On Tuesday morning, in Valencia, all the photographers, journalists and cameramen were in front of the Gresini team garage, a wall of eyes that opened only to let Marc Marquez and his Ducati go through when they took to the track. A few meters away, there was no one in front of the Honda garage. Marini was speaking with Giacomo Guidotti - his new crew chief who had worked for Mir this year - and then got on the RC213V. He motorbike was black, and so were his leathers, almost anonymous on his first day of his new life, but what he did from then on to the evening was not taken for granted.
Nobody expected Marini to leave VR46, a team he had been linked to since 2018 (when he raced in Moto2) and with which he moved to MotoGP. It wasn't just the family ties that raised doubts, but also the fact of leaving the Ducati, the best bike on the grid, to get on the Honda, one of the worst. The reverse move to the one wanted by Marquez, but the same as Zarco.
Luca, however, had always said: "my dream is to race in an official team, to be able to develop a motorbike". It is difficult to achieve this in Borgo Panigale, where the competition is fierce and numerous, so the call from Tokyo could not be ignored. A train was passing with his name written on it and Marini decided to catch it, to bet on himself outside the comfort zone of a team that was a second family and on a motorbike in need of care.
Nobody expected anything from his first time on the Japanese MotoGP bike and instead Luca was the real surprise of the tests. It was a given that Marc would be fast on the Desmosedici, much less so that Marini would be fast on a new bike that was still all to be built. The stopwatch said otherwise: at the end of the day, after 72 laps on the RC213V, he was 10th quickest, the best of the Honda riders. His time, 1'29.956, was just six hundredths slower than the one recorded in qualifying (subpar, it must be said) on Saturday for the Grand Prix. To make a comparison with Zarco: the Frenchman on Tuesday lapped 1.1 seconds slower than in qualifying and three tenths from Marini.
Even looking at Marini's times, you can clearly see how he was the protagonist of a constant progression which led him to lower his times. Which means that his best time was not the classic 'lap with eyes closed', but the result of work that paid off.
If one swallow does not make a summer, it is also true that a good day starts in the morning and Luca certainly prefers the second proverb to the first. At the end of the day he was unable to comment on his tests for contractual reasons, so we have to rely on the few words written on his Instagram profile: “Test done, good feeling and amazing squad. Now relax and focus on 2024."
The first take was good, they would say in cinema, even though the road is still very long and not easy. HRC, however, seems to have changed pace this time and the new bike is proof of this. It is a real revolution, very different from what we have seen on the track this year: it is longer ("like the Ducati" commented Bagnaia) and also lighter (as Mir certified). The Japanese realized that they had to 'copy' the Europeans and the new concessions (with free testing and the possibility of developing the engine during the season) will be of great help.
Marini seems like the right rider to lead the development because he is very sensitive and will not have the typical pressure of an official team. He is not a superstar like Marquez who has the obligation to win immediately, which means that he will have the opportunity to work as he likes: step by step, to build solid foundations. This doesn't mean it will be an easy road, but Luca will be able to go on holiday with some more certainty.
Being in the first team can have opposite effects on a rider, motivating him or crushing him, and Marini seems excited to the right point. At Sepang he will be able to wear those Repsol colours that he already wore in his minibike days, fate likes to reserve surprises.