MotoGP Sachsenring Preview 2018
The field should be very afraid heading to Round Nine
If your name is not Marc Marquez, Round Nine of the 2018 MotoGP championship at the legendary Sachsenring in eastern Germany could not arrive at a worse moment. Bad enough that he put his hands on the throat of the 2018 title last time out in Assen, inserting 41 points between himself and Valentino Rossi, but to do so on the way to Germany, where he hasn’t lost since, like, grade school, is a little much, if you ask me.
Is there anyone on the grid ready, willing and able to take on the juggernaut that is Marc Marquez at The Knockwurstring in 2018? Anyone? What’s this noise I hear from some readers about Rossi being happy finishing third? Alex Rins and Marquez don’t get along great; perhaps the Suzuki guy will be feeling froggy.
Recent History in Greater Dresden
The Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were fast here in 2015. How fast? Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he lugged out after Montmelo, led every practice session. As they had in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the macho factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to 3rd and 4th place afterthoughts, respectively. At least for the day. But Rossi extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points and left for summer vacation all pumped up.
2016 was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry. Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate or “taint” tire, for those of you familiar with the term. Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew. In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief. Credit chief Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.”
A year ago, Marquez was due for a fall, the Sachsenring having been his personal playground for the prior seven seasons. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note.
As we’ve observed before, Marquez owns every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Eight consecutive poles, eight consecutive wins. Fastest lap ever. Sure, soon-to-be former teammate Dani Pedrosa owns seven career wins here, but the most recent, in 2012, is mostly history. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marquez and his RC213V leave for summer vacation having gone nine-for-nine in Germany. Your basic master of his craft working with a great machine and a great team in the prime of his career at a track he loves. He rarely beats himself. Like him or not, it’s an amazing thing to watch when he has it hooked up. The only thing left to add to his vast array of tools and skills is the chin slider, which will complete the mosaic of rider, bike and track.
Riders We Neglected to Slander After Assen
Pramac Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci, who arrived in the Netherlands fifth in the world. His luckless weekend ended when he crashed out of, like, 13th position on Lap 18. He is now tied for eighth with Andrea Iannone. He was doing great before we pointed out that he was doing great. The group of riders (below) characterized as Looking for Work in 2019 compiled, at Assen, a DNFs (Karel Abraham), 20th (Tom Luthi), 19th (Takaaki Nakagami), 17th (Bradley Smith), 16th (Esteve Rabat), and, somehow, Alvaro Bautista in ninth. We will overlook Dani Pedrosa’s heartbreaking weekend. But Cal Crutchlow, who qualified on the front row, as well as Johann Zarco and Jack Miller seemed to be the only fast movers who didn’t lead Assen 2018 at some point.
Prediction Takes Some Shade at Assen
My “track records falling like dominoes” string came to a halt at Assen, with Marquez’s qualifying lap (1:32.791) failing to better Rossi’s fluky 2015 lap of 1:32.627. Sure, some writers would call this a rounding error and improve their stats by declaring it practically a win. Not around here we don’t. I go from 4-for-5 to 4-for-6 – hitting .667; still Hall of Fame numbers. Still, track records are getting challenged almost every time out. Just sayin’.
It’s Almost Official – 22 Bikes on Grid in 2019-20
With the announcement that the Aspar team will leave Ducati to become the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team commencing next year, it appears to be curtains for the Marc VDS contraption. Speculation as to whom will be riding the new team’s “not quite fully up-to-date” Yamaha M1s centers on Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli. One keeps hearing whispers that Pedrosa may, in fact, still retire, which would reportedly elevate one Alvaro Bautista to second chair, the boy toy once again landing on his feet in an unbelievable way. Loyal readers will recall that Bautista, loathed by Italian Fausto Gresini in 2011, was on his way out the MotoGP door until Marco Simoncelli lost his life in Sepang, leaving Gresini without a rider at all heading into 2012 and forcing him to swallow the alliance with the Spanish narcissist Bautista. Aspar could find himself in the same situation although, being Spanish, it wouldn’t be as painful. And OK, Bautista’s been Tranche Three for a few rounds.
Pretty sure it will be Pedrosa and Morbidelli. Pretty sure that Abraham, Bautista, Luthi, Nakagami, Brad Smith and Rabat are looking hard right now for 2019 gigs. Scott Redding will likely choose half a loaf and agree to testing with Aprilia. In case another full-grown rider comes along some day.
Pretty sure, too, that a Rossi-led SKY VR46 will become the satellite Yamaha team starting in 2021. (Perhaps the factory team.) Mr. Jorge Martinez seems to have bought himself two years to find another gig. Suzuki? Aprilia? Suzuki needs a satellite team like now, as their concessions, as of next year, appear to be toasting. And Ducati must have wanted to trim the 2019 roster; what better place to start than the shoestring operation that is Team Angel Nieto, and its deluxe duo of riders, Karel Abraham and Alvaro Bautista. Bye Felicia. Cull the herd.
If and when the grid returns to 24 riders, I fully expect the newbies to be these speed merchants from Moto2 and Moto3, guys like Jorge Martin, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Xavier Vierge. These guys, with their reflexes and aggressiveness, will likely enjoy success in MotoGP, since the bikes are getting better and better, closer and closer. Guys will be able to make reputations in a hurry in the next 3-5 years. Leading the chase for, you know, second place.
Your Weekend Forecast
If you believe that a win on Sunday for #93 is inevitable, the most you can hope for are interesting weather and track conditions. Like your basic life sandwich, your only real choice is whether you want it on wheat or white. Alas, writing on Monday, rain is in the forecast until Thursday, when perfect conditions take over – high 70s and sunny all weekend. Comfortable air but high track temps. Honda weather. Great.
There is no obvious reason not to expect Marquez to be standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. There is no obvious reason to expect the Yamahas to do well here. The Ducatis have struggled here in years past. If the Hondas are to have things their way, I would expect to see Crutchlow on the podium with Marquez. Alex Rins is in “podium or bin” mode. Although I can see Valentino Rossi in third, I cannot see him genuinely happy about it.
So day one is in the books. Marc has the best race pace, naturally. The factory Ducatis are close, plus Petrux and Vinny. I predict the first half of the race will see some barnstorming. After that Marc will press his advantage, and the scrap for second place will be a doozy.
The FP4 positions have some surprising names far down the order. But the likes of Marquez, Rossi and Vinny were working on used tires. I think we could have another great race tomorrow.