There’s an expression in the Dutch language, “een ongeluk zit in een klein hoekje,” which translates literally as “accidents hide in small corners.” It seems particularly relevant at the Sachsenring on Friday, as while there were crashes galore at Turn 11, the fast corner at the top of the long downhill run to the two final left handers, Jorge Lorenzo crashed at Turn 10, the uphill left which precedes Turn 11.
It is not much of a corner, just the last of the long sequence of left handers which proceed from the Omegakurve towards the top of the hill, and the plunge down the waterfall. But it was enough to bend the titanium plate holding Jorge Lorenzo’s collarbone together, and put him out of the German Grand Prix, and maybe Laguna Seca as well. That relatively minor corner may have ended Jorge Lorenzo’s championship hopes.
Jorge Lorenzo’s title hopes have suffered a major setback. The Spaniard crashed heavily during the second session of free practice at the Sachsenring, being thrown from his bike at Turn 10, the final left hander before the fast right hander at the top of the hill. Lorenzo fell on his left shoulder once again, getting up clearly in pain.
The reigning world champion was taken to the medical center, where scans suggested that his collarbone had sustained further damage. He was then transported to hospital, where further tests revealed the plate on his collarbone had become bent, and would have to be replaced.
Unlike Assen, however, Lorenzo will not make a dramatic return to the circuit, and is almost certain to skip both the Sachsenring race and the Laguna Seca round next weekend. That would give the Spaniard over a month to recover, in time for the following round of MotoGP at Indianapolis, in mid-August.
Bending the plate holding a collarbone together is a common occurrence amongst racers, even months or years after the original accident which required the plate to be fitted. A heavy crash on a plated collarbone will sometimes cause it to bend, requiring the plate to be replaced.
The big question, of course, is can he do it again? After taking his first win in two-and-a-half years and 45 races (after Assen, there were a lot of tortuous calculations being made trying to squeeze the number ’46’ in somewhere) since his previous one, the question is, was it just a one-off or is Valentino Rossi capable of fighting for the win every weekend from now on?
It’s a tough call to make, but on the evidence so far, things are looking good for the Italian. Rossi’s braking problem appears to have been solved, allowing him to ride in the way he wants to. The front end tweaks which his crew chief Jeremy Burgess found at Aragon seem to have worked, and given Rossi confidence in braking again.
Just what those changes were? Matt Birt, writing over on the MCN website, has a full explanation of the changes made by Burgess, but the short version is that they found a solution to cope with the softer construction front Bridgestone tires introduced last year.
Revised fork innards, including changed shims, has made the first part of the fork travel a stiff enough to compensate for the softer tire construction, allowing him to brake harder, yet still turn the bike. Now able to enter corners as he wishes, he should be able to at least fight with the front runners from the start.
Being competitive and winning at the Sachsenring are two different things, however. While the Sachsenring is a track where Rossi has always done well – not like Mugello, perhaps, but still good enough – there is the small matter of Dani Pedrosa to deal with.
The Repsol Honda man has won the race for the last three years, and would have won a couple more with a little more luck. The man himself has no real explanation for why he is so fast around the circuit, other than remarking that he enjoys the corners around the track, but the fact remains that Pedrosa is nigh-on invincible around the Sachsenring.
With the start of the summer break coming up in ten days’ time, contract negotiations are starting to heat up for the 2013 MotoGP rider market. The two race weekends at the Sachsenring and then Laguna Seca will see a frenzy of meetings, horse trading and secret talks as the few open MotoGP seats for 2014 get closer to be being filled.
The biggest problem facing riders looking to upgrade their seat is the scarcity of good seats available, both for 2014 and beyond. The Repsol Honda and Factory Yamaha teams are fully booked through the 2014 season, and even after that, it is hard to see them changing personnel.
Jorge Lorenzo has shown that he has the potential to win multiple championships for Yamaha, and Marc Marquez looks like doing much the same at Honda. Neither man is showing any intention of going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Dani Pedrosa is looking stronger than ever, and has to be getting closer to his first ever MotoGP title. Though he considered retiring early after a couple of difficult years with injury, the Spaniard has rediscovered his passion for racing, and is also likely to extend his contract with Honda again once it comes up for renewal at the end of next year.
The only possible candidate to vacate his seat at the end of 2014 is Valentino Rossi. By then, the Italian will be nearly 36, the age at which most Grand Prix racers are in full decline. There had been some speculation that Rossi’s run of mediocre (for a nine-times world champion) results was the first sign of Rossi’s decline, but his convincing victory at Assen seems to have put a stop to such chatter.
More importantly, it appears to have revitalized the Italian and restored the fire of his ambition, which had sometimes seemed to be dying down. There is no doubt that Rossi will complete both years of his two-year deal with the Yamaha factory team, and the odds of him extending beyond that are looking better and better.
That leaves Cal Crutchlow, in particular, with no place to go. The Englishman had been pressuring Yamaha to sign a two-year deal, with a guarantee of a seat in the factory team in the second year of his contract. The problem is, either Lorenzo or Rossi would have to go. Given Lorenzo’s current form, it would be foolish to drop Lorenzo for Crutchlow, as strong as Crutchlow may have proved himself to be.
