Dovizioso Wins Epic Two-Rider MotoGP Battle At Red Bull Ring

Ducati remains unbeaten in Austria; Marc Márquez controls the championship.

Andrea Dovizioso leading at Red Bull
After reeling in early leader Fabio Quartararo (20), Andrea Dovizioso (04) and Marc Márquez (93) were never separated by more than 0.213 second, Dovizioso’s margin of victory on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring. Márquez left Austria with a 58-point championship lead over the factory Ducati rider. Quartararo was a distant third.Dorna

On one level, Marc Márquez's demonstration of chronometric steadiness in MotoGP Free Practice 3 on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria ought to have told his rivals, "Lay down your arms. Further resistance is useless." The Repsol Honda rider unreeled lap after lap at below the pace predicted to win the race—low-to-mid 1 minute 24s. Despite this, Andrea Dovizioso had shown strong pace on his factory Ducati, saying, "Marc was so fast in every practice and with every tire. But we are there."

According to Manuel Cazeaux, crew chief for Suzuki's Álex Rins, the 10-turn (three lefts, seven rights) 2.68-mile Spielberg circuit requires a special setup: "The majority of the time is spent with the bike straight [upright], both on acceleration and under braking. You need to sacrifice some of the cornering capabilities when you're optimizing the bike for good straight-line performance."

Spielberg has also been described as a series of dragstrips connected by slow corners, which sounds like a recipe for the success Ducati has had here. It could also explain Honda’s pre-2019 shortfall; the RC213V has until now lacked acceleration and top speed.

But as we saw one week earlier at Brno, Honda has corrected those deficiencies, giving Márquez freedom to change his style from pursue and pounce to leading flag to flag. That left the big question of whether those changes of hardware and race style could prevail over Ducati's historic Spielberg advantage. Ducatis make horsepower.

Márquez leading Dovizioso
Dovizioso didn’t believe he could pass Márquez in the final corner because he wasn’t able to brake in the same place as the Honda rider. “But I had to try,” the 33-year-old Italian said, noting even if he ran wide he would finish second. “I felt so strong in that moment. I did something crazy, and sometimes it works.”Dorna

The series-of-dragstrips description appeared to rule out Yamaha and Suzuki, whose bikes turn and handle well but lack acceleration and top-end power. Despite this, the top Yamahas completed Sunday’s race in many seconds less time than last year, indicating real progress in specific areas such as pace in the last third of races. This is a strong contrast to last year’s post-Brno test, summed up by Valentino Rossi as, “They brought only a fender.”

No one, save perhaps for the two principals, Márquez and Dovizioso, anticipated the epic struggle that was unleashed by the start of the 28-lap race.

Further supporting details are that it had rained before and during Sunday morning warm-up, with dry conditions forecast for race time. Warm-up is traditionally a check on setup, a last chance to try something for those still lacking a “solution,” and a trap for any who ignore the usual rise in temperature from morning to afternoon.

Michelin tire manager Piero Taramasso reminded those attending his Saturday briefing that, “You can kill the tire with the setting, even in three or four laps.” Because of this danger, no one is eager to make substantial changes at the last moment.

Marc Márquez
Márquez regretted his choice of rear tire for the race, the medium-compound Michelin slick, but he remains focused on the grand prize. “We tried until the end,” he said, adding, “but I learned a few years ago that if you win the championship at the end of the season nobody remembers the race until next year when we arrive here.”Dorna

At the start, Márquez and Dovizioso shot away, but they were so engaged with one another that Fabio Quartararo was able to pass them and lead, with Jack Miller and Rins in the thick of it. This was battle, cut and thrust, daggers drawn. But as it must, the track begins to act as a filter, letting through those with what’s needed and screening out those without. Quartararo led five laps but then it was Dovizioso, and two laps later Márquez, leading the next 11. A look at the times shows Quartararo’s tire dropping at about lap 11, so his strong run, though marvelous for this 20-year-old Frenchman, couldn’t last.

And yet he is clearly learning fast now and will become stronger. “It wasn’t easy as I exited with the soft [rear] tire,” he said. “I still don’t have experience of taking care of the rear tire. This race I [gained] a lot of experience by picking up the bike in the fast corners.”

This is something we saw Jorge Lorenzo doing as he was learning to ride the Ducati and is a familiar subject to me because of Öhlins technician Jon Cornwell’s memorable dictum that, “Edge grip is a wasting asset.”

Of course, the Yamahas have had problems with premature tire drop; the corner-speed-based style for which they are engineered keeps the bike on the tire edges throughout long corners. And during Rossi’s return from his Ducati sabbatical, he had to refresh his conservation technique, adopting a style inspired by the Honda men, who were then dipping down to maximum lean only when close to the apex, then lifting and accelerating quickly—in other words, getting turned with less use of the tire edges.

Quartararo
Quartararo led five laps and earned his third podium of his rookie season in Grand Prix racing’s premier class. “Wow,” the 20-year-old Frenchman exclaimed. “What an incredible race. We choose the soft rear tire, and it was not easy for us. I managed it really well. Even when I was leading, I tried to not overheat the tire.”Dorna

Márquez himself has been talking about this: “We are trying to work on that area, trying to stress less the front tire, trying to understand why we need to lean so much, this 65 degrees that sometimes I lean this season.”

