'Speed still there', says Marquez on impressive MotoGP return

Portimao (Portugal) (AFP) –


Six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez made a remarkable comeback Friday in his first competitive ride since crashing nine months ago and declared: "The speed is still there."

Marquez was third fastest in the opening free practice for the Portuguese Grand Prix.

The Spaniard fared marginally less well in the second session but still produced the sixth fastest time overall to round off an exciting return, 271 days after his crash at the Spanish Grand Prix.

In the second session, Honda rider Marquez finished 0.473secs behind the Italian Francesco Bagnaia who set the fastest time of the day on his Ducati.

"The speed is there," said Marquez. "Everything will now depend on my physical condition.

"This afternoon, I already felt my arm was a little tired. In what state will I wake up tomorrow? If I have less power, I will have to adapt my riding."

The 28-year-old broke his right arm when he crashed in Jerez in July 2020 in the opening race of last season.

He missed the rest of the campaign and opted not to ride in this season's back-to-back openers in Qatar having undergone three surgeries.

On Friday, at Portimao, the Spaniard was unperturbed by complicated conditions on the track which had numerous damp patches.

He steadily improved through the first session to post a time of 1min 42.378ec.

He was 0.251 behind compatriot Maverick Vinales who set the fastest time in the first session on his Yamaha.

So far this season, Honda have struggled with Yamaha's Vinales and Fabio Quartararo winning the opening rounds in Qatar.

Pol Espargaro and Stefan Brandl, who has stepped in for Marquez, were eighth and 11th and then 13th and 14th respectively for the Honda factory team in the Gulf.

"I am nervous," admitted Marquez on Thursday. "I have butterflies in my stomach."

Quartararo was second fastest overall Friday while Joan Mir, who man who stepped into Marquez's shoes last year to win the world title for Suzuki, clocked the third fastest time in spite of not having his chief engineer after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Marquez's rivals were impressed by the Spaniard's performance.

"He's strong," said championship leader Johann Zarco of Ducati-Pramac who was eighth fastest.

"You feel that he has not lost any of his edge. He is not eight times world champion (all categories) for nothing. He adapts immediately. It's even better than I imagined."

Quartararo added: "We know how mentally strong he is and how well he knows his Honda. It was the same Marc."

There are two more practice sessions on Saturday (0855/1230 GMT) before qualifying begins at 1310 GMT.

Top 10 combined:

1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) at 1min 39.866sec, 2. Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) at 0.340, 3. Joan Mir (Suzuki) 0.419, 4. Alex Rins (Suzuki) 0.462, 5. Jack Miller (Ducati) 0.470, 6. Marc Marquez (Honda) 0.473, 7. Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) 0.560, 8. Johann Zarco (Pramac) 0.624, 9. Miguel Oliveira (KTM) 0.726, 10. Takaaki Nakagami (Honda) 0.745