You gotta love Marc Márquez. He has shaken up MotoGP, just like a young Valentino Rossi did a decade or more ago. He’s set plenty of records along the way too, usually for being the youngest rider ever to do — well, whatever it is he’s just done — in just his second MotoGP season.
The most number of wins in a season, the youngest champion, and now double champ in the premier class, pole positions, fastest laps… the list goes on. My favourite Márquez record can’t be found in the official MotoGP stats, and it’s perhaps the most impressive. This is a record the Spaniard set during practice at Mugello, Italy, last year.
Like all racing records, this one involves numbers, but they’re not lap or sector times and they have nothing to do with his age or diminutive size, or the power output of his Repsol Honda. In all probability, this is a record that Márquez would prefer to forget, because studying the numbers will do nothing more than ram home how lucky he is to be still with us.
Márquez had the fastest crash in MotoGP history. In a sport where multiple crashes happen every race weekend, many of them at outrageous speeds, you know you’ve got to be going some to set a new record. All the ingredients were there: fastest circuit on the calendar (Mugello), fastest bike (Honda) and arguably the quickest rider (Márquez).
We can thank the Honda’s telemetry and Márquez’s Alpinestars suit for the information that follows — yes, his leather suit has sensors to deploy its airbag, and these record the forces involved in the crash. Barrelling down the straight towards the first corner, Márquez got into trouble as he approached the braking zone. He was travelling at 337.8km/h as he momentarily lost control, the incident altering his line and firing him off towards a trackside wall.
With only fractions of a second to decide on a suitable course of action, Márquez decided to jump off his bike. He’d managed to slow the bike down while he pondered his options so that by the time he bailed he was going at only 275km/h. Once he was off, there was no option but to tuck in his limbs as much as possible and settle in for a wild ride — a ride that lasted 4.25 seconds, and included a hundred or more metres bouncing along the trackside wall.
The airbag in his suit was activated 0.08 seconds after the crash and took a further 0.05 seconds to deploy. Was this quick enough? Yes, the suit started to record the violence of Marquez tumbling down the track 0.03 seconds after the airbag had inflated. Accelerometers in the suit determined that both of his shoulders had exceeded the 25g maximum recording level, but Marquez walked away from the crash with only bruises, cuts and a tiny crack in his humerus (the bone in the upper arm).
Alpinestars reckons that he wouldn’t have fared so well if he hadn’t been using the airbag system. It’s an expensive item, but it has made me think about finding the extra money for this top-of-the-range suit. Walking away from a crash such as this is surely the best endorsement for protective riding gear? If you’re a track-day rider or a racer, this is a decision you may well be faced with at some point. It’s a choice you have to make in the blink of an eye, and it could well save your life.
Even if there isn’t impending doom brought on by the sudden arrival of a wall, it’s usually better to get yourself away from the bike as soon as you know it’s gone pear-shaped. Tumbling through the gravel on your own is preferable to doing the same while still on the bike — the bloody things have a nasty habit of making sure you really feel the crash by giving you an extra klap or two for good measure.
This probably seems a bit negative, but it’s useful advice. Mentally preparing yourself for such eventualities is half the battle, and should the unthinkable happen, it’s your ability to make a snap judgment that will determine your fate. On a more positive note, we can all be grateful that protective gear for bikers is so good. I’ve never had an airbag suit and apart from a few (okay, 16) broken bones I’m still here to tell these stories.
And as for the airbag suits, you can be sure their prices will keep falling, so much so that in a decade or so it will be a surprise to see a leather suit or road riding jacket without such built-in protection.