Remembering Marco Simoncelli: Would he have become MotoGP World Champion?

Few riders will make such as impact in MotoGP as Marco Simoncelli had even before his death - could he have become a World Champion though? 

Marco Simoncelli - Gresini Honda

MotoGP has given the world dozens of legends over the decades, everlasting legacies forged by their successes on track and measured in podiums, wins and World Championship titles… then there is Marco Simoncelli.

Few riders will ever make such an impact on fans, commentators and MotoGP riders alike as Simoncelli did during what would become a tragically brief period of less than two complete seasons in the top flight.

Indeed, while Simoncelli’s tragic and untimely death on 23 October 2011 during the Malaysian MotoGP in Sepang assured him notoriety, over time the emphasis has shifted towards questions over whether he would have become a successor of sorts to Valentino Rossi by becoming MotoGP’s next World Championship winning superstar.

Today [23 October] marks ten years since Simoncelli’s rapidly ascending super-star was extinguished at the age of just 24. 

Every death in racing is felt deeply but Simoncelli’s passing left MotoGP and wider community in a particular state of shock and left struggling to fathom how a rider that had commanded so much attention both on and off track, who had days earlier only celebrating his best-ever MotoGP result, was suddenly gone.

In the context of his burgeoning reputation and the MotoGP career unfurling before him, more than anything his death seemed so desperately unfair, as petulant and futile as it may sound. 

At the time Simoncelli was close to completing his second season in MotoGP on the satellite Gresini Honda. While a satellite rider being on the podium - or even winning - has become so common today that such a status barely needs a mention, ten years ago such landmarks wrote new contracts.

As the end of the 2011 season approached, Simoncelli was maturing into a more complete rider, a path of development Honda was prepared to reward with a factory-spec RC213V for the following season. 

It would have put him on a relative par with the incoming Marc Marquez, whom Simoncelli had never raced but was already being pitted against as one of MotoGP’s next generation stars that would ultimately succeed the likes of Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. 

The prospect was certainly tantalising. Both riders had clawed their way through the ranks boasting bolshy and unapologetic riding styles that drew admiration for the hard racing it was intended for, but cries of foul from rivals and team bosses who felt it did not belong in a sport of high-speed stakes.

Evidently talented, it was the rawness of Simoncelli’s style that was both a problem and thrill for Gresini Racing and Honda in that it led to crashes or collisions with other riders, but disguised what many felt was a fearsomely fast all round package.

The first fruits of his labour began to emerge in 2011 with two pole positions - Catalunya and Assen - before he stepped foot on the MotoGP podium for the first time at Brno with a run to third position. He went one better at Phillip Island, chasing home hero Casey Stoner to the flag - just a week later he was dead.

Could Marco Simoncelli have taken fight to Marc Marquez?

The question of whether he would have gone on to become a MotoGP World Champion would have hinged on a pivotal third season in the top flight. It’s hard to believe anyone could have stopped Marquez winning the 2012 MotoGP World Championship in his rookie season, but a strong showing from Simoncelli might have earned him a spot alongside the Spaniard at Repsol Honda for 2013.

The notion of Marquez and Simoncelli in the same colours is a fantasy that we can certainly conjure, but one that would have likely given HRC some sleepless nights.

Assuming Simoncelli remained close with countryman Rossi - who took SIC under his wing and ultimately provided the inspiration for his VR46 Academy - then it would have created an entirely different dynamic at Repsol Honda.

Had they not played nice then Simoncelli would almost certainly have been the one to leave, with HRC no doubt opting to foster its long-term Spanish representing protege. Alternatively, it could have knocked a still inexperienced Marquez off his stride by coming up against the one and only rider that could have matched his sheer confidence and exuberance of youth.

We’ll never of course know whether Simoncelli was ever destined for a long stint at Honda, but most agree he was destined to become one of the stars of the 2010s no matter which manufacturer he did it with. 

Simoncelli had the mentality and approach of a MotoGP World Champion. While his riding style and consistency wasn’t there yet, it was coming on leaps and bounds at the time of his passing.

The fact we will never know what promise was left unfulfilled will remain one of MotoGP’s most heartbreaking unanswered questions for decades to come.