Austria MotoGP Race Subscriber Notes: Flag-to-Flag Timing, Racing Slicks In The Wet, Why Fabio Is Fast, And The New Marc Marquez

For the first time in four races at the Red Bull Ring, MotoGP managed to complete a race without being interrupted by a red flag. The riders did the warm up lap, lined up on the grid, took off once the lights went out, and completed 28 laps of the Spielberg circuit in one go. The last time that happened was in 2019.

Just because they went from lights to flag without interruption doesn't necessarily mean there was just one race, however. Where the two races in 2020 and last week's Styrian Grand Prix had been split by crashes, on Sunday it was the weather which divided the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix into effectively two separate events. Or perhaps even three.

There was a dry 21 laps, which saw three riders break away, Pecco Bagnaia leading Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo in a tense waiting game where it was obvious the outcome was to be decided in the closing stages, all three riders keeping something in reserve for the last couple of laps.

Then a brief period of a couple of laps where it started spitting with rain. The group at the front quickly closed up as adhesion dropped and the riders were left to guess at how much grip there might be in a particular corner, were running wide and starting to make mistakes. There were some spectacular overtakes here, riders leapfrogging five or six bikes at a time, then losing out again as they couldn't get the bike stopped and ran off track.

And finally, a properly bonkers last four laps as the rain came in earnest that would prove decisive. The leading group had swelled to six, Jorge Martin, Joan Mir, and Brad Binder having caught Bagnaia, Marquez, and Quartararo. A war of nerves ensued, as they each weighed their options of whether it would be worth pitting to swap on their bikes with wet tires. Those with their eyes on the title waited to see what their rivals would do, while those with nothing to lose could gamble on doing the opposite of what the group as a whole would do.

Double or quits

Marc Marquez would be the first to blink, leading the race and then leading the pack into the pits. Only Brad Binder would stay out to risk it, in the hope of staying on and being fast enough to stay ahead of the bikes which would be much faster once they had wet tires and could gain some grip again. The South African rolled the dice and came away with the jackpot.

In many ways, everyone rolled the dice in the rain at the Red Bull Ring. There were winners and losers, and luck played a significant part in the eventual outcome. Not the whole part though: Fabio Quartararo came away having extended his lead in the championship, last week's winner was on the podium, and both Jorge Martin and Pecco Bagnaia started from the front row and finished on the podium. The top four finishers had all been in the top six during the dry part of the race.

Flag-to-flag races are always something of a gamble, but there are always lessons to be learned. So in these subscriber notes, some thoughts on what we saw in all three phases of Sunday's race.

  • The decision process for going in to switch tires
  • What Brad Binder had to conquer to hold on to the win
  • Where Fabio Quartararo is making the difference
  • The new Marc Marquez is starting to look like the old Marc Marquez

The trick to winning a flag-to-flag race is getting the timing right. You need to find the perfect crossover point: the point at which the lap times of the tire you are on are about to decline below the lap times of the tire you are about to switch to. And you have to factor in the advantage you expect to gain per lap against the time lost in the pits swapping bikes.

Put concisely, you have to figure out the exact lap in which a change of tires will gain back the 35-50 seconds lost in pit lane swapping bikes in the shortest number of laps. As you can imagine, this is not easy. There are thousands of factors over which you have little to no control, and can change that calculation drastically. You only ever find out you made the right decision in hindsight, once the checkered flag has been waved. You need to get lucky, and there is only so much of your own luck that you can make.

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I was thinking during the race the old Marc would have stayed out on Slicks. Must be worrying him and his team that his shoulder arm is not healing as fast as they want. I wonder I'd more surgery is on the cards during the off season?

That Marquez pit genius at Brno was 2017, not 2015. I was there and he did the exact opposite of what he did on Sunday - he dropped back behind the leaders so they couldn't see him pit and follow him in.

Glad he's getting back to his best, though - I think it's looking very ominous for next year!

Marquez didn't intentionally drop behind everyone, he had a tyre problem and lost time to the others.

Even though the rain made a crazy ending and a memorable victory for Binder i really wish it hadn't come. That was shaping up to be an epic race. A few Ducati up there but Fabio and Marc...they were dragging their bikes up there. Mir too although a touch further back. We all got to see something amazing but i think we missed out also.

HRC need to work. The high side in Assen - TC issue. 180km/h lowside into the air fence at Jerez - almost ended his career for real, and Pol did the exact same thing at the same corner.

I'm not trying to deflect the fact that Marc is working his way back but there is quite clearly a problem with the RCV and it is not a particularly competitive bike at the moment.

I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall during those debriefs. They seem to have made steady progress since, and Marcs injury is now looking like pain in the shoulder more than overall strength through the arm.

MotoGP is better with a healthy Marquez. I hope he's back to 100% soon because he tends to make every race weekend a memorable one in some way or another.

It seems strange that something like the Austria II round can happen where Marquez is battling at the front for the entirety of the race (on a soft rear slick!) all the while, as has been pointed out, his current condition is neither 100% nor is he able to employ tools that were once his regular arsenal.  And yet he's STILL the only guy that can ride a Honda quickly on most instances?  Can a platform really be that tailor suited for a single person and simultaneously be incompatible with everyone else?

I don't think it is "built for him" like it suits him. Rather that the shite bike is able to be ridden by him. 

It was crap in 2019. He asked for (loosely a bit more power and then develop towards braking stability so he could have something to dominate an area possible to compete with). Front end feel and manageability so poor that it is a crasher he saves. It tossed him.

