Is Indianapolis really a Honda circuit? With four Yamahas on the two front rows of the grid, you would have to say it wasn’t any longer. There is a Honda on pole, but as that’s Marc Marquez, that doesn’t really count: alongside his perfect nine wins from nine races, he now also has eight poles from ten qualifying sessions.
Any discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different manufacturers at a circuit really needs to disregard Marquez at the moment. In 2014, the Spaniard is just too much of an outlier, as his ability to put a couple of tenths or more on the opposition at will demonstrates.
With MotoGP on its summer break, and the riders combining a bit of relaxation with a lot of training, there is time to review the first half of the season. Who has performed above expectations, and who has fallen short?
Here’s a rundown of how we rate the MotoGP riders over the first half of the season. Today, the top eight riders in the championship, from Marc Marquez to Andrea Iannone. The remainder, from Stefan Bradl to Mike Di Meglio, will appear in another post.
The Danish physicist and father of quantum physics Niels Bohr is reputed to have said “Prediction is hard, especially about the future.” Just a few days after our comprehensive silly season update was posted, at the World Ducati Weekend event, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow all confirmed they would be staying at Ducati for next season, throwing our predictions into disarray.
None of the Ducati riders were leaving for Suzuki – or in Cal Crutchlow’s case, a satellite Honda – meaning that the Japanese factory was forced to make a few adjustments to their plans. And not only Suzuki: since the Ducati announcement, more of the pieces of the 2015 MotoGP puzzle have started to fall into place. Time to revisit what we know so far, and what we expect in the next few days.
This year’s silly season – the endless speculation about who will end up riding where next year – has not so far lived up to the expectations from the start of the year. With all four factory Honda and Yamaha riders out of contract at the end of 2014, real fireworks were expected in the battle to secure signatures.
That bidding war never unfolded, and with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa back with Repsol Honda, Valentino Rossi already signed up to Movistar Yamaha, and Jorge Lorenzo looks likely to finalize his deal – a two-year contract with some kind of option to depart after a year – before the season resumes again in Indianapolis.
But the silly season has been far from a disappointment. Over the past couple of weeks, the jostling for the remaining seats in MotoGP has really taken off, with the promise of wholesale changes taking place up and down the grid. With the exception of Pol Espargaro, who is expected to remain at Tech 3 for the second year of his two-year contract with Yamaha, just about every other seat on the grid could see a new occupant.
The arrival of Suzuki and, it now appears, Aprilia offers four new factory seats to vie for, opening up new opportunities for the current crop of riders. The upgrading of Honda’s RCV1000R makes the production Honda a more attractive proposition. And there looks set to be an influx of young talent into the class. The 2015 MotoGP grid could look very different, once you look past the top four.
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.
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.
The news had been coming for a month or so, but at last it has been announced officially. Valentino Rossi has signed a two-year extension of his contract with the Movistar Yamaha team, and will race with them in MotoGP for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
For the past few races, Rossi had said he had been close to signing a new deal, but had a few details still to clear up. Those details had been resolved at some point between the Barcelona and Assen rounds, with Rossi’s new contract signed at Assen.