The VROOM Blog #StyrianGP – Rookie Martin steals the show with debut win in Austria

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

Finally! The MotoGP summer break is over and we are back racing. We start off with back-to-back rounds at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, with the Styrian GP this weekend which replaces the cancelled Finnish GP, and the Austrian GP next weekend.

In addition to the cancellation of the Finnish and Japanese races, Dorna announced the cancellation of the Australian GP – again due to ongoing Covid restrictions. There will be a second race instead at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, Portugal on the 7th of November. The cancellation of the Australian GP is a real loss to the calendar – the circuit is fantastic and always produces great races. Hopefully we can see MotoGP back racing at Phillip Island in 2022.

Along with the cancellation of the Australian GP, Dorna announced that the Malaysian GP has been brought forward by a week so that it will immediately follow the GP of Thailand in October. That is of course if those races actually go ahead…

The news of Maverick Viñales’ shock departure from the Factory Yamaha contract at the end of this season has sent the ‘silly season’ rumour mill into overdrive! It is still widely rumoured that Viñales has / will sign for Aprilia to race alongside Aleix Espargaro for 2022, but nothing has been confirmed and Maverick himself said that he has nothing in place for next season. There had also been talk that he might join Luca Marini in the VR46 team, but VR himself shut that down over the weekend saying that the team is for Academy riders.

Maverick did take the opportunity at the pre-event press conference this weekend to apologise for his ‘attitude’ following his less than cheery appearance on the podium in Assen.

So, there is now an unexpected seat free on a Factory Yamaha alongside Fabio Quartararo for next season and you would think that Franky Morbidelli would be promoted up to reunite with Fabio – it is strongly rumoured that that will be the case, but we will of course have to wait and see.

Speculation had been rife that Yamaha World Superbike riders Toprak Razgatlioğlu or Garrett Gerloff might make the move to the Petronas team for next season, but that was put to bed when they both signed new contracts to keep them in World Superbikes.

Portuguese media also reported that Miguel Oliveira had been approached by Yamaha, but that Miguel had declined.

One of the (many) other riders who had been mentioned for the Petronas ride is Moto2 rider Aron Canet, but he has signed a two-year deal to switch from the Aspar team to the Pons team from 2022.

There were two MotoGP weddings during the summer break, with both Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira getting married! Joan’s wedding certainly looked a lot more casual than Miguel’s did, but they both looked lovely!

Heading into the Styrian GP weekend we learned that Dani Pedrosa would be racing as a wildcard for KTM, marking his first race EVER in the MotoGP paddock on a bike that isn’t a Honda! Over his entire GP career, from 125cc, to 250cc and then the premier class, Dani Pedrosa raced 295 times on Honda machinery.

Another familiar face making a return to the paddock this weekend is Cal Crutchlow. The Yamaha test rider will contest both Austrian races and the British GP in place of Franky Morbidelli who is recovering from the knee surgery that saw him miss the race at Assen.

Before any of the media duties began on Thursday, members of the MotoGP paddock came together to remember Hugo Millán. 14-year-old Hugo died following an accident in the European Talent Cup race at the MotorLand Aragon round of the FIM CEV Repsol on July 25th. Millán was having the most successful season of his career and was sitting second in the championship having notched up two pole positions and four podiums already this season.

The paddock gathered in pit lane on Thursday for a minute of silence in Hugo’s memory, and there were tributes from many of the riders in the paddock across the weekend. Moto2 rider Marcos Ramirez wore a replica of Hugo’s helmet design this weekend, while others including Aron Canet and the Aspar Moto3 bikes carried his race number. Moto3 championship leader and race winner Pedro Acosta dedicated his win to Hugo and revealed a tribute on his leathers.

I join the MotoGP paddock in sending my condolences to Hugo’s family, friends and team.

On Thursday it was announced that before the usual pre-event press conference, there would be an ‘exceptional press conference’ for Valentino Rossi. Cue a media frenzy – was this it? Is this the announcement that we know is coming but really don’t want to hear – is The Doctor finally going to announce his retirement? Or, as some suggested, would he announce a move to ride for his own team next season?

As we awaited the beginning of the press conference, there was a lone chair on the stage and a buzz of anticipation in the media room. The numbers were apparently limited, but the room was still packed with journalists and the odd team boss. I even noticed that Joan Mir and Jack Miller had snuck in at the back of the room!

