This weekend, just one week on from the Czech Grand Prix, the MotoGP World Championship heads to Austria for round eleven of the 2019 season.
The Red Bull Ring (or A1 Ring, Osterreichring if you are otherwise affiliated) has traditionally been known as a ‘Ducati track’ since the Austrian Grand Prix returned to the motorcycle grand prix racing calendar in 2016. The Bologna bikes have won each of the three races held in Spielberg since its return, and with three different riders: Andrea Iannone in 2016, Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 and Joge Lorenzo in 2018. To continue their unbeaten run in the Alps this year, though, will be more difficult than ever before courtesy of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
The first year of the Red Bull Ring saw Marquez and Honda struggle with a lack of acceleration in the RC213V thanks to its aggressive motor and the simplicity of the unified electronics software that were new for that year. Since Honda moved to a ‘big bang’ configuration in their MotoGP prototype, though, Marquez has challenged Ducati until the last corner, despite missing power compared to the Ducati in both 2017 and 2018. This year, Marquez has that power he was previously missing, and that could be the final piece to see him on his way to a first win in the Austrian Grand Prix – the only race Marquez is yet to win on the MotoGP calendar.
The forecast, then, looks bleak for Ducati. Having just been defeated convincingly at Brno, a track at which they were expected to be able to challenge Marquez, they are potentially staring at a first defeat in Austria, a circuit almost designed with the Desmosedici in mind, with its emphasis on straight-line performance and the track’s quantity of substantial straights and acceleration zones. For Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) to become the first multiple winner at the Red Bull Ring in its current guise, or for Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) or Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) to become the fourth winner in as many years, this Sunday is going to take a particularly strong weekend.
Marquez is the only rider to have gotten within three seconds of the winning Ducati over the line, with Jorge Lorenzo’s gap to Andrea Iannone in 2016 being 3.389 seconds when the Spaniard was third for Yamaha. The Iwata manufacturer have not had a podium in Austria since, with a best result of fifth place coming in 2017 courtesy of Johann Zarco. Last year, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was the top YZR-M1 in sixth place after qualifying in fourteenth before the public apology of Yamaha to its riders on Saturday. In fact, Rossi’s average speed in the race last year was 0.4kph slower than in 2016, whereas Lorenzo was 0.4kph faster in 2018 than Iannone in 2016, and Marc Marquez was 1.3kph faster than himself in 2016. Part of Rossi’s loss of speed can be explained by his poor qualifying in 2018, but nonetheless this shows Yamaha’s relative lack of progress in the last three or four years.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took his first finish since Barcelona in Brno, but still the Spaniard is without a podium since Jerez in May. To achieve a top three this weekend with the GSX-RR would be tough, since it has a similar problem with horsepower as the Yamaha, demonstrated especially well in Mugello. Realistically, Suzuki will be hard-pressed to make the rostrum this weekend – a top five and in front of the Yamahas would be a strong result for the GSX-RR.
This is an important race for KTM, since it is their home GP and the race track is owned by their title sponsors. The RC16 should work well in Austria, and has made significant results in the past at the Red Bull Ring in the hands of Mika Kallio in 2017 when the Finn was tenth and less than twenty seconds from the leader at the line.
Joan Mi (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) are both out of action this weekend. For Lorenzo, the issue is still the injuries from the crash in practice in Assen, while for Mir the problems are more recent, after he had a large crash in Brno at the Monday test where he reportedly found the barrier on the outside. Lorenzo will be replaced once more by Stefan Bradl this weekend, whilst there will not be a second Suzuki on track in Austria.
Featured Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol