Repsol Honda will be prepared to celebrate the distinct possibility that Marc Marquez will clinch the MotoGP™ world title on Sunday in Thailand, but I bet they have not mentioned their plans to their rider. It might seem like a miracle when a rider wins a World Championship that he magically appears on the podium proudly wearing a t-shirt proclaiming his amazing achievement.
Often a new helmet miraculously appears on his lap of honour, while, in more recent years, a little pantomime is often played out trackside to make a poignant point or celebrate the exact number of World titles achieved. While all the celebrations are going on at the circuit, the World Champion’s biography with pictures has already been beamed around the world to millions of media outlets.
If Marquez does not clinch his eighth world title at the Buriram circuit, Repsol Honda will have four more opportunities to press the button on their celebration plans but that has not always been the case. In 1992, I was media manager for the Rothmans Honda team and we were prepared for Mick Doohan to clinch the 500cc world title at the final round of an extraordinary Championship at Kyalami in South Africa.
Two hundred and fifty t-shirts were hidden away proclaiming Mick as the new Champion, while a similar number of press kits with his biography and photographs were ready to be distributed in the media centre at the chequered flag. Back home in England, around one thousand similar kits were poised to be posted first class throughout the world – no internet in those days, of course.
Mick arrived in South Africa with a precious two-point lead over current Champion Wayne Rainey after a truly remarkable comeback that had pushed even the Australian’s bravery and determination to a new level after fighting pain and injury. He’d been running away with the title until breaking his leg in a qualifying crash in Assen. An appalling, pain-filled three months followed when he even endured having his two legs sewn together to prevent the unthinkable prospect of having his right leg amputated. He returned to race at the penultimate round, after missing four Grands Prix, still holding a 22-point advantage over Rainey as a shadow of the rider who’d been dominating the Championship until Assen.
The 70-year history of Grand Prix racing has produced some extraordinary rides of pure courage and Mick’s 12th place around the dangerous and slippery Interlagos circuit, on the outskirts of San Paolo in Brazil, was certainly the bravest I’ve ever witnessed. Especially as it produced no World Championship points and Rainey won – only the top ten finishers scored points in those days.
Two weeks later and, so typically, Mick had worked day and night to improve his fitness and build his strength for the near 120-kilometre battle that would decide the outcome of the Championship. He fought like a tiger to finish in sixth place but Rainey did enough. The Yamaha rider rode the perfect race behind John Kocinski and Wayne Gardner to finish third and retain his title by four points.
Cutting up the t-shirts and press kits was an upsetting task after witnessing first hand just how much a rider was prepared to put his body through to win the title. A fitter and stronger Mick returned a year later and, in 1994, at last won his first world title. For five consecutive seasons, he sported that World Championship winning t-shirt that his sheer bravery and ability more than deserved.
However, I don’t think the Repsol Honda Team will be getting out those same cutting up scissors after the next five Grands Prix.