The VROOM Blog #GermanGP – The return of the King

 In MotoGP, News

Following a weekend off after the Catalan GP, the MotoGP paddock rolled into Germany for a much-anticipated visit to the Sachsenring. Having been missing from the 2020 calendar thanks to the pandemic, the Sachsenring made a welcome return and much of the talk was about one man – Marc Marquez.

Marc has been dubbed the ‘King of the Ring’, and for good reason. He has been undefeated at the Sachsenring circuit for 10 years, winning from pole each time he has raced here since 2010. Back in 2010 he converted pole to the race win in the 125cc class, before doing the same in his two seasons on board a Moto2 machine in 2011 and 2012. Since moving up to the premier class in 2013, Marc has kept the streak running with pole and a win every year – and since there was no race here last season, he returns to defend his crown this year.

Opinion was split on whether or not Marc could achieve an 11th consecutive win here – some thought it was a certainty, but others were more cautious – he is still not fully ‘race fit’ and has crashed out of the last 3 races. Personally, I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure he could do it – I did think that he would be on the podium, but I just wasn’t sure if he could win it.

Marc arrived at the circuit downplaying his chances of retaining his crown – he said that the podium was definitely the goal, and that he wasn’t feeling as physically limited as he had in previous races. He revealed a special ‘retro’ helmet design for the weekend and I loved it. It was simple but effective, and came with matching boots and gloves.

In the run up to the weekend, the Gresini team finally announced that they would be partnering with Ducati as they split with Aprilia to become an independent team again. The deal sees the Gresini team using Ducati machinery for the 2022 and 2023 seasons with Italians Enea Bastianini (currently riding a Ducati for the Esponsorama team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio, who steps up from the Gresini Moto2 team. Bastianini and Di Giannantonio raced together for the Gresini Moto3 team back in 2016.

Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti said at the weekend that Ducati are “very close to reaching an agreement” with the VR46 team, and that an announcement could be expected before Assen. Valentino Rossi is scheduled to attend the pre-event press conference in Assen which does suggest there will be some kind of announcement from the Italian – will it just be the details of his team for next season, or will The Doctor put all of the rumours to rest and announce his retirement (or indeed his intention to carry on)? My money would be on a team announcement, as that would give him the summer break to think things over, but you never know…

Another team announcement this weekend came from the KTM camp on Sunday morning, with the Austrian factory announcing that they will continue to partner with the Ajo team in Moto2 and Moto3 for the next 5 years. No surprise there really – the partnership had so far produced 60 GP wins (they added two to that this weekend!), and two Moto3 titles with Sandro Cortese taking the very first Moto3 title in 2012, before Brad Binder secured the title for the team in 2016.

Having missed the last race due to his cycling accident on the Thursday at the Catalan GP, Alex Rins was passed fit to ride this weekend. I still cannot get my head around the fact that he was texting while riding around the track (he has admitted that now, claiming it was a very important message), if I were his team boss, I would definitely have fined him for that one!

One round on from the strangest situation we’ve seen in a while – Fabio Quartararo completing the last few laps of the race with his leathers wide open – Alpinestars have made an adjustment to their suits, not just for Fabio, but for every rider in the premier class that wears their leathers. It is unclear if this will filter down to the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, but basically the Velcro tab that secures the top of the zip has been made much larger. I have to say that I was quite impressed with Alpinestars who could very easily have blamed rider error – this has never happened before, and their analysis of Fabio’s suit didn’t show any fault or malfunction – and left it at that, but they have taken the opportunity to look at their suits and develop them a little more.

Following on from the suggestion last time out that Jake Dixon is being eyed as a replacement for Valentino Rossi should he retire at the end of this season, John McPhee rocked up to the German GP to find that he would no longer be working with crew chief Mark Woodage, who has been moved to work with Dixon in Moto2. Speaking to BT Sport on Thursday, John was very vocal about his frustration. He said that he was “disappointed in the management of the team for what they’ve done” and went on to highlight that this is the second time in 10 months that he has been let down by the team, referring to them failing to honour his move to Moto2 for this season. The move means that John will now be working with Danny Bonmati – his data technician – who John describes as “a fantastic guy” who is “really knowledgeable” on the data side of things but doesn’t have world championship level crew chief experience.

John hasn’t had the best start to the season – he has had a ridiculous amount of bad luck and I really feel for him. This latest blow is bound to be a huge frustration for him, but hopefully it does work out for him – he was looking good in the race this weekend up until the point where he had to take to the gravel to avoid an accident in front him, sending him back down the order.

There was a small ceremony on Friday evening to officially retire the number 50 from the Moto3 class following the death of Jason Dupasquier. Jason’s team were joined by some premier class riders as Carmelo Ezpeleta presented a special trophy in the shape of his number 50 to the PrüstelGP team at their home GP.

Marc Marquez sent a message to his fellow competitors on track on Friday morning by topping the FP1 session ahead of Quartararo and Nakagami, however the Spaniard would go on to finish the day in 12th. As ever, FP3 would prove an important session in deciding which riders would gain passage straight through to Q2 and which would have to face the gauntlet of Q1.

And a gauntlet is what Q1 was this week – with names such as Joan Mir, Franky Morbidelli, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins all having to run in the session having failed to set a time fast enough to take them straight to Q2.

The start of the session was delayed following power cuts in some garages, and that wasn’t the only drama in the session as Enea Bastianini spent some time cruising on the race line looking for a tow. He got in the way of Danilo Petrucci while the KTM man was on a faster lap so Danilo showed Enea that he could count to one… Enea was later punished for ‘irresponsible riding’ with a 3-place grid penalty.

In the end, it was Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro who managed to top Q1 and join the likes of Quartararo, Miller, Oliveira, Martin and both Marquez brothers in Q2.

Heading in to Q2 there were two impressive pole streaks on the line – Fabio Quartararo has been on pole position for the last 5 races and as mentioned earlier, Marc Marquez has been on pole for his last 10 races at the Sachsenring. One (or both) of them was going to see their streak end in this session.

Fabio was the only Yamaha in Q2 this week – with factory team mate Maverick Viñales qualifying second last in 21st – while all 4 Hondas had made it through for the first time in a while!

It was Fabio Quartararo who was leading the way after the first lot of runs were complete, and what followed in the second runs was what can only be described as ridiculous from riders who should know so much better. There was a group of riders cruising around looking for tows – including Marc Marquez – and Miguel Oliveira slowed down so much that he was practically parked up at the side of the track! There was no action taken by race direction – presumably because technically they were not riding slowly on the racing line, but come on! How can they expect the Moto3 riders to learn that cruising is dangerous when the guys that they look up to are getting away with it?!

Anyway. In the closing moments of the session Johann Zarco set the fastest lap before promptly dumping his bike into the gravel, bringing out the yellow flags and preventing anyone else from improving their lap times. Taka Nakagami also went down at the end of the session with Jack Miller’s fast lap cancelled as he passed through the yellow flags.

So Zarco brought to an end Fabio and Marc’s runs of poles with his first pole of the season and only the second pole for a Frenchman at the Sachsenring since Olivier Jacque back in 2002. Joining Zarco on the front row would be Quartararo for the second ever French 1-2 in premier class qualifying since pole positions started to be officially recorded in 1974 – the previous French 1-2 was also for Fabio and Zarco last year at Brno.

The talking point of the front row though was surely Aleix Espargaro in 3rd place. The Spaniard secured the first front row for Aprilia since Jeremy McWilliams at the Austrian GP in 2000, as well as the best qualifying performance for an Aprilia in the MotoGP era. Could Aleix convert this to take Aprilia’s best ever race result? Spoiler alert – no, but they certainly had high hopes.

Sunday morning warm up saw several riders head out on wet tyres to scrub them in just in case the forecast rain did come in time for their race. It was Fabio Quartararo who topped the warm up session ahead of Pol Espargaro, Taka Nakagami, Joan Mir and Franky Morbidelli.

As the build up to the race began, it was reported that there were spots of rain falling in pit lane, but they didn’t come to much, although the forecast did suggest that rain was expected around 30 minutes after the race start.

The lights went out and it looked like Fabio was going to take the holeshot but it was Aleix Espargaro who led Marquez, Zarco, Fabio, Miller and Oliveira into turn 1. Just as it was looking like Espargaro might complete the lap as the race leader, Marc Marquez sliced past him in the final corner to lead across the line. Brad Binder made up a fantastic 6 places on the first lap to come across the line in 7th, just behind team mate Miguel Oliveira.

At the end of lap 2, Aleix passed Marc for the lead, but Marc was having none of that and took the place straight back! As Mir set the fastest lap back in 12th, Jack Miller passed Quartararo into turn 1 for 4th. Lap 4 saw Aleix try once again to take the lead from Marc, but Marc shut the door and Aleix had to stay where he was, while Miguel Oliveira passed Fabio for 4th in the final corner.

Alex Marquez and Danilo Petrucci came together and their race ended in the gravel – the replay wasn’t 100% clear on what happened but it would appear that Alex crashed and took Petrucci with him. Cue shouting at each other in the gravel as the marshals pried their entangled bikes apart! Race direction investigated the incident, but decided that no further action was required.

As Marc started to stretch a little gap at the front ahead of Espargaro, the Aprilia man’s team mate Savadori crashed out of the race unhurt. Jack Miller was on the move and as soon as he passed Zarco for 3rd he set his sights on Espargaro and was all over the rear of the Aprilia. Joan Mir passed Jorge Martin for 9th on lap 9 – the same lap that we saw the white flag being waved, meaning that should they wish to, riders could now enter pit lane to change bikes. There were rain flags being waved too, but the rain looked minimal for now and Marc Marquez took off at the front.

Lap 10 was the beginning of Aleix Espargaro’s departure from the front of the race, with Miller and Oliveira both passing the Aprilia rider, before Miguel moved past Jack into 2nd behind Marquez who had now extended his lead to 1.5 seconds.

Honestly, not a lot happened over the next few laps – Marc and Miguel played cat and mouse as Miguel closed in on Marc through some parts of the lap only for Marc to pull away again through others. Alex Rins dropped back to 11th courtesy of passes from Jorge Martin and Pol Espargaro, while factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales and last year’s championship runner up Franky Morbidelli ‘battled’ for LAST place. What is going on at Yamaha?!

Brad Binder – a Sunday man if ever there was one – had a little back and forth with Johann Zarco for 6th before finally making the pass stick into turn 1 on lap 19. Meanwhile Fabio passed Jack for 3rd as Miguel started to close the gap to Marc by a few tenths over the next couple of laps.

Binder was enjoying another mini battle, this time with Aleix Espargaro for 5th, as Marc Marquez started to show signs that perhaps his tyre had seen its best, or maybe he was just pushing too hard, but over the last few laps of the race Marc was having moments left, right and centre.

With just 2 laps to go, Marc was leading Miguel by 1.2 seconds while Miguel’s team mate Binder was once again on the move, passing Miller for 4th.

It was last lap time and surely Marc had this in the bag – he was 1.8 seconds ahead of Miguel as they began the final lap. Marc Marquez held his nerve to cross the line as a race winner for the first time in 581 days and love him or hate him you had to be pleased for him after all he has been through in this last year!

He was followed over the line by Miguel Oliveira and Fabio Quartararo, with Brad Binder taking an excellent 4th place.

Marc was mobbed by marshals all the way round his in lap, and was greeted by Alex who having crashed out of the race early was able to congratulate his brother trackside.

Once back in parc ferme, Marc Marquez jumped the barriers to celebrate with his team before hugging both Fabio and Miguel. It was lovely to see how happy everyone was for Marc – it will be interesting to see how long that lasts though if he returns to his form of old! But for now, they are happy for a fellow competitor who has come back from an injury that could have ended his career. I do love this sport, and the sportsmanship that goes along with it.

There was a lovely moment when the riders were waiting to go to the podium – Marc Marquez was standing talking to Carmelo Ezpeleta when he noticed the Jason Dupasquier sticker on Fabio’s helmet and gently placed his hand on it, tapping it a couple of times as he continued his conversation.

Fabio Quartararo said in his parc ferme interview that this podium was ‘gold’ having struggled so much all weekend, while Miguel Oliveira said he would take a second to Marc at the Sachsenring any day! A visibly emotional Marc Marquez described his win as “one of the most important and hardest moments” of his career, and said that he knew the race was his when the rain drops started. Marc later thanked his team, his doctors, his physio and his family, saying “we did it together”.

For all the talk that there has been in recent seasons about Marc making the difference on the Honda (the next Honda across the line this weekend was Pol in 10th), I’m beginning to wonder if the same thing is happening this year with Yamaha. Are Maverick and Valentino underperforming (I’m giving Franky a slight break on this one as he is on an older bike) or is Fabio making the difference on a difficult bike? Fabio said multiple times this weekend that he was struggling with the bike and Maverick finished last in the race – finishing outside of the points for the first time in his MotoGP career. And Maverick was not happy after the race, going so far as to say that there seems to be a ‘lack of respect’, having asked the team for changes but seeing no improvement.

Fabio’s 3rd place was enough to extend his lead at the top of the championship to 22 points ahead of Johann Zarco, with Jack Miller in 3rd. It is worth pointing out that Marc Marquez, having missed the opening two races and crashed out of the last three is only 90 points behind Fabio with 11 rounds remaining. I’m not at all saying I think he could win it – I don’t know if this win was a one-off because it was at the Sachsenring, or if suddenly that’s Marc back to his best – but I wouldn’t go writing him off for a decent championship position just yet.

Next up is Assen this weekend – another circuit that returns following an absence last season – and I can’t wait!

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