The first 25 laps of today’s Austrian Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring were a thrilling three-way contest for victory between Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), Pecco Bagnaia and World Championship leader Fabio Quartararo.
With three laps remaining Marquez briefly took the lead, aiming for his first victory since June’s German Grand Prix and confident that he could it. But at the very same time the threatening clouds that had been gathering started to drop rain onto the Austrian circuit in the shadow of the Styrian Alps.
Because it can be dangerous riding a soaking wet circuit with slick tyres the top five riders all rode into the pits to change to rain tyres for the final three laps.
However, the rider immediately behind them, Brad Binder, decide to risk continuing on slicks. With only 12.9km/8.05 miles remaining of the 120.9km/75-mile race the South African hoped that saving the time he would have spent stopping to change to his spare bike fitted with rain tyres would be enough to give him the advantage at the finish.
Marquez had changed to rain tyres with the other top five riders and immediately set about chasing after the leader but he slid off at the start of his first flying lap after leaving the pits.
This crash was a huge disappointment for the 28-year-old Spaniard, who seemed fully capable of taking his second victory since returning to action in April, following a nine-month layoff with a right-arm injury.
Yesterday Marquez had qualified strongly on the second row of the grid, allowing him to make an excellent start and run with the leaders throughout. His unusual choice of the soft rear tyre seemed to work well in today’s cloudy weather, which was much cooler than the sunny two days of practice and qualifying. However, all his plans were for nothing when the rain came down, which Binder survived on his slicks to win the race.
Eight-times World Champion Marquez bravely remounted after his tumble to finish in 15th position to score a single World Championship point.
Honda’s top finisher in this very unusual race was Marquez’s younger brother and twice World Champion Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V), who took the chequered flag in ninth place, a fraction of a second behind nine-times World Champion Valentino Rossi.
The 25-year-old Spaniard had high hopes of taking a second consecutive top ten in the dry and was able to fulfil that hope despite braving the last few laps with slick tyres.
LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) always goes well at Red Bull Ring but this wasn’t his weekend.
Last Sunday the 29-year-old from Chiba finished the Styrian GP in a very strong fifth place but today he had to start from the fourth row of the grid. The former Moto2 race winner rode an incredibly determined racing, fighting all the way to move forward lap after lap.
With two laps remaining Nakagami had moved up to sixth, still running slick tyres, but as the rain increased in intensity he was pushed back to 13th, because the riders who had switched to rain tyres had a much better pace on the soaking track, so he was easy prey.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) had another challenging weekend at Red Bull Ring. Like his team-mate he stopped in the pits to change to rain tyres, but later, with just one lap remaining, as the rain got stronger and stronger.
The 30-year-old Spaniard therefore was unable to make the same forward progress as riders who had changed tyres sooner and he ended the race in 16th, one place behind his team-mate. Espargaro has been frustrated by the last few races and looks forward to the next few for a change of fortune that will allow him to fight the level that his talent deserves.
After two weeks and two race weekends at Austria’s Red Bull Ring the MotoGP paddock looked forward to one weekend off before crossing the English Channel for the British GP, which takes place at legendary venue Silverstone on 29th August.