Heading into the summer-break as the championship leader is not only a good place to be in the rankings, but it also has a pretty strong psychological advantage over fellow competitors.
That where Repsol Honda rider, Marc Marquez will be as he heading off to enjoy some amazing scenery with his brother, Alex, as he won the last round of the season where he has dominated for many years in Sachsenring, but it hasn’t been easy for him to get for the top.
In the third of the mid-season reviews we are looking at how he and fellow Respol Honda rider, Dani Pedrosa (the one that many had written off) are getting on so far throughout the 2017 MotoGP season.
Both riders kept on for two more years with Repsol Honda
Back in 2016, Repsol Honda were keen to keep both of their riders with them for another two years and while others looked to move around to other teams in the paddock, both Marquez and Pedrosa remained. There were no doubts that Marquez should stay, as he went on to win the 2016 championship title, but many doubted Pedrosa’s ability and results and felt he shouldn’t have been their first choice.
They were wrong, and good on Dani for proving that when he became one of the nine winners that were witnessed during that notorious season, and has since claimed another victory under his leathers. As Marquez leads the championship, and the top four are covered by 10 points, Pedrosa is very much in touch with them in fifth after the consistency we see from the extremely likeable little Spaniard.
Teammates miss out on podium in Qatar
So the season began for them in Qatar and rain at the floodlit track, where the sessions are held in the night-time because of the heat meant that the final Free Practice session, and both Qualifying sessions were cancelled for the MotoGP class; there would have been too much glare from the track under the floodlights.
So, results from Free Practice 3 were used to determine the grid meaning that Marquez would start from seventh on the third row, and Pedrosa managed fifth in the centre of row two. The warm-up session saw Marquez run quickest and although the riders had to overcome extra challenges while preparing for the race, as rain hit as they made their way onto the grid which meant the start was delayed, the two were able to keep their game faces on.
Marquez progressed more through the race, he moved up to fourth at the season opener, whereas Pedrosa finished less than half a second behind in fifth after fending off fellow Spaniard, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). It wasn’t the best start, or one that they probably admittedly wanted, but it was a solid start to the season.
Disaster in Argentina for the Repsol Honda duo
The following round for the Repsol Honda boys was written off as a disaster as in Argentina as the Termas de Rio Hondo where they met for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina, they both crashed out early on in the race.
All their hard work done during the build-up was completely undone as Marquez had claimed pole and Pedrosa improved from 19th initially up to fifth on the grid; he was so far down the ranks after the opening three Free Practice sessions but managed to finish top at the end of Qualifying 1 and so progressed through to Qualifying 2.
Seven fallers in Argentina
The two were one of many fallers at the South American track as out of the 23 riders, seven crashed out. Marquez was leading and pulling away, but possibly pushing too hard as he had an ‘unexpected’ off at the second turn of the fourth lap sliding into the gravel with his bike.
Pedrosa had progressed through the ranks and with 12 laps remaining after battling things out with mainly Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) for fifth, and rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3). He lost positions to them both but eventually Pedrosa passed Zarco who had passed he and Pedrosa in one manoeuvre. Pedrosa was about to come under attack from Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) when he had an identical crash to his teammate at the same turn. He felt that the fact there are “a lot of bumps in that turn” made him think they “create a tricky situation”.
Repsol Honda duo made up for poor Argentinian result at COTA
The two more than made up for the poor Argentinian result however at the next round of the season when they headed to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The team have always done well there as the track is well suited to the Honda. It has been no secret that they have struggled with the acceleration of the bike, especially on corner exit, but at COTA that did not matter.
They dominated most of the sessions in the build-up. It was Marquez and Pedrosa one and two in Free Practice 1, and one and five in Free Practice 2. Marquez dropped to fourth during FP3 but Marquez remained second, and it was back to one, two, during FP4. Qualifying 2 saw Marquez claim his second pole of the season, and Pedrosa started one row directly behind his teammate when he qualified in fourth.
Intense finish in COTA
Marquez was clearly confident on race day as not only did he lap quickest during the warm-up (with Pedrosa lapping third quickest), he went on to claim his first victory of the season. Pedrosa got an amazing start and actually led into the first turn of the race. Marquez had a bit more work to do, but the two led for several laps ahead of their Movistar Yamaha rivals, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales.
Vinales crashed out, but then Rossi, who was dropping off the pace of the Repsol Honda duo, found himself being challenged by fellow Yamaha rider and rookie, Zarco. The two almost collided on track and Rossi ran wide which meant that he cut across the run-off area to avoid a crash. Race control then deemed him as having gained an advantage and gave him a 0.3 second penalty.
