Marc Márquez Shows MotoGP Superiority At Sachsenring

The bike and rider with the roundest qualities win again.

Starting from the pole
Starting from pole, Marc Márquez (93) outbraked Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales (12) into turn 1 and never looked back. After Sunday’s victory, he said, “My plan was two laps to warm the front tire, then push, and that’s exactly what I did. Step by step, I opened the gap. When it was 3 seconds, I said, ‘Okay, I start to save the tire.’ It was the perfect strategy.”Courtesy of Honda

Marc Márquez, despite being bested at times in practice by younger riders, came through as expected with his 10th win in a row at the unique Sachsenring, located in the former East Germany. His first victory there was on a 125cc two-stroke in 2010, followed by wins in both his Moto2 seasons. Since then, he has dominated the Sachsenring every year in MotoGP.

The Yamahas and Suzukis showed they could be remarkably fast in “Márquezland.” But prior to the race, the outcome was clear: Márquez alone could unroll long strings of low 1-minute, 21-second laps.

As Márquez flubbed the start but casually resumed leading at turn 1, the race sorted itself into three levels: the hot young lads on Yamahas and Suzukis, followed by a growling pack of Ducatis fighting eventually for fourth place, after which came the less fortunate and the grid-filler bikes. As a special feature, there was Cal Crutchlow, having a really good day and acting as a points spacer between Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso. After crash-outs by the impressively quick Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) and Álex Rins (Suzuki), the finish order was Márquez, Maverick Viñales, Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Dovizioso, and Jack Miller.

The Ducati, which, in the hands of Dovizioso, had been Honda’s most serious competitor in the past two seasons, was effectively relegated to third-tier status by the unique nature of this track and its surface. Michelin race boss Piero Taramasso observed that grip improves here after the first day about twice as much as at normal tracks because this one is not often used and therefore its texture has longer in which to fill up with airborne dirt. Yet that improvement was knocked for six Sunday morning by overnight rain that left a wet surface for warm-up, a wash that reduced grip considerably and resulted in cooler-than-expected temperature.

Maverick Viñales and Cal Crutchlow
Maverick Viñales backed up his victory one week earlier at Assen with a second in Germany. "It was a really tough race," the Yamaha rider admitted. "This morning, the grip dropped so much after the rain. We knew the hard tire gave me an 'extra' the first 20 laps. We are getting more consistent. Today, the best was this place."Courtesy of Yamaha

This is a left-hand track with the unique aspect that while bikes turn left for more than 30 continuous seconds, the less-used right sides of the tires cool off. To compensate, Michelin applies a tread rubber on the right so much softer than on the left that it was graining, a symptom of inadequate tensile strength. Short of installing induction tread heaters on all bikes, that’s the best that can be done; the more-rapid heating up of such soft rubber is essential in the right-handers.

At Sachsenring, rear tires spin:
Jack Miller: "I was saving the tire, trying not to spin."
Aleix Espargaró: "There is a lot of spinning, and the tires need to be managed."
Maverick Viñales: "I'm sliding all the time."
Cal Crutchlow: "When there is high grip, we struggle to turn the [Honda], and when we can slide the rear of the bike this helps."

Yet Sachsenring also has abrasive pavement, so using that sliding to steer and accelerate your bike has a cost in tire fatigue.

Dovizioso laid out Ducati’s problem: “We finished the tire because we had to use it to be fast. We are too slow in the middle of the corners, and the only way to go faster is to accelerate.”

Strong acceleration is one of the Ducati’s three great strengths—acceleration, top speed, and braking ability—so the men in red had to pick one: Either be fast now and slow later or be uncompetitive the whole race. So, there they all were, fighting for fourth place.

Valentino Rossi tailing
Ducati riders Danilo Petrucci, Andrea Dovizioso, and Jack Miller—tailed here by Valentino Rossi—qualified 12th, 13th, and fifth, respectively. After 30 laps of racing, they finished fourth, fifth, and sixth, separated by just 0.259 second. “It wasn’t easy to hold off the other riders,” Petrucci said. “The only negative note is the gap from the winner.”Courtesy of Yamaha

This brings us to the concept of the “round” motorcycle, one that is fairly and uniformly strong in all areas versus designs deliberately made one-sided in a way that will work on most of the tracks. Márquez commented back in April that the Honda’s improved acceleration and top power have opened riding-style options not previously available to him. He is now able to explore other ways of going fast, not just relying, as he had to last year, on radically late, hard braking. The Honda’s abilities have become rounder, allowing Márquez to do much the same with his riding.

The Yamahas, reliably fast on tracks like Assen with long corners, which put point and shootists at disadvantage, and high grip, which makes the Hondas hard to throttle steer, are at sea on tracks with many small corners. Their special problem at Sachsenring was the temptation to play their corner-speed card, inviting more rapid tire decline.