Valentino took to the stage and as Steve Day introduced him and told him “The stage is yours” Valentino joked about there not being a table in front of him – it was embarrassing to just sit on the chair! And then he said the words that no doubt broke many a heart…

“I said during the season I take my decision for next year after the summer break, and I decide to stop at the end of the season so unfortunately this will be the last half a season as a MotoGP rider.”

He went on to say that this is a sad time, but that he has had lots of fun before concluding his short statement with “I don’t have a lot to say, just this” which made me smile because he has just made a massive announcement and then he shrugs it off like its no big deal! Modest as always.

He then shared the news in Italian before we were treated to a video that contained some of the highlights (and low-lights, I saw a Ducati in there!) of his illustrious career.

Valentino explained that while it was a difficult decision, in sport the results make the difference and so he felt the time was right to stop. He said he did have the opportunity to ride next season in his own team alongside his brother, but in the end the right choice was to stop racing motorcycles. Explaining that he thinks it will be much harder when they arrive at the final round of the season because this weekend is just about letting everybody know his decision and he knows he still has races left, he then said “I can’t complain about my career.”

This news is huge for MotoGP – the word ‘legend’ is often overused but in this case, Valentino Rossi really is a legend. He is an icon of MotoGP – and quite possibly the only name that anyone who doesn’t follow the sport knows. I had my own experience of this recently – I joined an art club during lockdown and the other week we were tasked with tearing a picture from a magazine and recreating the missing piece. Explaining that I don’t really buy magazines but I had one in the house because there was a MotoGP rider interview that I wanted to read, I was asked who the rider was. I said Franky Morbidelli, and the guy I was talking to said he’d never heard of him, but he knew who Valentino Rossi was.

I’m of an age where I don’t know MotoGP without Valentino – he has been there for as long as I have watched it, so it is going to be very strange when I watch the first race next season and he isn’t there. Valentino deserves so much more than these few paragraphs, and he will absolutely get that at the end of the season. For now, I plan to enjoy watching him race over these last few races, and silently curse myself for deciding against going to Silverstone this year!

Free Practice 1 on Friday morning saw a high-side for Miguel Oliveira who walked away from the crash, but sat down behind the fencing for a fair amount of time. He had injured his wrist, although scans show that nothing was broken so he was able to carry on with the weekend. The session was topped by Taka Nakagami, with the returning Dani Pedrosa as the top KTM rider in 10th.

FP2 saw the first rain of the weekend. While most riders headed out onto track (there was rain forecast for Sunday, so why wouldn’t you?) Maverick Viñales remained in his garage. Miguel had been out for an out-lap but came straight back in, and did appear to struggle to remove the glove from his right hand.

Maverick did eventually head out with 25 minutes to go, and while there was a slight dry line beginning to form at the end of the session resulting in Jack Miller heading out on slicks, it was Lorenzo Savadori who topped the session for the first time in his MotoGP career.

Given that FP2 had been wet, Saturday morning’s dry FP3 session would be crucial for those looking to avoid Q1. The session started with Viñales trying to follow Fabio Quartararo, only for Fabio to clock what was happening and pull out of his lap. Maverick, who seems to have forgotten all of the bitching and whining he did when Marc Marquez was doing the same to him earlier this season, also pulled out of the lap and continued trying to follow his team mate. Later in the session there was a tiny bit of contact between them and Maverick was gesturing at Fabio like he’d side-swiped him and made him crash. I would not be at all surprised to see a wall appear in that garage before the end of the season – Maverick is clearly not coping well with having a team mate out performing him!

With only 5 minutes remaining in FP3, Fabio Quartararo – the only rider to have made it directly through to Q2 at every round so far this season – was sitting in 11th and in danger of facing Q1. He put in a lap with just over two minutes to go which saw him go 2nd, only for the lap to be cancelled for exceeding track limits! He held it together for another lap and put himself at the top of the timesheets just in the nick of time.

The session was topped by Pecco Bagnaia who put in a faster lap than Fabio just at the end of the session. This is Pecco’s first time here on a MotoGP bike, having missed both races last season due to injury. Joining Pecco and Fabio with direct passage to Q2 would be Viñales, Jorge Martin, Mir, Zarco, Marc Marquez, Rins, Miller and Nakagami. Dani Pedrosa remained top KTM but his 12th place meant that there were no KTMs making it straight through to Q2 at their home circuit. Cal Crutchlow finished the session in last, but had closed the gap to the top significantly since FP1.

