Some things changed at this year's edition of the German Grand Prix, held at the Sachsenring. The race was organized by the ADAC, the German equivalent of the Automobile Association, instead of the former promoter, a local organization based at the circuit. The difference was immediately evident: the event appeared to run more smoothly and more efficiently, and some of the old peculiarities ("we've always done it that way") replaced with things that actually work. It felt like a much better Grand Prix, without losing any of the charm which had marked it out before.
Then there was the inaugural round of MotoE, the new electric bike racing class which joins the MotoGP series. History was made on Sunday morning, when eighteen Energica Ego Corsa motorcycles lined up for the first ever all-electric motorcycle race. The race was shortened from 8 to 7 laps after being declared wet, and then red flagged after 5 laps when Lorenzo Savadori crashed out at Turn 8 after being clipped by Eric Granado.
But some things didn't change at the Sachsenring. Marc Márquez became the first rider to win for ten years consecutively at a circuit, and the second to win seven in a row in the premier class, matching Valentino Rossi at Mugello, the Repsol Honda rider dominating the race very much as expected. He led into Turn 1, held up the field for the first couple of laps until he was sure his tires were up to temperature, pushed for eight more laps at a low 1'21 pace, breaking the back of any resistance even Alex Rins could offer, then settled back to manage the gap to the group behind. He made it look breathtakingly easy.
Follow the plan
"The plan was there and I followed my plan," Márquez said. "My plan was try to lead the race from the beginning until the end. Exactly what I planned and exactly what we spoke about with the team." They mapped out precisely what they needed from the electronics and from the tires, and put it all into practice on Sunday. In the end, Marc Márquez made everyone else look silly.
Why is Márquez so unbeatable around the Sachsenring? First of all, because of the nature of the track, according to Danilo Petrucci. "This track is strange for sure," he said after the race. "You have to be on the lean angle a lot of the time. From Turn 2 to Turn 12, you just brake one time. There are only two or three hard braking areas, and especially there are very, very long corners where we don't feel the front turning."
Andrea Dovizioso added to his teammate's assessment. "The characteristic of the Honda, they can go fast with the angle. Here you don’t go straight. You just have to keep the angle. He’s so good at riding at a track when you don’t have grip on the rear, when you don’t have grip from the first lap. Here when you manage the slide he’s so good at that. He has a really good front – what we don’t have. He uses the front to go fast and doesn’t use too much the rear so he can be more consistent than the other riders. Also his talent, he’s so special to do that. "
Though Cal Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo might not necessarily agree with the factory Ducati riders' assessment of the Honda's front end, it is clearly better than the GP19, at least in the middle of the corner. The Honda needs to be turned with a lot of lean angle – generally a disadvantage, as that means the bike is spending a lot of time on the edge of the tire, and using it up at a rapid pace. But Márquez is also able to manage the throttle better, to slide the bike on the throttle and get it to turn more quickly. Perhaps this is allowing him to spare the rear, as Dovizioso says.
"This track suits him in a perfect way," Dovizioso said, and that sums up Márquez' dominance neatly. At the Sachsenring, a lot of things come together. The track doesn't get much use, so it tends to be slippery. The track consists of mostly long corners, where the riders are hanging off the bike and balancing grip front and rear. The track has 10 left corners and just 3 rights, playing to Márquez' strength. The Honda does what he wants it to do: it is agile, twitchy, and gives a lot of feedback as it moves around. The unusual nature of the tires – very hard on one side, very soft on the other, to deal with the extreme asymmetry of the circuit – means that grip drops off relatively quickly due to wear and heat. Low grip, a sliding bike, fast left turns: it is just like riding dirt track. And dirt track is probably Marc Márquez' favorite thing.
Márquez' victory at the Sachsenring leaves him with a lead of 58 points. Though there are still ten races left to go, and a theoretical total of 250 points to be gained, the championship is already out of Andrea Dovizioso's hands. Even if he wins every race from Brno until Valencia, all Marc Márquez has to do is finish second, and the Repsol Honda rider would still win the 2019 title by 8 points.
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