Coming into Sachsenring the first 8 races of 2017 had seen 3 championship leaders, with Maverick Vinales, Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso all taking a turn, 5 different race winners and the championship top 4 separated by 11 points.
If there’s one thing this season has shown us it’s unpredictability, but surely Sachsenring would slip back into normality with Marc Marquez dominating.
While mixed conditions on Friday saw Andrea Dovizioso lead in the dry, before fellow Ducati rider Hector Barbera took to the top in the wet afternoon session, on Saturday things did return to normal with Marc Marquez leading both free practice sessions before securing his 8th successive Sachsenring pole position.
Sunday’s morning warm-up gave a sign of what was to come in the afternoon, although no-one knew it at the time, with Jonas Folger topping the session, while Marquez spent the time working on used tyres, just seeing how far each option could be pushed.
As the time for the premier class race rolled around, Moto2 and Moto3 had once again put on brilliant performances and while it was dry the clouds had started to roll in so the paddock’s eyes were fixed on the sky and fingers were crossed for 30 dry laps of MotoGP.
The start of the race followed the script with Marc Marquez getting the holeshot and leading from Dani Pedrosa into turn 1, Jorge Lorenzo had one of his characteristic good starts and moved to third, while the man who had started in that position Danilo Petrucci fell back through the group early on, with Valentino Rossi going in the other direction moving up to 6th from 9th on the grid.
Further back, Hector Barbera was given a ride-through penalty for a jump start, although he missed the window to pit and was disqualified. Hector later explained that the bike had moved at the start due to the uphill nature of the track and that he hadn’t seen the message on his dash or his pitboard as he was riding in a group of other riders and had other things to concentrate on.
Back on track and Jonas Folger was already impressing early on, passing Jorge Lorenzo with a brave and ambitious move at turn 8 to take 3rd on lap number 3, while the top two of Marquez and Pedrosa had pulled a slight gap on the rest of the field. One lap later and Folger set the fastest lap of the race and was 0.4 seconds quicker than the Repsol duo out front. The German’s pace paid off on lap 5 when he passed Pedrosa at turn 12 before then taking the lead for the first time in MotoGP on lap 6, passing Marquez with a repeat of his move on Pedrosa.
With 10 laps gone, Valentino Rossi was up to 4th but 5 seconds behind Dani Pedrosa in third, who in turn was 2 seconds behind Folger and Marquez. On lap 11, Jonas made a mistake at turn 1, running wide and leaving plenty of space for Marc to take back the lead with 20 laps remaining. The Ducati’s of Lorenzo and Petrucci had begun falling back through the group, while Dovizioso was up to 5th and Vinales was finally starting to make his way up the classification.
On the 13th lap, we saw the first faller of the race with Sam Lowes hitting the floor at turn 7, while his team-mate Aleix Espargaro was showing great pace once again as he chased down Dovi. A few spots ahead of the Aprilia was Aleix’s former Suzuki team-mate Maverick, who was now really pushing forward and had moved up to 6th, with the Spaniard running the best times outside of the top 2 as he closed the gap to Dovi and Rossi in front of him.
The Italian duo were battling it out for 4th for a few laps before Vinales eventually made it past both of them to take the position on lap 20. Dovizioso then ran into a few troubles with Alvaro Bautista putting in a late charge, dropping the then championship leader back to 6th although Dovi would eventually finish 8th. With 6 laps to go, Andrea Iannone took a fast trip into the gravel at turn 12, before 3 laps later out at the front Marc Marquez put in his final push of the race, pulling away from Jonas Folger, who had nothing left for the World Champion who set his personal best lap of the race on lap 28 of 30.
As Marquez wheelied across the line to take his second win of 2017 he renewed his grip on the SachsenKing crown with his 8th win in-a-row at the German circuit, as well as taking the lead in the championship for the first time this season. Following just behind was Folger who secured his first MotoGP podium in his rookie season, repeating his team-mate Johann Zarco’s feat of a home rostrum, before being mobbed by the local marshals as he celebrated the first podium for a German rider at home in the MotoGP class. In third was Dani Pedrosa who took his 108th MotoGP podium, his 149th in Grand Prix racing.
A Marc Marquez win at the Sachsenring in any other year would’ve been marked down as a certainty, much the same as the Austin round earlier in the year. But this time there was some challenge, he didn’t lead every session, he was pushed right to the end for pole position and someone else actually led part of the race; a rookie no less! 2017 has been a year of unpredictability, but one race result at least has gone by the book.
Jonas Folger’s performance was admittedly a surprise, he’s had a great season so far by rookie standards but has been outshone by team-mate Johann Zarco. In Assen his run as the last rider to score points in all races so far came to an end, showing how consistent he has been in 2017 and in Barcelona, he was the only Yamaha rider able to make the M1 work in low grip, high-temperature conditions. The start of the year saw one area marked out as “room for improvement”: the early laps of a race, which was where he had been losing the most positions before then struggling to make them back up. He’s shown positive signs in that area recently and Sachsenring proved the work has paid off, allowing him to not only catch Marquez and Pedrosa but to pass both of them and lead.
Jonas didn’t just show good pace in Sunday’s race though, he also showed his sensible side in the final stages. He had used up his tyre trying to chase down Marc after his mistake at turn 1 that lost him the lead and as the World Champion turned up the gas Jonas recognised the need to remain calm and bring home second place, with an advantage of following the experienced Marc Marquez being how much there was for the German rookie to watch and learn from; which lines to take, braking points, riding styles and more.
