Marc Marquez' Unparalleled Record At The Sachsenring - Why Ten In A Row Makes Number Eleven A Racing Certainty

Since the beginning of the season, the media has been buzzing with HRC's tales of woe. After seven rounds, the factory sits fifth in the manufacturers championship, 91 points behind Yamaha and Ducati (who are tied for first place), and just 10 points ahead of Aprilia. To put that into perspective, all four Honda riders – Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaro, Alex Márquez, and Takaaki Nakagami – have contributed to Honda's total of 52 points, while Aprilia's stopgap second rider, promoted tester Lorenzo Savadori, has added just a single, solitary point to Aprilia's total, Aleix Espargaro having scored the other 44.

The situation for the Repsol Honda team is, if anything, even worse. The factory Honda team – the richest team from the biggest and richest factory – lies in a lowly eighth place, two places and 4 points behind the satellite LCR Honda squad. Repsol Honda has four factory and two satellite teams ahead of them, though pedants might quibble with just how much of a satellite operation the Pramac Ducati squad really is. Pedants wouldn't quibble with the asserting that Pramac has over twice as many points as Repsol Honda, however, the Italian squad have 124 points to Repsol's 52.

So dire is the situation that Repsol Honda rider Pol Espargaro – drafted in from KTM to add a second prong to Repsol's title challenge, HRC's third attempt after ditching Dani Pedrosa, the last Repsol Honda rider not named Marc Márquez to win a MotoGP race – used his media debrief on Saturday at Barcelona to express his hope that Honda would be given concessions for the 2022 season.

Handicapping Honda

Concessions, granted to manufacturers who have not scored a podium in the previous season, allow for extra testing for permanent MotoGP riders, and the ability to change the engine mid-season, would allow Honda to catch up with the other manufacturers, Espargaro said. "I would not be ashamed to have concessions and, to be honest, we need them right now, because we don't have test days. I have only done five days of testing this season, which is nothing, the bike is not at the level that all of us would like and next year we will have the same test days and we will continue to be in the same difficult situation where we are now."

Concessions for HRC are something of a pipe dream, however. Even last year, while Marc Márquez was absent throughout the season, Honda managed two podiums, Alex Márquez taking second at a wet Le Mans and a dry Aragon. The RC213V is not fundamentally changed from from 2020, despite a revised chassis, so surely, Honda should be able to score a podium in 2021, and avoid the humiliation of the richest and most powerful factory in MotoGP needing special treatment to be competitive.

There are three reasons to believe that Honda's podium drought, and with it, Pol Espargaro's hopes of concessions, will end this coming weekend. The first is that MotoGP returns to the Sachsenring, after an absence enforced by the pandemic. And the second is that Marc Márquez, the reason HRC got themselves into their current pickle, is starting to regain some of the form he lost after the long and difficult recovery from the humerus he broke at the first race of 2020 at Jerez.

Record run

The third, and most important, is the combination of the first two. Marc Márquez is unbeaten at the Sachsenring since 2010, an entire decade of domination in every race he competed in there between 2010 and 2019. He won once on a 125 Derbi, twice on a Moto2 Suter, and seven times on a Honda RC213V, from 2013 to 2019.

That is truly a remarkable record. Seven consecutive premier class wins is a rarely equaled feat. Only one other rider has managed it in what is often referred to as the modern era, the period since 1977 when the last of the 500cc four-strokes disappeared and the Isle of Man TT was dropped from the world championship, marking the first move away from the fatal road circuits and towards purpose-built closed circuits.

That other rider, you will not be surprised to learn, is Valentino Rossi. Between 2002 and 2008, the Italian dominated his home race, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, winning on a 990cc Honda RC211V, a 990cc Yamaha M1, and an 800cc Yamaha M1. Even Casey Stoner, peerless at Phillip Island, could only manage to win six times in succession there before retiring.

As impressive as Rossi's achievement is, it still doesn't quite reach the level of Márquez' Sachsenring stranglehold. Rossi entered the premier class in the 2000 season, but didn't win at Mugello until 2002. Márquez has won every single MotoGP race he has competed in at the Sachsenring. In addition, he has won every Moto2 race he has competed in at the Sachsenring, as well as once in the 125cc class.

