#SpanishGP Jerez, race weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is a man on a mission. After not even starting the season with a podium, the Frenchman regrouped and refocused for round two, taking a resounding victory in the Doha GP before in Portimão we saw more of the same. And the same was not simply the fastest man on Sunday, but also a tactical masterclass in when and where to attack, and whom, before deciding where to pull that final pin. His two wins rocket El Diablo to the top of the standings and very much make him the man to beat. The next track on the calendar is one at which he dominated twice last year too, and although it was in the heat of July, that makes good reading for him. So who’s going to stop Quartararo’s roll?
The closest to doing so in Portugal was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), and the Italian did it from the fourth row of the grid. Had he not fallen foul of Yellow Flags in qualifying, where an electrifying new lap record got scrubbed off, could he have challenged? It’s a tall order but Pecco has taken a big step forward so far this season. Jerez, however, hasn’t been the kindest to Ducati of late… although that means another podium or challenge at the front would be an even bigger statement. His fellow Borgo Panigale machines of teammate Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) will also want a lot from Andalucia, as both look to bounce back quickly from crashes, for Zarco one that saw him lose the Championship lead.
Bouncing back is also the mission for Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). After a masterclass in the season opener, Viñales just lost out in Doha and then a difficult qualifying – with two laps scrubbed for the most infinitesimal track limit infractions – in Portugal put him on the back foot. Despite a bad start and getting swallowed by the pack, however, he stays third overall with 11th place doing enough to keep Zarco at bay. Back on home turf, reset and reloaded, can Viñales unleash the pace he showed in round one and take the fight back to his teammate? And what about Petronas Yamaha SRT?
It’s fair to say the first two rounds of the season weren’t what the grid’s newest Independent Team had been expecting, with both Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi seeming out of position for team and rider. Morbidelli put that to rights in Portugal as he was top Independent Team rider and only just off the podium in fourth, so can he keep that rolling in Jerez? And can the ‘Doctor’, back on familiar turf and with more track time, bounce back from a tough few first races of the season?
Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, was back on the podium last time out. And last year, that sparked his run for the crown. However, the reigning Champion said the venues so far and a few more aren’t their ideal circuits for starting to go on a similar run just yet, so will it be ‘just’ a podium challenge again? Or more? Teammate Alex Rins will be eager to right wrongs from last time out too after a stunner in Portimão was cut short by a crash out of second, so could he stay in with Quartararo this time around?
Jerez is also good news for a few others on the grid, and one must be Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Last year as a rookie the results didn’t come, but some of the South African’s FP4 pace was an eyebrow raiser… and that was first time out. Now, his sophomore season started at a tough track for KTM and a venue he’d never raced – the MotoGP™ class didn’t compete in Qatar last year – and then Portimão, where he took an impressive and hard-fought fifth that raised the eyebrows of the podium finishers. Jerez is somewhere he has more experience and a few good memories to boot, having won in Moto3™ from the very back of the grid. Teammate Miguel Oliveira, after a tougher home race this time round, will also be focused on taking the Austrian factory back to the front as the pendulum he’d had since round one starts to swing back towards the other side of the garage.
There is, of course, an elephant in the room in the shape of eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). His return in Portugal was a successful one as he took seventh, and he was understandably emotional after completing his first race since Valencia 2019. More time has passed since lights out on the Algarve for Marquez to continue his recovery, and now it’s Jerez he’s facing down. Scene of his crash, but also scene of previous glory as well as much more familiar turf. What can he do? And can Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) take a step forward as he fends off Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) in the Honda battle? There’s also test rider Stefan Bradl back on track doing a wildcard for HRC in Jerez, so he’ll be an interesting benchmark as ever.
Speaking of benchmarks, Portugal saw Aprilia continue to home in on a good few. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) put in another impressive ride to equal the Noale factory’s best result in MotoGP™ in sixth, and he’ll want to continue his roll to underline the steps forward made by the nearly all-new package. After a certain Andrea Dovizioso took the RS-GP for a spin recently at the very same Jerez too, was there any feedback from Dovi to Noale, or was it a taster for rider more than a data-gathering exercise?
In the battle of the Moto2™ graduate rookies, meanwhile, Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama Racing) is now back ahead of Doha podium man Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) as the latter crashed on Saturday in Portugal and is now sidelined until at least Mugello. He’ll be replaced by Tito Rabat, and Bastianini will be looking to gain a little more ground on Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) too. The Beast has been consistent, but Marini did seriously impress in Free Practice in Portugal so it’s starting to come together.
