MotoGP: German Grand Prix Wrap-Up

Will Repsol Honda’s Marc Márquez win ’em all?

Marc Marquez race action photo

Someday years from now, if motorcycles are still being raced then, a journalist may review the amazing 2014 season of Marc Márquez, especially if he does manage to win them all, and may think that this year’s race at the Sachsenring was a normal affair with the two Repsol Hondas well clear of the two Movistar Yamahas, Márquez getting the best of Dani Pedrosa and, 10 seconds back, Jorge Lorenzo besting Valentino Rossi by another nine seconds. But the only thing normal about the German Grand Prix was the finishing order.

The strange spectacle of the start with only nine riders on the grid and the other 14 elbow to elbow in the narrow exit, resembling cattle gates, from pit lane, was the result of guessing and second-guessing. Anyone tuning in just in time for the start will have been startled to see the world’s best motorcycle riders crammed together at the end of pit lane waiting for the second start (the regular grid had already departed). It looked more like Free Practice 1 at the Lodi Cycle Bowl than the beginning of a MotoGP race.

This is how it happened: Just after the Moto2 podium, as the MotoGP riders went to the grid, a light rain began to fall causing the front runners to start the sighting lap on rain tires. But when the field stopped on the grid to await the warm-up lap and start, German Stefan Bradl made a late decision to switch to slicks. This meant a brake and wheel change on the grid and quick adjustment to dry setting on the shock, but he was stuck with the soft rain setting of the fork. As a result, Bradl, in spite of a 7.7-second lead over Márquez at the end of lap 1, was doomed.

German Grand Prix Brembo infographic

All the other factory and satellite riders and a few wise Open-class riders (Nicky Hayden, Scott Redding, and Aleix Espargaró) realized on the sighting lap that Bradl had made the right choice and opted to come into the pits and make a quick swap to their dry-settings bikes. This meant that they all had to start—first come, first served—from pit lane. The other eight starters farther back on the grid had made the right guess, starting on slicks from the beginning.

One problem all riders who started from pit lane had was that they were coming out on cold carbon-carbon brakes. Turn 1 was dangerous as the riders found they had almost no brakes at all until they were able to get some heat in the discs, but Lorenzo had to swerve across the white line on the exit from pit lane to avoid running into another rider who started with his pit-lane speed control activated. (Lorenzo was not penalized because he raised his hand and let Andrea Iannone back past.)

Poor Bradl, with his soft fork bottoming from high speed on the grippy Bridgestone front slick, could not brake hard without locking up the Brembos (in spite of having heated his carbon discs on the warm-up lap). After six laps, Márquez had reeled in and passed Bradl. Pedrosa came past a lap later. The German eventually finished a dismal 16th, out of the points, on a day that he started on the front row.

After the bizarre beginning, the race itself was another Márquez romp. Only Pedrosa, who had just signed for another two years with Repsol Honda, was able to threaten, but it was nine in a row for Márquez. Then came the Yamahas of Lorenzo and Rossi, 10 and 19 seconds adrift, respectively.

Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa race action photo

Those of us who have been following Grand Prix racing for decades (in my case, four), are finally starting to believe our eyes. The very idea of winning 18 MotoGP races in a row—a clean sweep of the world championship season—has gone from being absurd to very unlikely to conceivable to, now, possible. Some now say it is even likely that Márquez, against the odds, is going to win them all. His fans say it is destiny.

The great Giacomo Agostini won all 10 premier class (then 500cc) races of the 1968 season and went on to win 20 in a row before he voluntarily sat out the final two races of the ’69 season. But in those years, “Ago” was riding the four-cylinder MV Agusta against a field of privateers on British singles and a few Linto twins (basically a pair of Aermacchi 250s), a couple of Paton twins, a lone CZ, and even a thundering Soviet four-cylinder Vostok.

Agostini justly earned his fame early in his career battling Mike Hailwood in 1965, ’66, and ’67, and dueling with Phil Read and eventually becoming the first-ever 500cc world champion on a two-stroke (Yamaha) in 1975. But, in all fairness, Agostini, during the years of his winning streak, never faced rivals on competitive bikes. The same can be said of Hailwood’s streak of 12 in a row in 1963 and ’64, and John Surtees’ 11-race winning streak over the 1958, ’59, and ’60 seasons.

The last man to win more consecutive premier-class races than Márquez against truly competitive fields was Mick Doohan in 1997, a feat Márquez can equal if he wins his 10th straight at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in early August.

If ever Márquez was going to see his winning streak stopped, it should have been in one of the last two chaotic flag-to-flag races at Assen or Sachsenring.

Marc Marquez celebrates victory at Sachsenring

In Assen, Márquez started the race on rain tires, as did his principal rivals, but came in to change bikes using his patented frog leap from the bike on wet settings and rain tires to his second bike on dry settings and slicks. Except for that short burst of rainfall, Rossi, who had gone to the grid on slicks, probably would have won the race. No one was faster that Márquez in Assen, but had it not rained when it did, while the riders were on their sighting lap, the string of wins would likely have ended at seven in a row.

Even without the craziness of the start, with Márquez and 13 other riders of the 23 entered starting from pit lane, Sachsenring was a track where Márquez was expected to be pushed to the limit by his teammate Pedrosa. It was at this roller-coaster track in 2012 that Casey Stoner, who at the time was tied for the points lead with Jorge Lorenzo, decided that the extra five points for the win were worth the risk of challenging Pedrosa for the win on the last lap. That day, Pedrosa set the fastest lap on the last of 20 circuits and Stoner crashed on the penultimate curve trying to close the gap enough to have a chance at a final lunge on the last corner.

This year’s German Grand Prix was again between Pedrosa and his teammate, but this time, Pedrosa was chasing and never close enough at the end to attempt a last-lap attack.

For reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Márquez, it’s nine down and nine to go in his quest for the first modern-day Grand Prix perfect season. Next stop: Indy.

Repsol Honda bike swap practice.

Aspar Honda crew preps Hayden's Honda.

Colin Edwards looks concerned.

LCR Honda on grid setup changes.

Valentino Rossi on the starting grid.

Stefan Bradl led early.

Dani Pedrosa chases Marc Marquez.

Ducati factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow.

MotoGP traffic.

Valentino Rossi finished fourth.

Marc Marquez in command out front.

Nine races, nine wins.

MotoGP podium.

Nicky Hayden Aspar pit box.

Sachsenring crowd.

Forward Racing grid girls.

Movistar Yamaha grid girl.

Repsol Honda grid girl.

German Grand Prix Brembo infographic.