2014 Sachsenring Saturday MotoGP Round Up - Marquez On Pole, Silly Season Shenanigans, And The Dangers Of Skipping Moto2
After he missed out on pole at Barcelona, and then again at Assen, people were starting to wonder if cracks were starting to appear in Marc Marquez's hegemony in MotoGP. His performance in qualifying may have faltered, but his reign remained intact when it counted, winning the first eight races in a row. On Saturday, Marquez hammered home his supremacy once again, taking pole by three tenths of a second – an eternity at the short and tight German circuit – and breaking Casey Stoner's pole record for the circuit from 2008, a record set on super-sticky qualifying rubber, tires which disappeared with the introduction of the spec tire a year later. Once again, Marquez moved the bar, posting the first ever sub 1'21 lap of the Sachsenring.
It was a goal he suspected was possible when he posted a 1'21.5 on used tires during FP4. Already fast on his first run, everything slotted into place on his second, and the new record was his. "I felt everything was perfect with the second tire, and I could get the record," Marquez said. His seventh pole of the season also sets him up to retain his perfect win record on Sunday. Starting on the front row is crucial at the Sachsenring. The track is tight, and passing places are few and far between. Starting from pole, especially for a relatively poor starter like Marquez, gives him a head start for tomorrow's race.
So who can challenge Marquez on Sunday? The list of candidates is short. There is of course his teammate, Dani Pedrosa always having been fast here at the circuit. Pedrosa post a fast lap on his first qualifying run, and looked set to improve it as he exited the pits for his second attempt. He was perhaps a little too eager, however, and the Repsol Honda man folded the front going into Turn 1 just as he started his second flying lap. "I think I hit a bump under braking," Pedrosa said. His race pace throughout practice was good, but could not match the pace of Marquez.
Press releases from Bridgestone and the MotoGP teams after Saturday's qualifying for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
2014 Sachsenring Friday MotoGP Round Up - Marquez' Big Crash, Some Fast Yamahas, And Fixing Turn 11 Again
There are those who say that Marc Marquez is due a big crash soon. He is always riding so close to the edge of traction that at some point, he will go over the limit and suffer the consequences, they reason. They will therefore not have been surprised to learn that Marquez had a huge highside on Friday morning. What will surprise them is the cause of the crash. It was not due to pushing his Honda RC213V beyond the limits of adhesion, he explained to the media afterwards, but was caused by a minor slip of his foot. His toe touched the gear lever, clicking the bike into 3rd, and that caused the rear tire to grip momentarily and flick him off.
The crash happened at Turn 2. "You turn with the gas in second gear," Marquez said. "I didn't know at the time, but I was touching a little bit the gear lever." In the last part of the corner, he accidentally engaged third, and as he kept the throttle in the same position, the bike highsided. Marquez was thrown upside down, and landed on his neck. He was lucky to walk away, but walk away he did. He returned to the garages and was straight back on the bike again, posting the sixth fastest time, six tenths off the pace of Aleix Espargaro, and a third of a second behind Jorge Lorenzo.
By the afternoon, Marquez was back at full speed, and second quickest behind Aleix Espargaro once again. He still had some stiffness in his neck, he said, but it was not really hindering him. "The neck feels a bit locked in some corners, but it is not a problem," he said. Intensive physiotherapy kept his neck warm, and prevented it from seizing up and becoming painful. That only happened after the session was over, and his neck started to cool down.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at the Sachsenring:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone previewing this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring:
The Comprehensive MotoGP Silly Season Update: How Things Stand For Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, Kalex, And Even Moto3
The current status of MotoGP's silly season? Two down, plenty still to go. Valentino Rossi may have joined Marc Marquez as the only other factory rider to have put pen to paper for 2015 and 2016, the rest of the grid is still in the middle of negotiating their riders for next year. Even Cal Crutchlow, who has a contract to race with Ducati in 2015, but more of that later.
Who will join Rossi at Movistar Yamaha and Marquez at Repsol Honda? Most likely, the two men who are already there. It is hard to see either Dani Pedrosa or Jorge Lorenzo jumping ship to ride anywhere else. Though HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto flirted with Lorenzo late last year, he understands that it would be terrible team politics to upset his number one rider, and the man who is likely to bring a fleet of titles to Honda over the next few season.
