Marco Simoncelli came to MotoGP in 2002 at the Czech Grand Prix as a fresh faced 15 year old European champion. The Italian quickly established himself as a fast and aggressive rider taking points in his second Grand Prix, at a wet Portuguese race at the Estoril Circuit.
The 2003 season was Marco’s first full year in the Grand Prix paddock and while the season started in difficult circumstances with Marco struggling aboard the Matteoni Aprilia he persevered to take points finishes in numerous races before making his big breakthrough once more at Estoril. Simoncelli qualified sixth and showed the blistering turn of speed that made many believe he had the potential to be a leading racer. The season finished with Simoncelli having confirmed his potential with his first front row qualifying position at the Valencia Grand Prix where Marco converted third on the grid into a fourth place finish.
The next season saw Simoncelli expected to challenge for the world championship and though he took his first career pole position and victory at Jerez the season was a disappointment with Macro ending the year 11th in the championship. 2005 saw Marco win the opening race of the year, again at Jerez, and have a solid season in the 125cc class.
At this point the gangly Italian had plainly outgrown the machinery and as a result he had little chance of challenging Thomas Luthi for the world championship but six podiums and fifth in the championship meant that Simoncelli could look forward to graduating to the intermediate 250cc class with the expectation of challenging at the front of the field.
Simoncelli spent four seasons in the intermediate class and collected 12 victories and 22 podiums in addition to the 2008 world championship. Simoncelli was much more at ease aboard the 250cc machinery because his 6 foot frame was no longer the hindrance that it had become on the smaller bikes of the 125cc class.
It took Marco until his third season in the class to bag his first podium but once he stepped onto the rostrum at Estoril he rarely left it for the next two years including a superb seven race podium streak that became the bedrock of his championship success in 2008 when he comfortably took the title from Alvaro Bautista.
Simoncelli returned to the class in 2009 to defend his title and even though he qualified off the front row just once he was unable to stop Hiroshi Aoyama taking the final 250cc title at the last race of the season in Valencia. That season Marco was once more the fastest rider in the class but three race day crashes left him with little chance of taking the title from the consistent Aoyama.
In 2010 Simoncelli graduated to the MotoGP class to race for Honda with a huge air of expectation. Simoncelli came into the premier class riding for Gresini and even though he had a bumpy rookie season only American Ben Spies was a more impressive newcomer to the series. Simoncelli showed a penchant for unbelievable speed one but practice crashes were common place as the former 250cc champion learned the limits of the 800cc MotoGP machinery.
Even so Simoncelli took points in all but two races and showed Honda more than enough potential to earn a factory bike for this season. The year started brightly for Marco with a gritty fifth place finish under the floodlights of Qatar in a race that saw him battle wheel to wheel with compatriot Andrea Dovizioso. The pair would battle throughout the season as both sought to remain factory HRC riders for 2012.
The Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez was always a race that brought out the best in Marco and this year was no exception with Simoncelli fearless in the rain. He looked well placed to take the victory after opening a commanding lead but a highside a turn one left Marco rueing what might have been. It seemed only a matter of time before he tasted success in the premier class but the season was a struggle with a series of strong qualifying positions, including six consecutive front row starts, failed to be converted in podium finishes.
The Czech Grand Prix at Brno, scene of his Grand Prix debut, marked the first podium of his premier class career with a strong third place finish at Brno. Marco had clearly turned a corner and it was clear that he was now in a position to challenge at the very front of the premier class field. When Honda announced that they would supply Gresini with factory machinery for the next two years it came as little surprise such was Simoncelli’s pace throughout 2011.
The Australian Grand Prix was run in challenging conditions with rain starting to fall in the final laps. With riders out on track with slick tyres it was a recipe for disaster and saw numerous riders’ crash. Simoncelli though showed his maturity aboard the big bikes as he chased Casey Stoner home to finish second before heading to Malaysia for this today’s race.
Simoncelli’s pace and bubbly personality won him an army of fans and looking around the grandstands at races this year saw a huge number of fans donning afro wigs in deference to their new found hero. Marco had the personality and ability to provide MotoGP with a readymade replacement for his friend and compatriot Valentino Rossi. The sport was robbed of one of its great talents this morning.