The sun from Friday hid behind a few clouds on Saturday morning and the lightweight class took its time to improve on FP1 times, nevermind FP2, despite six sessions of implicit track cleaning. After the first run of subdued laptimes, Aron Canet showed the way by a modest advantage ahead of Lorenzo Dalla Porta. Despite significant improvements predictably expected, the duo would eventually prove to be the main characters of the morning.
As if anyone needed reminding of just how close the MotoGP field is at the moment, you have to go a very long way down the standings to find the first rider more than a second slower than Jorge Lorenzo, the fastest man on the first day of practice at the Sachsenring. Eighteen riders are within a fraction over nine tenths of a second of each other, with Scott Redding the first over a second away.
It's even closer than that, once you discount Lorenzo's time. The Factory Ducati rider put in a searing lap at the end of FP2 to go fastest, and was over a quarter of a second quicker than second-place man Danilo Petrucci. The gap between Petrucci in second and Johann Zarco in eighteenth was 0.645 seconds. Or approximately two blinks of an eye.
That makes it hard to judge riders by position. A tenth of a second would move you up three or four places; three tenths is the difference between eighteenth and eighth. A small mistake in a single corner could be the difference between being comfortably through to Q2, and going to sleep on Friday night worrying about posting a fast enough time on Saturday morning in FP3. "I needed to make a perfect lap," Red Bull KTM's Pol Espargaro bemoaned his twelfth place, before joking, "or my rivals needed to not make a perfect lap!"
The final session of the day got underway and Sam Lowes was most eager to get out and post the first solid benchmark of the day. The British rider enjoyed some time in the limelight before the halfway point of the session, when some other familiar faces took their turn at the top, beginning with unfortunate fourth place enthusiast Marcel Schrotter.
Once a red flag cleared in the final ten minutes, the intermediate class riders got another shot to disturb the hierarchy and Xavi Vierge was the first to strike with four minutes left on the clock, the Dynavolt rider holding on to top position despite a spirited charge behind.
A somewhat overcast Sachsenring looked like a much more familiar sight for Marc Marquez, who went under circuit record only three laps into the session, leaving rivals to play catch-up. Not much catch-up was played until the final five minutes, when new rubber has started to be donned throughout the field in an attempt to snatch a top ten position and ideally the crown off the world champion.
Jorge Lorenzo finally dethroned the king in the final two minutes while Marquez was still circulating on used rear rubber and letting his usual Friday strategy unfold, including various tyre options and a save for good measure.
A spread of threatening clouds covered the sky in preparation for the second set of practice sessions, a few subtle drops of rain escaping as the lightweight class kicked off proceedings. Jorge Martin got a chance to set camp at the top of the timesheets before the rain flags came out at the mid point of FP2. Lucky this was not a lengthy respite and Philipp Oettl got another chance to aim for top position, ending the session four hundredths of a second ahead of Tony Arbolino and with Martin another four thousandths of a second back in third, after a late cancelled lap for the Spaniard.
Franco Morbidelli has been forced to withdraw from the German GP at the Sachsenring. The Marc VDS rider was suffering too much pain in his left hand, which he broke in a crash during practice at Assen.
Morbidelli had been hopeful he would be able to ride when he spoke to the media on Thursday evening. "The fracture is recovering pretty well so I decided to come and try to race," he said. "It is a left-hand circuit. but what gave me confidence is that it’s a track when you spend a lot of time on the edge, so you don’t have to make a lot of changes in direction."
Morbidelli's optimism proved premature, however. In the end, his left hand was causing him too much discomfort, and he was forced to withdraw. Morbidelli is to be replaced by Stefan Bradl, currently an HRC test rider, and already present as a TV presenter working for the Red Bull-backed Austrian broadcaster Servus TV.
The final piece in the FP1 puzzle started with Iker Lecuona as the early but precarious leader of the intermediate class session by only one thousandth of a second. Despite the minuscule advantage, his turn in the spotlight lasted until the final five minutes of FP1, when Dominiqe Aegerter took over the lead and kept it to the flag. Andrea Locatelli flew the flag for Italstrans from second position, only two hundredths of a second behind the leader and with Lorenzo Baldassarri only three thousandths of a second behind, making a late jump into third.
The moment the green flag waved, Marc Marquez was back on home soil – he might not be German but he definitely feels at home on top of the standings at the Sachsenring. The opposition was led by Andrea Iannone, who negotiated his way around the track on his own for a change and picked up the lead by nearly four tenths of a second from the world champion with seven minutes left of the session.
Under an unusually sunny Sachsenring sky, the action unfolded in familiar fashion. Jorge Martin was the early leaver of the first practice session, having immediately built an advantage of almost half a second on the man he dethroned in Assen, Marco Bezzecchi. The Gresini rider then posted the first time in the 1:27s and his rivals struggled to match this early pace.
The 1:27 club got a few more subscribers once the finally time attack got underway, although Martin was determined to get faster and faster and keep his prime position at the top of the classification. The Spaniard had no trouble doing that, leading the morning session by two tenths of a second from John McPhee. Philipp Oettl seemed to be preparing a bit of a comeback with third position in FP1, a mere thousandth of a second keeping him ahead of Enea Bastianini in fourth.
The Sachsenring is a unique circuit, and a unique place. We say that about almost every racetrack we go to, but it is much more true of the Sachsenring than of anywhere else. No track is as tight, yet deeply challenging as the tightly-coiled circuit in Hohenstein-Ernstthal, and the atmosphere among the fans is electric.
Normally here, I would give a brief description or history of the circuit at which MotoGP is due to race. But Mat Oxley has already done that much better than I would have, so I suggest you read his article on the Motor Sport Magazine website. There is a very good chance that this is the last race here at the Sachsenring, as Oxley lays out in the article. But all hope is not yet lost: regional politics may yet solve the problem, though it will be done with taxpayers' money.
Given the huge attendance at the circuit – Sunday numbers often well over 90,000, and over 100,000 on occasion – the race generates a huge amount of revenue for the surrounding area. Hotels are full, restaurants are heaving, supermarkets stock extra food and drink (especially drink). All that generates more revenue for local government through taxes. But will that be enough to justify spending on keeping the race here?