What HRC needs is a reliable number two rider, and Pedrosa has proven to be perfect in that role. Fast enough to win races of his own accord, and a solid force in the team, not the kind of character to kick up a fuss. He has six podiums this year, as well as a pole position, and can win should Marquez falter. Spanish media are reporting that Pedrosa is close to wrapping up a contract with the Repsol Honda team, with talks having gone at Assen. The new contract would mean less salary for Pedrosa, but at least at Honda, he has a chance of winning races. Big money offers from Ducati and Suzuki are much more of a gamble, with neither bike yet having proven capable of winning.
With the win at Assen, Marc Marquez brought his tally for the season up to eight, and a clean sweep of the races so far. After the race, many fans remarked on Marquez' remarkable pit swap strategy, jumping straight from one bike to the other without touching the ground, rather than hopping off one and onto the second bike, as the other riders on the grid do. It looks spectacular in photos, such as this one tweeted by Marquez himself, though if you watch the video from MotoGP's Youtube channel, it's clearly more of a hop than a leap.
Did Marquez get any benefit from it? The best way to answer that is to measure it, and fortunately, the MotoGP.com website offers us two ways to do that. The results section of the website holds a PDF with an analysis of every lap done by each rider, broken down into sector times. By taking the times posted by each rider for the last sector of the lap on which they entered the pits, and the first sector of the lap on which they exited the pits, we get a clear idea of how much time riders lost in swapping bikes. In addition, the video of the race on the MotoGP.com website (MotoGP.com subscription required) shows on screen the times riders actually spent in the pits, from crossing the pit lane entrance line to the pit lane exit line. Using these two numbers, we can get a fair idea of who comes out best after making their pit stops.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the Dutch Grand Prix at Assen:
Success in motorcycle racing is a fickle beast. Getting everything just right to get the best out the bike and rider is a difficult undertaking, with a thousand factors standing ready to throw a spanner in the works. The bike has to have the right balance of stability in braking, nimbleness in corner entry, and strength in acceleration. The rider has to be in peak physical condition, mentally on top of his game, and ready to seize any opportunity which presents itself. When track conditions are ideal, the rider has to be able to find the limit of adhesion. When track conditions or the weather are not playing ball, the rider has to guess the right time to attack, and the right time to hold off. They have to judge how the conditions are changing and when they are ripe to be exploited. Get it right, and you dominate. Get it wrong, and you are lost in the pack.
You also have to be lucky, or know how to make your own luck. The qualifying session for the MotoGP class at Assen showed just how big a role luck can play, the weather playing a massive role in proceedings. The weather changes fast at Assen. In a country as flat as the Netherlands, the wind blows cloud and rain in quickly, and carries it away just as fast. Bright sunshine can change to heavy cloud in a few minutes, with rain following on behind. Which is just what happened on Friday afternoon. Sunshine made way for gray skies, the air pregnant with moisture. It spotted with rain in the morning, briefly during FP4, but only really struck during Q2. It threw the plans and running order of MotoGP into disarray, with smart and lucky riders winning out, the ill-starred ending up well down the grid.
The weather demonstrated how sometimes, disarray can turn to your advantage. Skies had been getting heavier all throughout Q1, though it was never more than a few drops which fell. That changed as Q2 got underway. Rain started falling more heavily at De Bult, the mid-section of the southern part of the circuit, just as Q2 got underway. That caused a sprint race from pit lane exit, the riders battling more like a bunch of Red Bull Rookies than experienced veterans of motorcycle racing's premier class. The sprint soon turned into jockeying for position: nobody wanted to lead, as being the first rider into a corner turned you into the guinea pig, testing grip for everyone following. Following was not much better: though you could at least see what the conditions were for the riders ahead, you did not want to get stuck in the traffic behind. Eleven riders left the pits together, getting stuck watching each other, speeding up, slowing down, and constantly trying to figure out what the best strategy might be.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Assen:
If there was one factor that surprised everyone on the first day of practice at Assen, it was the weather. Everyone had been prepared for rain, and had contingency plans for when the rain would eventually come. But it didn't. It rained all around the circuit, severe weather warnings were issued for several surrounding towns, heavy rain fell in nearby Groningen, and local beaches were evacuated because of thunderstorms, but the TT Circuit at Assen stayed dry all day. The wind blew the morning clouds away, and the sun shone down gloriously on the circuit, catching out the unwary, and giving all three Grand Prix classes, plus the many support series a full day of excellent weather.