The Suzukis were fast as well, but their chief “un-roundness” is lesser engine performance. This is not from lack of knowledge; we’ve seen that outsiders such as Ilmor, Cosworth, and mighty Formula 1 player BMW have had zero trouble coming up with killer horsepower for MotoGP. It’s just that those organizations lack the motorcycle experience to tailor engine qualities to MotoGP’s little tire footprints. An F1 car has huge wide tires and uses 100 percent of its width at all times. A MotoGP bike is limited to one rather small drive tire, of whose tread width only about a third is actually applied to the pavement. Horsepower is easy. What’s hard is making that power usable by the rider and survivable by the tire. You can bet that Suzuki is working hard on this problem with all the resources it can spare.

Now the natural question is, how could Márquez reel off the very 1:21.4 lap times that Taramasso predicted would win the race, and still have tire left at the end? As a Moto2 rider, Márquez came to the attention of Honda because of his standout ability to conserve tires and come from the back to win. When he arrived in MotoGP, despite having to “ride every lap like qualifying,” he quickly showed the same ability. In one of his early MotoGP races, his lap times remained consistent the longest before “the drop”—the step-like change in tire properties brought on by temperature and stress—strikingly longer than for the two former champions Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. In this respect, Márquez was the teacher, and they the students.

Álex Rins
Expectations were high once again for Quartararo and Álex Rins (42), both of whom crashed. Third for three laps, second for 15, Rins fell two-thirds through Sunday’s race. “I lost a podium today,” he said. “It’s a shame because it’s my second DNF in a row.” Rins is fourth overall in the championship with 10 races yet to run.Courtesy of Suzuki

I learned more about this by watching and by remembering what Öhlins technician Jon Cornwell says: “Edge grip is a wasting asset.” I watched Márquez and Dani Pedrosa in corners, entering at a high but not on-the-edge lean angle. Then, as they approached the apex, they dropped down to elbow-grinding level. This is damage limitation, keeping off the vulnerable tire edges as long as possible. As soon as turning is finished, lift and accelerate, no gradual feeding power while down on the tire edges.

Pedrosa’s unforgettable words: “We’d like to stay down longer, but if we do, the tire won’t finish the race.”

Cal Crutchlow and Maverick Viñales
A pre-event knee injury put Cal Crutchlow’s weekend in question, but the LCR Honda rider qualified sixth and finished third following a lengthy battle with Viñales. “We worked really hard on race pace,” the 33-year-old Brit said. “A couple laps to go, I had a big moment on the rear tire, and I thought, ‘Maverick can have it.’ ”Courtesy of Yamaha

In practice at Sachsenring, Márquez wowed ’em with a 66-degree lean angle. “I use all this banking not because it’s my riding style, not because I like it, but because I need to.” When there’s a good reason not to steer with the throttle, you have to stay down longer, just as happened to Tom Sykes before changes to the Kawasaki improved its ability to turn in World Superbike.

What happened to sensational rookie and number-two qualifier Quartararo? “On the second lap, I tried to overtake Petrucci,” he explained, “but I hesitated a little too much and ended up going into the corner with too much lean angle, too fast, and I lost the front.”

Niki Tuuli leading
The FIM MotoE World Cup made its competition debut at the Sachsenring. Pole-sitter Niki Tuuli (66) won the red-flagged race, which had been scheduled for eight laps. “In the fast corners, I’ve been really good,” he said, “Unfortunately, today we had a really short race.” Tuuli was joined on the podium by Bradley Smith (38) and Mike Di Meglio (63).Courtesy of Dorna

Rins crashed out of second on lap 19 at the wasserfall corner: “I lost the front on a fast right-hander,” he said. “I entered into it just a couple of kilometers per hour faster than usual, and that’s why I crashed.”

These sound like lapses of concentration, but there can be other reasons. For example, engine map changes are periodically required to compensate for changes in fuel weight or tire condition. Because they change engine delivery, they also alter handling. Lots to keep in mind in this riding business.

Márquez made a last-moment change on the grid to a medium rear. “I was convinced about taking the hard rear, but then, after warm-up, on the grid we picked the medium. That was the correct choice as I felt good from the beginning until the end. I pushed more or less for 10 laps, then I tried to save the tires for 10 more laps.”

Marc Márquez
King of the ’ring: Márquez is in control of the championship as MotoGP begins its three-week summer break. The Repsol Honda rider has won five races thus far this season, finished second in three others, and crashed once, at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The 26-year-old Spaniard has a 58-point lead over second-place Andrea Dovizioso.Courtesy of Dorna

The numbers show Márquez doing low-to-mid 1:21s until lap 10, and then, at lap 15, his times became 1:22s. His biggest lead, 6.8 seconds, came on lap 28 of 30. “It is true that I had more, but in the end, Austin was in my head.” There’s no sense staying on the edge just because you’re comfortable there!

The future? Márquez said, “Of course, Ducati will come back and will be very fast. But at the moment, the guys to beat are both on Yamahas—Viñales and Quartararo.”

Now comes the midseason break, followed by possible equipment upgrades in the Brno test.