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MotoGP: how do Pedro Acosta’s first three rounds compare to Rossi and Marquez as rookies?

The 19-year-old phenom just took his second podium at COTA - let’s see how the old GOATs compare

Published: 15 Apr 2024

If you’ve been exposed to a single millisecond of MotoGP coverage this season, you’ll be aware that rookie sensation Pedro Acosta is doing quite well. ‘Quite’, in this case, being slang for ‘record-breakingly phenomenal’.

In only his third round in the premier class, the teenager finished second at COTA in a spectacular race to secure a new record: he’s the youngest rider to achieve back-to-back podiums. A record previously held by Marc Marquez, who tussled with Acosta for the victory before tucking the front at turn 11 and sliding off into a DNF.

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So Acosta’s officially the best MotoGP rookie, ever.

Not so fast there, inflammatory sub-header. While he’s taken that particular record from Marquez, he’s got a lot more to do before the number 31 can say he’s categorically outperformed the sport’s previous child prodigies: the aforementioned Marquez and Mr Valentino Rossi.

Ok, what was Rossi’s rookie season like?

As one might expect of a living legend who managed to make fluorescent yellow look like the last word in sartorial elegance… impressive. 

So he was quick from the off, then?

Sort of. It took 21-year-old Rossi a few rounds to gain a foothold in the premier class back in 2000. In fact, he retired from the South African season opener at an overcast Phakisa Freeway, having been swallowed by the pack on lap one, and then crashed again a round later at Malaysia.

Hang on, is this definitely Valentino Rossi we’re talking about?

That’s probably what the Honda execs were saying about the 250cc world champion too, when his back was turned. But it didn’t take long for him to adjust to that NSR500 and ease the furrowed brows in his pit box.

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He finally took his first chequered flag at round three in Suzuka, finishing p11 to register his first 500cc world championship points.

Then it seemed to truly click for Rossi, who rode his Nastro Azzurro Honda to a maiden podium at Jerez in round four and was rarely nudged off it thereafter. In a 16-round debut championship, Rossi finished on the podium ten times, picking up famous wins at Donington and Rio de Janeiro.

In the end he finished runner-up in the championship to Kenny Roberts Jr, having, er, ‘enjoyed’ some spirited battles with he and third-place finisher Max Biaggi throughout the season.

But it took him four rounds to get on the podium?

It did. On a bike generally considered much more competitive than Acosta’s Tech3 GasGas KTM, too, but let’s not dwell on that point too much or the Rossi fans will start lobbing their empty cans of Monster at us.

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Good idea. How did rookie Marquez compare?

Well this is even more awkward for the Rossi acolytes, because… Marquez was absolutely phenomenal, immediately. 

His detractors will be quick to point out that 20-year-old Marquez hopped straight onto a Repsol Honda in his rookie year. Not just a factory team, with all the development and budget benefits that come with it, but the factory team.

Even way back in the days of Mick Doohan and ever after, the safest bet you could make in this sport was seeing a Repsol Honda fighting for victory. It was a certainty as guaranteed as some Spanish representation on the grid or a commentator getting a bit too excited about an overtake.

Basically, Marquez got given the dream ticket.

… and then cashed in that dream ticket to finish third in his very first race, and win a round later at the Circuit of the Americas, aged 20.

That must be a record, surely?

It is. Marquez still holds the title of youngest ever race winner in the premier class. Acosta has a couple of rounds left to take it away from him, and you can expect Marquez to make his Ducati as wide as a grain barge should he find himself with Acosta in pursuit in the imminent races to protect that accolade.

How did he follow up that win?

With a P2 at Jerez, then 13 more podiums in an 18-round championship. He took six rookie victories, and won the championship at the first time of asking, pipping a flabbergasted Jorge Lorenzo by four points.

Well why are we even having this debate, then?

This is where we circle back to that original point: he did happen to be riding a Repsol Honda. It was a proven race-winning machine in 2012 and had enjoyed the formidable development nous of messrs Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner before Marquez hopped on one in 2013.

Rossi’s Nastro Azzurro Honda was technically a satellite team, although it did enjoy full factory support in reality, so you might consider it a Repsol Honda in disguise. By contrast, prior to Acosta’s arrival the Tech3 GasGas team had only cracked the top five once since racing under that branding.

So what’s more impressive: over-performing on an unfancied bike, or immediately doing the business on tried-and-tested, race-winning machinery?

Is that the sound of Monster cans hurtling through the air?

Yeah, let’s leg it.

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