Márquez is riding a MotoGP bike against two-wheel F1 cars


Marc Márquez endured a hellish weekend at Sachsenring while Ducati filled the first five places. And Sunday’s German GP was a historic event – the first time since 1969 that not one Japanese motorcycle made the top ten

Marquez Crash

Márquez and his RC213V tasted the Sachsenring gravel five times over the weekend – sometimes the rider cannot make the difference

In racing you get what you deserve. At Sachsenring on Sunday the top five finishers in the MotoGP race all rode Ducati’s fiery Desmosedicis. The last time a MotoGP manufacturer monopolised the top five was two decades ago, when Honda ruled the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, with its sublime RC211V.

Ducati also had eight bikes in the top nine, surrounding one KTM in sixth, the RC16 now benefitting from input from many former Ducati engineers. In other words, Ducati is playing a blinder: technically, commercially and politically. The Italian company has eight bikes on the grid, which gives it all kinds of advantages.

Related article

Pramac rider Jorge Martin’s hard-fought victory over factory Desmosedici rider Pecco Bagnaia – hugely significant because it was his first GP win since August 2021 – was also the first time a Ducati had triumphed at Sachsenring since Casey Stoner won the rain-soaked 2008 German Grand Prix.

Cool statistics. But get this – and perhaps we should precede this historic revelation with a small drumroll…

Sunday’s race was the first time a premier-class GP finished without a single Japanese motorcycle finishing inside the top ten in fifty-four years. The last GP without any Japanese machines in the mix happened way back in 1969, when the first human walked on the moon, The Beatles released their final album and the US made its first troop withdrawals from Vietnam.

The 1969 Adriatic GP, staged at the lethal Opatija street circuit, beside what was then Yugoslavia’s Mediterranean coast, was won by Godfrey Nash, a typical Continental Circus privateer, who ducked and dived to make ends meets. The Londoner rode a seven-year-old Manx Norton, a customer version of the machine that had won the very first MotoGP race, the Isle of Man Senior TT, in 1949, thirty years earlier.

The pace of MotoGP development has increased somewhat in recent decades, which is why, as you read these words, 11-time Sachsenring winner Marc Márquez is licking his wounds after a hellish German GP weekend, which had him crash five times, including three highsides.

Martin and Bagnaia German GP MotoGP

Martin and Bagnaia spent most of Sunday arguing over the same piece of asphalt


Some of these crashes were due to the 30-year-old’s refusal to give up at his favourite circuit, whatever the odds. If anything his Honda RC213V seems to be working worse than usual – no entry grip, no exit grip, no stability and electronics apparently unable to save him – because that’s sometimes what happens when you try to improve something – you make it worse. He had also crashed out of the two previous MotoGP races, trying to attempt the impossible: staying with the Ducatis.

During recent years Ducati has taken MotoGP into a whole new world, a bit like Adam and Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Aprilia and KTM have enthusiastically followed Ducati, while Honda and Yamaha stand there, uncertain whether to eat that apple or not.

Related article

‘Pecco Bagnaia doesn’t look brave, but he is f**king brave!’

‘Pecco Bagnaia doesn’t look brave, but he is f**king brave!’

Reigning MotoGP king Pecco Bagnaia was in a class of his own at Mugello, extending his championship lead, so how did he make the difference, why were his main rivals between heaven and hell and what on Earth is going on at Yamaha and Honda?

By Mat Oxley

Take a look at the latest factory bikes from Ducati, Aprilia and KTM. They look entirely different to how they looked half a decade ago. The Honda and Yamaha? Not so much.

Ducati and Aprilia have hired Ferrari Formula 1 aerodynamicists, while KTM now works with Red Bull Advanced Technologies, who create downforce aero for reigning F1 world champions, Red Bull. The Europeans are forging ahead, leaving their Japanese rivals far behind.

MotoGP aero tech has opened up a whole new world – for good or evil – where there is much to be learned and much to be gained: grip, most of all. Downforce aero now affect the development of every part of these motorcycles – engine, chassis, suspension, electronics, bodywork, brakes and tyres – because with more grip you can go more extreme in every direction.

This year’s race times prove where aero has taken MotoGP: Sunday’s race was nine seconds faster than four years ago, Mugello was 16 seconds quicker and Le Mans was 15 seconds faster.

Honda and Yamaha have made some vague nods in the direction of aero development, but they are already several years behind their rivals.


Former champ Quartararo battled for a top ten with Bastianini, Miguel Oliveira and Fabio Di Giannantonio but didn’t make it

Nothing on the current RC213VS or Yamaha YZR-M1 suggests that either factory is thinking deeply about this area of technology, so that Márquez and Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo are condemned to risking life and limb for top-ten finishes (if they’re lucky) until either their contracts expire, or their employers make some very big and very quick decisions. Many riders on the current grid agree that Márquez and Quartararo are MotoGP’s most talented riders, but that’s not enough anymore.

Today’s most advanced MotoGP bikes don’t really work like normal motorcycles. They don’t pitch into and out of corners like they used to, and they need to be ridden in a certain way to take advantage of the latest technology: downforce aero, ride-height devices and so on. Thus there is little chance for a rider to add his own little bit of magic, by riding around problems. Instead he must ride the machine the way his engineers tell him it needs to be ridden, like F1.

Related article

“On Friday morning my natural riding was there and I was second fastest,” said Márquez at Sachsenring. “But the problem is that when you use your natural riding you arrive very quickly at your limit, then the others arrive at your limit and pass that limit, so, yeah, I’m struggling.”