Historical precedent

To find a rider who has won won more consecutive races at a single circuit, you have to go back to 1973, and Giacomo Agostini. The Italian legend managed the feat twice on the mighty MV Agusta, winning eight times in success at the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the east of Belgium between 1966 and 1973, and an unprecedented nine times in succession at Imatra in Finland.

Agostini's record at Imatra is truly remarkable. Not only did he win nine times in a row in Finland, he actually won the race a tenth time in 1975, this time aboard a Yamaha, having abandoned MV Agusta in a fit of pique after the Italian factory signed his fierce rival Phil Read, who then had the temerity to win a championship. And Agostini added another seven 350cc victories at Imatra between 1965 and 1973, bringing his total to 17 in all classes.

Those were very different times, of course. At the time of Agostini's dominance, his competition was mostly comprised of privateers on single-cylinder Nortons, and, in later years, a smattering of two-stroke Suzuki twins. MV Agusta was the only factory team worthy of the name, the Count who owned the team determined to do whatever it took to win. Agostini's margin of victory was generally counted in minutes rather than seconds, with only a handful of riders finishing on the same lap.

Modern king

So Márquez' superiority at the Sachsenring, in the most competitive era in Grand Prix racing, is genuinely unique. Race wins are often counted in tenths, and yet the Spaniard's average margin of victory across his seven MotoGP wins is 3.6 seconds. Only once has he won by less than a second, and that was in his first year in Moto2, when he beat Stefan Bradl by just under nine tenths of a second.

Why is Marc Márquez so good at the Sachsenring? There are a few explanations. Firstly, the track goes left. A lot. Of the 13 corners, only 3 go right: the first corner at the end of the front straight, the long tight third corner, the central part of the Omega-kurve, and the treacherous Turn 11, the fast right at the top of the hill which catches everyone out, after they have spent so much time on the left side of the tire.

Marc Márquez goes best on left-hand circuits, perhaps a result of spending so much time training on a dirt track bike, despite also adding right-hand turns to the track he trains on. He has spent a lot of time going fast and turning left.

He is also a master of low grip and changing conditions. On a damp or drying track, Márquez is peerless. He can seek out and exploit the available grip far more efficiently than anyone else, his pace seconds faster than his rivals. And the Sachsenring, in the central part of Eastern Germany, is subject to frequent summer storms in June and July, when MotoGP visits. Three of Márquez' ten victories have either come in races in which rain was involved, including a flag-to-flag victory in 2016, and the bizarre mass pit lane start of 2014, when 14 riders decided the track was dry enough to start the race on their dry bikes after the warm up lap.

The Sachsenring also neutralizes a lot of the strengths of his rivals' bikes, and masks the weaknesses of his own. The tight and twisty track leaves the Ducati nowhere to leave its horsepower, and the track has few corners where the Yamaha can use its drive grip. Most of the lap is spent on the edge of the tire, controlling the direction of the bike with the throttle. And that is something which nobody does better than Marc Márquez at the moment.

Unbeaten, but unbeatable?

Marque may be unbeaten in the last ten years at the Sachsenring, but does that make him unbeatable? His results since his comeback do not suggest a repeat of recent history is on the cards. But taking his recent results at face value is to overlook his potential in Germany, injury and dodgy Honda RC213V or no.

First and foremost, there is the fact that there are so few right-hand corners at the Sachsenring, and right handers are where Márquez has been suffering since his return. Pain and weakness in his right shoulder has prevented him from reaching what he believes is his potential, the Spaniard trying to compensate by going faster in the lefts. With 10 left handers and just 3 rights, he won't have much compensating to do.

Secondly, there is the fact that the layout of the circuit negates some of the problems the Honda RC213V has been having so far this year. The Honda riders are all complaining of a lack of rear grip, forcing them to try to override the front of the bike even more than normal. But the fact that two thirds of the Sachsenring circuit is pretty much one long corner with a couple of changes of direction means rear grip is not much of a problem. There are very few places where the Honda riders would be able to use rear grip to gain drive, even if they did have any.

