The 2019 MotoGP World Championship returns to action this weekend after the summer break with the Czech Grand Prix, round ten of the season.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) comes into this round as the clear championship leader – fifty-eight points clear of Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) – and the favourite for this weekend. Still, Marquez is the only rider in 2019 to have won more than one race in the MotoGP class, with five wins to his name in the first half of the season. Additionally, in his history in the premier class, Marquez has only missed the podium in Brno once, back in 2014. In 2013, his first year at Brno on a MotoGP bike, Marquez won; 2015 saw him take second place between the two factory Yamaha riders; in 2016 he was third and the top-placed rider with the soft-option rear wet tyre; in 2017 he completely out-smarted the rest and won by almost twenty seconds in the flag-to-flag conditions; and last year he was out-raced by Andrea Dovizioso who made the most of the power advantage of the Ducati. This year, Ducati do not have that same power advantage over Honda, and that could be enough for the reigning World Champion to pull clear on Sunday afternoon.
With Ducati still suffering with mid-corner speed, they are relying on their power, and Dovizioso’s race-craft to win this weekend. The #04’s tactics have won him several races over the last few years, including last year in Brno. However, the aforementioned power gains of Honda this year could make things more complicated for the Italian this year. Previously, Dovizioso would sit at the front, knowing that people can’t pass him in the middle of the corner, and that he is better on the brakes, better on acceleration and better on top speed. Compared to Marquez, at least, the latter two points are no longer as valid as they were before.
The characteristics of Brno have historically leant themselves to ‘corner-speed bikes’ quite well. Whilst Honda have been successful in Brno with four-strokes – with Rossi, Gibernau , Pedrosa, Stoner, Crutchlow, and Marquez – Yamaha have also found success there with their almost opposite design philosophy. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) won for Yamaha in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. In addition to his Honda wins in 2001 and 2003, Rossi is the most successful rider in Brno in the premier class with six wins. In total, Rossi has eight wins in Brno, and of course his first win in the World Championship came at the Czech track in 1996. After a difficult period for the Italian before the summer break, Rossi is in need of a strong result in Brno, where he has not been on the podium since 2016.
Perhaps Yamaha’s best options for this weekend lie in Rossi’s Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate, Maverick Vinales, and Petronas Yamaha SRT’s star rookie Fabio Quartararo. Vinales is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. He has not ridden the M1 as well as he is now since his first races with Yamaha in 2017 and will fancy himself for the podium this weekend at a track which should suit the M1, although the Spaniard has not been on the Czech GP podium in the MotoGP class – his last rostrum in Brno coming in 2013 when he was second in the Moto3 race.
Quartararo, on the other hand, arrives in Brno after his first crash in a MotoGP race in Sachsenring. Brno shares characteristics with Assen and Catalunya, where Quartararo was strong and took consecutive podiums. On the other hand, Brno shares characteristics with Mugello, where the Frenchman was tenth. What you can say, though, is that Brno is less reliant on top speed than Mugello, which sees the highest speeds of the year. With that in mind, the flowing nature of Brno should prove fruitful for the #20.
What works for Yamaha generally works for Suzuki, and sometimes even better. For example, when Marquez crashed in Texas this year, it worked well for Yamaha, as Valentino Rossi inherited the lead, but it worked better for Suzuki because Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) had better pace. Similarly, the meandering undulations of Mugello work well for Yamaha, but this year they worked better for Suzuki who have more power in the GSX-RR than the YZR-M1.
One of the key features of Brno is ‘Horsepower Hill’, previously known as ‘Honda Hill’ – a tag which may return this year for the run between turns twelve and thirteen. This is the part of the track that will not work for the weak-motored M1, but with slightly more power in the GSX-RR Suzuki could make advantage of this area. For sure, they will be at a disadvantage here to Ducati and Honda, but their potential advantage in the rest of the track could cancel this out. Alex Rins has a good chance to win this weekend, which would edge Suzuki back ahead of Yamaha in their private battle for the title of ‘best MotoGP inline-four’.
Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) will be missing once again following his crash in Assen. Stefan Bradl continues to be his replacement, who is fresh from a podium finish at the Suzuka 8 Hour on the factory Honda.
Featured image courtesy of Box Repsol