Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Riders: 7th, Stefan Bradl, 7/10
Continuing our look back at 2013, we come to seventh place man Stefan Bradl. Here's how he fared in 2013. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; and part 6, Alvaro Bautista.
|Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda|
In his first season of MotoGP, Stefan Bradl did exactly what was expected of him, learning slowly, building speed, and getting better week after week. He impressed his team, crew chief Christophe 'Beefy' Bourguignon expressing admiration at his calm and intelligent approach after the first test on the bike. He did not crash too often, finished inside the top six on a regular basis, and even got close to his first podium.
After such a strong start, he was expected to do even better in year two. The target was the occasional podium, and to be the best of the satellite riders. Strong support from Honda meant that Bradl had the tools to do the job, though starting the season using Nissin brakes instead of Brembo put him at a slight disadvantage, the Nissins offering fractionally inferior brake release.
Though Bradl improved, consistently finishing inside the top six, it was not what he or Honda had hoped. The Aragon test in June gave Bradl a boost, trying the same forks which the factory riders had already been using, and switching to Brembo brakes, at least at the front. The biggest improvement for Bradl was that the brakes allowed him to brake more precisely, the carbon brakes unbinding immediately on release.
Bradl reaped some of the rewards of the change at Assen, starting from the front row, though he could not hold that pace in the race. At the Sachsenring, Bradl looked much stronger, fighting for the lead in the early laps, before dropping back to fourth during the race. The real reward came a week later, at Laguna Seca. Bradl bagged the first MotoGP pole of his career on Saturday, adding his first podium a day later, holding off Marc Marquez for the first half of the race, and coming home in second with a comfortable lead.
The remainder of the season, Bradl rode a solid season, finishing in fifth, sixth and seventh. He never looked like threatening for the podium again, especially after fracturing an ankle at Sepang. That was a very unfortunate time to break a bone, Sepang coming as the first of three back-to-back flyaway races. It was only once he returned to Europe for the final race of the year that he showed any semblance of a return to fitness.
Bradl still holds the unconditional support of his team manager, LCR Honda team boss Lucio Cecchinello backing Bradl to the hilt, but HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto told the media at Valencia that he had expected more of Bradl this season. It was Cecchinello's support that helped Bradl keep his job, HRC pushing the Italian team boss to drop Bradl and replace him with Cal Crutchlow. Cecchinello would not hear of it. Bradl will need the Italian's support again in full next year.
There can be no doubt about the high point of Stefan Bradl's 2013 season. That came at Laguna Seca, with his first pole - and the first ever pole for a German rider in the premier class - and a second. It was precisely the boost Bradl needed, after a weekend in front of his home crowd which left him slightly disappointed. It also helped seal the deal with Honda, his contract extension for 2014 being signed ahead of the next race at Indianapolis. Bradl proved his mettle at Laguna Seca.
Bradl's low point of 2013 is equally clear. The German had been chasing set up ahead of qualifying in Sepang when he lost the front end at the first corner. It would have been a relatively harmless crash, but he caught his foot on the astroturf which separates the track from the gravel. That impact was enough to fracture his ankle, forcing him to miss the Malaysian race and undergo surgery. He tried to ride at Phillip Island, but knew immediately after the first practice he could not be competitive. The Sepang crash put a serious dent in Stefan Bradl's season.