He crashed out leading the "wets" group, the followers all ran off line there and came back to keep racing. That he could do in the dry what he did on the particularly R side of body challenging Red Bull Ring should make everyone nervous. He is arriving. I guessed it would come a bit earlier, but think it is a safe bet that 2022 he is a Championship contender. Best yet, so is Quartararo. Likely Mir, AND one Ducati (Martin, maybe Bagnaia. Which Red kids get Factory kit? Can any Rookie Quartaro on one? Doubt it. But they have Martin who is doing damn well). Three dark horses there behind in the shadow, one could draft in. Marquez won't run away with it. This is good, eh? 

Will eagerly await the new bikes on the new Michelin front. Also, Morbidelli on the new Blue kit. How KTM finishes this season is of keen interest, both Factory riders have a hand of cards to play. Herve's two kids get a nicely shuffled fresh deck. Right now Suzuki may be finishing a development step, finishing the season with better Q and races. Fingers crossed that HRC keeps their head up their arse, because the dynamic is great entertainment.

Rossi's partner is expecting a baby btw. Someone send them a pocket bike w training wheels.

Betcha a crow sandwich that Maverick beats Aleix on season points next yr. 

I don't think Marc is the only rider who can be fast on the Honda. Pedrosa was winding down to retirement and/or issues with tyres and team issues who knows...but was still capable, as he always was, of being untouchable. Those days got further apart, 2018 the end with no win. That was a few years ago. Since then Marc has teamed up with Lorenzo, his rookie brother and now Pol. All new to the Honda. Alex produced some very competitive performances last year and we will see how Pol develops on the bike. At LCR Cal was capable of producing great performances and last year we saw Taka was also capable of running at the front on the Honda. All the riders were/are capable of being fast and competitive, even Lorenzo was progressing until the crash at Assen. I think the difference is that rare piece of special shiny stuff.

Marc seems to have somewhere between 1 or 2 tenths over the other Honda riders on outright pace...probably less and sometimes zero. However, when a Honda rider has trouble Marc drops a tenth or two, the others drop up to a second or more. Also, when it matters Marc seems magically less likely to have troubles. It's a difficult thing to know. Sometimes you get a rider who is operating on a different level completely. That's Marc..that's Rossi back in the day or Doohan etc. The bikes will only go so fast. Some riders push their talent to the max to get there. Others have a shed load of spare mental capacity left over.

I loved every minute of this one.

Seeing Marc as the underdog has been quite the ride. The fact that it's his shoulder isn't really all that surprising given how much grief it has given him over the years and all of the surgeries. He found a way to ride around that same injury in the past and it earned him plenty of extra wins and championships. The complications now are no doubt compounded by the whole re-creation of his biomechanics as the muscles adapt to the new bone dynamics he has going on in the arm. Pain seems to be more of a problem than strength right now.. which I don't know if it's a net positive or not, I'm not smart enough to figure it out.

The sport is way better off with him at the pointy end. I understand that the field is not lacking in talent right now, but when Marc is being Marc - stalking people, getting in their heads, messing with teammate and nemesis alike.. it really makes for great viewing. I pray that he's ready to go next year, I really do. His trajectory is such that he still has so much left to achieve.

I love it when we get a bit of magic of a Sunday. This one was definitely one for the ages! Thanks for the write up David!

Anyone smiling sincerely appreciating the Marc "pirouettes" he does sometimes after going down? Still balanced on the bike riding it in a cat-like dance spinning the OTHER frontward rotation? No one else does that shit. No one. 

...I understand you correctly, but these days I've noticed lots of riders riding the bikes all the way to a stop after lowsiding it.  The old-school way was to get as far from the bike as possible (in fairness, the 500's often did this automatically lol) but they're now holding onto them to keep them running and try to stop them from flipping.  I always look at the way their ground-side hands are still hanging on for grim death under the bike and it immediately brings to mind the stomach churning condition of Mick Doohan's little finger.

But yeah, Marc is a particular proponent of this and indeed the "spinny spinny" (ref Aussie Man) is quite entertaining.  After his spinny spinny I was just waiting for him to push his bike right into the path of Quatarararo and get t-boned in adddition.

"500's did this automatically".true AND hilarious!

Reminded me of Lawson winning on the Cagiva, possibly 92 (why yes, I am quite old, why do you ask?). Race started wet and finished dry, Lawson survived the first wet laps on slicks/dry setup and then romped away for the win as the racing line dried. The last iteration of the Cagiva may be the most beautiful race bike ever made.


There's a nice youtube interview with Eddie i watched a few weeks back. Ago was on the grid screaming that he cannot use cut slicks. A reply of 'piss off' followed and he went on to his last ever win. Giants.

Hope it's ok to put the link in here for anybody who hasn't seen it. Scream at me if it's not. I'll remove it double quick time.


It must have been borderline for a penalty - a stoppie into the crewmember then smacking his shoulder into the tailpiece of the wet bike before he got on it? I can't imagine it being much more dangerous than how they went about it.                                 

Please no

They had that rule for...was it Fabio ? Stopped in Mavericks 'box' ? It's racing, let them race.

Endurance fuel fill going in flames? Pit stop issue. 

Martin knocking about within his crew? Nah.

Enjoying the group therapy in here though. Appreciating how insightful and tolerant/civilized everyone is. Viva Motomatters!

That was a FANTASTIC race. The three near the front late in the dry part were REALLY doing the business. Quartararo is (can't say Alien anymore?). The whole race, helps of bikes fanning out in the braking zone like peacock feathers. Three wide where two go, over and over. EVERY MANU had bikes in the podium mix at some point. Absolutely fantastic spectacle. Brilliant riding. Bravo!