Back to business

Thirdly, and perhaps more worryingly for his rivals, at Barcelona, Marc Márquez showed signs of getting close to returning to his old level. After a mediocre qualifying, he quickly made up positions after the start, before crashing out. But far from being disappointed, his words served as a warning to his rivals.

"Today I enjoyed, I was pushing," the Repsol Honda rider told us. "I mean, I was Marc and for me it was the best seven laps of the year. I was riding like I want." He was no longer worried about crashing, and was willing to push to try to get a result. "On the grid I said, 'today it's time to take a risk'. I mean it doesn't matter where we are, doesn’t matter where I come from. I mean I don’t care what people say, I just believe that today was the day to take a risk. Because for me, just burning fuel and tires riding for P12, P14 is not me."

Márquez backed up his words on Monday, at the test. The Repsol Honda rider racked up a total of 87 laps, more than any other rider. He was destroyed afterward, he said, but happy to have been able to ride so much. With a week off and time to recover, the Spaniard should start the Sachsenring in the best form of the season, and something close to his old self.

All this points to one thing this weekend: the end of any hope that Honda will have concessions as a manufacturer in 2022. Marc Márquez, at a track where he has dominated for a decade, in the best shape of the season, at a track which minimizes both his weakness and the weakness of the bike, has to start the weekend the favorite, no matter what the first part of the season says.

At the Sachsenring, the battle will likely be for second place behind Marc Márquez. But then again, we said that about Austin in 2019 as well.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Dani Pedrosa was the last Honda rider not named Marc Marquez to win a MotoGP race. That should have read, the last Repsol Honda rider. Cal Crutchlow won the 2018 Argentina Grand Prix with the LCR Honda team, which was the last non-Marc Marquez victory for Honda. Pedrosa's last win came at Valencia 2017, two races earlier.


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year: 
2021
round_number: 
8

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Comments

I hope you are right David. I need the points, picked Rins as well, my big mistake. I'm no pro gambler.

It would be good to see Marc win again, particularly now that he isn't winning everything, & unlikely to take the championship.

Yes MM93 has rolled double six ten times in a row but that doesn't change the probability of his next roll of the dice in Germany.

The probability of Marquez winning this Sunday is not affected by past wins ; assuming past results affect future outcomes is not statistically sound. Casinos all over the world enjoy profits from people who gamble using their personal beliefs rather than math to guide their gambling strategy.

Honda is being confronted with a lesson it should already have learned from past experience, which is that in motorcycle racing the rider is a very significant variable ( far more significant than a driver is in in F1, for example ). Honda built a bike only one rider could use effectively, and in motorcycle racing that's not wise, given the ever-present chance a rider will be injured and unable to race for some period of time.

I reckon the humiliation mentioned in the article has already been served in the form of Honda's recent race results. I also believe that getting rid of Pedrosa was a mistake that has adversely affected Honda. Look at KTM's recent results if you doubt Pedrosa's value as a test rider. KTM now has a bike which more than one rider can use effectively, and Pedrosa has played a significant role in KTM's improvement.

 

 

You are confusing random events (casino games) with skill-based events (winning MotoGP). Marc having won many times previously *does* mean he has a higher probability of winning here. He won in the past for all the reasons David mentioned in his article, and those reasons are still (mostly) present this year. Therefore the chance is high (but not certain, obviously).

 

Many commentators also thought he would be finishing much farther up in the races he's participated in thus far and we've seen nothing like that. Yes, he says he can push and that's supposed to be good, or it could be that he's simply got too many continuing strength problems in that shoulder and given his recent crashes that seems the more likely. Let's hope he doesn't take anyone out because of his weak shoulder. He's been lucky thus far - a trait he held in spades, until he didn't.

It's going to be interesting, Marc will there to win but I think a KTM might be the fly in the ointment this weekend. 

It's going to be interesting, Marc will there to win but I think a KTM might be the fly in the ointment this weekend. 

Well, if you're proved right David, I'll look forward to your other early bold statement coming true, that Rossi will win at Assen. At least, I think that's what you wrote, way back.