Japan’s absence from the top ten was a genuinely historic moment, but not much more amazing than MotoGP’s crack medical team (maybe that’s what they’re smoking?) declaring Márquez fit to race after his massive warm-up shunt.

These people have a duty of care to the riders, who we all know will cheerfully defy odds that no mere mortal would consider, but when a rider has crashed five times in three days, has a broken finger and possible concussion, surely you would declare him unfit, if only to take the pressure off the rider and his team, so they don’t have to decide.

Thankfully, Márquez and his team decided that he shouldn’t ride, so the race went ahead without him. And what a race it was, the best of 2023 so far, with Martin and Bagnaia going at it all the way to the chequered flag, even colliding at one point.

KTM MotoGP 2023

KTM’s Miller led into Turn 1 thanks to KTM’s amazing holeshot device/launch control and ended up the only non-Ducati in the top nine


Martin came to MotoGP in 2021, after his bid for the 2020 Moto2 championship was ruined by a bout of Covid. He took pole position in his second MotoGP race but later finished third, in the slipstream of winner and eventual champion Quartararo.

Then two weeks later he had that huge smash at Portimao, which forced him out of four races and left him struggling with fitness for much longer. Nonetheless he won his fourth race after his comeback. Sadly, this is what it takes to become a great in MotoGP: the ability to get horribly hurt and bounce back like nothing has happened.

Related article

Much was expected of Martin last year. But during pre-season testing Ducati’s factory riders Bagnaia and Miller hated the latest Desmosedici engine, so they switched back to an older, less aggressive spec. However, Ducati didn’t have enough of these engines to homologate them in time for its top teams, so Martin and Johann Zarco had to use the factory team’s reject engines for the entire season. This is why Martin never really shone in 2022 – four podiums but no wins.

Now the 25-year-old from Madrid has pretty much the exact same weapon as Bagnaia. And when Ducati turned him down for a 2023 factory ride he was promised a factory salary and the same technical back-up he would’ve enjoyed if he’d been selected for the factory team over Enea Bastianini. So they are now as equal as it gets.

“This engine works better everywhere than what I had last year,” explained Martin after Sunday’s success. “Last season the engine’s throttle connection was not good, so when the rear tyre started spinning I couldn’t stop it and as soon as the rear grip dropped during a race it was really difficult to manage. But what I feel is the most important improvement is engine-braking. Last season it would’ve been impossible for me to overtake Pecco in braking.”

Engine-braking performance is crucial now, because you need the rear tyre to help stop the bikes into corners. And if you improve an engine’s torque character you also improve its negative torque behaviour, on a closed throttle, braking into corners.

Martin MotoGP 2023

Martin now has everything he needs to win the MotoGP title


Martin rode superbly at Sachsenring, making some audacious overtaking manoeuvres, none more so than during Saturday’s sprint race, when he swept past Bagnaia and Miller in one go, during the high-speed downhill rush from Turn 11 to Turn 12.

He repeated the move on Sunday, diving inside Bagnaia at Turn 12 on lap three of 30 and that was that: the race became a straight duel between the two GP23 riders. Both on the same bikes, both with the same hard/medium tyre choice – let’s go!

Related article

By one-third distance Martin had put half a second between him and his pursuer but he couldn’t keep pushing that hard.

“I tried to make a gap, but I was using the rear tyre too much, so I said, ‘It’s better that Pecco catches me and then we’ll see what happens at the end’.”

In other words, Martin bet on his ability in an end-of-race brawl. But when Bagnaia retook the lead at two-thirds distance the Spaniard realised he had another problem. Front-tyre temperature and pressure is everything in MotoGP and there is no better way to cook your front tyre than following a 300-horsepower Ducati.

“When Pecco overtook me I immediately tried to get back in front, because I knew if I was already struggling with the front tyre it would be even worse being behind him,” added Martin. “So I said, ‘OK, ‘I want to be defending, not attacking’.”

With six laps to go Martin pulled off his Turn 12 trick again, getting a better run through the scary-fast Turn 11 (“A goosebump corner”, according to Bagnaia) and retook the lead at 12.


Martin made it past the chequered flag 0.06 seconds in front of fellow GP23 rider Bagnaia

Bagnaia didn’t give up though, following just inches behind and looking here, there and everywhere for a way past. He decided his best bet was to get a run on Martin exiting the final corner at the end of the penultimate lap and then out-brake him as they attacked Turn 1 for the last time.

Related article

He certainly did get a run on Martin, so much so that he ran into the back of his GP23. Saving that potentially disastrous situation cost Bagnaia a few tenths and that was that, even though he had closed the gap to just six hundredths of a second at the finish. Martin’s team-mate Zarco was next, seven seconds back, after another heroic climb through the pack, from eighth on the first lap.

Bagnaia now knows he’s got a real title fight on his hands. Martin isn’t at a disadvantage like last year and hell has no fury like a rider scorned, so Martin will do just about anything to prove to Ducati bosses that he should be wearing red this year, not purple.

He has now finished on the podium in the last six races – sprints and GPs – so he’s got the consistency and he’s got the speed.

“And now I’ve got that winning confidence too,” said the 2018 Moto3 champion who has that swagger and those killer eyes, very much like a certain Marc Márquez.

Now to Assen, a track Bagnaia likes so much he’s got the circuit map tattooed on his right arm. Who will win there and will Márquez ride, or will he take a break, while Honda try and improve the RC213V?