Can MotoGP champ Marc Marquez afford to put mind and body at any more risk?

Has the time come for Marc Marquez to call time on his MotoGP career through fear of risking his eye-sight every time he gets out on track...?

Marc Marquez - Repsol Honda

Watching Marc Marquez pick himself up from the fourth - and most horrific - of his accidents during an error-strewn Indonesian MotoGP, it was hard to believe this forlorn and embattled figure sauntering off track was the same man who two years ago appeared at the height of his powers in the sport.

At 27-years old and with eight GP World Championships - including six in seven MotoGP seasons - under his belt, there seemed no stopping Marquez’s relentless march to the mantle of the sport’s most decorated rider.

Then the 2020 Spanish MotoGP occurred and Marquez lost ten months to an arduous recovery process.

But - in a career blighted by some spectacular incidents that, more often than not, he has recovered from - Marquez is facing his biggest hurdle yet to not only get back to his pulsating best on a MotoGP track, but potentially get back on track at all.

The second relapse of his unusual but affecting diplopia - a form of double-vision brought about by trauma - would have been exactly the outcome Marquez was praying wouldn’t emerge from his Mandalika smash. Indeed, though he was remarkably lucky to walk away with only a concussion, there would have been worries it was only a matter of time before the diplopia returned, fears that have now been realised.

The impact - both physically and mentally - for Marquez is severe. While there was ten years between his November diplopia episode and the original injury, sustained while competing in Moto2, this time it has taken just one heavy tumble a few months later for it to resurface. 

While Honda remains coy as to when it can expect Marquez to be back on track, previously doctors have commented that it is never clear as to when such an affliction will clear up. 

More concerning for Marquez though is the notion that it leaves him susceptible to it flaring up any time he suffers an accident, a crushing realisation that will surely leave him wondering whether he has no choice but to call time on his career.

Such an outcome will require a lot of soul searching for the Spaniard, but it’s something he has had to do a lot of over the last couple of years. 

Indeed, as a rider for whom bouncing back from a big crash was not only part of the day job but often occurred on the same day, Marquez has clearly learned to be more cautious with his recovery process after potentially aggravating his still evolving injury from Jerez by insisting on trying to compete a week later.

However, healing bones and ligaments are one thing, Marquez’s diplopia is an altogether different ailment to overcome… not least because he simply can’t ignore it at literally any waking moment. He describes the original injury as the worst of his career and admits the recovery from his November accident while MX training took a heavy mental toll too.

"From the mental side, maybe it's been one of the most difficult times of my career,” he said in January 2021. “It’s the fourth winter (of recovery from injury). The right shoulder, left shoulder, then arm. With the arm I suffered a lot, but it now looks better. 

“Then arrived another [eye] injury. It’s hard. I don’t wish this feeling on any rider."

Could Marc Marquez retire from MotoGP?

It takes a special talent to dominate MotoGP the way Marquez did between 2013 and 2019.

But while there is evident method in his approach, it comes with a hefty dose of madness that many feared one day wouldn’t pay off.

Indeed, despite his enduring success rate, Marquez has always been known for some wild get-offs all the same and is frequently ranked as one of the more accident-prone riders every year. However, it was all in the name of a riding style that could afford to overstep the limits in practice if it allowed him to stay safely on the limit in the race.

Many point to Jerez 2020 as the catalyst for Marquez’s litany of issues, but really it started back in November 2018 when he underwent surgery on a troublesome shoulder. While it didn’t affect him during a dominant 2019 MotoGP title tilt, a crash in post-season testing left him nursing an identical injury and undergoing the same surgery on his other shoulder.

His accident during the season-opening Spanish MotoGP may have broken his arm, but it was the re-injured shoulder that left a longer legacy that kept him out of action for the start of 2021.

Even beyond the complaints, Marquez has had to almost re-adapt to racing in MotoGP, coming back to the series to find a precocious new generation of riders now ducking and diving around him, rather than filtering in behind him. 

With the diplopia hampering his winter preparations for a fourth consecutive year, Marquez hasn’t reacted seamlessly to the latest generation Honda RC213V, the product of a motorcycle designed more for the broader benefit of the four riders, rather than just him. It’s a hedging of bets that Marquez has put a brave face on but was yet to look entirely comfortable, which may explain why he hit the deck four times in Indonesia.

It means the odds are beginning to stack towards Marquez calling time on his career sooner rather than later.

On the one hand, his dogged attitude - although not doubt somewhat more jaded than ever before - will have Marquez thinking he’s come this far to walk away, but it’s that arduous journey on the road to recovery that means he may have a more sober view when it comes to looking at his future.

Much will likely depend on how quickly his latest bout of diplopia clears up, but Marquez will be only painfully aware that putting something so critical to his physical and mental well-being as his eye-sight at risk each time he gets on a MotoGP bike might be a fight not worth testing.