It was another hot morning in Germany and the battle for the top 14 was just as hot in the lightweight class. Riders miraculously avoided leaving pitlane at the very last second – and sometimes a few seconds too late – and started a first time attack halfway through the session. They even snuck in a generous two or three flying laps for the second attack in the final four minutes or so. Andrea Migno made the best of those final few laps to jump from outside the top 14 to the top of the timesheets, less than a tenth of a second ahead of compatriot Stefano Nepa.
Day one of the German Grand Prix is in the bag, and is Marc Márquez still the outright favorite for the win on Sunday? If you went by FP1 on Friday, you would say yes: the Repsol Honda rider took three flying laps to set the fastest time of the session, before turning his attention to working on race pace. He used one set of medium tires front and rear for the entire session, ending with a 1'22.334 on a tire with 24 laps on it. That lap would have been good enough for thirteenth place in FP1, just a hundredth of a second slower than Miguel Oliveira's best lap.
Oliveira made it clear that he considered Márquez to be the favorite at the end of the day as well. "For me since the beginning Marc is the clear favorite for the win on Sunday," the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider told us. "We have been trying to understand what he is doing different to the others on this track because he is so successful."
By the end of the afternoon, Marc Márquez didn't look quite so invincible. The Repsol Honda rider finished the day twelfth fastest, six tenths off the fastest rider Miguel Oliveira. The KTM man had achieved his first objective. "I believe together with him will come another couple of riders that are able to challenge for the win. I am working to be one of them," Oliveira said on Friday afternoon.
Reading the tea leaves
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."
On the eve of the Sachsenring MotoGP round, Steve English, Adam Wheeler, and David Emmett look ahead to the German Grand Prix, where Marc Marquez has dominated for the past ten years. They kick off the podcast with a look at where motorcycle racing is with respect to fan attendances in light of the improving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic, and what that might mean for the second half of the season.
Then they take a dive into the race, and ask whether anyone can stop Marc Marquez from lifting an eleventh victory in a row at the Sachsenring. Anyone, including Marc Marquez, given how uncompetitive the Honda is at the moment, and how Marquez is still recovering from injury. Steve gives a pop quiz on previous historical win records, and the remarkable record of Giacomo Agostini in Germany.
With World Superbikes back at Misano, Gordon Ritchie and Steven English get together to discuss one of Steve's favorite weekends of the year. They kick off with a discussion of how well the Ducati Panigale V4R worked at Misano, specifically for Michael Ruben Rinaldi, and what makes the Ducati so difficult to get right at every track. They compare Rinaldi's fortunes to those of Scott Redding, and especially Chaz Davies.
Steve and Gordo discuss the role of the Pirelli tires, and the very different philosophy for Pirelli in WorldSBK compared to other spec tire suppliers. They discuss Toprak Razgatlioglu's impressive start to the season, and how he is emerging as the main challenger to Jonathan Rea, and then they examine how Rea has changed his training and approach, and how that has made him even more competitive.
Today, the Gresini Racing Team announced that their immediate future lies with Ducati. The Italian team, now run by Nadia Padovani, the widow of team's founder Fausto Gresini, will lease Ducati Desmosedici machines from the Bologna factory for the 2022 and 2023 MotoGP seasons.
The link with Ducati had been widely trailed, the Gresini team wavering between remaining with Aprilia as a satellite squad or switch to Ducati. The projected rider pairing may have had an influence on that decision: that Fabio Di Giannantonio would be moving up to MotoGP with Gresini for 2022 was a given, part of his deal for Moto2. But Enea Bastianini's switch from the Esponsorama squad, set to leave MotoGP at the end of 2021, to Gresini was not a foregone conclusion. Bastianini's ties to Ducati may well have weighed in the balance.
On Sunday Ana Carrasco won a race just nine months after breaking her back. Hers is an amazing story but no more so than the shocking story of the first woman who tried to make it in motorcycle racing
Marc Márquez’s comeback from potentially career-ending injury is a work in progress, but today we can add the name Ana Carrasco to the list of superhumans – most notably Mick Doohan, Robert Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson – that overcame the most hideous odds to keep doing what they love and win again at a high level.
In 2018 Carrasco won the Supersport 300 World Championship and last September suffered serious injuries while testing her Kawasaki Ninja 400 at Estoril. She fractured two vertebrae, luckily without damage to her spine, her luck measured in mere millimetres.
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.
Whatever your impressions of Pol Espargaro, you can’t doubt his courage. It’s now over a year since the rider from Granollers, Catalonia chose to sign for Repsol Honda, leaving KTM’s factory team, which he helped build from the ground up. The seat has been something of a poisoned chalice in recent times. There, Dani Pedrosa’s racing career sizzled out in disappointment. Jorge Lorenzo’s sole year in orange turned into a personal ordeal. And Alex Márquez was informed he would be leaving the squad at the end of his first season before he had even raced. It turns out being team-mate to this generation’s greatest talent is no walk in the park.
Yet Espargaro jumped at the chance to measure himself against Marc Márquez He had long harboured that goal, telling me in 2019 without hesitation he’d choose racing his old Moto2 nemesis on the same bike over any other rider in history. While he was more than a match for his countryman in the junior categories – Pol narrowly lost out to Marc in fiery championship battles in 125s in 2010 and Moto2 in 2012 – their fortunes in the premier class diverged. As Márquez racked up records and titles at a dizzying race, Espargaro forged his reputation aiding KTM’s rise from class rookies to multiple race winners.