This week reigning MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) moves from the Czech Republic’s second city of Brno to the Austrian Alps, where he aims to continue building his points advantage in the 2018 MotoGP World Championship.
The Spanish youngster finished third in last Sunday’s Czech Republic Grand Prix, just 0.368 seconds behind the winner, the eighth-closest podium in 70 years of premier-class GP racing. That result – his eighth podium from the first ten races – increases his championship lead to 49 points, with nine races remaining. Marquez and his MotoGP rivals stayed at Brno for a one-day test on Monday, so by the end of this weekend’s Austrian GP, they will have spent seven days out of ten aboard their machines.
Brno was Marquez’s 100th MotoGP race and it showed him at his best: he worked intelligently throughout practice, played a perfect strategy during the race, rode hard for the win and when victory proved just out of his reach, made sure he finished on the podium to collect another valuable haul of championship points.
Marquez has scored five wins, two seconds and one third so far this year, with two no-scores. The impressive podium consistency of the record-breaking youngster and his RC213V have given him an important advantage in the championship, but this weekend his strategy will be the same: go all out for the win, but if that’s not possible, finish on the podium. The target is straightforward: a historic fifth MotoGP crown in six years in the class, at the age of just 25.
Last year Marquez came within 0.176 seconds of victory at the Red Bull Ring, where he fought to the final corner with eventual winner Andrea Dovizioso, who also came out on top last Sunday. The Austrian venue, which only joined the MotoGP World Championship in 2016, is situated in a picture-perfect Austrian Alpine valley and has a somewhat spartan layout of just ten corners: seven right-handers and three left-handers. Braking and acceleration performance are therefore the most important factors, so these will be the main focus for Marquez, his crew and his HRC engineers.
Marquez – who in April and May scored his first victory hat-trick since 2014 – is delighted with the performance of the 2018 RC213V. No wonder then that Honda also leads the MotoGP Constructors World Championship, chasing a seventh title in eight years.
Fellow HRC rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) was also in the podium battle at Brno. The 32-year-old Briton eventually finished the race in fifth place, just 2.6 seconds behind Marquez, which brings him to the Red Bull Ring full of confidence.
Crutchlow finished 15th in both the 2016 and 2017 Austrian GPs. In 2016 his race pace was fast enough for a top-five finish, but he suffered a hefty ride-through penalty for fractionally jumping the start. Last year he ran off track more than once while trying to pass slower riders, which consigned him again to 15th at the finish. This season the former Supersport World Champion is riding more consistently than ever, usually fighting with the lead group and taking four top-six finishes from the last five races, once again thanks to HRC’s superb development work on the RC213V.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) hopes that he will be able to show the promise he showed in the early stages of the Czech Grand Prix weekend. The 32-year-old former 125cc and double 250cc World Champion was the fastest man at Brno after the first two practice sessions but he had a more challenging time in the race, lacking good rear grip for much of the 21 laps. He finished in eighth place, only seven seconds behind the winner. Last year Pedrosa took a superb third-place finish at the Red Bull Ring after fighting through from eighth on the grid.
Reigning Moto2 World Champion Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V) is currently fighting to be 2018 MotoGP Rookie of the Year. At Brno he battled with and beat his number-one rival for the title, Malaysian Hafizh Syahrin. Going into this weekend’s race Morbidelli stands just two points behind Syahrin in their duel. The Italian’s last race was particularly impressive since he was coming back from a broken hand that had kept him out of the previous two races at Assen and the Sachsenring. Morbidelli has good form at the Red Bull Ring, where he won last year’s race and finished a very close second in 2016.
Honda’s second rookie Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) had a tough weekend at Brno, which wasn’t particularly surprising because he was still recovering from his ride to second place in the previous weekend’s Suzuka 8 Hours race in Japan. The 26-year-old from Chiba didn’t find it easy to readapt from an endurance-spec CBR1000 superbike to an RC213V MotoGP machine and his race was further complicated when he had to avoid a pile-up on the first lap. Last year Nakagami finished sixth in the Austrian Moto2 race.
Last year’s Moto2 series runner-up Thomas Luthi (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V) finished third in the 2017 Austrian Moto2 race and this weekend the Swiss rider hopes that the track will deliver his first points in a challenging debut season in the premier class. Last Sunday Luthi finished just one place outside the points for the third time this season.