Double podium for Repsol Honda at COTA
In response, Rossi pushed harder but the laps were running out. Marquez had passed his teammate to take the lead and began to pull away slightly and create a gap. Pedrosa was left to fend off Rossi, but was passed; should he have maintained the gap between them to under 0.3 seconds when they crossed the line the he would have remained second however Rossi was able to pull away. Marquez won, Rossi was third and Pedrosa completed the podium in third; not a bad result considering Argentina previously.
Jerez next for the first of the European rounds
It was on to Jerez next for the first of the European rounds; both could be considered home rounds for the Spanish Honda riders. But, as there are many Spaniards in the class, there was no telling who wanted it more. It clearly turned out to be Pedrosa as he topped the timesheets In Free Practice 1, 2 and 3. Then, he went on to claim his first pole position of the season and then claimed his first victory on home turf (I say his first because he is bound to get another).
It was a bit more of a tricky journey for Marquez however as he started off fifth in FP1, 14th in FP2, fourth in FP3 and then topped FP4. He pulled it off in the end qualifying second on the grid beside his teammate, but then come race day he had tyre issues that meant he lost vital time.
Both had gotten a fantastic start from the front row of the grid, Pedrosa again led into turn one of the race. What began was a master-class from the Spaniard, as he quickly extended a lead in the race while Marquez who had chosen hard tyres, lost positions and was again under attack from that pesky rookie, Zarco (who has been amazing this season) who wanted fifth.
Another double podium as Pedrosa wins in Jerez
Marquez’s tyres began to kick in and he was able to begin recovering positions lost earlier on. Other riders made mistakes ahead of him, and Pedrosa who was coming under attack from his teammate. Pedrosa, despite the degradation on his tyres however, appeared to be able to manage and maintain the gap between him and Marquez. He took control and worked hard to not only maintain but extend the cushion he had and eventually claimed an emotional victory, crossing the line over six seconds ahead of Marquez in second; it seems this was his game plan after all.
The one-two finish for the Repsol Honda boys is what has helped them to remain where they are at in the championship now as they are in the summer break. Their following result varied from this point to the hallway mark, but fortunately for them, no-one was dominating the championship as all riders and teams had their own issues.
Le Mans brings mixed results for the Honda riders
It was on to Le Mans, France next for round five of the season, what saw Pedrosa continue on his victory road resulted in another disaster for Marquez. Marquez had a positive start, he was strong although not the quickest, ending the first woo Free Practice sessions, and the opening day at Le Mans in second. He dropped to fifth during FP3, then down to seventh during FP4, but after qualifying he was fifth.
It was much harder for Pedrosa who appeared to be having issues. He went from 13th down to 21st in FP2, then dropped another position in FP3 meaning he would have to use Qualifying 1 to try and again progress through to Qualifying 2. He made a lot of progress during FP4 finishing second, but failed to finish in the top two during Qualifying 1; finishing third meant he would start from 13th on the grid, at the front of the fifth row.
Spillage on track during Moto3 race
On race-day while Marquez topped the timesheets during the warm-up, Pedrosa again appeared to have issues as he only finished 11th quickest. The tables were about to turn during the race however. Prior to the MotoGP race there was a spillage during the Moto3 race caused by a fallen rider after an incident; the rider re-joined the race and left a substance around various corners of the track which caused carnage on the next lap as approximately 20 riders went down at the same turn.
So when it came time for the top class to race, they had to be aware of the spillage that was covered with an absorbent powder so it was once again rideable. All eyes were again on that rookie, Zarco as he led again, this time on home turf in his first season as a MotoGP rider.
Marquez on the move after difficult opening laps
Marquez lost positions immediately when the race got underway and then as riders ran wide ahead of him, he ended up following in their tyre tracks. On the other hand for Pedrosa, he had finally found his confidence and was powering through the pack picking up positions in the process. He plucked off Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) but accidentally came into contract with the Brit causing him to sit up and lose two places to he and Dovizioso.
It was Yamaha dominating in Le Mans until Marquez was able to catch Rossi who was in third. Pedrosa was now closing in on his teammate, and in response he was able to break the lap record which was then improved on further by race winner, Vinales later on.
Marquez crashes out in Le Mans
This is when disaster struck for Marquez as he crashed out at turn three (what was his third crash of the weekend) with 11 laps of the race to go. He tumbled heavily through the gravel but was straight up to his feet and tried to recover his bike with the assistance of the Marshalls but eventually he was forced to quit.
