Occasionally in this world, team sports produce individual accomplishments that stay etched in people’s minds for years. We know that Marc Marquez qualified on pole at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time. We know that he won at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time. We know that in doing so he became, at age 23, the seventh winningest rider in MotoGP history. It is important, however, to acknowledge the work of his crew that made all of these sevens possible.
Qualifying Issues for Aliens
Previously at Assen, it was Dani Pedrosa’s day in the barrel on Saturday, when he had to join the dregs in Q1 and failed to make it out, starting in 16th place and never making an impression in qualifying or the race itself. This Saturday it was defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s turn. For the first time since the current qualifying format was adopted in 2013, Lorenzo had to go through Q1 to get to Q2, which he did, by just 5/100ths of a second ahead of Cal Crutchlow, despite crashing hard late in the session.
Barely 20 minutes later, in Q2, Lorenzo parted company with his bike again, smashing his #2 while the crew was still busy putting #1 back together. His scooter ride back to the garage was a sorry sight. For the second round in a row, he started from 11th place on the grid, the sole difference being that in Assen he had to contend with the rain, while here the qualifying conditions were perfect. It appears Lorenzo has lost confidence in his tires, his bike and perhaps himself. This is a man in need of a vacation.
When the smoke cleared on Saturday, Marquez sat on pole, with Valentino Rossi looking dangerous on his Yamaha M1 in third. But three of the top five spots belonged to satellite entries: the occasionally amazing Hector Barbera sitting second on the two-year-old Avintia Ducati; mudder Danilo Petrucci in fourth on the year old Pramac Ducati, and Pol Espargaro, who coaxed his Tech 3 Yamaha into the five hole. Even in dry conditions, things were shaping up oddly in Germany.
The only breaking news from Saturday was that Crutchlow was angry after qualifying, starting from 13th when any wanker could clearly see he would have been on the second row but for Bradl’s stupidity blah blah blah…(yawn)… However, this time he proved to be right. And – MO will be the only racing site to provide this factlet – for the third and final time this season, he doubled his point total in one hour. As usual, he diluted the goodwill generated by his performance today with a nasty post-race interview with Dylan Gray, taking credit for being the only rider with the “balls to go out on a wet track on slicks,” which is 1) incorrect, and 2) self-aggrandizing, never a pretty combination.
Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet
The undercard races were fascinating. Malaysian rookie Khairul Pawi simply ran away with the Moto3 tilt for the second time in his rookie season, again in the rain, after starting from 20th on the grid. Then there was the thrilling run to the wire in Moto2, where Johann Zarco, heading to Tech 3 Yamaha next season, pipped future teammate Jonas Folger at the flag on a surface that was wet-ish, but not drenched as it had been for Moto3.
Other than the abbreviated FP1, none of the MotoGP practice sessions had been run in the wet. Marquez crashed heavily during the soaking morning warm-up session and was lucky to escape without the remnants of his RC213V embedded in his torso, after rider and bike went cartwheeling through the gravel together. Four hours before the race was to go off, Marquez’s crew had an intact #2 bike and, off to the side, an engine, two wheels and a pile of steel and fiberglass fragments they needed to instantly convert to a functioning MotoGP machine, with no time to do it, and a potential flag-to-flag situation in the offing.
The race started with everyone on rain tires. Marquez got off to a good start, but was immediately overtaken by Rossi, then Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati. On Lap 3 Petrucci went through on both Marquez and Rossi into second place, seizing the lead from Dovizioso on Lap 4. Suddenly, passing Marquez became fashionable. Jack Miller – yes, that Jack Miller – did so on Lap 6; Hectic Hector Barbera got in on the act on Lap 9. Marquez was sinking like a stone. He went hot into Turn 8 on Lap 11, spent some quality time in the gravel, and re-entered the fray trailing Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone, although Petrucci had crashed out of the lead on the same lap. If someone had offered me the opportunity to bet my house against Marquez at that point I would now be homeless.
