This piece will perforce be as brief as I can make it (regular readers will know that «as short as I can make it» is usually code for «longer than I intended»), as I will be riding my motorcycle home tomorrow, and sleep beckons. One of the reasons for not doing the flyaways (apart from the crippling expense) is that the schedule is just too punishing. Triple headers are tough enough when they are in the same time zone, let alone when they are spread across thousands of kilometers of Pacific Ocean.
There is plenty to write about, of course, and some of it will have to wait for later. This weekend felt like a turning point for Marc Marquez and Honda, something we will come to later. That is a story which will develop over the coming months, but the Sachsenring is the race we will look back at as the turning point.
The race itself was good, tense and with a fair amount of overtaking. With several riders complaining on Saturday that it was impossible to pass other riders, it was good to the lead change hands five or so times throughout the race. Passing isn’t impossible, it just needs care to line a pass up, and planning to see it through.
Pecco Bagnaia explained that passing was also a question of the teams and riders getting used to the new paradigm in MotoGP, and finding the right setup to allow it. «Today we demonstrated that if you are able, if you have the speed, you can do it,» the factory Ducati rider said. «For me, it also improve things that I was behind Jorge [Martin] and I didn’t feel any turbulence or any movement. Maybe I am getting used on that, or also the others. I don’t know. We are improving on that and also with the front pressure, the front temperature. Today we demonstrated when there was a possibility, we overtook. So for me it’s not starting to be boring because it’s impossible to overtake.»
There is a divide, of course, between those who can overtake and those who can’t. That divide is plain from the top ten in the 30-lap race. There were eight Ducatis in the top nine, with a KTM and an Aprilia completing the top ten. It would have been two KTMs, but Brad Binder locked the front at Turn 8, and in doing so his leg slipped off the footpeg. That caused him to run wide and crash heavily, Binder taking a beating but otherwise being fine.
Three levels of MotoGP
So there are three levels in the championship right now. At the top, the Ducatis and KTMs, which are both working well and highly competitive. Ducati holds the advantage, with eight bikes on the grid and a server farm full of data. But KTM are catching up fast, having figured out how to speed up development to close the gap.
Behind Ducati and KTM are Aprilia. The RS-GP is an excellent bike, but with a specific weakness, a sensitivity to front tire pressure and temperature. The Aprilia is a bit better than last year, but Ducati and KTM have made a leap forward, where Aprilia have only made a little step. «I said from the preseason that I like my bike,» Aleix Espargaro said. «But the bike is 3 or 4% different than the ‘22 spec from Miguel and you see the RNF results, the factory results are not good. This is why we didn’t improve enough.»
Then there are the Japanese bikes. Franco Morbidelli won the Nippon Cup, the first Japanese bike home in twelfth. He finished directly ahead of his teammate Fabio Quartararo, and the only Honda on the grid, Takaaki Nakagami. But the three were 25 seconds behind the winner, Jorge Martin on the Ducati. Quartararo was slower than his winning time in 2022, slower than his third place finish in 2021, and slower than Maverick Viñales’ time from 2019, when the then Yamaha rider finished second. Yamaha have made no progress. Honda, meanwhile, have gone backwards.