This is a strange kind of pinch, for one reason the front can’t steer is that it’s being overpowered by rear grip. Another is to run excessive front spring and damping stiffness, which reduces mechanical grip on unsmooth pavement yet is a necessity for hard braking. A third possibility is insufficient front load, whether caused by static loading or by acceleration weight transfer.

Márquez supposedly decided to run one of the hybrid chassis that are partly sheathed in carbon fiber. He tested these earlier but put them aside because he knew what responses to expect from the all-aluminum chassis. Without the tiny surveillance drones resembling perhaps a dragonfly that populate spy thrillers, all we can do is speculate on the goal here. In the past two years, Márquez has needed to substitute late hard braking for deficient acceleration as a lap-time ingredient, and that calls for a firmly braced steering head. Such a steering head may degrade midcorner turning by stiffly skipping across rather than flexibly tracking over pavement roughness while leaned over. Carbon fibers can be laid up in a highly directional way that may allow a better compromise here. The 1797 US sailing warship “Constitution” has in its hull diagonal members that increase its resistance to twist.

Valentino Rossi
Three of the four Yamaha riders—Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, and Valentino Rossi—qualified in the top 10 on Saturday and finished the race on Sunday third, fifth, and fourth, all within 8.6 seconds of winner Dovizioso. In 2018, Rossi, Johann Zarco, and Viñales were sixth, ninth, and 12th, with Rossi more than 14 seconds behind winner Jorge Lorenzo.Dorna

As Quartararo’s grip declined and Dovizioso and Márquez came past, the race began to take on the character of World Superbike. There, the two bikes of the full-time factory teams, Kawasaki and Ducati, race out front by themselves while the “maybe we’ll send you some factory parts in a few weeks” teams are left to race among themselves a number of seconds back. At the end, Quartararo would be on the podium in third, but six seconds back. In MotoGP, all bikes are fully engineered race machines, so this was just an artifact of the dragstrip nature of this track.

It became clear that this would not be a race decided by pace; Márquez and Dovizioso were equal and becoming more so. Both showed evidence of tire drop at 19 laps, but it was in apparent balance. No one was going to accept second. This was racing!

But that was just from the numbers. Up in the two cockpits, the fine details were available and being put to use. Dovizioso said, “During the race, I didn’t have that good feeling. I was there but we were pushing, not every lap but we were pushing. On braking, we tried to save the tire a little. I wasn’t as fast as Marc but I had more grip.”

Márquez added, “The last six or seven laps he was playing with me. He closed the gas a few times on the straights, and he had better grip on the exits of the corners. I was stronger on braking, but on braking you take a lot of risk.”

The previous weekend at Brno, Márquez had broken pursuit by employing just such braking. Dovizioso’s advantage in grip? “At the beginning of the race,” he said, “I didn’t have that advantage.”

Álex Rins leading
With Joan Mir recovering from injuries suffered in a crash testing at Brno, Álex Rins (42) was the lone Suzuki rider in Austria. “This race was really difficult for me,” he said. “Our target was to improve my result compared to last year, and we managed to do that. In 2018, I finished eighth here, and today I was sixth. I also narrowed the gap in the point standings.”Suzuki

Riders are evaluating all these variables continuously throughout the race, taking inventory of advantage and disadvantage. This is a contest of observation and data-processing power guiding thoughtful actions, not of one quick-wrist reflex versus reflex.

Márquez had chosen his tires as a result of FP3’s information. His first two pit-lane exits were on medium front, medium rear, a new rear for exit one, a used for exit two. As a check, on exit three, he fitted medium/soft, dropping to a 1:23.251. Was that to be the choice? No, for after two quick laps, his times slowed into the high 1:23s and a 1:24, and his choice for the race was medium/medium.

Remember that it rained before warm-up, dried a bit, then rained again. Rain washes the rubber out of pavement texture, generally accorded to reduce grip somewhat. To replace that lost grip, Dovizioso chose medium/soft for the race. That may have been the deciding factor. Both riders conserved tires masterfully as they raced through all those intense pursuit laps, and Dovizioso told us his last-lap, last-corner move was unplanned. But that corner is a right-hander, and it was on the right side that his Ducati had an end-of-day advantage in grip.

“With that grip, I was able to stay with him and make that crazy last corner,” Dovizioso explained. “I was exactly the same as him on acceleration, but the difference was his drop, as it was bad, and I was able to accelerate better.”

Miguel Oliveira finishes eighth
Miguel Oliveira (88) earned his best MotoGP finish, eighth, at KTM’s home race in Spielberg. The Austrian manufacturer announced it will remain in Grand Prix racing’s premier class until at least 2026 but will leave Moto2 at the end of this season to concentrate on MotoGP and Moto3. Factory rider Brad Binder won the Moto2 race on Sunday.KTM

This dynamic was complicated when Márquez’s front-brake lever guard “attached to some part of Dovi’s bike” and was dragging them both wide. Then, Márquez said, “That piece broke and I was able to stop the bike [from running wide]. I didn’t crash.”

In two weeks, another track, newly repaved Silverstone in England, and another complex filtering action will come into play. The Yamahas and Suzukis may be back in the game. But on this day, there were two separate races: Dovizioso versus Márquez up front and the rest hardly relevant.

Márquez left Austria with his more than two-race advantage in championship points barely dented. Yet it had been a contest to stir the emotions.