valentino Rossi 2009 17 1 306 18.0
18 Marc Márquez 2018 18 1 321 17.8
19 Jorge Lorenzo 2011 15 2 260 17.3
20 Casey Stoner 2012 15 3 254 16.9
21 Valentino Rossi 2010 14 3 233 16.6
22 Marc Márquez 2016 18 1 298 16.6
23 Marc Márquez 2017 18 1 298 16.6
24 Valentino Rossi 2014 18 2 295 16.4
25 Casey Stoner 2009 14 4 220 15.7
26 Casey Stoner 2008 18 2 280 15.6
27 Jorge Lorenzo 2009 17 2 261 15.4
28 Nicky Hayden 2006 17 1 252 14.8
29 Jorge Lorenzo 2014 18 3 263 14.6
30 Valentino Rossi 2006 17 2 247 14.5
31 Andrea Dovizioso 2017 18 2 261 14.5
32 Andrea Dovizioso 2019 19 2 269 14.2
33 Valentino Rossi 2016 18 2 249 13.8
34 Andrea Dovizioso 2018 18 2 245 13.6
35 Marc Márquez 2015 18 3 242 13.4
36 Valentino Rossi 2007 18 3 241 13.4
37 Valentino Rossi 2013 18 4 237 13.2
38 Valentino Rossi 2000 16 2 209 13.1
39 Jorge Lorenzo 2016 18 3 233 12.9
40 Casey Stoner 2010 18 4 225 12.5
41 Valentino Rossi 2017 17 5 208 12.2
42 Joan Mir 2020 14 1 171 12.2
43 Jorge Lorenzo 2008 17 4 190 11.2
44 Valentino Rossi 2018 18 3 198 11.0

Photo: MotoGP

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