Shameful concessions? The thing with huge corporate bodies is that shame and embarrassment is easily dissipated if it's felt at all. They tend towards strategic decision making and this is a time when it might be good strategy to forego the consolation of the odd podium to have a year of luxury in 2022. Which, incidentally, I think would be totally unfair. Either let everyone practice or no-one.

... to the podcast when you have to explain to the others how you were so wrong about the winner in Germany, lol.

I don't think any win is certain so we shall see but he was fighting for the win in France and looked good in Spain. Le mans was wet and he was trying his best despite the conditions being very favorable for a good spill. Spain he looked dangerous, not for the win but he looked like a rider to worry those ahead. Started to get that feeling of watching a predator again. Many, myself included, expected more from him in the races so far but the signs are definitely positive. Worth a bet. A Marc Marquez win in Germany and a Rossi win in Holland would be some kind of fairytale but I'd say Marquez has at least half a chance of making that happen. Rossi would need to be 'on it' and circumstances to intervene heavily, something like Lorenzo and Ianonne coming together at Timmer and forcing half the field into the gravel. You never can tell.

The Sachsenring superstar at 90 % fitness on a Honda more suited to his leaning. I would not rule out a win or at least a podium for him this weekend if he stays upright and on the black stuff for the entire race. I agree with other commentators that KTM may well prove to be the flipside of Marc's coin at this circuit especially in the form of Binder. He has a remarkable record across all classes at this circuit. However, Binder will have to adapt to the circuit very quickly on the GP bike and get up the time sheets as early as Friday morning for a highly anticipated slugfest between the pair to ensue for the win. The place is near impossible to overtake at without a huge leap of faith and trust in the bloke you are fighting with. Dry weather predicted for 90% of the weekend. As ever at this circuit, qualifying is more crucial than most others. So, yes, without consulting any chrystal ball, I do predict Marc and Brad have a huge opportunity to boost their respective points tally's at the Sachsenring this weekend and that's all. Lefty's and all !

Marquez is coming, it is not getting further away. Slower to breech the threshold of fitness to wrangle that intractable bike and vague front end than expected, but not by much. If he is back BEFORE Summer break, that is pretty damn good. 

His 87 laps can be seen as "the great workout." In Germany I think he will have a few very visible mistakes. Sunday he will finish the race and be the one to beat. 

The assymetric tire comes back out. With a cool side. KTM will show us where it is at. 

Hoping as usual for a surprise. Can anyone call it? Vinales perhaps. Miller. Binder?

In the old days when racers got together to watch, we used to tip the podium, who would holeshot (lead into first corner), and add a additional bit (someone will crash, someone will place well ahead of expectations etc). 

Calling that while they are lined up on the grid is one thing. Calling it on Thurs is another. Both are really cool/interesting and fun contemplations. Satisfying.

See anything?

We are about to hear talk of the Quartararo - Marquez on track battle. The two lines put them careening at each other, Marc very much the aggressor. But FabQ responding in kind. Marc will be seen as vulnerable to himself again, but decreasingly. Starting Friday. 

For a Thursday talk we might ask who will be the 1st inline 4 to win since 2008 i think. Maybe the riders skew the V4 dominance, Yamaha also showed well. If it is the realm of the V then Taka ? Bangnaia making the Ducati turn more and more ? I do think if the KTM's need the hard and struggle with the change from one side to the other this is a track which will show it.

Why do I say this ? 

Because Honda has a very small chance of winning the championship this year, and because if Honda is granted concessions they can greatly incrase their chances of returning to dominance by using the opportunities granted by the concessions, among which is the ability to do more testing. If I was running Honda I'd quietly instruct the riders to make sure they did not score a podium for the rest of this season in order to make sure the concessions were granted.

Can't see Honda bowing to take on board concessions. Corporate and national pride wouldn't allow it! There's plenty of time for the Honda riders to finish on the podium - Marc or Taka in no particular order. All good runs come to an end - I'd say a long shot for a Sachsenring win would be the Suzukis. Quatararo owes us another win and the ducatis won't be be monopolising the podium this weekend. Hope Marc doesn't make a Bansal effort this weekend as the drop from waterfall will be a painful mine.

Great call David, I'm sure you will be properly insufferable to the doubters...