It was a fairly unusual session to end the day for the intermediate class, who had to deal with a delayed start due to some grass being blown on track and then saw a short red flag after pit board signs flew all over the finish straight. Once clean-up was sorted, the session quickly resumed with Sam Lowes in prime position and with FP1 times under attack straight away. Remy Gardner might have been slower to improve but when he did, he took over the top of the timesheets and left teammate Raul Fernandez three tenths of a second behind.
The second practice session for the premier class got hot and hard – hot in terms of track conditions and hard when it came to tyre choice in sweltering Sachsenring. After laying low in FP1, Barcelona victor Miguel Oliveira traded the lead of FP2 with Marc Marquez and ended up on top after acing the time attack in the final five minutes of the session. The KTM man eventually demoted the factory Yamaha duo of Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales, the Frenchman particularly focused on long runs and only joining the top 10 for the time attack.
Moto3 riders started the second round of practice sessions under a burning sun and despite an attempt at a late time attack, most FP1 times stood on the combined timesheets. John McPhee remained the fastest man on track at the end of Friday’s action, courtesy of his FP1 time, but it was championship leader Pedro Acosta grabbing the headlines for FP2. The Spaniard was one of the few to improve their time in the afternoon session, which he finished half a tenth faster than Gabriel Rodrigo.
The intermediate class took their turn in the heat of the Sachsenring and their first practice session ended with championship leader Remy Gardner in prime position. Joining him not only in the top 2 of the session but also in the premier class next season is Fabio Giannantonio, the Gresini rider a tenth of a second off the lead. Xavi Vierge led the way at the halfway mark of the morning session, before dropping to third, ahead of rookie sensation Raul Fernandez, who started FP1 at the top and ended it two tenths behind his teammate.
The Sachsenring welcomed the premier class after a pandemic-induced hiatus and its monarch enjoyed the welcome more than most, Marc Marquez quickly placing his name at the top of the timesheets. The Spaniard did the most laps and demonstrated over the course of those 25 laps that he didn’t lose any of his speed or rhythm around his German-made playpen. It even looked like a Honda top 3 for a while, until Fabio Quartararo dusted himself off from an early crash at turn 12 and climbed to second on the timesheets, a tenth and a half off the leader.
Action returned to the Sachsenring after the pandemic cut the fun in 2020 and it was a sweltering welcome for the lightweight class. Tatsuki Suzuki was fastest on the hot asphalt for much of the session, until John McPhee picked up top spot in the final minute of FP1. That dropped Suzuki to second, one tenth behind the leader and two more tenths ahead of Gabriel Rodrigo.
Earlier this week I wrote an article setting out why I think that Marc Márquez is the favorite to win at the Sachsenring. What the riders told the media on Thursday at the Sachsenring merely cemented the Repsol Honda rider's status as front runner. Despite his entirely mediocre results since his return to racing, Márquez was identified as at least a potential podium candidate by just about anyone you asked.
Should this be a surprise? Not when you consider that, as veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes pointed out to me, Marc Márquez has quite the record at anticlockwise circuits, tracks with more left handers than rights. How good? He wins nearly 7 out of every 10 races he starts at a track which mainly turns left. That makes his win rate at clockwise circuits – a measly 3 out of 10 – look somewhat threadbare. And as I wrote earlier this week, he is a perfect 7 from 7 at the Sachsenring.
The former world champion was bullish on his chances. "Honestly speaking, maybe this weekend will be the weekend that I feel better with the shoulder and with the arm," he told us. "I think and I hope there will be no limitation in this circuit, because we have left corners and only three right corners, which is where I have the limitation and where I feel worse. So we can say that this will be the first weekend without physical limitations."
Since the beginning of the season, the media has been buzzing with HRC's tales of woe. After seven rounds, the factory sits fifth in the manufacturers championship, 91 points behind Yamaha and Ducati (who are tied for first place), and just 10 points ahead of Aprilia. To put that into perspective, all four Honda riders – Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaro, Alex Márquez, and Takaaki Nakagami – have contributed to Honda's total of 52 points, while Aprilia's stopgap second rider, promoted tester Lorenzo Savadori, has added just a single, solitary point to Aprilia's total, Aleix Espargaro having scored the other 44.
The situation for the Repsol Honda team is, if anything, even worse. The factory Honda team – the richest team from the biggest and richest factory – lies in a lowly eighth place, two places and 4 points behind the satellite LCR Honda squad. Repsol Honda has four factory and two satellite teams ahead of them, though pedants might quibble with just how much of a satellite operation the Pramac Ducati squad really is. Pedants wouldn't quibble with the asserting that Pramac has over twice as many points as Repsol Honda, however, the Italian squad have 124 points to Repsol's 52.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the MotoGP calendar. The second and third rounds of MotoGP, at Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina on April 11th and at the Circuit Of The Americas on April 18th have been officially postponed. In their place, Qatar will host back-to-back races at the Losail International Circuit on March 28th and April 4th, and reserve circuit Autódromo do Algarve at Portimao will host a race on April 18th.
Though officially only postoponed, the Argentina and Austin rounds are almost certain to be canceled, a move which had long been expected. The logistical and cost challenges of organizing races in the Americas, added to the spread of Covid-19, especially in the Austin area, were always going to pose problems for the two races, and it had long been rumored they would be replaced.
MotoGP will continue into 2021, and scheduling difficulties continue to accompany it. Unlike 2020, however, Dorna and the FIM are prepared for it, however, and so today, we saw a provisional 2021 MotoGP calendar announced. It is a very conventional-looking schedule, with a giant caveat attached underneath: "All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the pandemic and the approval of the corresponding Governments and authorities."
After two tests, at Sepang in mid February and Qatar in mid March, the 2021 season is scheduled to kick off at Qatar on March 28th. After Qatar, the series heads to the Americas, where MotoGP races in Argentina at Termas de Rio Hondo and at Austin. They then head back to Europe, for the usual round of spring races: Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Sachsenring, and Assen. They round it off with a trip to Finland, subject to the Kymiring being homologated on time.