MotoGP’s longest-ever mid-season break ends this week when riders return to action for the Styrian Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring. The event is the first of back-to-back events at MotoGP’s fastest racetrack, with the Austrian Grand Prix taking place the following weekend.
These two rounds also mark a significant and welcome step in the recovery from the global pandemic, with a full crowd and full grandstands for the first time since the end of the 2019 season.
Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) looks forward to Sunday’s race as the next step in his comeback from the right arm injury that kept him out of racing for nine months, from July 2020 to April 2021.
Marquez made clear that he is on his way back to his very best when he won June’s German Grand Prix at Sachsenring. Although he is not yet at 100% he gets stronger with every day. During the summer break the 28-year-old Spaniard resumed motocross training for the first time since last year’s accident, confirming that he continues to gain strength.
In recent years Marquez has enjoyed some remarkable battles for victory at Red Bull Ring, but he has never won a race there. The Austrian venue and Algarve International Circuit, introduced to the championship at the end of 2020, are the only current tracks where he has yet to win in MotoGP.
He has finished second on his last three visits to Red Bull Ring, following breathtaking last-lap duels with Andrea Dovizioso (2017 and 2019) and Jorge Lorenzo (2018). This Sunday his clear intention is to go one better.
Since his comeback at April’s Portuguese GP Marquez has worked as hard as ever with his HRC engineers to accelerate development of the RC213V, winner of seven of the last nine MotoGP Constructors World Championships. At Assen he received a revised chassis from Japan, which he immediately liked. His first task this weekend will be to judge whether the chassis offers a similar improvement at Red Bull Ring, a very different circuit to Assen.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who joined Honda at the start of 2021, looks forward to the second half of the season, during which he hopes he can build some momentum with the RC213V.
The 30-year-old Spaniard’s first nine races with the machine were somewhat conditioned by a minimal preseason testing programme, reduced due to the global pandemic. The lack of testing time prevented Espargaro from developing a good feeling for the bike and from evaluating various set-up options and strategies.
So far his best results are two eighth places at the Qatar and French GPs. One issue he has been focusing on is qualifying and his ability to extract maximum grip from the rear tyre during one or two laps. His qualifying performances improved at the last two races, so he hopes to keep moving forward from there.
Espargaro certainly goes well at Red Bull Ring. Last year he scored his first dry-weather MotoGP podium at the track, third place in the Styrian GP, which was back-to-back with the Austrian GP, like the 2021 schedule.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) also knows the fast way around the track. He had two superb rides there last year, battling in the lead group on both occasions. He finished the Austrian round in sixth, 6.4 seconds behind the winner, and the Styrian round in seventh, only 1.8 seconds down.
The 29-year-old from Chiba currently stands 11th in the championship., just behind Marquez, with a best so far of fourth place at Jerez, where he finished less than a second off the podium. Nakagami’s main target remains his first top-three in the premier class and he knows he has a chance to reach that target if everything goes right for him from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon.
Team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) is having a more complicated second season in the class. He has had two promising riders so far this year – eighth in Portugal and sixth in the rainy French GP – but otherwise has struggled to continue the excellent progress he made during his rookie 2020 season.
The summer break has given the 25-year-old Spaniard a chance to reset and work out a plan for the upcoming races. Last year the two Red Bull Ring races were his fourth and fifth competitive outings on a MotoGP bike and he took one points score from those two races. The younger Marquez has a fine Moto2 record at the track, with two second places, in 2017 and 2019.
Red Bull Ring joined the MotoGP World Championship in 2016, although it’s not the first time the venue has featured in Grand Prix racing. In its previous incarnation as the A1-Ring the circuit hosted the 1996 and 1997 Austrian GPs, won by Alex Criville (Repsol Honda Team NSR500) and Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda Team NSR500).
The race record stands at 183.595kmh/114.081mph, which makes the circuit MotoGP’s fastest, just ahead of Phillip Island (Australia), Buriram (Thailand) and Silverstone (Britain). Red Bull Ring isn’t fast because it features fast corners but because it has three long straights and only ten corners.
From an engineering point of view the emphasis is therefore braking and acceleration, to maximise performance into and out of Turns One, Three and Ten.
Despite the relative simplicity of the layout the track has produced some thrilling racing over the years, with the winning margin in excess of one second only once in six races.