When you think of Germany, you think of many things. A huge economy, mainly built on car manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes. A country built on history from unforgettable leaders to remarkable breakthroughs. A country with many a metropolis, yet quaint 1940s style villages. However, if you look back even further, it was the bikes of MZ and BMW that turned Germany into a constructor of all things two wheeled too.
Despite this, the first and so far, only German rider to win a premier class Grand Prix was Edmund Czihak in 1974 at the Nurburgring, when many of the top riders boycotted the event on safety grounds. So with this in mind, I pose the question: Where is Germany’s next premier class winner?
There have been so many top class German riders since the 1970s, with Helmut Bradl, Max Neukirchner, Alex Hoffmann, Jochen Schmid, Anton Mang and Reinhold Roth have all graced the world scene but believe it or not, not one of them has stepped on the top step of a premier class podium. This suggests to me that surely, a German winner isn’t far away, but who could it be?
The potential is there…
The first name that springs to mind is Jonas Folger. Born in Muhldorf, it feels like he has been around the GP paddock for ages. The truth is, that isn’t too far wrong. He first came into the GP circus back in 2008, at the Czech Grand Prix, although he retired. However, it was at a drenched Le Mans where the German picked up his first Grand Prix podium. Two years later, and he won in similar conditions at Silverstone, but in the 125cc class. He took his first Moto2 victory under the floodlights of Qatar in 2015, and is now signed to ride for the Tech 3 Yamaha team in 2017. This could be a massive opportunity for Jonas. With the way MotoGP is at the minute, it is no longer a necessity to have a Factory bike to win a race or score podiums, as Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller have proven this season,
If Folger can make the transition early enough, then he may well just be the man to end Germany’s 42 year wait for a top-class winner. His ability in the rain is also faultless, so when the opportunity arises, Folger could be your man. Age is also on his side. At just 23, Folger has a good few years left in him yet to prove that he isn’t just capable in the smaller categories, but that he can also win at the top level of motorcycle racing.
Marcel Schrotter has come of age in 2016, showing his face more prominently at the sharp end of things on the AGR Kalex in Moto2. Although it may not seem his best season on paper, Marcel has been showing more pace in qualifying and has put in some pretty sturdy performances during the races. The competition level is also much higher this year than his previous best campaign of 2014 and, if that wasn’t enough, he has had to adapt to a brand-new machine, having left the Tech 3 Mistral behind last season.
Achieving his career best result of 5th at Silverstone, Schrotter could be a good shout for a few more podiums and perhaps even a win in 2017. He joins the Dynavolt Intact Kalex Team for next season, partnering former Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese. Marcel is in a tight battle for 11th in the championship, with just 13 points covering 15th to 11th. It could be a fiery end come Valencia!
Now, it isn’t often that you look to World Superbikes for someone to make a transition over to MotoGP, but there is a hidden gem amongst the Althea BMW camp. Yes, I am of course talking about Markus Reiterberger.
The young effervescent WSBK regular burst onto the scene and immediately impressed, particularly at the second round in Thailand, where he beat his teammate Jordi Torres and took a remarkable 5th place. The former double IDM champion has been quick throughout the rest of the WSBK season, with a best result since of 6th. Markus is just 22, meaning that he has plenty of time to make the switch over to the GP paddock.
Some people may say that he is stuck in the WSBK paddock, however, I think not. There is time on his side and if he can succeed at WSBK, then he has a fair chance of being snapped up by someone half decent in Grand Prix. Only time will tell.
Phillip Oettl has been something of a revelation in 2016. Yes, we all knew of him last year, but not many people would have known about him. “What’s the difference?” I hear you cry. Well, to know of someone means to simply hear about them. But to know about someone means they must be prominent enough and important enough to warrant knowing. Yes, it’s all very confusing but what I’m getting at is the fact that Oettl has gone about his business this year incredibly maturely. He hasn’t got himself tangled up in any of that slipstream nonsense in qualifying and he has been in the battle for the win at certain tracks.
Now, with a 2nd full year on the KTM complete, it may be time for 2017 to be Oettl’s year. He’s quick and has everything in place, now he just needs results. Yet again with age on his side, there’s nothing to say that he couldn’t progress through the ranks and into MotoGP within the next six or seven years. He achieved his first pole position in 2016, could it be his first GP win in 2017, on the road to a long and successful career?
Who has missed the boat?
So, with the up and coming stars complete, now it is time to examine who has ‘missed the boat’ so to speak. From World Superbikes to MotoGP and all paddocks in between, who has missed a chance to hear the Deutschlandlied once more?
Max Neukirchner was for many years, considered the only German in either WSBK or MotoGP to become successful. In 2008, he picked up his first ever WSBK win, and going into the 2009 season, he was a favourite on his Dark Dog Suzuki, but a horrifying accident at Monza put that ambition on hold. He joined the Ten Kate Honda team for 2010 but nothing ever looked like the old Max Neukirchner of old. Ever since, he’s been way off the world scene. An unsuccessful try at Moto2 level was the last full time opportunity Max had, and he now rides in the IDM championship, where he finished 7th this season. Although his career is effectively over, let’s just remember Neukirchner for a moment as the man who nearly made it. The first chicane at Monza would be the last time Max ran with the leaders.
I almost hesitate to include him in this section, but it is fair to say Stefan Bradl well and truly missed the chance to be something big in MotoGP. The 2011 Moto2 champion stepped up to MotoGP a year later with the LCR and was immediately a top 10 regular. However, the next two seasons never developed into much special, with just one podium coming at Laguna Seca in 2013. Bradl left the team in 2015 to join the Forward Racing Yamaha team, which lasted just half a season. He then teamed up with Gresini Racing and the Aprilias, which is where he has remained ever since. He is off to World Superbikes next season, which could finally see the German win a race for the first time in six whole years. Nevertheless, you can’t help but think that Bradl hasn’t quite been given a fair bite of the cherry in Grand Prix.
At only 26, we are considering him as a has been. Maybe, if he had been on a Tech 3/Factory Yamaha then he could have won, or maybe even the present-day Ducati, especially considering they’re owned by German car company Audi. Stefan is a Grand Prix winner, and maybe he will come back a more complete rider, but for now at least, Bradl is being put into the ‘opportunity gone begging’ pile, which is quite sad.
Although still in Moto2, former Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese doesn’t look like he will be making his way out of the class anytime soon. Just three podiums from four years in the class is not something that particularly stands out, especially when riders like Maverick Vinales, Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro have all come through quicker. However, saying that, Cortese has had some of the most competitive riders around him, so maybe in 2017 we could see the former champion become a championship winner. Sandro, like many others, has struggled to make the transition from Moto3 to Moto2 and maybe he needs new surroundings too. It may relight the spark that has gone out from the German’s riding. The question is whether he will make it to the top class and be a threat to the podium. And in answer to that, I’m not 100% sure.
The premier class has a much different structure to it now than what it did when the likes of Rainey, Schwantz and Doohan were around. If you feel that we have missed anyone then feel free to tweet in @PitCrew_Online. You can also follow me personally @MotoGPKiko.
Photo credits to Focus Pollution, The AGR Team, Althea Racing, Honda Pro Racing, KTM and Dunlop Motorsport.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko