Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez took the flag in today’s German Grand Prix, a rather anti-climactic end to a brutally dramatic weekend in Saxony. With series leaders Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo both sidelined with injuries suffered in practice, this was clearly Marquez’s race to lose. After a poor start, he took the lead on Lap 5 and never looked back. The composed Spaniard again leads the series in his rookie season, with an opportunity to make more hay in California before summer vacation.
Most of the story of today’s race was written prior to the start. On Friday afternoon, factory Yamaha ironman Lorenzo, who had gambled and won a fifth-place finish in Assen, gambled again and lost, his violent highside taking him back to Barcelona for another collarbone surgery and out of today’s race. Series leader Pedrosa, figuratively facing an open net with Lorenzo out, fanned on Saturday morning, flying over the handlebars of his Repsol Honda and out of the race with yet another collarbone injury, a concussion and double vision. As we argued here last week, the single factor that could keep Pedrosa from his first premier class title – injury – jumped up and bit him hard yesterday.
It wasn’t just Lorenzo and Pedrosa crashing out on Friday and Saturday. By my count, there were at least 16 replay-quality crashes leading up to the race. In this dubious CRT category, backmarker Bryan Staring, onboard the GO&FUN #2 bike, led the way with four (4) offs, five if you include his crash on lap 28 today. Andrea “Crazy Joe” Iannone, improving in his first season with the Pramac Ducati team, left his ride behind twice, his accident in FP4 leaving him with knee and shoulder injuries sufficient to saddle him with his first DNS of the season.
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow endured a gruesome case of road rash suffered in the second of his two crashes Friday, but still managed to start the race. Not only did he start from the middle of the front row, he finished second to Marquez for his best premier class finish ever, one of four satellite bikes occupying the top six spots in today’s clash. Along the way, he went through easily on factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, effectively flipping off Yamaha Racing corporate, who steadfastly refuse to make a respectable 2014 offer to the toughest guy on the track. Rossi finished third, grateful to be on the podium, but laying to rest the fantasies of his delusional fans who, after his win in Assen, expected him to run the table on his way to yet another premier class title. That’s not gonna happen.
Elsewhere on the Grid
For one brief shining moment – six laps, actually – LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl, showboating for his home fans, leading the German Grand Prix and throwing the PA announcer into apoplexy. One by one, Marquez, Rossi and, finally, Crutchlow went through on the German, leaving him to finish fourth, equaling his best premier class result, earned previously at Mugello. Finally seeming to shake the “underachiever” tag that has stuck to him all season, he was warmly hugged by team owner Lucio Cecchinello at the finish, apparently still in the good graces of management. If you look up “Stefan Bradl” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find his picture above the caption, “Man in Need of a Podium.” Just sayin’.
The feel-good story of the day centered on Aleix Espargaro, who qualified fifth and spent some time in the top three (!) early in the race before ultimately fading to eighth position at the flag. The race announcers were speculating as to whether the Spaniard’s success onboard the Aprilia-powered CRT might be sufficient to induce the Italian company to field a factory team in the next year or two. It’s hard to imagine that such a venture could be any more futile than the current Italian entries from Ducati Corse.
Speaking of which, Andrea Dovizioso needed a desperate last lap pass of Espargaro to avoid the ignominy of another loss to the Frankenbikes as took place in Assen. Dovi led the Ducati contingent in 7th place today, followed by Nicky Hayden in 9th and Michelle Pirro in 10th. All three positions were artificially enhanced by the absence of Lorenzo and Pedrosa from the proceedings.
Lest I forget completely, GO&FUN loose cannon Alvaro Bautista finished a respectable 5th today, followed by Crutchlow’s Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith. Of the two, Smith’s finish is more impressive, given the inferiority of his satellite Yamaha to the factory spec Honda under Bautista. Rumor has it that Bautista’s contract with Fausto Gresini for 2014 is being subjected to numerous stress tests, as the volatile Italian team owner seeks some way to eject Alvaro from his team while still on speaking terms with HRC. Bautista is, to my knowledge, the only premier class rider to have applied blonde highlights to his hair, a commentary on where his priorities lie.
The Big Picture
Here’s a look at the rather misleading premier class standings after eight rounds:
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||138|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||136|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha Factory||127|
|4||Cal Crutchlow||Monster Tech3 Yamaha||107|
|5||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha Factory||101|
|6||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory||74|
|7||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||64|
|8||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||58|
|9||Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory||57|
|10||Aleix Espargaro||Power Electronics Aspar||52|
By “misleading” I refer to the fact that both Lorenzo and Pedrosa are questionable for Laguna Seca next Sunday. Lorenzo tweeted on Saturday night that he would not travel to California. Pedrosa was held out of today’s race by MotoGP doctors, citing low blood pressure and double vision. Although Dani apparently plans to travel to Monterey, broken collarbone and all, his concussion and attendant vision problems could easily linger, putting those intentions in doubt. Lorenzo, for his part, might change his mind after today’s outcome.
The bottom line here: Lorenzo and Pedrosa actually trail Marquez by more than the standings would suggest, while Crutchlow and Rossi are in relatively better shape than they appear.
If there is a silver lining in the cloud shadowing the four riders trailing the Spanish rookie, it lies in the fact that Marquez has never set foot on the Laguna Seca macadam. Thus, at the risk of besmirching my own prediction skills, I wish to reprise a sentence from our first article of season, the Qatar preview: “But, for the record, let me just state here and now that Marquez, no matter how brilliant his rookie season may turn out to be, will not finish at Laguna Seca.” Young Marc has a date with The Corkscrew, and an innate inability to acknowledge, or even recognize, dangerous situations. The combination of the two may offer an opportunity for both Lorenzo and Pedrosa to climb back into a championship chase that appears, suddenly, to be getting away from them.