Friday Summary at Sachsenring: How a Simple Crash Can Change the Course of a Championship

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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.

What happened? It’s hard to say exactly, but buoyed by the fact he topped the timesheets in FP1, and was consistently fast, Lorenzo came out in FP2 in attack mode. He pushed aggressively for the first two laps, setting a time that would put him in 4th on just his second full lap out of the pits. He was faster still round the first two sectors of the track, and then Turn 10 happened.

The factory Yamaha man was thrown off his bike and into the air, landing having on his shoulder and back. The impact was violent enough to bend the titanium plate, and Lorenzo immediately knew something was wrong. He got up, zipped open his leathers, and started gingerly feeling his collarbone.

A trip to the medical center confirmed the injury was serious, and he was transported to a local hospital, where the plate was discovered to be bent. Lorenzo returned immediately to Barcelona, and will undergo surgery as soon as possible to have the bent plate replaced.

Though the pattern may seem identical to Assen, where Lorenzo rushed back to Barcelona for surgery to fixate his broken collarbone, do not expect a heroic return to race this time. That experience required a concentrated burst of intensity, to prepare himself mentally to race. The intensity required was clear after the race, when Lorenzo broke down in tears, as the tension released. Repeating that kind of intensity two races in a row is hard, even for a man like Lorenzo.

More difficult still is the dent to his confidence. Lorenzo arrived at the Sachsenring on a high. The race at Assen had gone better than expected, and his recovery had gone even better than he had hoped. The hard work he had put in appeared to be paying off. Just how confident he was was apparent in FP1, when he was fastest.

The huge crash in FP2 as he pushed for a time brought him down to earth with a bang, literally and figuratively. Lorenzo is resilient, one of the most resilient and mentally tough riders in the paddock, but there are limits, even for him. At Sachsenring, Lorenzo found it.

Does that mean that he can forget about defending his world title? It has certainly got a whole lot harder now, but it is far from impossible, teammate Valentino Rossi suggested. “The situation for the championship will be very difficult, but not impossible,” Rossi said of Lorenzo’s title chances. “Jorge is very fast and can win races.

After Laguna is a three week break, so for Indy he can be at 100%, and it also depends on the results of the Hondas in these two races. The championship is long but now everything has become more difficult for Jorge.” Lorenzo is dependent on the results of others, and particularly on Rossi, Marc Marquez, and Cal Crutchlow stealing points from Dani Pedrosa.

While Lorenzo was crashing unfashionably early, the rest of the pack was hitting the gravel at Turn 11, the fast right-hander at the top of the hill. The attrition rate was exceptionally high, with Cal Crutchlow crashing there twice, all three Ducati regulars going down, as well as a host of supporting characters. Crutchlow’s crash was the worst, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man suffering a gash in his right hand, bruising and burn marks on his left arm, and more bruising on his legs.

The consequences for Dovizioso were also severe. The Italian fell heavily in FP1, destroying the brand new chassis he had brought to the track to test. He had had four laps on the chassis he had tested at Misano, before damaging it beyond repair. He is left with two standard GP13s, the same bike he started the season on. This is not the progress he was hoping for.

Andrea Iannone also managed to destroy a Ducati, this time the lab bike he had decided to switch to from Germany. Iannone’s demolition of the Ducati was one of the most thorough in recent years, snapping the rear swingarm and the rear subframe, trashing the front forks and wheel, and generally making the bike look like somebody tried to fold it in half.

So what is it about Turn 11 that has everyone falling off? The nature of the track, most of all, with only three right-handers, Turn 11 being the fastest of them all. Riders arrive there with the right-hand of the tire having cooled off, and have to handle the corner carefully. The wind and the camber also play a role, with several factors combining to make it treacherous in the extreme.

Marc Marquez explained in detail the problem of negotiating Turn 11 successfully, having experience of the way the corner can bite you himself. “Last year I crashed there in Moto2,” Marquez explained.

“You know, I try to be a little bit careful, especially on the beginning. You never know with that corner, because it also depends with the wind and everything. You feel like you are on the correct line, and the correct speed, and immediately, you lose the front. The banking is not full banking, and then it’s so difficult to try to save that crash. But yes, it’s a difficult corner, because the tire is a little bit colder than other corners, and you need to be careful.”

The culprit, if blame is to be assigned, is the front tire. The rear is now pretty good, with Marquez and Bradley Smith praising the job which Bridgestone has done. The problem is the front, with Bridgestone not having an asymmetric front to bring. The left side of the front tire takes a beating round the many long left handers at the Sachsenring.

The right hand side of the tire is barely touched, and tends to cool. That leaves the riders arriving at the fastest part of the circuit with a cold left side of the tire, and an unknown amount of grip. While most riders feel their way forward, carefully avoiding pushing too hard until they are certain, it remains easy to push to hard, and find yourself in the gravel.

Saturday promises to be decent weather, and the hope is that it will be less incident-packed. Almost everyone had a warning on Friday. Let’s see what they have learned for qualifying.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.