Let's face it, the 2011 Moto2 World Championship had a tough act to follow. The inaugural season in 2010 had everything, with no fewer than nine different winners, but the second instalment has more than lived up to the hype so far.
The final pre-season test at Jerez seemed to indicate that Stefan Bradl was in good shape. Despite only winning a single race in 2010, the German was flying and appeared much more at home on Kalex machinery after switching from Suter.
With reigning champion Toni Elias moving up to MotoGP, Julian Simon and Andrea Iannone were also among the favourites after pushing the Spaniard as much as anyone on his way to the title. Britain had a trio of riders to look out for with Bradley Smith and Kev Coghlan joining Scott Redding who established himself amongst the frontrunners in the back end of last year.
Smith was making the step up in class after five years in 125s but he wasn't the only rookie keen to make an impression. Pol Espargaro pipped the Brit to third in the championship while Marc Marquez beat the pair of them to take the title and immediately looked at home on the 600cc machines.
The season got underway at the floodlit Losail International Circuit and Marquez duly placed his Suter in the middle of the front row but couldn't match the speed of Bradl who took the first of five consecutive pole positions. Marquez's hopes of a debut victory ended in disaster as he crashed out on lap five leaving Bradl to cruise home, four seconds clear of Iannone with Thomas Luthi taking a strong third.
Bradl's dislike of wet weather would dictate the outcome of the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez as he could only translate pole into fifth place. The unpredictable Iannone reeled in Luthi to take the win, and the championship lead, with Simone Corsi in third and Bradley Smith produced the first in a string of impressive rides to beat Bradl to fourth.
The postponement of the Japanese GP meant a four week hiatus before the action resumed at Estoril and it proved to be an emotional weekend for Yuki Takahashi. The Gresini rider lost his brother Koki in the natural disaster that struck the nation and paid a moving tribute on the podium after bravely finishing third. Victory should have belonged to Iannone again after the Italian had stormed through from 14th on the grid, but he undid all of his hard work with a fall four laps from home. Bradl couldn't believe his luck as he regained the lead but Julian Simon chased him all the way to the chequered flag, finishing 0.147s behind.
Astonishingly, Marquez was still searching for his first point three races in. After his crash in Qatar, the 18 year old was wiped out by Jules Cluzel at Jerez. He was the architect of his own downfall in Portugal though after sliding into Scott Redding, who also remained pointless.
The road to recovery would begin at Le Mans though as Marquez sliced his way through a four-man leading group to become the youngest ever winner in the intermediate class. Despite failing to win, Bradl continued to show the form of a potential champion by coming third, just behind Takahashi. Iannone ought to be taking notes as his title hopes were dented by another accident.
Marquez's debut win was the perfect tonic heading to his home Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya but second was the best he could manage as Bradl returned to winning ways. The drama was all taking place behind him though as two separate accidents caused havoc in his wake.
The first involved two of his chief rivals in the championship as Luthi lost control rounding turn three, collecting Takahashi while also hindering Bradley Smith. The three of them got off lightly though compared to Julian Simon who was flung from his Suter by World Supersport Champion Kenan Sofuoglu as the pair battled for second. The Spaniard was diagnosed with multiple fractures to his right leg and wouldn't be seen for six weeks. Fellow countryman Aleix Espargaro was the chief beneficiary of his misfortune as he took his first Moto2 podium in third.
Silverstone saw a fourth win from six races for Bradl who found once again that the front of the field is the safest place to be in a Moto2 race. Pole man Marquez knew that all too well, crashing out in the torrential conditions after losing several places early on. The British spectators were treated to a spectacular ride from home favourite Bradley Smith who scythed his way through from 28th on the grid to take second. Scott Redding also put smiles on faces with fifth place yielding his first points of the year while Kev Coghlan scored for the second time in 13th.
The wet weather would follow the riders to Assen for the Dutch TT and for once, it was Bradl that came unstuck. A first retirement for the German left Marc Marquez to dispute the victory with Smith and Sofuoglu who were both becoming an increasing threat to the title contenders. Marquez proved too strong in the end while the Turk beat the Brit to second.
