If any of Marc Márquez’s MotoGP rivals were gloating while he suffered the slings and arrows of Andorra-gate, they should wipe their schadenfreude smiles off their faces.
In case you aren’t up to speed with this Andorra business, Márquez’s decision to move to the tax haven on the French/Spanish border triggered a torrent of abuse from fans, almost 50,000 of whom signed a petition requesting his sponsors to withdraw their backing.
The reaction caught MotoGP’s golden boy by surprise, which he made public during a tearful (without doubt genuine, not crocodile) press conference before the recent Barcelona dirt track event.
Image: Superprestigio Dirt Track
His rivals were probably gloating – to a greater or less extent – because this is the first time the youngster has been on the ropes since he started making everyone else in MotoGP look silly in the spring of 2013.
Of course, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi have kept very quiet about the matter, because sensible people in glass houses don’t throw stones. Lorenzo and Pedrosa currently reside in tax-friendly Switzerland, while Rossi now lives in Italy, having been nicked for tax-dodging while enjoying ‘non-dom’ status in London some years back. The Italian tax authorities took over €100 million in unpaid tax off the country’s favourite son.
Andorra-gate may turn out to be a significant moment in Márquez’s career. It suggests that his honeymoon period as a superstar is over – he has realised all of sudden that support from fans isn’t unconditional.
And the real reason why his rivals shouldn’t gloat over his suffering is because this episode is only likely to make Márquez tougher. It will harden his resolve and probably make him an even faster racer.
Rossi went through exactly the same ordeal during 1998, his first year in the 250 World Championship, following his success in the previous year’s 125 series, which instantly turned him into Grand Prix racing’s favourite star.
The Italian had a fast but crash-prone rookie season in 250s. The fans and the media who had fooled themselves into thinking he could do no wrong, realised that he was only human and they didn’t like it.
“It was the most difficult year for me – people said bad things,” Rossi recalls. “It’s like if you win every race of your career you’re a genius, but if you finish second you’re a f***ing clown!’
“That summer changed me in life and as a rider. It was a bad period, but maybe necessary. I very much change my comportment in the paddock, when I am with people who are not my friends. I become more clever and less impulsive, so when I speak with journalist I stay more quiet, because it’s like the police: what you say may be used against you.”
Márquez may be going through the same process right now. He knows he needs to withdraw a little, having realised that the fans and the media aren’t real friends. He has to pull his people closer around him, focus even more on what he’s doing and attempt to show Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and all of us how fast he can be when he really puts his mind to it.
As to whether he is doing the right or the wrong thing by fleeing to a tax haven, that depends on your viewpoint. And anyway, according to Spanish law, Márquez will continue to pay Spanish tax during his first five years in Andorra, so it’s a bit previous to abuse him for tax dodging.
Should everyone pay tax on their earnings? Or should motorcycle racers somehow be exempt because they have relatively short careers? When I asked my wife – an NHS nurse – whether bike racers deserve some kind of tax exemption you can imagine her response.
Perhaps the real question is this: how come the EU tolerates tax havens like Andorra, Luxembourg, Monaco and the Isle of Man existing in its midst?
Of course, Márquez’s decision to head north to the mountainous Pyrenees state wouldn’t have raised eyebrows a few years ago. It is hugely controversial only because Spain is suffering terribly in the ongoing global economic crisis, which has now been going on longer than the Second World War.
Márquez claimed that his main reason for leaving Spain is indeed bike racer’s short-career syndrome. During that lachrymal press conference he also mentioned the attractions of training in a mountainous area. So we can expect him to have stronger thighs than ever next year.
The one thing he didn’t talk about was the ability to leave your home and pop down the shops without being mobbed for autographs and selfies. For any normal human being, that surely has to be the most important reason of all. What’s more important: your bank balance or your sanity?