Marc Marquez's eighth win of the 2018 MotoGP™ season last Sunday at the Japanese Grand Prix was worth more than the 25 points that came with it. For one, it secured the Spaniard his fifth MotoGP™ world title and seventh World Championship in all, some feat for a rider only 25 years of age. And it made for compelling comparison with another of the all-time greats, who, like Marquez, will be in action at Phillip Island for the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2018.
Marquez joins Aussie legend Mick Doohan on five premier-class titles, and is now one of just four riders along with Giacomo Agostini (eight premier-class crowns) and Valentino Rossi (seven) to win five or more World Championships in the top flight. And while Rossi and Marquez have had their differences the Italian veteran knows the Spaniard is a good chance to overhaul his career achievements. "Marquez can beat my records, but it does not bother me," Rossi said at a promotional appearance in the UK earlier this month.
The latter part of that statement may or may not be true, but comparing their first six seasons in the top flight of the World Championship shows where Marquez sits in a historical context, and what he might achieve once his career is over, given Rossi is 14 years his senior and still a front-runner as he nears his 40th birthday.
Since his MotoGP™ debut in 2013, Marquez has won five titles in six years, the last three (2016-18) in succession, and has won 43 of the 105 races he's started, all riding for Repsol Honda after inheriting Casey Stoner's seat at the factory squad following the Australian's 2012 retirement. He's been on the podium 76 times, has taken 50 pole positions, and set the fastest lap of the race 44 times.
Rossi's first six premier-class seasons were from 2000-05, the first two in the 500cc class before the advent of the MotoGP™ era in 2002. The first four of those seasons were for the same factory Honda squad Marquez calls home now, the next two the first of his initial seven-year stint with Yamaha from 2004-10.
"Marquez's rapid progress makes it a debate that will rage on for years to come."
In that six-year span, 'The Doctor' claimed five titles in succession from 2001-05, won 53 of 97 races, took pole 30 times, recorded the fastest lap 45 times and finished 81 of those 97 races inside the top three. At the end of 2005, he was 26 years old, a year older than Marquez is now.
Rossi, of course, didn't stop winning after those first six seasons, adding two more world titles for Yamaha in 2008-09, and a further 36 race wins to take his 500cc/MotoGP™ victory tally to 89.
In his first 100 races, Rossi's 54 wins and 82 podiums stands out like a beacon in a comparison of what some of the all-time greats have achieved after a century of Grands Prix. Marquez's marks of 40 wins and 71 podiums in 100 starts compares favourably to the likes of Stoner (33 wins, 59 podiums), Doohan (32 wins, 64 podiums) and Jorge Lorenzo (29 wins, 72 podiums) over the same span.
So which of these modern-day giants, Marquez and Rossi, comes out on top? Can Marquez continue his current rate of success, or is there a blip in his career still to come that's reminiscent of Rossi's two barren years at Ducati from 2011-12, where he failed to win a race and finished on the podium just three times? Can he keep winning titles past the age of 30, which was Rossi's most recent crown in 2009?
Marquez's rapid progress through the sport's history books makes it a debate well worth having, and one that will rage for years to come.