And dropping Rossi in favor of Crutchlow – no matter how good Crutchlow’s results – simply makes no business sense, as Rossi remains the top draw in the sport, and Yamaha’s biggest sales ace-in-the-hole around the world.
Crutchlow told the venerable British publication MCN that Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis had refused to guarantee him a seat in the factory team for 2015, leaving him to choose between remaining with Tech 3 for the next two years, and fighting on second string equipment, or taking his chances elsewhere.
However, “elsewhere” is a very limited selection of slots indeed. For the LCR Honda seat is taken, with Stefan Bradl set to stay on for another year – though HRC have made it clear that they expect better results from the German, if his pre-contract is to turn into an actual contract.
Alvaro Bautista has a contract with Gresini for 2014, though Bautista’s position is far from certain, given his disappointing results. In a report on Motocuatro, Fausto Gresini expressed his discontent with the results of the Spaniard, and emphasized that Bautista needs to realize just how much effort was going in to ensuring that he had an RC213V at his disposal for 2014.
Even the Tech 3 squad appears to be already full. Bradley Smith has a contract for 2014 with Herve Poncharal, while rumors persist that Yamaha has already signed either a contract or a letter of intent with Pol Espargaro to take the second seat at Tech 3. Even if Cal Crutchlow wanted to stay with the Tech 3 team, it could get very complicated.
And so Ducati finds itself with riders lining up almost around the block. With the Bologna factory the only manufacturer with seats open, there has been a lot of interest expressed in slotting in alongside Andrea Dovizioso, the only factory Ducati rider certain of his seat for 2014.
There are four candidates to take the second Ducati seat, and the places in the satellite team could also be up for grabs, in some combination or other.
With three podiums and a pole position this year, Cal Crutchlow’s stock continues to rise. As the only top rider out of contract, there is much speculation about where the talented Englishman could end up.
All three factories have expressed an interest in Crutchlow, with Ducati and Yamaha the frontrunners to secure his services for next year. Crutchlow has made his preference clear: to remain at Yamaha, either in the factory team or at Tech 3, with the kind of factory support given to Stefan Bradl in the LCR Honda team by HRC.
For Yamaha, the situation is more complicated. With reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo on the books, as well as nine-time former champ Valentino Rossi, Yamaha currently has no room in the factory team.
And with Bradley Smith on a two-year contract, the factory faces a dilemma: hang on to Cal Crutchlow for another year in the satellite team, or go for a young talent like Pol Espargaro, in the hope that they can develop into a rider to take on Marc Marquez for the next few years.
The fourth time is a charm, as Dorna has released a revised version of the 2013 MotoGP Championship calendar today. As expected, the Sachsenring round has been moved back a week, so as not to conflict with Formula One’s schedule in the region.
Additionally, the Spanish GP at Jerez has been confirmed, and will remain on the schedule through the 2015 season. The Andalucian Government, Jerez City Council, and Dorna came to agreement to keep the popular event financed for the next three years.
The date of the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring is once again surrounded by uncertainty. A minor readjustment of the Formula One calendar means that the German F1 and MotoGP races are once again scheduled for the same date, July 7th, meaning that the Sachsenring race could well be forced to move to the following week, July 14th being an option, according to German-language website Speedweek.
There was one glaring omission from the post-Sachsenring roundup I wrote on Sunday night. Well, two actually, but the biggest was that I neglected to give Dani Pedrosa the attention he deserved for a fantastic win, his first in over nine months. Pedrosa managed the race brilliantly, starting on a bike which had seen massive changes ahead of the race, and which he took a few laps to get accustomed to.
He did so by dropping behind Stoner, and following in the wake of the reigning World Champion, until he was comfortable enough to make a pass. He accomplished this with ease, and the pair engaged in some synchronized drifting until the end of the race, when Pedrosa upped his pace and forced Stoner into an error. The Australian may have believed that he had the pace and the moves to beat Pedrosa, but the fact that he crashed would suggest that Pedrosa was forcing Stoner much closer to the limit than the champion realized.
The win was important to Pedrosa, not just because he has not yet put pen to paper on the two-year extension of his Repsol Honda deal, but also because he felt he owed it to his team for all the hard work they have put in, he said. This year, he had felt very comfortable on the bike – chatter notwithstanding, from both the rear with the existing tire and from the front with new ’33’ spec tire – and he felt he had the pace to win. But every time there was always someone else who was faster on the day. Until Sunday.
The tire problems experienced by Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies at Assen, where great chunks of rubber came off the right side of the rear of the tire, slowing Spies up severely and affecting Rossi so badly he was forced to pit for a new tire, have been the subject of much speculation and discussion since the event. Spies was particularly shaken after the race, the tire problems bringing back bad memories of the 300 km/h tire failure and monster crash he had at Daytona back in 2003, which he still has the scars to show from.
Nearly a week on, and after examination by Bridgestone technicians back at the factory in Japan, we can start to draw a few preliminary conclusions as to the cause of the problems. Bridgestone have issued a press release and briefed the press directly, and the riders have weighed in with their thoughts and impressions of what happened. Before pointing fingers and apportioning blame, let us first walk through what we know of what actually happened.