Smith had every reason to be proud of his performance and he stepped up another gear at Mugello, qualifying on the front row for the first time behind Marquez and former MotoGP rider Alex de Angelis. Despite starting seventh, Bradl was in the thick of the action at the front and rejoined his battle with Marquez.
The top two wouldn't have the race all to themselves though as Smith matched them wheel-for-wheel throughout, even leading them at one point, before finishing 0.419s off the lead in third. Marquez got one over on Bradl yet again to reduce his championship lead to 52 points.
The Spaniard struck another blow in the title battle two weeks later by beating the German on his home turf at the Sachsenring after another head-to-head fight at the front. Smith would not be involved this time after outbraking himself at turn one and it would be De Angelis that chased the leaders home in third.
Scott Redding put in arguably his best ride of the year to take seventh but Kev Coghlan's season had come to an unfortunate end as the Aeroport de Castello team unceremoniously sacked him in favour of the Italian Tommaso Lorenzetti, with early indications showing that the move was certainly not down to pace.
At the halfway stage, Bradl holds a 47 point lead over Marquez with the rest of the field involved in an entertaining, albeit distant scrap for third overall. The consistent Simone Corsi currently leads it ahead of De Angelis and Smith whose debut season has so far exceeded all expectations.
The intermediate class returns next weekend at Brno and if Marc Marquez's wave of momentum carries on, we may be in for a titanic title battle heading into the autumn.
Riders' Championship (After Round 9: Germany)
|1||Stefan Bradl||GER||Kalex||Viessman Kiefer Racing||4||167|
|2||Marc Marquez||SPA||Suter||Team Catalunya Caixa Repsol||4||120|
|3||Simone Corsi||ITA||FTR||Ioda Racing Project||84|
|4||Alex de Angelis||RSM||Motobi||JIR Moto2||82|
|5||Bradley Smith||GBR||Tech 3||Tech 3 Racing||79|
|6||Thomas Luthi||SWI||Suter||Interwetten Paddock Moto2||77|
|7||Andrea Iannone||ITA||Suter||Speed Master||1||66|
|8||Yuki Takahashi||JAP||Moriwaki||Gresini Racing Moto2||58|
|9||Randy Krummenacher||SWI||Kalex||GP Team Switzerland Kiefer Racing||52|
|10||Julian Simon||SPA||Suter||Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2||49|
|11||Michele Pirro||ITA||Moriwaki||Gresini Racing Moto2||43|
|13||Aleix Espargaro||SPA||Pons Kalex||Pons HP 40||38|
|15||Jules Cluzel||FRA||Suter||NGM Forward Racing||35|
|18||Max Neukirchner||GER||MZ-RE Honda||MZ Racing Team||32|
|19||Scott Redding||GBR||Suter||Marc VDS Racing Team||25|
|20||Anthony West||AUS||MR-RE Honda||MZ Racing Team||18|
|21||Alex Baldolini||ITA||Suter||NGM Forward Racing||18|
|22||Pol Espargaro||SPA||FTR||HP Tuenti Speed Up||16|
|23||Mattia Pasini||ITA||FTR||Ioda Racing Project||13|
|24||Kev Coghlan||GBR||FTR||Aeroport de Castello||11|
|25||Mika Kallio||FIN||Suter||Marc VDS Racing Team||8|
|26||Mike Di Meglio||FRA||Tech 3||Tech 3 Racing||7|
|27||Claudio Corti||ITA||Suter||Italtrans Racing Team||7|
|28||Xavier Simeon||BEL||Tech 3||Tech 3 B||6|
|29||Ratthapark Wilairot||THA||FTR||Thai Honda Singha SAG||4|
|30||Ricard Cardus||SPA||Moriwaki||QMMF Racing Team||2|
|31||Axel Pons||SPA||Pons Kalex||Pons HP 40||1|