The summer weather in Saxony is unpredictable, and especially, it is highly localized. I rode into the track this morning through the rolling landscape and sweeping roads, it was dry pretty much all the way to track, until I hit Hohenstein-Ernstthal, where the Sachsenring is located, where the roads were soaking from a heavy local downpour. A lot of water can fall in a short time, and in a very small area.
(Incidentally, I cannot recommend Saxony – and all of Germany – highly enough as a place to ride motorcycles. Not spectacular, but possessed of a bucolic charm, the sweeping roads largely empty and well paved, passing through villages and towns oozing with character. It’s tempting just to keep straight on past the car park and go explore the region, and return in time for the rider debriefs. But duty calls.)
That rain complicated both the final session of practice and qualifying on Saturday morning. The Sachsenring dries out really quickly. But some parts dry out faster than others, as a number of riders found to their cost. The number of crashes was relatively low – 12 in all sessions on Saturday, half the number from Friday and less than the 18 in 2022 and 2021.
Fully one quarter of those crashes were for Marc Marquez, who hit the floor three times in the space of 30 minutes on Saturday morning. He crashed once in Q1 and twice in Q2, destroying the wet bike with the HRC frame he had intended to test back to back with the Kalex chassis, and leaving him with just one (Kalex-framed) bike to take on the rest of qualifying. Turn 13, the final corner, remained wet for a long time, and caught out Marquez and Marco Bezzecchi, leaving them to sprint across the track to get back to the pits as soon as possible.
More on Marquez and his crashes later, but the drying track proved a happy hunting ground for Pecco Bagnaia, the factory Ducati rider’s pole position never in doubt, Bagnaia responding every time anyone went faster. His pole time was nearly 2 seconds off the pole record, a sign of just how tricky conditions still were.
Yellow flags and respect
The combination of tricky conditions and crashes disrupted the grid somewhat. With a couple of minutes to go, Marc Marquez crashed at Turn 1, and Johann Zarco crashed at Turn 11, leaving yellow flags in two of the four sectors. Unless you got your time in early, it was hard to improve.
There were certainly riders who felt their qualifying had been compromised by crashes. «Without the yellow flag, I was in pole position. But these are the rules, Marco Bezzecchi said.
Fabio Quartararo felt the yellow flags had worked against him too. «Qualifying went not so great, especially with the struggle we have also on the wet patches since years,» the Monster Energy Yamaha rider said. «My last lap was coming a bit better, but I caught a yellow flag. Would have been bit better but I was not feeling comfortable.»
By the time the race rolled round, the track was completely dry. That meant that most riders could switch to their preferred hard front tire, giving the support they needed on both sides of the asymmetric tire.
The race played out in the increasingly predictable way that the current era of MotoGP seems to have settled into. After an entertaining tussle in the first few laps, the field soon stretched out into groups. Jorge Martin was untouchable at the front, and Jack Miller eventually had to let Pecco Bagnaia go for second. Luca Marini, Johann Zarco, and Brad Binder were in a tight group fighting for fourth, while Alex Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, and Enea Bastianini slugged it out for eighth, a battle made that little bit more tense by the fact that only two of the three would score points, with tenth and beyond not counting toward the championship.
The predictability of the race is turning MotoGP into something of a liability, Aleix Espargaro said. Aerodynamics and ride-height devices are making it impossible to pass, producing processional racing.
«Everybody has a lot of downforce, but everybody has the same and MotoGP now, I don’t want to blame MotoGP, but it’s boring,» the Aprilia rider said. «Everything is about the qualifying. If you do a good qualifying then you can do a good race, because all the pressures, all the fresh air you receive, the bike is another one.»
Leading means cool air on the tires, which means front tire pressures don’t skyrocket, which means the bike behaves as it does when riding on your own. Get stuck behind someone, and you can’t pass them, and the race pace you had been working on becomes irrelevant.
«You can be a lot faster,» Aleix Espargaro told us. «If you are in the back of the grid, even if you have really strong pace it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult. This frustrates us. It’s just the qualifying.»
Raul Fernandez, the last rider to cross the line, agreed with Espargaro and expanded on his concerns. «To be honest now, we have a big problem in the championship,» the RNF Aprilia rider told us. «90% of the race is on Saturday, Saturday morning. Because at the end, you cannot overtake.»
Fernandez pointed to his own race as an example. When he tried to overtake riders ahead, he ran wide and into the gravel. «All my race I was there,» the RNF Aprilia rider said. «I overtook two or three riders on the first lap, but later, when I tried to overtake another one, you cannot stop the bike for the slipstream. I had to put the bike straight and go wide, if not maybe I touch three or four riders. That is the problem.
Because passing has become almost impossible, your results were determined by where you qualified, and how you started, Fernandez said. And because qualifying had become such a key to to success, it loads ever more pressure into qualifying, and into getting into Q2 in the first place.
«Now we are in a situation that everybody takes a lot of risk,» Raul Fernandez explained. «You saw with Márquez in qualifying, everybody takes a lot of risk just to do one fast lap. Because the pace doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how you manage the tire, nothing matters, more or less. You stay there, we have one train of riders. If you try to overtake a little bit more, you take a lot of risk, you can crash, and it’s something which is difficult.»