Things had heated up significantly between the Movistar Yamaha riders as they battled it out for the victory after Rossi had passed Zarco. The two duelled on track and tripped each other up, but then three corners from the end of the race, disaster then struck for Rossi as he, almost a year after claiming his last victory, saw another fall through his hands as he crashed out allowing Vinales to go on to win.
Pedrosa benefits from Rossi’s crash and claims third in Le Mans
This benefited Pedrosa who was in fourth at the time, as he passed an emotional and heartbroken Italian who was desperately trying to recover his bike, to claim third in Le Mans and another victory after a tough weekend.
Pedrosa suffers similar fate to Italian in Mugello
Pedrosa was to experience a similar fate at the following round in Mugello however as another difficult weekend resulted in him crashing out at the Italian track. Marquez also struggled somewhat in Mugello but importantly for him and the championship he finished and secured points that would prove to be vital.
Keen to see their local hero claim the victory on home turf, all eyes were on Rossi who was returning after suffering injuries during a Motocross training incident in between rounds. It turned out to be a battle of the Italians as Dovizioso won after battling with Vinales, Petrucci who finished third and Rossi ended up in fourth. Fellow Honda rider, Crutchlow had shared his thoughts that the tyres brought by French tyre manufacturer, Michelin were well suited to the Ducati at the Italian track, so heding into the race, things were looking positive for the Repsol Honda boys.
They were low down the ranks during the build-up, Marquez’s best result was in FP3 where as it was FP2 for Pedrosa. After Qualifying, the two ended up completing the second row as Marquez qualified in fifth just ahead of Pedrosa in sixth.
Tough start to the Mugello GP, and disappointing finish for Pedrosa and Crutchlow
After a tough start, Marquez was able to claim a position from Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) when the Spaniard ran wide. Marquez worked to remain there but lost a position to Ducati rider, Bautista in the later stages; Marquez finished sixth just 0.083 seconds behind him.
Unfortunately for Pedrosa he crashed out at turn 10 on the final lap of the race. In doing so, he tagged what ended up as a very angry Crutchlow when he tagged him and brought him down too. As he fumed after standing up when they came to a halt in the gravel, Crutchlow gestured to Pedrosa who was trying to apologise to the Brit; neither were able to recover and finish the race.
Second Spanish round at modified track
Catalunya was thankfully a different story for the duo however as they again returned to their past form. As they again returned to home soil for the second time of the season, Marquez led the first four Free Practice sessions, and Pedrosa was fourth, seventh, second and then fourth in FP4. However during qualifying, the tables turned as Pedrosa secured pole at the Circuit de Barcelona and Marquez was fourth so he would start one row directly behind Pedrosa this time.
It had been a difficult weekend for Marquez despite his success time wise as he had suffered five crashes during the build-up. Then to add to it on race-day, when switching bikes during the warm-up in the pits, he tripped over the rollers that were behind his mechanic on the ground.
Formula layout used once again
Now in Barcelona, the riders were returning to a track that had been modified due to the death of Moto2 rider Luis Salom the previous year. In 2016 they used the Formula 1 layout to run the race to bypass turns that were declared unsafe, and after much confusion and dislike at the modified circuit which had a bumpy patch of new tarmac at a chicane, they again opted for the F1 layout like the year before.
This layout suited the Hondas and the Ducatis as the twists and turns meant that it was not necessarily focused on the acceleration of the bikes. Taking advantage of pole position, Pedrosa shot away at the front when the race got underway as Marquez found himself being side-swiped by Petrucci who swung across the grid when the lights went out; the incident came under investigation.
Double podium number three in Jerez
Pedrosa lost his lead to Lorenzo and then lost second to Marquez when he passed him. Despite his previous struggles with the front end of the Honda, Marquez was strong and began stalking Lorenzo. Along came Dovizioso however, who was extra confident after winning in Mugello, and he passed the two to take the lead and ended up going on to claim a back-to-back victory in Catalunya.
Marquez was able to then pass Lorenzo, and in doing so made enough room for his teammate, Pedrosa to do so too and they went on to finish in their respective positions’ Marquez finished on home turf in second and Pedrosa was third on the podium, another positive result for the team.
Assen round wet once again
Assen followed and again like in 2016 the race meeting was hindered by rain. The two Honda riders struggled, Pedrosa again found himself at the bottom of the timesheets after FP3 but they qualified in seventh and 11th on the grid.