FP4 was topped by Fabio Quartararo, and was a memorable session, but not for what happened on track. Mid way through the session the news broke that Moto2 rookie Raul Fernandez would make the move to join his current team mate Remy Gardner at Tech3 KTM next season. While this had been speculated, Raul himself had said going in to the summer break that he wanted to remain in Moto2 for another season before looking at a move up to the premier class.

The timing of the news was strange at best, although it could be considered cruel as it emerged that Tech3’s current riders Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci had no idea that the news was coming. Well, they probably knew it was coming at some stage, and they knew that at least one of them was definitely out of a job following the signing of Remy Gardner, but they didn’t know the news was coming at that time leaving them shocked. Iker Lecuona was apparently in tears and they then both had to go out and qualify almost immediately after finding out that their time in KTM colours is coming to an end.

Herve Poncharal was not happy when interviewed by Michael Laverty soon after the news broke, having clearly been blind-sided by the timing of the announcement himself. He told Laverty that he was expecting to be able to sit down with Iker and Danilo and explain the plans before they were announced, before going on to say “it’s a bit of a shock, the timing is a bit strange, let me tell you.”

It would seem that KTM took the decision to make the announcement earlier than planned in order to put a stop to other manufacturers (namely Yamaha) trying to lure Fernandez away. Fernandez himself reportedly told Spanish media on Saturday evening that he would not be riding where he wants to be next season. Whether he means that he wanted to remain in Moto2 for another season, or that he wanted one of the vacant seats in the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team is anyone’s guess, but I do find it quite interesting that Raul has made no mention of his move on his social media. You would think that bagging a ride in MotoGP would be big news…

Back on track, it was KTM’s Miguel Oliveira who was leading ahead of Alex Rins at the end of the first set of runs in Q1. Interestingly, Iker Lecuona didn’t set a time in the first part of the session. With 25 seconds to go it looked like it would be Enea Bastianini and Alex Marquez who would be progressing through to Q2, only for Enea to have his lap cancelled due to exceeding track limits, meaning that it was Alex Marquez and Miguel Oliveira who would be heading to Q2.

The beginning of Q2 saw Miguel Oliveira waiting in the pits icing his wrist while Fabio headed the times after the first runs. It was rookie Jorge Martin who set a new lap record to take his second pole position of the season ahead of Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo. Jack Miller qualified in 4th, while Joan Mir – sporting a new ‘ride height’ device on his Suzuki – scored his best grid position of the season with 5th ahead of Zarco.

Sunday morning warm up was a wet session, although it had stopped raining by the time the session started. There were lots of bike swap practices going on given the weather and the chances of a flag-to-flag race. Newly jobless Iker Lecuona had a strong warm up – finishing in 4th – and part of me would have loved him and Danilo to have strong races today. It was Marc Marquez who eventually topped the session ahead of Miller and Viñales.

As the riders lined up on the grid, the race was officially declared a dry one, but would it stay that way? It turns out that forecasting weather at the Red Bull Ring is much akin to forecasting weather at Knockhill – weather apps are no use – it can only be done by locals who know how to read the movements of the animals on the hills!

It was Pecco Bagnaia who made the best start, grabbing the holeshot ahead of rookie Jorge Martin but Martin had the lead by the time they reached turn 3. Pecco made his way back into the lead ahead of Martin, Mir, Quartararo and Marc Marquez, and it wasn’t long before Joan Mir passed Martin for 2nd.

Jorge Martin regained 2nd place from Joan Mir on lap 2 before a few corners later Mir ran wide allowing both Marc and Fabio through.

As Pecco continued to lead on lap 3, there was drama unfolding further back – Dani Pedrosa crashed and while he was able to run off the track, his KTM remained stranded on the track only to be hit by Lorenzo Savadori whose Aprilia burst into flames. The red flag was brought out and there were a few tense moments while we waited to see what was going on – all we could see was a massive fire. Thankfully both Dani and Lorenzo were relatively ok – Lorenzo has a broken ankle – but it looked like we were in for a lengthy wait while they put the fire out and then treated the track.

I have to say that I was very impressed with how quickly they were able to treat the track and get the race re-started because it was a mess. The riders were released from pit lane for the quick re-start procedure 35 minutes after the red flag had been shown, and they would be lining up in their original grid positions. There was more drama to come as the bikes headed off on their warm-up lap – Maverick Viñales stalled his Yamaha which resulted in the Spaniard having to start from pit lane.

