Jorge Martin fends off Pecco pressure for perfect Germanic score at The Sachsenring
The new king? Much too early to say. But Jorge Martin (Pramac Ducati) could at least claim to be the new ‘King of the Ring’ after his most impressive weekend to date. Claiming a double victory at the Sachsenring was eye-catching enough. But to do so by resisting intense late pressure from Francesco Bagnaia (Lenovo Ducati), sealing a first feature race win in 22 months, indicating the Spaniard has finally arrived as a true MotoGP force.
For the past year and a half it felt as though Martin was in danger of being a great talent unfulfilled. Dogged by persistent injuries last year, a niggling consequence of his horrific crash in Portugal in 2021, his Ducati engine – different to what was used in the factory team – was peaky, aggressive and never to his liking.
But the 25-year old is a rider reformed in 2023. While his blinding speed has never been in question, he appears to have added the requisite consistency and aggression to his game. And in Germany, he demonstrated an abundance of resolve – another crucial virtue – when facing off against the current world number one in a performance that could well spur on a title challenge.
This had the feel of the first leg of a year-long battle as Martin and Bagnaia went at it around the Sachsenring’s condensed curves in front of a bumper 96,151 attendance. Buoyed by his triumph in Saturday’s Sprint, Martin raced into an early commanding lead. But sensing the need to deflate the Spaniard’s momentum that has been building since May, Bagnaia quickly reeled him in. After a brief exchange of positions, the contest was deliciously poised going into the final two laps.
And even if Bagnaia rode brilliantly on the final lap, recovering from a near disastrous collision with the bike ahead exiting the turn for the penultimate time, Martin just held on for only his second MotoGP triumph. At no point did he have it easy. The rest of the field couldn’t get close, with third-placed Johann Zarco (Pramac Ducati) 7sec off by the flag.
Martin could claim to be the King of the Ring thanks to Marc Marquez’s (Repsol Honda) wretched weekend. For the second week in succession, the Sachsenring offered up further evidence that Japan’s manufacturers are in a funk that threatens to engulf them. Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha), the top non-European machine in twelfth, called it “a Japanese crisis.” And Marquez – winner of eight straight premier class races here – didn’t even take part in Sunday’s race after a massive high-side in warm-up – a fifth fall of the weekend – ruled him out. Even by recent standards, this felt like a pivotal round in Marquez and Honda’s long-term relationship.
In Honda and Yamaha’s defence, they weren’t alone in failing to challenge Ducati’s might. Aprilia and KTM also fell short, even if the Austrian brand at least offered some form of opposition. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM) was all action off the start, jumping two places by the race’s first turn to lead pole sitter Bagnaia, front row starter Luca Marini (VR46 Ducati), and Martin, immediately climbing from sixth to fourth in one turn.
Yet the Australian came perilously close to an early exit. All weekend long he struggled for rear traction through Turns 10 and 11. And his rear stepped out as he was pitching into the Ralf Waldmann Kurve for the first time, he was engulfed by the Ducati hoard, with Bagnaia, Martin and Marini all diving past as they entered Turn 12.
“I definitely shat myself,” said Miller of the moment. Soon he was facing attention from teammate Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing), Marco Bezzecchi (VR46 Ducati) and Zarco.
A repeat of Saturday’s Sprint was on the cards once Martin moved past Bagnaia for the lead on the third lap with a fine move at Turn 12. Two fastest laps in succession saw him establish a 0.8sec lead. But any fears he would ride off into the distance were soon quelled by the reigning champ, who first steadied the deficit, before whittling away, tenth by tenth. By mid-race, the leading duo were together.
Behind, Binder had climbed to third after rapid fire moves on Espargaro (Turn 1, lap three), Miller (Turn 12, lap four) and Marini (Turn 12, lap ten), while Bezzecchi’s progress had been stunted, the Italian falling back to ninth on the third lap. That left the South African defending from Marini and Zarco, with the Frenchman rising to fourth thanks to brave pass on the Italian into the Waldmann Kurve. Soon, Marini would be looking behind, as teammate Bezzecchi advanced, thanks to fighting back past Miller, Espargaro and Alex Marquez (Gresini Ducati).
