The Sachsenring (or Knockwurstring as it is sometimes referred to, by me) has been Marc Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons. Make that eight, as the young Catalan survived some early challenges, patiently worked his way to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race, and won going away.

With defending champion Marquez seizing the lead in the 2017 championship and the season standings tighter than wallpaper, MotoGP leaves for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note. After nine races, 10 points separate the top four riders. We have our third series leader in three rounds. Unpredictability rules the day, which is great for the fans and agony for the teams. For the riders and crews, every mistake is magnified, every risk taken another opportunity for disaster.

Notwithstanding Marc Marquez winning again in Germany, the MotoGP class is seeing a level of parity that’s been absent for some time.

Compare all of this to a few years ago when there were one or two brands capable of winning races, joined by two or three competitive riders, a tiny little grid, and a bunch of field horses making up the numbers. When aging riders on lousy equipment could earn points a lap down on the field. It may be that we will someday look back upon these present years as the Golden Age of MotoGP.

Qualifying and Practice

As predicted, FP1 was dry, FP2 wet, and FP3 dry-ish; FP4 started dry and ended wet. Results varied wildly from session to session. The riders passing directly to Q2 included most of those we have ranked in the top ten at this point of the season. The two exceptions were 1) Aleix Espargaro, flogging the factory Aprilia in all conditions, while Johann Zarco struggled in all three sessions, and 2) Hector Barbera, who took Danilo Petrucci’s usual spot in Q2. Petrucci and Pol Espargaro on the KTM (!) passed through to Q2, the Italian with lots on his mind, the Spaniard thrilled to have escaped the mosh pit that constitutes the back of the grid when the lights go out.

Aleix Espargaro and the Aprilia showed signs of progress, hanging with the leaders during Free Practice.

This Petrucci guy, who just signed a new contract with Octo Pramac for next season, has been hanging around the front on Saturdays and Sundays for almost a month. The ex-cop has come of age in MotoGP. Meanwhile, ROY favorite Johann Zarco, reflecting the trouble France has always had with Germany, started 19th, firmly stuck in the mud with the entire Yamaha contingent save teammate and fellow rookie Jonas Folger, at his home crib, who started from the middle of the second row. Jorge Lorenzo, running at a Tranche 2 level in the dry, managed to secure sixth place on Saturday afternoon, dodging raindrops and praying the rosary for dry weather on Sunday.

The end results didn’t show as his bike – like all the other Ducatis did – faded during the race, but Danilo Petrucci continued to impress, qualifying on the front row.

Q2 itself started damp and ended less so. Petrucci held provisional pole as the session started winding down and riders started getting serious about grid position. And while Marquez, naturally, took the wind out of Petrucci’s sails with a strong finish – his eighth consecutive pole here – some of the other contenders ended the session in very strange places. Witness Valentino Rossi, series leader Andrea Dovizioso, and Maverick Viñales sitting 9th through 11th at the start. At a squinchy, cramped little joint like the Sausagering, that could be a problem for three of the top four riders. Dani Pedrosa, making me look bad yet again, pushed his Honda RC213V to third place for another front row start in Germany, to which he has become quite accustomed. He was clearly able to get sufficient heat in his tires by the end of the session to deem Q2 a success.

The Race – Plenty of Action, Few Surprises

Jonas Folger put on a strong performance for his fellow Germans, leading early in the race before finishing second.

After the usual high-octane rave party in the first two turns, the lead group emerged, comprised of Marquez and Pedrosa, one Jorge Lorenzo on soft tires, Tech 3 rookie Folger, Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati and Rossi, first of three Alien starters to emerge from the other side of the qualifying tracks. Once things got into a rhythm, both Repsol Hondas and Jonas Folger rose to the top of the heap, with Folger going through on Pedrosa in Lap 5 and Marquez himself on Lap 6, suddenly leading his home grand prix. WTF. Marquez took back the lead in Turn 1 of Lap 11, withstood 18 laps of consistent annoyance from Folger, and finally broke the rookie on Lap 29.

There was plenty of action a little farther back, involving mostly Yamahas and Ducatis trying to claw their way past one another into podium contention. A macro trend began to emerge, as the Yamahas, fuel loads dropping, started climbing the order, while the Ducatis, tires turning to wax, began falling back. Our crack-crazed research department tells us that at the end of Lap 3 there were two Ducs and one Yamaha in the top five. By the end of the day there were three Yamahas and no Ducs therein, with Alvaro Bautista, on an exemplary day supporting his high ranking on this site, the top Ducati finisher, in sixth place. Andrea Dovizioso, who started the day leading the championship, struggled to an eighth-place finish, three spots in front of demoralized teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

Today’s race marks the fourth time in five seasons that Marc Marquez ended a short winless spell with a victory at Sachsenring. Excluding his impressive 10 wins in 10 races to start the 2014 season, Marc Marquez has been held winless between COTA and Sachsenring in every other season since entering the MotoGP class.

The Hondas were expected to do well today. They did – a win, and two on the podium – and might have done even better had the weather not cooled prior to the race. Not much was expected of the Yamahas, who delivered a mild surprise with all four bikes in the top ten and two in the top five. The Ducatis proved again, as if we need convincing, that tracks and conditions like these are poison for them.

Today offered the best opportunity to date for an Aleix Espargaro sighting on the podium, but he had trouble stopping his Aprilia all day, struggling nonetheless to a respectable seventh. And we look forward, with relish, to the interview with Cal Crutchlow explaining his tenth-place finish and identifying the corporate entity responsible for such a disgrace.

The Big Picture

With an eighth-place finish, Andrea Dovizioso drops from the top of the championship race to third overall.

The top four riders last week:

  1. Dovi 115
  2. Viñales 111
  3. Rossi 108
  4. Marquez 104

The Top four riders this week:

  1. Marquez 129
  2. Viñales 124
  3. Dovi 123
  4. Rossi 119

No matter who you root for in MotoGP, 2017 offers hope, opportunity and periodic high-quality gratification. Sr. Ezpeleta’s goal of parity, if not yet fully realized, seems to be progressing nicely. The expenses continue to be breathtaking. But the series is healthier than many other sports today because of the relative parity between the haves and the have-nots. Today’s second place finish by a satellite rider (see Danilo Petrucci last week in Assen) says a lot; such a thing rarely happened 10 years ago. F1, by comparison, seems to be committing ritual suicide, coming up with new and different ways each year to become less appealing to fans.

A podium finish pushed Jonas Folger up to seventh in the championship.

One Last Tranche Before Vacation

After Round 8:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Bautista, Pedrosa, Crutchlow
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Redding, Barbera, Iannone, Miller
Tranche 4: Baz, A. Espargaro, Abraham, Rabat
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Smith, Lowes, Rins

After Round 9:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Bautista, Pedrosa, Crutchlow
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Barbera, Miller, A. Espargaro↑
Tranche 4: Redding↓, Baz, Abraham, P. Espargaro, Iannone↓
Tranche 5: Rabat↓, Smith, Lowes, Rins

Let’s not get too excited about Sunday’s results as regards the season-long tranchefest. The Sachsenring is an outlier – short and damp – and should be grouped with Losail and Austria as extreme circuits whose results should not be overexamined. Even so, Andrea Iannone should at least try to look interested in what’s going on with his career at Suzuki.

Kevin Schwantz delivered a harsh criticism of Andrea Iannone, sayign the Italian looks lost and should go race go-karts if he’s not prepared to put in a better effort.

Next race is Brno in early August. We’ll have the race preview and a few words to say about the second half of the 2017 season earlier that week. Happy trails.