After the first two races of 2021, Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) looked almost invincible. But that’s never the case in racing and a shocking highside at Turn 1 in Portugal served as a reminder that the business of winning isn’t as easy as the number 22 made it look in Qatar, with everyone vulnerable to mistakes. Now the Brit will be on a mission to fight back – but Portimão winner (Raul Fernandez) and veteran teammate Remy Gardner will be the first looking to stop that happening.
Raul Fernandez has been on a rookie roll since his switch to the intermediate class and a first win looked certain this season, but it’s happened rather early as the Spaniard made a late race charge to the top in Portugal. That will give him extra confidence as he arrives on home turf for round four, and he’ll be expected near the front once again. Will Jerez see him able to fight for the win once more? Or is his prowess at Portimão complemented by the track, where he dominated last year in Moto3™, and now he’ll be aiming for the podium? Time will tell…
His teammate Remy Gardner, meanwhile, is also making consistency look easy. A late lunge on Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) on the Algarve secured him his third podium from three, and although none have yet been a win, that makes him the Championship leader. Can he make that extra step and stamp some authority on Jerez as Lowes comes out the blocks maybe a little more cautiously? Or is the Aussie’s game plan, far from the win or bin of old, just about raking in those points? There’s a final corner at Jerez made for the kind of move Gardner pulled off on Roberts just last race.
Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) was back on song in Portimão too and after taking his first Moto2™ podium, he’ll want to get back in the battle at the front to prove he belongs there. So too will the aforementioned Roberts, who was a real threat on the Algarve until just losing out to Gardner in the final stages. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) wants to bother the podium more as well after a more muted rounds two and three, and what about Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46)? The Italian has been there but not yet dealt out the searing speed he had at times in 2020, so he’ll be looking to do just that. He’s also the only one of the frontrunners so far who was on the podium in Jerez last year.
There’s also the likes of Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), his teammate Jake Dixon, rookie Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) in the mix, with a deep field in Moto2™ and running at the front never guaranteed. Who will tame Jerez?
It’s been some time since a rider made a splash in the Grand Prix paddock as big as that of Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo), but the Portuguese GP did the exact opposite of calming down the hype. As the Spaniard hunted down and passed Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) with clinical but very much on-the-edge brilliance at Portimão, all it did was add to the legend before Moto3™ saddle up at the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto; turf that’s even more familiar to the rookie superstar. So can anyone stop him? They’ll have to soon, as his lead is already well over a race win in the standings…
One bit of good news for the grid is that Acosta hasn’t actually been the fastest so far. His speed is undoubtedly impressive and even more so for a rookie, but it’s race day where the Spaniard has done his shining. He’s won from pitlane but on Saturday, he’s not made it onto the front two rows of the grid yet. So tactics, racecraft and, sometimes, the pure luck of the draw are what the rest of the grid will likely need to defeat him, and there are a good few contenders waiting in the wings to do just that.
The first rider looking to hit back is Acosta’s teammate Jaume Masia, not least of all because he’s second overall in the standings, as well as the veteran in the box. He’ll want to put a dent in the attention being grabbed by the other side of the garage. Masia won the season opener and was quick in Portugal before a crash that he somehow recovered from to still take ninth, so he has speed. Can it all come together in Jerez?
Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) will be another key threat as he looks to hit back after a pitlane start in Portugal. The South African is looking consistent, aggressive and fast this season, and last year in the second race at Jerez he was only just off the podium. He’ll likely be one who won’t arrive at the final corner and play it safe, but so far this season he also seems like he’d pull it off. Wanting to make a charge at the crown means the gap is already such that it’s the kind of gamble worth making, too.
Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) is another who should be well in the fight at the front. Until Doha, the Italian hadn’t been on the podium, suffering with a shoulder problem too, since his emotional win at Jerez in 2019. So he has form, he has experience and so far in 2021 he has consistency. Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) too, and he was only just of the Spanish GP podium last year. Can he keep it rolling?
There’s also Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), another Italian veteran who’s already won at Jerez, and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse), who took to the top step last year in Andalucia. Foggia is another threat, as are Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3), teammate Jeremy Alcoba and Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech 3). And what about GASGAS Solunion Aspar Team’s Sergio Garcia and fast rookie Izan Guevara? Some bad luck has hit both so far in 2021, and Jerez is a chance to fight back.
Last but not least, the biggest chance to fight back likely comes for John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing). The start of the season has been an uphill struggle of bad luck, boiling over and then a pitlane start with an added 10 second delay, so we’ve not seen the Scotsman in the thick of it on the final lap. And the last time we did at Jerez, he missed out on the win by just 0.064… so there’s some serious speed waiting to get back in the fight at the front.
Rookie superstars, veteran campaigners, a classic venue and an incredibly tempting final corner… Moto3™ are ready to take on the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto and you know it’s going to be a stunner.