The riders made good use of the conditions, and the unexpected track time threw up a couple of serious surprises. In the morning, Pol Espargaro set the fastest time, finishing ahead of his brother Aleix. In the afternoon session, it was Aleix who was quickest, though this time Pol could not match the pace of his elder brother. That he should not be able to is hardly surprising; Aleix Espargaro's FP2 time beat the existing pole record from 2012, held by Casey Stoner. Pol could not improve as much as Aleix did, going just a tenth of a second faster, rather than well over a second. But as a satellite rider, Pol does not have the soft tire which Aleix used to set the fastest lap, Pol was quick to point out.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of Saturday's Dutch TT at Assen:
The situation at Ducati was the talk of the paddock in Barcelona. With Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow being linked to Suzuki, Crutchlow having a contract for 2015, Ducati keen to retain the services of both Dovizioso and Iannone, and Iannone openly pushing for a seat in the factory Ducati team, the Bologna factory faces a series of complex contract negotiations. To check on the state of play with Ducati, we cornered Ducati Corse's MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti.
What was meant to be just a brief chat turned into a much longer conversation, on a range of subjects. Ciabatti gave his view of the situation with Cal Crutchlow, as well as his hopes of retaining both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone. He discussed the rumors concerning an approach to Jorge Lorenzo, and reflected on having had Valentino Rossi in the Ducati team. He gave us an update on Ducati's plans to provide more Open bikes for 2015. And finally, he turned his attention to the return of Michelin, and Ducati's hopes for the new tire manufacturer.
MotoMatters.com: It appears that Ducati's problem this year is that Cal Crutchlow has a two-year contract, while you also have Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone who are both riding very well. And only two seats in the factory team...
Paolo Ciabatti: As most people in the paddock know, we have a two-year contract with Cal, but he has a way out of the contract. Having said so, we invested in Cal because we wanted very strongly to have him with Ducati, and the fact that so far things have not worked in the way we all hoped is due, honestly I don't believe in luck or bad luck, but in his case, we must admit some of the things have been particularly going wrong on the technical side with no explanation. Because he has exactly the same treatment as Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, and his team has actually been working together since a long time. Dovi's team was put together last year, after Valentino [Rossi] left, but Cal's team is Nicky's [Hayden] former team, and has been together for a long time. Daniele Romagnoli joined instead of Juan Martinez, but it is a very good team. So it's difficult for us to really understand why these things have happened.
Press releases from the teams after the MotoGP test at Barcelona:
2014 Barcelona MotoGP Sunday Round Up: MotoGP's New Golden Age, Ducati's Bad Luck, And Honda Ending KTM's Moto3 Streak
Whenever I have the pleasure of running across MotoGP's official statistician and number cruncher Dr Martin Raines, he likes to point out to me exactly why we are living through a golden age of racing. His arguments are backed with a battery of indisputable facts and figures, which boil down to a single fact: the races have never been closer. Not in terms of gap between the podium finishers, not in terms of gap between first and last, nor between all points finishers. This is an era of truly great racing.
As if to underline his point, the Barcelona Grand Prix served up a veritable smorgasbord of fantastic races: a strong win and thrilling podium battle in Moto3, a surprisingly hard-fought Moto2 race, and to top it off, perhaps the most exciting MotoGP race we have had since 2006, with four riders slugging it out and swapping places right to the final lap. The winner of the MotoGP race may have been predictable – any bet against Marc Marquez looks more and more foolish each week – but in Barcelona, Marquez' victory looked in doubt all the way to the final couple of corners. At half a second, his margin of victory is overstated. If things had run a little bit differently, Marquez winning streak – now up to seven in a row – could have ended along with his string of poles.
It was a scintillating race indeed. Four men swapped the lead frequently. Dani Pedrosa got the holeshot, changes to weight distribution having given him back his lightning start. Jorge Lorenzo took off after him, taking the lead with an outrageous 'porfuera' pass around the outside of Turn 1, lining him up for Turn 2. Lorenzo then tried to pull a gap, but that simply wasn't happening, Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi took over the lead after three laps, getting past his teammate after a brutal exchange of passes in the first part of the lap. Marc Marquez followed, exploiting Lorenzo's moment of weakness to follow Rossi through, before latching onto the Italian's tail. There he found his teammate Dani Pedrosa stalking him, jabbing and probing, seeking a way past. The two exchanged blows for six laps, before Marquez finally escaped from Pedrosa's clutches and started snapping at Rossi's heels. Marquez took over at the front with six laps to go, holding off attacks from both Rossi and Pedrosa, swapping the lead with Pedrosa, before the final do-or-die lap, where he countered Pedrosa's final attack and held on for the win. Any opportunity to pass was seized, all four men just as aggressive in their passing as each other.