The young Spaniard was the surprise of the Doha GP:
time to meet the former Red Bull Rookies and Moto3 champion.
Martin dazzled under the Losail floodlights, but will he be as fast on other tracks?
The last rider to achieve pole position in his second MotoGP race was Marc Marquez, so is Jorge Martin the next Marquez?
I don’t think Jorge Martin’s mountain of talent is as high as that of the six-time MotoGP king, but it is impressive.
Riding a modern MotoGP bike is not easy: not only do you have to try to beat the best riders in the world, but you also have to be able to think calmly and quickly while moving at 98 meters per second, watching your braking points, hitting the shape-shifting switch and selecting different maps for torque delivery, engine braking and anti-squat. There’s a lot going on.
Martin proved last weekend that he has the mental bandwidth to do all that and lead the best riders in the world (with one major exception). He may find the upcoming tracks (Portimao, Jerez, Mugello, etc.) more challenging than Losail, but there is no doubt that Ducati has a great talent.
Martin is another product of the Red Bull KTM production line, but he didn’t get the fast deal like Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, who have worn orange from Red Bull Rookies to Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. Martin won the Rookies Cup in 2014, edging Joan Mir for second place, then spent his first two seasons of GP racing aboard the Italian/Swiss-built Mahindra.
Obviously, riders hate riding bikes that aren’t competitive, but a slow bike can do wonders for his fighting spirit and late braking ability. Despite Martin’s lack of results with Mahindra, his skills were obvious to former 125cc world champion Fausto Gresini, who put him on a Honda NSF250RW for 2017. Martin took his first win at the season-ending Valencia GP and then dominated 2018, taking another seven victories along the way.
Red Bull KTM brought him back in 2019 to their Moto2 team, but the 2019 KTM chassis was hopeless, so he didn’t win a race. Last year he had a good shot at the title, until he caught Covid-19 and had to miss a couple of rounds. And then he signed for Ducati.
Former MotoGP rider and team boss Peter Clifford now helps run the Red Bull Rookies series and remembers Martin well.
“When he was with us he was very serious and very committed,” Clifford says. “He was one of those riders who obviously has talent, but if I had to choose which was his greatest strength, his raw talent or his commitment to using that talent, I’d say it’s the latter.
“He’s obviously very talented, but he also brings out the best in himself, the bike and the situation, and he really works at it. With that attitude, Jorge could always bounce back from difficulties. He always managed to keep his composure: he was very mature, even back then. With some other cyclists, it’s all talent, but they don’t know why it works, but it works.
“The other big thing was that it was very clear that the family wasn’t rich and that if Jorge hadn’t been racing in Rookies, he probably wouldn’t be racing, at least not on a competitive bike. So it was wonderful to have him in the Rookies. To me, that’s what Rookies is all about: giving a chance to riders who otherwise wouldn’t have one.”
Martin’s talent was also evident to fellow Spaniards Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaró, who took the youngster under their wings.
“Maverick and Aleix would pick me up, take me to the track and let me use their training bikes,” Martin said in Qatar last weekend. “I didn’t have the money to buy a training bike, so I was lucky to borrow theirs.”
Martin was incredible to watch last weekend, taking the takeoff to new extremes, with his elbows and shoulders scraping the tarmac during qualifying. This wasn’t crazy goon riding. It’s simple physics: the more you shift your weight to the inside of the corner, the more you minimize the centrifugal effect to help the bike turn. This is certainly a useful technique with the hard-to-spin Desmosedici.
Pramac team manager Francesco Guidotti is as impressed as anyone with Ducati’s latest signing but warns that Martin’s potential is being overstated. After all, Losail has always helped rookies shine. In 2006, Casey Stoner took pole there in his second premier class race and two years later Jorge Lorenzo and James Toseland qualified fastest and second fastest for their MotoGP debuts.
“Losail is a Ducati circuit, where Ducati performs well every year, so I think we would be making a mistake by reading too much into the data from this circuit,” Guidotti said Sunday night.
“Jorge has only had the opportunity to ride a MotoGP bike at Losail. The preseason testing was here and the first two races were here, so I think it’s best that we wait until we go somewhere else to see what happens there.
“Here we can use the full potential and power of the Ducati, but on other tracks that are more twisty, where you need to stay longer at high lean angles, so the tire consumption is higher, maybe we suffer a bit more.
“For sure we can see Jorge’s attitude and his approach, which is the best thing. He has shown us a lot here: his ability to do the lap time without following anyone is incredible. But let’s hope for more races at other circuits.”
Some people are surprised that Moto2 riders can adapt so quickly to a doubly powerful MotoGP bike. MotoGP bikes are incredibly demanding, but they are easily the most advanced and refined race bikes.
A Moto2 bike is a mutt, a street bike engine in a race chassis, so it’s a compromise, not 100% designed to ride on a race track. A MotoGP bike is totally uncompromising. Every part of the bike is designed with one goal in mind: to help the rider go around in circles as fast as possible. For this reason, many Moto2 riders find MotoGP bikes a pleasant surprise, despite the raw power of the engine and carbon brakes.