The MotoGP paddock stays put at Red Bull Ring this week, looking forward to the second of back-to-back races at motorcycle Grand Prix racing’s fastest track.
Last Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix was the first MotoGP event to fully open its doors to spectators since the end of the 2019 season, with tens of thousands of fans flocking to the picturesque venue situated in the shadow of the Styrian Alps.
An even bigger crowd is expected this weekend, as Honda’s quartet of MotoGP riders continue their 2021 victory quest.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) scored Honda’s first victory of 2021 at June’s German Grand Prix, despite the fact that he is still recovering from the arm injury that forced him out of racing for nine months.
The 28-year-old Spaniard finished last Sunday’s stopped-and-restarted race in eighth place, a real disappointment because he had felt like he could fight at the front during the initial outing. A change to a new rear tyre for the restart left him struggling with grip and traction, so he couldn’t fully exploit the awesome acceleration of his RC213V.
However, Marquez was happy with the rest of his weekend and is confident that he can battle at the front in the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix. In recent years the eight-times World Champion (MotoGP: 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019; Moto2: 2012, 125cc: 2010) has played a starring role in several thrilling Red Bull Ring duels, finishing runner-up on three occasions (2017, 2018 and 2019), always less than one second behind the winner. There’s nothing more he’d like to achieve on Sunday than his first victory at Red Bull Ring.
Team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) hopes to take the lessons learned from last weekend to improve his performance in Sunday’s race, the 11th round of the 19-race 2021 MotoGP World Championship.
Last Sunday the 30-year-old Spaniard’s fortunes were also ruined by the restart. Because he had used up his allocation of race tyres he had to do the restart with the same rear tyre he’d used in the original start and the extra heat cycle the tyre had been through had a bad effect on grip.
Limited by lack of adhesion Espargaro could only manage a 16th-place finish, far below his potential. This weekend he will work with his crew to extract the maximum performance from his RC213V to better his best results of 2021 – two eighths in the Qatar and French Grands Prix.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) was Honda’s best-performing rider last Sunday. He had an excellent race, battling for fourth position, finally taking the chequered flag in fifth, just 0.152 seconds behind the fourth-place finisher and only three seconds off a podium result.
Nakagami always goes well at Red Bull Ring, so he is confident that once again he can play a starring role in Sunday’s Austrian GP. During the few days before practice starts on Friday he will be working with his technical crew and HRCV engineers to further refine his RC213V’s electronics, to improve corner-exit traction and therefore increase acceleration.
The 29-year-old from Chiba’s last three results at Red Bull Ring have been fifth, sixth and seventh, so his target for this weekend is to finish one or two places higher than last Sunday.
Team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) ended the race similarly content, crossing the finish line in ninth, just one place behind his older brother, after battling with Nakagami in the earlier laps.
The 25-year-old Spaniard had a challenging start to his second season in MotoGP, but his pace last Sunday, following the championship’s five-week mid-season break, was impressive and gave him an important confidence boost.
The twice World Champion (Moto2: 2019; Moto3: 2014) will use that boost to keep climbing the curve when track action resumes on Friday morning, although weather forecasts suggest that stormy weather could visit Red Bull Ring during the weekend.
The younger Marquez’s best results so far this year are a sixth place in the rain-affected French GP and an eighth in the Portuguese GP).
Austria has been a part of the MotoGP World Championship on and off since the early 1970s, when the country’s motorcycle GP was staged at Salzburgring, a spectacular alpine venue outside the city of Salzburg. Honda’s first winner of the event was Freddie Spencer who won the 1985 Austrian GP aboard a Honda NSR500. The NSR won three further victories at the track, with Wayne Gardner in 1987 and with Mick Doohan in 1991 and 1994.
After the 1994 Salzburgring race the circuit was considered too dangerous for Grand Prix racing, so the Austrian GP disappeared from the championship until 1996 and 1997, when Red Bull Ring (then called A1-Ring) hosted the event for the first time. Both these races were won by NSR500 riders – Alex Criville in 1996 and Doohan in 1997. Red Bull Ring returned to the championship on a full-time basis from 2016.
The circuit has only ten corners – the least of any MotoGP venue – and demands excellent acceleration and braking performance, with three of its corners followed by long straights.
Following these two races in Austria the MotoGP paddock heads northwest and crosses the English Channel for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on 29th August.