Up front, and it was a game of cat and mouse. Martin eked out half a second on lap 18, only for Bagnaia to gain it all back two laps on. The number one was back in first thanks to an expert pass into Turn 12 on lap 21. But his time at the front was fleeting. Martin soon reversed the order thanks to a move at the same place (lap 24) and it soon became clear this fight was going the distance. Gradually, Bagnaia increased the pressure, harrying the Spaniard in the track’s final sector on lap 27, and through Turns 2 and 3 two laps from the end.
Tensions came close to boiling over at the close of the penultimate lap. Angling for better drive out of the final turn, Bagnaia ran into the back of Martin’s rear tyre. He rolled off for a fraction, a moment that handed Martin a three-tenth gap with just a lap to play, surely enough for the Spaniard to coast home. Not so. Bagnaia threw everything into that final circuit, skimming a tenth off Martin’s lead in sectors one and two. And rather than a desperate lunge at the final turn, he squared it off, accelerating under Martin on the run to the flag. It so nearly paid off, with Martin just edging it by 0.064s.
“Pecco improved a lot today,” said Martin. “He did an amazing step from yesterday to today, But finally I defended well.”
The only non-Ducati in the top six, the pressure on Binder to keep Zarco behind eventually told on lap 19. His left foot slipping off the footpeg while braking for Turn 8, causing him to run off track at an angle, causing his rear to come around and throw him violently over the top. Zarco was handed the final podium spot for the third time in succession. Bezzecchi eventually came home fourth, 1.5sec back, after passing Marini on lap 18.
This was Ducati’s greatest ever day, as all of its Desmosedici machines occupied the top five for the first time in a premier-class race, a week after it had placed first, second, third and fourth for the first time. And it didn’t end there. Behind Miller, Alex Marquez recovered from a slow start to come home seventh, just ahead of Enea Bastianini (Lenovo Ducati), gradually returning to fitness after his April right shoulder break. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati) was one place and two seconds behind, making it eight Ducatis in the top nine. Heady times for Bologna.
Miguel Oliveira (RNF Aprilia) was the best of the Aprilias after Espargaro’s soft rear tyre gamble backfired (everyone else bar Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo was on the medium) in tenth.
Bagnaia (160 points) still leads, but Martin’s (144) closing in, 16 points back. Bezzecchi (126) and Zarco (109) are still in touch.
Martin masters it
Martin made a mockery of the claim that Sprint races were close and exciting. The Pramac rider was in a class of his own from the moment he grabbed the initiative with a two-in-one pass on Miller and Bagnaia at Turn 12 on the third lap. His expert speed through the long lefts that make up the track’s second sector was enough to extend his lead by the lap. Martin’s 2.4sec winning advantage over Bagnaia didn’t quite tell the full story of his dominance.
Miller was an impressive third, 0.8sec back of Bagnaia, and just clear of an engrossing three-way fight for fourth. Marini, Binder and Zarco were together entering the final lap, before the Frenchman’s full-blooded pass on the second KTM at the Ralf Waldmann Kurve punted Binder off track. “It wouldn’t be so bad,” Binder nonchalantly stated after. “I mean, it can happen – but f*** that corner is fast!” He was thankful to rejoin the track in time to take sixth.
Expectations were high for the Australian at one of his favourite tracks after qualifying third. But despite leading both races early on, Miller didn’t have an answer for the Ducatis in either the Sprint (third) or Sunday’s feature race. Of his first lap moment at Turn 11, Miller said, “I definitely shit myself. Had to ditch the jocks already! As I changed directions, she kind of let go. And then as it came back, it kind of lost the front and I thought, ‘Oh, here we go. I’m going be one of the other blokes that’s spent a million bucks down there this weekend in crash parts’. But thankfully we’re able to stay on it. Just sort of rode within my limits and really tried to push hard at the end. Those Ducatis in front are especially able to just find that little bit extra pace and then button it down. Whereas ours is rather consistent the whole way through.”
Report Neil Morrison Photography Gold&Goose