2014 Sachsenring Sunday MotoGP Round Up - Marquez' Perfect Record, Dangerous Starts, And A Spaniard-Free Zone
The former England soccer player Gary Lineker once described the sport as follows: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." It feels somehow fitting to paraphrase that quote on the day that the Germans play in the World Cup final. Motorcycle racing is a simple sport, where 23 people ride a MotoGP bike as fast as they can, and Marc Marquez always wins.
He found yet another way to win at the Sachsenring. A heavy rain shower between the Moto2 race and the sighting lap for MotoGP left the grid in disarray, with about three quarters of the field heading in to swap from their wet to their dry bikes at the end of the warm up lap. That left fourteen riders to start from pit lane, five abreast, after jostling for position. At that point, the race should have been red flagged – more on that later – but instead, they all got out of pit lane safely. Just.
Marquez showed himself to be a master of improvisation, pitting quickly, swapping bikes and elbowing his way to the front of the pits. He took advantage of the chaos, exited pit lane first, and led the charge towards the shellshocked remainder of the pack who had started from the grid proper. He was 8.5 seconds behind the leader Stefan Bradl by the end of the first sector, a deficit which he had cut to 7.7 seconds by the end of the first lap. Before the sixth lap was completed, he had caught and passed the LCR Honda man, going on to win his ninth straight MotoGP race with relative ease. He faced an early challenge from his teammate Dani Pedrosa, but Marquez was more aggressive in getting past Bradl, where Pedrosa hesitated for a second. Pedrosa pushed hard once past, nearly caught Marquez, but faded towards the end.
His strategy, Marquez said afterwards, was to copy what Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi did, as they are his nearest rivals in the title chase. Pedrosa and Rossi went to the grid with wet tires, so Marquez went to the grid with wet tires. Pedrosa and Rossi both came in at the end of the warm up lap to change bikes, so Marquez came in to change bikes. In the past, Marquez' strategy has been more offensive, to do what no one else dares to do. That has paid off with victory. In Germany, Marquez did the opposite, and that was successful as well.
Marc Marquez retains his 100% record this year, winning every race so far. He becomes the first rider since Giacomo Agostini in 1971 to win the first nine races of the year, and the first rider since Mick Doohan in 1997 to win nine races in a row. With Indianapolis up next, he looks like equaling Doohan's record of ten in a row. Two supposed Yamaha tracks follow, Brno and Silverstone, but given the ease with which Marquez won at Mugello, Barcelona and Assen, the other so-called Yamaha tracks, he has to start favorite there. If he wins those as well, he would match first John Surtees, then Mike Hailwood. The next goal would be Giacomo Agostini's all-time record of twenty straight victories, which the legendary Italian recorded over the 1968 and 1969 seasons. That seems like an impossible goal, but the way in which Marquez has dominated the season so far makes the impossible look eminently feasible. It is tempting to start idle speculation over whether he could manage to win enough to match his race number. Winning 93 in a row would only take a little over five seasons, after all …
Marc Marquez' win wasn't the only thing that went entirely as expected. The top four finishers were the top four riders in the world, on the four best bikes, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi filling the three slots behind the winner Marquez. But the three veterans of the class looked and sounded resigned to their position behind Marquez, bludgeoned into submission by the brilliance of the world champion. Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa can all claim to have moved the bar in MotoGP, but they have been left behind by the newcomer.
Both Pedrosa and Lorenzo were happy with their pace, Pedrosa ruing his lack of aggression with Bradl. He said afterwards he felt he lost half a second there, and then matched Marquez for most of the rest of the race. He sat on Marquez' tail, but could not close the gap, dropping away at the end. Pedrosa also lost out in the start from pit lane, forced to begin from the second row of riders after qualifying on the front row for the race. It gave him a little more work to do to come through the field, but the backmarkers also allowed him to quickly catch and stay with Marquez as he charged forward.
Lorenzo, too, suffered at the start. Cold tires, and worse, cold carbon brakes meant he found he had no brakes as he exited pit lane. He swerved out from between the lines marking pit lane exit and onto the track as he knew he needed some space to get his brakes up to temperature, the carbon not working until it is warm. That meant he then had to give back a couple of places, after gaining them with his illegal maneuver. He held up his hand, let a couple of riders past, and then rejoined the fray.
After the start, though, Lorenzo rode a very strong race, despite not having the pace of the Hondas. It was exactly the boost he needed, after what he himself had described as the worst race of his career at Assen. He was able focus, and his physical fitness – always a key element for Lorenzo – meant he felt comfortable on the bike. It gave him confidence going into the second half of the season, though Lorenzo also pointed to the deficit which the Yamaha has to the Hondas. Yamahas engineers were working hard, but he still needed a little bit of assistance.
Most disappointed of the front foursome was Valentino Rossi. The Italian had been hoping for much, much more at the Sachsenring, but he never really had the pace of the other three. After qualifying, he had been confident of more, but Rossi slowly dropped off the back of his teammate, finishing the race 19 seconds behind Marquez, and 9 seconds behind Lorenzo.
Most disappointed of all was Stefan Bradl. The LCR Honda rider had taken a brilliant gamble to stay on the grid after the sighting lap while his mechanics swapped his bike around from a wet setting to a dry setting. The team came very close to pulling it all off, but a wayward spacer ruined their plans. Bradl's crew chief, 'Beefy' Bourguignon told the German publication Speedweek that they had planned to swap front fork springs, rear shock, and front brakes around for the start of the race. Normally, they would need 5:15 minutes to do all the work on the grid. But as the mechanics removed Bradl's rear shock, they dropped a spacer, losing precious time in recovering it. That left them with too little time to swap front fork springs, and with the softer of the front tires. The soft front forks meant that Bradl couldn't brake as hard as he needed to, with a dramatic effect on his lap times. He was quickly lapping in the 1'24 bracket, which gave him an advantage, but the riders behind were quickly up to speed. Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Rossi were soon lapping in the 1'22s, and caught and dropped Bradl in no time.
The gamble which Bradl and his crew had taken was on building enough of a lead on the opening lap to give him a cushion to manage. If the team had managed to swap the front fork springs, he might even have pulled it off, though even then it would have been a push. With a soft and springy front end, Bradl stood no chance. It was a brave gamble, but one he lost. It was also a gamble which could be costly come contract time, as the German is in need of a result to strengthen his position.
That is a problem with which Bradley Smith is all too familiar. The Tech 3 rider capped off a crash-ridden weekend with another crash in the race. He picked the bike up to continue, but finished nineteenth, well out of the points. Smith goes into the summer break concerned for his future.
Andrea Iannone heads to the break full of confidence. The Italian put in yet another strong result to finish as the best Ducati, and ahead of the two factory bikes of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. With Ducati set to announce their plans for 2015 in the next week or so, Iannone is almost certain to end up in the factory Ducati squad. The only question is, who will he replace? The smart money is on Cal Crutchlow making the jump to Suzuki, though that looks like being a leap out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Scott Redding, too, had an excellent race at the Sachsenring. The Englishman ended as the first of the production Hondas, beating Hiroshi Aoyama by over eight seconds. He also held his teammate on the factory RC213V at bay for a very long time, as well as battling with the Ducatis. In the end, he was overwhelmed with sheer horsepower. If the updates rumored for Motegi come, Redding should be a very great deal closer to the sharp end.
The biggest talking point of the race was the start, however. Once again, a gap in the rules created a dangerous situation at the start. The rules allow riders to come in and swap bikes at the end of the warm up lap, the penalty for doing so being to start from pit lane once the rest of the field has passed. What the rule makers did not foresee was the situation at Sachsenring, where fourteen of the twenty three riders all came in and had to start from pit lane.