This time Jorge Martin managed to make the post of his pole position and he led into turn 1 only for Miller to take the lead into turn 3. There was turn 1 contact between Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro (who had also had contact in the first start which caused Aleix to remonstrate with Marc on their in-lap following the red flag) and post-race Aleix was furious and quick to criticize Marc and his ‘aggressive riding style’. Now, I’m not really a fan of either of them if I’m honest, but I didn’t see much in either of the ‘incidents’ – they looked to me to be typical first corner touches, it was just unfortunate that it was the same pair of riders each time!

Anyway, Miller continued to lead ahead of Martin, Mir, Quartararo, Zarco and Alex Marquez who had made a good start from 11th on the grid. As Marc, Taka and Alex Rins all ran wide at turn 1, ahead of them Jorge Martin lost 2nd place to Joan Mir. Martin wasn’t hanging around though, and by lap 4 he had passed both Mir and Miller and was leading the race.

Iker Lecuona was giving a good show of himself early on in the race – having a little back and forth battle with Marc Marquez for 8th, while Aleix Espargaro had to pull off of the track as his Aprilia suffered a technical issue, and Brad Binder moved up to 8th.

As Martin and Mir began to pull away at the front, Quartararo and Miller were having quite the battle for the final podium spot. Quartararo was able to make the move stick and Miller found that he had Zarco all over the rear of his Ducati. Behind them, LCR duo Alex Marquez and Taka Nakagami were battling for 6th.

Lap 13 saw Maverick Viñales hit with a long lap penalty for exceeding track limits, negating the progress he had made in getting up to 19th following his pit lane start. Miguel Oliveira dropped way down the order on lap 14 and could be seen looking down at his bike before entering the pits at the end of the lap. It turns out there was a ‘tyre issue’ for Miguel – and what a tyre issue it was! There were chunks missing from the tyre on his return to pitlane.

As Martin and Mir extended their lead to over 3 seconds, Martin was issued with a track limits warning, meaning he would need to be careful over the remaining laps. Meanwhile, Miller was closing in on Fabio – would we see a podium where all 3 riders had the same initials? As it turned out, no we wouldn’t! Jack lost the front at turn 7 and crashed, he was able to remount, but his race ended in the pit lane.

Jorge got his head down and began to pull away from Mir, getting himself 1.5 seconds ahead by lap 23. With only a lap remaining, Pecco was trying to pass Alex Marquez for 9th but the younger Marquez was having none of it and firmly shut the door on the Italian.

Jorge Martin kept his cool and finished the race to earn his first premier class win in only his 6th race! Jorge was followed over the line by Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo. Brad Binder – perhaps the Sunday-est of Sunday men – came home in 4th having not been higher than 15th all weekend. Nakagami, Zarco, Rins, Marc and Alex Marquez, and Dani Pedrosa rounded out the top 10 while Maverick Viñales finished the race through the pit lane in last.

Not only was this Jorge Martin’s first win in the premier class, but it also marked the first win for Pramac Ducati, and the first ever satellite Ducati victory. Martin’s win is made all the more special when you consider that he has spent a few months on side-lines this season following that horrendous crash at Portimão in April.

Jorge said that he couldn’t believe he had won the race, but that he would definitely be trying to repeat the win next weekend! He also said – perhaps worryingly for his rivals – that he still doesn’t really know the bike, so there is certainly going to be more to come from him once he figures out the Ducati!

Joan Mir returned to the podium and said that he was happy with the progress that his team have made over the summer break – Suzuki have become the most recent (and last) manufacturer to add a device to the bike that allows the rider to adjust the height of the rear of the bike, and it seems to be making a difference.

Fabio Quartararo’s 3rd place finish sees him extend his championship lead over Zarco to 40 points, while Joan Mir has moved up to 3rd in the championship, 51 points behind Quartararo – could we see the reigning champion start to reel Fabio in over the next few races?

With Binder and Nakagami finishing the race in 4th and 5th, we saw 5 different manufacturers finish in the top 5 of a race for only the 3rd time in the MotoGP era. The first time was back in 2007 when at the Catalan GP Casey Stoner (Ducati) won ahead of Rossi (Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Honda), John Hopkins (Suzuki) and Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki).

The feat was repeated 2008 at Brno when Rossi won on his Yamaha ahead of Toni Elias (Ducati), Loris Capirossi (Suzuki), Shinya Nakano (Honda) and Anthony West (Kawasaki).

Next week we return to the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian GP – will we see back-to-back wins for a rookie, or will someone else grace the top step? Thankfully we don’t have to wait long to find out!

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