Martín ignites MotoGP title battle at Sachsenring22 June 2023
Jorge Martín may not have got off to the best start in the 2023 MotoGP season, retiring from Round 1 at Algarve International Circuit, finishing fifth at Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo and retiring once again at the Circuit of the Americas. The next three races, however, were an entirely different story, starting with a fourth at Jerez followed by a pair of second place finishes at Le Mans and Mugello. And that’s without mentioning a Sprint Race win in France and a further three sprint podiums.
Then came Round 7 at the Sachsenring, a circuit usually reserved for the “King of the ring” and 11-time winner across all classes, Marc Márquez. This year would be different though, with the eight-time Grand Prix World Champion crashing out on five separate occasions across the weekend, eventually resulting in a broken finger and a DNS in Sunday’s headline race.
Three in a row for Bagnaia
As has been the case many times this season, Francesco Bagnaia remained calm and composed throughout the qualifying session, building pace lap after lap on his Ducati Lenovo Team bike to ensure he was always at the sharp end. As the final laps of the session were completed, it looked as though it wasn’t enough for the reigning champion, when compatriot Marco Bezzecchi put in a storming lap abord the Mooney VR46 Racing Team Ducati to take to the top spot. The lap was promptly deleted though, having been set under yellow flag conditions for the stricken Márquez and Johan Zarco. In the end, it was Bagnaia who claimed pole position for the third time in succession ahead of Luca Marini on the other VR46 bike and Jack Miller on the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing machine.
Martín lays down a marker
Compared to the last race at Mugello, the run down to Turn 1 was relatively short. Nonetheless, Miller was predictably quick off the line and looked to threaten the pole man in the opening sector of the Sprint. Bagnaia managed to resist the Australian’s advances, enabling Jorge Martín to catch Miller unawares and claim second towards the end of the first lap. As the field began the second tour, Bagnaia ran wide at the first corner, slowing Martín behind and allowing Miller to cut underneath bother riders to snatch the lead. For the next couple of laps, Bagnaia and Miller engaged in a thrilling battle, swapping places corner after corner while Martín behind was biding his time. As the leading pair focused on one another, Martín got a sensational run through “the waterfall” and slipped past both riders into the lead. With 11 laps left to run, Bagnaia finally got past Miller and made the move stick, he then attempted to close in on Martín but the Spaniard’s pace was too strong.
The battle for fourth intensified in the closing stages as Brad Binder and his notoriously late braking engaged in a dogfight with Marini who put on a defensive masterclass in retaliation. Marini would eventually come out on top, while Binder was left exposed to a last lap lunge from Zarco, relegating him to sixth. Bezzecchi was unable to break through the pack and finished seventh, followed by Alex Márquez, Aleix Espargaró and Enea Bastianini. Even at his favourite circuit, Marc Márquez was unable to overcome his 2023 bike troubles and finished P11, while last year’s winner Fabio Quartararo finished P13.
A statement of intent
After his fifth incident of the weekend in warm up, Marc Márquez was finally ruled out of contention for the headline event with a broken finger. Once again, Miller was the man to beat off the start and claimed the holeshot into Turn 1. It wasn’t to last though, as Miller made a mistake through Turn 11 handing the lead back to pole man Bagnaia, second to Martín and even third place to Marini. Miller re-emerged in fourth just ahead of the squabbling pair of teammate Binder and Espargaró.
With 28 laps left to run, Martín made his move on the reigning champion to lead the field, while Miller continued to struggle at Turn 11, and conceded positions to both Binder and Zarco with Bezzecchi following suit at the first corner. Binder continued his charge to overhaul Marini and place his claim on the last podium spot. Shortly thereafter, Binder nearly lost control of the bike, sending him into the gravel and promoting Zarco to third.
At the front, the gap between Bagnaia and Martín ebbed and flowed for much of the race, but with 10 laps to go the Italian rider got a superior exit from “the waterfall” and passed the Spaniard for the lead. That wouldn’t be the last he heard from the Prima Pramac Racing rider, however, as three laps later he returned the favour, passing Bagnaia for the lead in a carbon copy overtaking manoeuvre to retake the lead. On the final corner on the penultimate lap, Bagnaia got a bit too close for comfort, nudging Martín’s rear wheel and dropping back several tenths. He pushed hard on the final tour to regain the time lost, and almost managed it, crossing the line just six hundredths behind Martín. Zaro held on to the final spot on the podium while the two Mooney VR46 Racing Team Ducati finished in fourth and fifth – Bezzecchi followed by Marini – then came Miller, Alex Márquez, and Bastianini.
With just one round to go before the British MotoGP round at Silverstone, the championship race has closed to just 16 points between Bagnaia and Martín. Round 8 of the 2023 MotoGP World Championship – also known at the Dutch TT – will be hosted by TT Circuit Assen (23-25 June).