Betting on Marc Márquez to take pole and win the race at the Sachsenring looks like the safest bet imaginable. From 2010 until 2017, Marc Márquez has started the race on pole and gone on to take victory in all three of the Grand Prix classes he has raced in. Márquez is truly the King of the Sachsenring.
Friday seemed to merely underline the Repsol Honda rider’s dominance at the Sachsenring. Though he didn’t top the timesheets in either FP1 or FP2, that was only because he hadn’t bothered putting in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick time.
Take a look at underlying race rhythm, and Márquez was head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
That pace continued into Saturday morning. Once again, Márquez was not the fastest – he finished sixth in FP3 – but in terms of pace, he had half a step on everyone else. But it was only that: half a step. Others were starting to catch the Spaniard. Could he really be in trouble for the race?
Márquez looked even weaker in FP4. Sure, he had a bunch of mid-1’21s, but he had lost a couple of tenths to the sharp end of the field, perhaps discouraged by the small crash he had in the first corner, when he failed to save the front from going.
He ended the session in tenth. A worrying development, given there is no incentive for riders to stick in a soft tire for FP4, as it does not have an effect on whether a rider progresses straight to Q2 or not.
Pecco Bagnaia is to move up to MotoGP with the Pramac Ducati team in 2019 and 2020. The news was announced on Twitter by the SkyVR46 team, and confirmed by Bagnaia himself on his Twitter feed.
The move is not a surprise. Bagnaia had been widely tipped to move to MotoGP with Ducati, with Paolo Ciabatti admitting at the launch back in January that the Italian factory had an interest in the 21 year old.
Bagnaia’s contract is official confirmation that Danilo Petrucci will be leaving the Pramac team at the end of this season. Petrucci’s current contract with Ducati contains a clause granting him a seat in the factory Ducati team, if a seat is open.
There were signs that the MotoGP Silly Season could be wrapped up early last week in Bologna, at the launch Ducati’s MotoGP team.
Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti said he expected to sign the riders for the factory team ‘quite early’. “Quite early probably means the second half of February or the first half of March,” he clarified.
So before the lights have gone out for the first race of the 2018 MotoGP season, Ducati hope to have two factory riders wrapped up, and they are unlikely to be the only factory to have done so.
It is apparent that the riders have taken note of this, and are adjusting their strategy accordingly.
After Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport ran a story suggesting that Ducati were about to sign Pecco Bagnaia to the Pramac team, Danilo Petrucci has told the same paper that 2018 will be his last year with Pramac.
“[Team boss] Paolo Campinoti and I both know this. He pulled me out of the gutter, but we know this is our last year together. The cycle is complete.”
Poetry aside, Petrucci’s announcement is significant. The Italian has a contract with Ducati that promises him a seat in the factory team if one becomes available, in much the same way that Andrea Iannone did previously. But the question is, will there be a seat there for Petrucci to take?
The MotoGP bikes have fallen silent for over a week now, the teams and riders dispersed to the four winds, nominally for “vacation”.
And while riders relaxed on a beach somewhere for a week, before returning to their training for the second-half of the season, teams and rider managers have been anything but dormant. There has been a hive of activity in preparation for the latter half of the season, and for some of the satellite teams, for 2018 as well.
For the Silly Season That Wasn’t Supposed To Be has stepped up a gear. The summer break has so far seen extensive negotiations going on over the MotoGP seats which will be free in 2018, and in some cases, whether a seat will become available or not.
Phone calls to team staff start with pleasantries about vacation time, but quickly reveal that vacation consists of at best a day or two taken in between meetings and preparations for the remainder of the year.
The first shoe to drop in the summer edition of MotoGP’s 2018 Silly Season is the revelation by Motorsport.com that Jack Miller will be joining Danilo Petrucci at Pramac Ducati for next season.
After losing his direct contract with HRC – that contract going to Cal Crutchlow instead – the Australian had been in talks with the Marc VDS squad about a contract directly with the team. However, a failure to agree terms over money, and a better offer from Ducati, pushed Miller towards Pramac.
The deal is yet to be announced, and teams are refusing to confirm anything officially. With Miller commuting between Japan for the Suzuka 8-Hour race and his home in Townsville, the Australian has been hard to reach for comment. But an announcement is expected when MotoGP convenes again at Brno.
Another domino has fallen in the MotoGP satellite team Silly Season. Danilo Petrucci has signed on to remain with the Pramac Ducati squad for the 2018 season. Petrucci had been courted by Aprilia, but Petrucci has elected to stay with the team and the factory with which he has scored his most recent successes.
Petrucci has been key to the early progress made with the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. The Italian won the right to use the sole GP17 in the Pramac garage after outscoring his teammate at the end of the 2016 season.
At the start of the season, that had more downsides than he had realized, as Ducati were using Petrucci to test parts and setup for the new bike, and then filtering that data back to the factory squad.
With all twelve factory riders on two-year contracts, there wasn’t supposed to be a MotoGP Silly Season in 2017, or at least, not much of one. That impression was further reinforced when the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad quickly tied up both Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger for an extra year, until the end of 2018.
As usual, reality intervened, of course. Though the factory seats were supposedly taken, there was plenty of interest in the satellite seats once the season got underway.
All eyes turned to the Moto2 class, and especially to the remarkable performances by Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia. Alex Márquez, too, raised eyebrows. And so speculation started.
Then there were those factory seats. Yes, all twelve factory riders have two-year contracts, but all contracts have clauses that allow for either side to make an early escape.
Great managers make sure the escape clause benefits their rider. Great factory lawyers make sure the contract is in their favor. The measure of a rider manager is where they end up on that side of the equation.
Each MotoGP event has its own character. Ostensibly, most Grand Prix are the national races of a particular country. The Grand Prix of Great Britain. The Czech Grand Prix. The Grand Prix of The Americas.
Most, however, are only the national Grand Prix by virtue of taking place in a particular country. A few, a very few, are much more than that.
There are only really two races which fully embody the national character of the country which holds them though: the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, and of course, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.
This year, Mugello was rendered even more Italian by virtue of the fact that it started on the Festa della Repubblica, the day on which Italy celebrates its founding as a republic at the end of the Second World War. It was a moment for Italian teams and Italian riders to break out Tricolore-themed liveries and helmets.
The Sky VR46 team added a tasteful green, white, and red pinstripe to their mainly black fairings. The Forward Racing team clad their bikes and riders in a particularly well-done green, white, and red fairing and leathers.
Valentino Rossi added a homage to an Italian soccer legend which was only really comprehensible to those steeped in the Italian language and Italian sport.