The riders lined up five abreast across a track three meters wide, with concrete walls on either side. The start went extraordinarily well, a testament to the reflexes of the best riders in the world, but it was incredibly dangerous. Both Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow said they came very close to crashing at the start. Jorge Lorenzo suffered a problem with his brakes not being up to temperature, and basically not being able to brake. Andrea Dovizioso nearly caused problems for the riders behind him, as he could not get his Ducati out of pit lane mode (he had to change into second gear to do that), and was limited to 60 km/h off the line. Though the start was exciting, we were lucky that nobody crashed and caused serious injury.
It was a surprise that Race Direction did not intervene. They have the power to make ad hoc calls for the sake of safety since the tire debacle at Phillip Island last year, and they would have been well-advised to make use of those powers. Seeing so many riders lining up to start from pit lane should have been cause to call off the start, and create a new procedure. Cut the race by one lap, and rearrange the grid to have all of the riders who stayed out on the grid at the front, with the riders who came in starting from the back of the grid, if necessary, only being allowed to start once the original starters had passed pit lane exit. It may have delayed the start by another five minutes or so, but it would have been a good deal safer.
Afterwards, many riders complained of the danger of the situation, and said they would bring the matter up the next time the Safety Commission convened. It is likely that it will not be necessary, as there is every chance that a new set of rules to deal with just this situation is being drawn up as we speak.
If the MotoGP race was eventful, and with a predictable winner and an all-Spanish podium, the two support races provided much more interest. Moto3 provided the race of the day, as ever, though this time it was not the multi-rider slugfest which previous races have generated. Jack Miller took a firm grasp of the championship again, leading the race from start to finish, though his victory was uncertain all the way to the line. Miller was harassed first by Alex Marquez, then later by Brad Binder, the South African coming close to beating the Australian on the last lap. Binder rode a superb race, matching master braker Miller throughout the race. If Miller is a demon on the brakes, Binder has trained under the same djinn, forcing Miller to do all he could to hold him off. Binder's podium – the first South African podium since 1985 – put Mahindra on the podium for the second week running, and with Alexis Masbou taking third, it meant there was no Spaniard on the podium in Moto3.
Alex Marquez came close, but could not get past Masbou, the Estrella Galicia rider still doing well in the championship. Danny Kent rode a solid race in fifth, just reward after a tough first half of the season. Miller's title rivals failed, though. Romano Fenati crashed out while chasing through the field after a phenomenal start from way down the grid. Alex Rins, on the other hand,was knocked off his bike by Eric Granado on the first lap.
Moto2 also saw a podium free of Spanish riders, with a brilliant ride by Dominique Aegerter to take his maiden victory. All race long, he and Mika Kallio battled for the lead, with Kallio holding the upper hand for most of the race. In the penultimate corner, Aegerter slipped through under Kallio, demoting the Finnish rider to second, and robbing him of vital points. Kallio had to settle for second, while Simone Corsi took third. Tito Rabat hung on to fourth spot, limiting the damage in the title chase.
The last time there was no Spanish rider on the podium in either Moto2 nor Moto3 was in Malaysia in 2012. That was in a soaking Moto2 race, so for both the support classes to have been run in the dry shows promise for an end to the utter domination of the Spanish in Grand Prix racing. There is a strong mix of nationalities in Moto3, and while most of the best riders in Moto2 are Spanish, they are joined by a mixed bag including Kallio, Aegerter, Jonas Folger and Thomas Luthi. The Spanish stranglehold only really remains in MotoGP, but even that will come under threat once the current crop of Moto3 riders reaches the premier class.
It is they – and French youngster Fabio Quartararo, currently destroying the field in the Spanish Moto3 championship – who will challenge the hegemony of Marc Marquez. For now, Marquez reigns supreme, and now has a 77 point advantage over his teammate Dani Pedrosa in second place. Marquez could wrap the title up as soon as Aragon, though it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he manages it even earlier than that. The title race is effectively over in MotoGP. The only mystery is how Marc Marquez will manage to win the rest of the races this year.