While all this was going on, the rain had stopped by Lap 7, and the beginnings of a dry racing line were becoming visible from the helicopter. On Lap 13, Iannone changed bikes and went back out on the Michelin intermediates (perhaps “indeterminants” would be a better name). Chaos reigned on pit row; crews were working madly, changing tires and brakes. Dylan Gray was going mental, trying to suss out what was happening. His guess was that the teams were fitting intermediate tires and steel brakes. He would be proven wrong.
Loris Baz was the second rider to enter pit lane when, suddenly, Marquez himself entered after Lap 17. When #93 returned to the track, Nick Harris and Matthew Brit, calling the race, became semi-hysterical upon discovering that Marquez’ crew had fitted his bike with slicks and a dry setting. What had been a pile of breathtakingly expensive junk barely four hours earlier had become the fastest bike on the track.
The leaders, all on wet tires, were at this point lapping in the 1:35 range. Marquez, squeezing his bike into a racing line perhaps a foot wide, completed Lap 23 in 1:28. The leaders, other than Jack Miller, entered the pits on Lap 24, way too late to challenge Marquez. Miller, having decided to go down with his ship, finally pitted on Lap 26 on his way to a very respectable, if ill-considered, seventh place finish. The Pawi/Miller parley, offered by London bookies at a billion to one, was history. Marquez eased back on the gas on Laps 29 and 30 and still won by 10 seconds.
In the post-race press conference, Marquez revealed that he and his crew have decided that the intermediate tires “do not exist for them.” The startling decision to put him back out on slicks, which I had been crediting to a cerebral Santi Hernández, had actually been made weeks earlier. We have observed in past years that MotoGP teams are “teams” in only the loosest sense, as the #1 rule on track is Beat Your Teammate. Today, however, it became clear that this is, in fact, a team sport, that the sublime efforts of a supremely gifted rider will often be scuttled by lackluster work from his crew (see Bradl’s race here in 2014). For the Repsol Honda #1 crew today, it was, indeed, a brilliant team effort that produced a scintillating win.
The Big Picture
Marc Marquez came to Germany leading the 2016 chase by 24 points and left leading by 48 as Jorge Lorenzo again failed to show up in any meaningful way, finishing 15th with his head down, his hopes for a fourth world title in 2016 in tatters and totally at the mercy of the weather. Teammate Rossi lost more ground again today, coming in eighth and trails now by 59 points. Marquez likes to say that Assen and the Sachsenring offer opportunities to gain or lose a lot of ground. Even if that’s true for every circuit on the calendar, he took control of the championship over these last two rounds, making it hard to argue with him.
The top ten finishers, listed below, were interesting, as is often the case in flag-to-flag contests. The Ducati contingent had another highly productive weekend, thanks mostly to the weather, which also contributed to a dismal outing for Suzuki Ecstar – Maverick Vinales 12th, Aleix Espargaro 14th. The grip problems the Suzuki experiences on dry surfaces are magnified in the wet, according to team principal Davide Brivio.
Most of the grid heads to Austria tonight for two days of testing. Marc Marquez, the 2016 championship now his to lose, is heading to the beach. It is reasonable to expect that before he leaves tonight he will have picked up a big dinner check, a small thank you to his crew for a big job well done.
|2016 MotoGP Sachsenring Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||+9.857|
|3||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+11.613|
|4||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+11.992|
|6||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+18. 692|
|7||Jack Miller||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+26.043|
|8||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+26.449|
|9||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+26.614|
|10||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||+31.274|
|11||Eugene Laverty||Aspar Ducati||+41.208|
|12||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||+42.158|
|13||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+1:03.129|
|14||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||+1:06.091|
|15||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+1:17.694|
|16||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+1 Lap|
|17||Loris Baz||Avintia Ducati||+2 Laps|
|18||Yonny Hernandez||Aspar Ducati||+3 Laps|
|–||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||13 Laps|
|–||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||18 Laps|
|2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 9 Rounds|