After being second quickest in the warm-up Marquez was able to pull it out of the bag on race day and eventually progressed up to third and claimed the final podium spot in Assen. It was not easy towards the end however as he found himself in battle with Dovizioso and Crutchlow who caught up when the rain shower hit during the race. It was quite epic as the two Honda riders passed several times on the final laps, but Marquez emerged victorious.
Pedrosa struggled throughout the weekend
It was a disappointing result for Pedrosa who was 13th, but still managed to finish in the points…. Just! He was riding round with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and fellow Honda rider, Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), and would have finished lower had the rain not meant that Lorenzo, Zarco and Barbera made the decision to enter the pits to change bikes to those with wet setup. Still, points are points!
On to Germany for the final round of the first half of the season
The final round of the first half of the season took place at the Sachsenring in Germany where they met for round nine. Now going back to the championship it was closer than ever, Marquez was fourth prior to the final round but the result in Sachsenring completely changed that.
Dovizoso’s back-to-back wins meant he was top with a four point lead over second place man, Vinales. Rossi was behid his teammate in third with 108 points. Marquez was fourth on 104 points…. It had been like this for a while adding to the excitement the year has brought us so far. Pedrosa was 17 points behind Marquez in fifth on 87 points.
So things started out OK for the duo in Germany, they just found themselves dicing with another rookie, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who was after his first MotoGP victory on home turf. However, he had a pretty tough winning streak to complete as Marquez had won the previous seven rounds he has raced here from pole, with the last four being in the MotoGP class; it was clear the Spaniard likes this track.
Marquez claims eighth consecutive German pole
After a slow start, Marquez gradually began to top the timesheets at the Sachsenring. He qualified on pole for the eighth consecutive time in his career, and Pedrosa would start from third on the grid, with Petrucci between them completing the front row. Crutchlow was fourth, Folger was fifth and Lorenzo was sixth.
Folger challenging for the victory in Germany
Marquez led into the first turn, ahead of a group of big names and Folger ran wide at turn three of the opening lap but lost not positions. Pedrosa was in second, and eventually Folger recovered, settled and was able to overtake the Spaniard to take second. Folger then went on to pass Marquez to take the lead on lap eight. Marquez followed him and kept applying the pressure which he responded to greatly, but then he began to have issues with his tyres.
Folger ran on at turn one a few laps later and allowed Marquez to pass through. The German rookie continued to challenge, much to the delight of the German crowd, but although he was able to remain with the 2016 MotoGP champion and constantly apply the pressure, finally the lack of grip from his tyres caused him to back off and he maturely settled for points rather than risk everything for the win.
Marquez maintains German winning streak
Marquez won in Germany, he ended up crossing the line 3.310 seconds ahead of Folger. Now as attention was drawn to the front of the pack, eyes were also on the Movistar Yamaha teammates who were battling it out for fourth with Dovizioso before they managed to break away from the Italian who lost more positions and to Bautista and Aleix Espargaro, and began the hunt for Pedrosa.
Pedrosa was there all along proving once again to the consistent rider that he is, and no wonder Repsol Honda chose to keep him as, as the battles went on around him, he was able to maintain his own competitive pace on track on his own and in doing so claimed the final spot on the German podium before the mid-season break.
Marquez jumps to top of championship table after Sachsenring victory
Marquez’s win meant that he jumped from fourth in the championship to top. Things became closer thane ver as Folger and Pedrosa finishing ahead of Vinales and Rossi, and Dovzioso losing those vital positions and in turn points, meant that the top four are now covered by just 10 points.
After being told apparently by a team member that he would be leading the championship after Germany, Marquez was doing just that as he is now top with 129 points; not bad considering how things have gone so far as the season as witnessed has been a mixed bag of results and bad luck. Vinales is second with 124 points, Dovizioso is one behind him on 123, and Rossi is fourth with 119 points This championship is far from over, and to add to it, just over one DNF from all of them away is Pedrosa in fifth, in touch on 103 points.
So yes being top is sure to be a confidence boost. It means that the reigning and defending title owner can be that extra relaxed on the break, and when he returns he will sure to be extra motivated in protecting his lead starting with the Czech Republic Grand Prix at the Automotodromo Brno where he finished on the podium last year.
Don’t underestimate Pedrosa
And as for Pedrosa, well he should well and truly be silencing all those critics who felt that he didn’t deserve that Honda seat. Again he is not only proving consistent but competitive and has every chance of competing for that championship now he is not plagued by old injuries. On most occasions, when Marquez has been on the podium this season, Pedrosa has been too so issues that prevent him from getting there are surely more down to the bike to the rider.