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.
There are those who say that Marc Marquez is due for 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.
There was some question of why Marquez was allowed to continue straight away. After what was obviously a very serious crash, Marquez was not subjected to a physical examination to check for signs of a concussion. This is a recurring problem in MotoGP, with pressure on riders to get back on the bike as soon as possible.
Only in very severe and obvious cases does the circuit doctor intervene, and so far this has not caused any problems. How long it will continue without a rider hurting themselves by going back out too soon remains to be seen. There may be a role here for more forceful action by the Medical Director and circuit doctor.
After winning the first five races of the season, Marc Marquez said he feared the trio of Mugello, Barcelona, and Assen, which were to follow. He would surely be beaten at one of those tracks, given they favored the Yamaha M1, and were strong tracks for both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.
Three races and three wins later, and Marquez is looking increasingly invincible. The Repsol Honda man keeps inventing new ways to win, and keeping his opponents at bay.
So if Marquez is impossible to beat at a Yamaha circuit, perhaps he can be beaten at a Honda track. So far, Dani Pedrosa has been the only rider to get close to beating his teammate, after pushing him all the way at Barcelona.
The Sachsenring is a track where Pedrosa has reigned supreme in recent years, having won four times in the last eight years. Impressive as it is, that does not do his record at the track justice. In his rookie year, he finished fourth in Germany, missing out by just three tenths of a second in one of the closest and most thrilling races to be held at the circuit.
In 2008 he crashed out of the lead in the wet, a result that would lead him to concentrate on improving his riding in the rain. In 2009 he finished third, close behind the battle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and in 2013, Pedrosa was absent after breaking a collarbone during practice.
There is just one minor problem. If you think Dani Pedrosa’s record at the Sachsenring is strong – and numbers don’t lie, Pedrosa is the man to beat in Germany – just wait until you see what Marc Marquez has done at the circuit. For the past four years, in three different classes, Marquez has won the race after starting from pole.
The Spaniard won here in his last year in 125s, won both Moto2 races he contested here, then took victory in his first MotoGP race at the circuit. It was his second win in the class, after becoming the youngest ever winner at Austin earlier in 2013.
Marquez did not have to beat either Pedrosa or Lorenzo, of course, both men having withdrawn with broken collarbones. So this race is a straight fight for Sachsenring supremacy. The winner in 2014 may rightly call himself King of the ‘Ring.
Just when it looked like the MotoGP silly season was getting ready to wrap up, a few new developments threw a spanner or two in the works. A week ago, most MotoGP pundits were convinced that Cal Crutchlow would be going to Ducati, Scott Redding would be moving up with his Marc VDS Racing team, and there was next to no interest in Yamaha’s leased engines.
At the Sachsenring, many things changed, in part at the instigation of Honda, and in part because of Yamaha.
Honda has made the biggest move in the market. At the Sachsenring, credible rumors emerged of Honda attempting to secure both Redding and Crutchlow, in two different moves. HRC’s approach to Crutchlow could cause the biggest upset. The Japanese factory is known to be very impressed by Crutchlow, but their dilemma is that all four Honda prototype seats are ostensibly taken for 2014.
While both Marquez and Pedrosa have contracts for next year, and Bautista is locked in at Gresini for 2014, Stefan Bradl’s seat at LCR Honda could possibly be available. While Bradl is locked in to a two-year deal with HRC, Honda hold the option to decide not to take the second year, potentially freeing up Bradl’s bike, and that seat could then be taken by Cal Crutchlow.
Two weeks after Lorenzo had risked, perhaps not ‘everything’ but certainly ‘a lot,’ to limit his injury’s effect on the championship standings (he finished 5th, one place behind a struggling Dani Pedrosa), the topic came up in Thursday’s Press Conference at the German GP. Cal Crutchlow remarked that Lorenzo’s decision at Assen had raised the bar for all riders facing the question: Should I race with this injury?
Ironically, or perhaps not, Crutchlow himself had raised this bar at Silverstone last season when he slipped past the medical exam process to turn in his own amazing ride through the pack with a broken ankle. He pointed out that now more riders would be using Lorenzo’s Assen ride as a precedent: if he was allowed to ride at Assen, why can’t I?
Lorenzo didn’t like the sound of that, saying other riders should not use him as an example and instead listen to their own bodies to determine if they should sit out or compete while injured.
All weekend I heard different responses to the situation, from respect for athletes who push through pain, to scorn for the willingness to put others at risk by competing at well below 100% fitness.
One paddock insider expressed the opinion that riding a MotoGP bike is difficult enough at full fitness–any physical or mental weakness is a liability that increases the risk of crashing, and thus increases the chances of a crash involving other riders.
The Sachsenring is a key point on the MotoGP calendar. For the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, it is the last race before the summer break, while the MotoGP men have one more race, at Laguna Seca, before heading off for an all too brief summer hiatus.
A good result in Moto2 and Moto3 is crucial, as it determines the momentum you carry into the summer: you either spend the next five weeks brooding over what could have been, or on a high and wishing the next race was the next weekend. Momentum is not quite such an issue for the MotoGP riders, but a bad result puts them on the back foot ahead of Laguna Seca, and their own summer break.
As it is often also contract time, especially in MotoGP, the pressure is on to perform and secure a seat for next season. Good results and championship points are vital, as this race can help determine the course of the remainder of the season.
The significance of the Sachsenring was visible in all three races on Sunday, for wildly different reasons and with wildly differing outcomes. In Moto3, the top 3 riders merely underlined once again that they are a cut above the rest – or at least the rest of those who are also riding a KTM.
In Moto2, Pol Espargaro gained important momentum in his title challenge, but failed to drive home his advantage, swinging the balance of power slowly back his way, but not as fast or as powerfully as he had hoped, while Scott Redding struggled badly, salvaging points only thanks to Espargaro’s finish.
As for MotoGP, the absence of the two championship leaders has blown the title race wide open again, allowing Marc Marquez to take the lead, and both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi got closer to being back in contention again.