Folger has to get the ride of the weekend for me, he kept a calm, sensible head when he needed to and pushed hard to not only take but keep the lead when the opportunity presented itself. Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal received some criticism when he signed two rookies for this season, but I think we can all agree it was a masterstroke and as Jonas thanked Herve for believing in him, I think that’s a sentiment we can all get behind.
The second Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco crossed the line in 9th, but don’t be deceived by the position, it was a great race for the Frenchman. He qualified in 19th after a tricky day in the wet on Saturday but managed the race lap by lap making his way through a very experienced field in front of him.
We can’t take anything away from Marc Marquez though, no matter how well Folger rode. As Marc has shown over recent years, when he likes a track and when the track likes him, few can compete with the current World Champion and he didn’t crash once this weekend. Only a few races ago he was 37 points behind Vinales in the championship, now he leads it into the summer break. Like all the manufacturers, Honda has had some struggles so far this season, but Marc, as usual, has been riding through, past and around those issues.
Fellow Repsol rider Dani Pedrosa had a strong weekend in Germany, showing good pace from Friday and making a step forward in their wet performance compared to Assen with the new surface and higher tyre temperatures helping the Spaniard perform. Dani looked quite lonely for most of the 30 laps as he lost rear grip, leaving him struggling with wheelspin but he still had the pace to keep the chasing pack well behind him, with a gap to 4th of nearly 3 seconds at the chequered flag.
That 4th place went to Maverick Vinales, who like his team-mate Valentino Rossi had a race of damage limitation after a disastrous wet qualifying left them in 11th and 9th respectively. Sachsenring is not an easy track to pass at, so both Yamaha riders should be pretty proud of the work they put in on Sunday as they finished in 4th and 5th and took important championship points where they stand in 2nd and 4th separated by just 5 points with Andrea Dovizioso sandwiched between them.
Dovi fell foul of a risky choice to run the soft rear tyre in the race, in the end it just didn’t have the endurance but the Italian was still happy with the way the bike felt on Sunday and heads to the holiday optimistic after an educational weekend where they learnt a lot about the bike itself and how it interacts with the tyres.
Ducati team-mate Jorge Lorenzo also ran the soft rear, paired with the soft front and like Dovi it proved not to work for the Spaniard. He showed decent pace at the beginning until the rear tyre hit it’s first drop off and like other riders he suffered from a lot of spin towards the end. But as with Dovi, Jorge says they’ve understood a few new things about the Ducati in Germany which should help at the circuits we come to after the break.
Top Ducati honours at the Sachsenring went to Alvaro Bautista who had a good weekend, qualifying in 12th and finishing the race in 6th, the Aspar rider ran a good, consistent pace throughout the race, picking off riders in front of him and should be happy with his performance ahead of the factory riders.
The other satellite Ducatis didn’t fare as well with Danilo Petrucci saying he’d had an odd feeling from the warmup lap, Loris Baz running out of grip after 10 laps, Karel Abraham needing to be more aggressive at the start, Scott Redding describing it as the “worst race of my career” and Hector Barbera being disqualified.
Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro performed well in 7th, although he says he expected better. Aleix was strong throughout the weekend, saying he’d found the best pace of the season but stressed his front tyre too much early on. KTM secured a double points finish for Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith in 13th and 14th, and both riders seemed to benefit from having Mika Kallio also providing data this weekend and Pol, in particular, made a big step forward over the 3 days.
For the satellite Hondas, Cal Crutchlow struggled with high tyre pressures due to increased temperatures that meant he had to ease off, while Jack Miller and Tito Rabat also found that grip ran out early in the race.
Suzuki’s Sachsenring saga was a mixed affair, with Iannone crashing out of the race but saying he’d found a better feeling with the bike at last. Andrea finally feels they’re working in the right direction, but now it’s time for the results to start coming from the Italian. While rookie team-mate Alex Rins finished 21st, which isn’t a great result but with the Spaniard still not quite at 100% after his injury he showed good pace at the start of the weekend and can only continue to improve.
On tyres, the spin issues weren’t entirely unexpected; with Dani Pedrosa pointing out Sachsenring usually saw wheelspin before it was resurfaced. With zero data coming into the weekend, Michelin probably did as well as could be hoped; we only saw two crashes in the race and Marc Marquez did his personal best time two laps from the end. One thing that will please riders and teams is the news that the tyre allocation should be more consistent in the second half of the year, with Michelin’s Pierro Taramasso saying “objective is to keep the same base of tyre in the front and rear and just change a little bit the compound.. but no big changes are planned from now to the end of the season.”
There are now just under 4 weeks until the season starts again in Brno, but that means it’s time for riders to head to the beach and recover from injuries (or in the case of Loris Baz have arm surgery), before then returning to training for all and testing for Repsol Honda and KTM. And for the rest of the paddock, it means time at home as everyone prepares for the gruelling second half of 2017 that sees the final 9 races, including the 3 flyaways.
9 races down, 5 different race winners and a championship top 5 separated by just 26 points and only 10 points covering the top 4. MotoGP has never been closer and when we return from the summer break in August there’ll still be everything to race for.