The VROOM Blog, #EmiliaRomagnaGP – Fantastic Fabio takes the crown as Marquez makes it back-to-back wins

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

Wow, what a weekend that was! For the second time this season, the MotoGP paddock rolled into Misano for the Gran Premio Nolan del Made in Italy e dell’Emilia-Romagna.

Following on from the Americas GP, the 2022 MotoGP calendar was released – the calendar remains provisional as you’d imagine, but as it stands, we will have 21 rounds between March and November, with two new venues in Indonesia and Finland.

The 2022 season will begin as usual under the lights of the Qatar evening race on March 6th, before heading to the new Mandalika International Street Circuit in Indonesia. From Indonesia, the paddock will head to Argentina and America before heading to Portugal for the first European round of the season. May and June will see races at Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Catalunya, the Sachsenring and Assen before arriving at the KymiRing in July for the first Finnish GP since 1982.

In August, we will see the British GP at Silverstone before rounds at the Red Bull Ring, Misano and Aragon. After Aragon there will be the ‘fly-away’ rounds in Japan, Thailand, Australia and Malaysia before returning to Europe for the season finale at Valencia on November 6th.

After months of speculation, it was finally confirmed on Thursday in Misano that it will be Darryn Binder who will partner Andrea Dovizioso at the rebranded WithU Yamaha RNF (currently Petronas) team in MotoGP. I’ve written a few times this season about my thoughts on this move, so I won’t repeat myself, but I will wish Darryn all the best as he becomes only the second rider – after Jack Miller in 2015 – to make the jump straight to MotoGP from Moto3.

The team itself also was also confirmed as being the satellite Yamaha team for 2022, with the option to extend the deal into 2023 / 2024.

It was a big news weekend for Ducati, who announced on Thursday that they will become the sole supplier of bikes for the MotoE World Cup from 2023 – 2026. In a joint press conference, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta laid out the plans for Ducati to take over from Energica, and Ezpeleta explained that the deal came about following discussions with many manufacturers.

There was notification this weekend that from 2023 the minimum age across all MotoGP categories will be raised to 18. MotoGP already has an age limit of 18, so the changes will only impact Moto2 and Moto3, and there will be exceptions made for Junior World Champions, as well as ‘legacy’ exceptions for those already competing in the classes.

There will also be changes made to the Junior World Championship, Talent Cups, Red Bull rookies and World Supersport 300, with age limits being increased from 2022 (and again in 2023), and safety measures including compulsory airbags and dash messages warning of crashes being applied.

There have been some complaints that raising the age limit won’t necessarily make a difference – Jason Dupasquier was 19, many argue – and that it will stunt the careers of those who were looking to progress through the ranks, but for me, this is a great first step in terms of making racing safer, and it does sound as though further safety enhancements are being looked at, which can only be a good thing.

This weekend saw Maverick Viñales return to action for the first time since the death of his cousin, and Top Gun carried Dean’s number with him on his bike in his memory. The Aprilia garage also welcomed back Lorenzo Savadori as a wildcard entry for the weekend, while Ducati’s Michele Pirro would also be a wildcard.

In Moto3, in light of Deniz Öncü’s two race ban, current leader of the Junior World Championship – Dani Holgado – was given the opportunity to ride the bike that he will be on next season. Now, I have nothing against Holgado gaining experience that will no doubt help him next year, but I do feel that if the teams were punished alongside a rider and not allowed to field a replacement, then teams might be a bit more inclined to hold their riders accountable for their actions, because to me it just looks like the team have used Öncü’s ban to their advantage and surely that defeats the purpose?!

Talking of Moto3 – it has finally been confirmed that John McPhee will be racing with the Sterilgarda Max racing Team for 2022 alongside former Petronas team mate Ayumu Sasaki. While this does mean that John will once again remain in the Moto3 class, the team is solid and with Max Biaggi (Team Owner) and Peter Öttl (Team Manager) at the helm current rider Romano Fenati is sitting 5th in the championship with 1 race win and a further 3 podiums to his name. Like John, Fenati is known for being able to set fast times on his own without the need for a tow, so I’m sure that John will be well suited to the team and bike, and hopeful that a solid season in a good team (that shouldn’t mess him around) will see John secure a ride in Moto2 for 2023.

It has also been announced this week that Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge will leave the MotoGP paddock and head to World Superbikes where they will replace Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam as riders in the Factory Honda team. I do feel for Lecuona – he was moved up to MotoGP perhaps a little too soon and lost his ride just before he finally found his form. I wish both him and Xavi lots of luck – I’m sure they will be great additions to the World Superbike grid.

This weekend was going to be a big one – there were so many things happening – and there was drama before the weekend got started when news leaked that a member of a “high profile” team in the paddock had been suspended for falsifying Covid PCR test results (these are required for entry to the paddock). A few hours later, the Esponsorama team released a statement explaining that a member of their team had unsuccessfully falsified their PCR test results and issued an apology to Dorna and IRTA while also thanking them for “all the efforts made to keep everyone in the MotoGP paddock safe, allowing the championship to continue”.

I mentioned that we were in store for a big weekend – there were two championships that had reached their first “match-point”, Valentino Rossi would be racing on home soil for the last time (as would Danilo Petrucci), Marco Simoncelli would be remembered on the 10th anniversary of his passing at the circuit that now carries his name, and the Gresini team would be paying tribute to the late Fausto Gresini.

In MotoGP Fabio Quartararo held a lead of 52 points over Pecco Bagnaia, and could seal the deal this weekend if he was able to end the race with out losing 3 points to Pecco.

Heading into the weekend, Fabio and Pecco had differing approaches – Fabio knew that with his points advantage he could afford to be a little more careful, and said that he would treat the weekend “the same as a normal weekend, but of course we know what is at the end of this weekend – we can win the championship.”

Pecco, on the other hand, said that the only thing he could do was “to go all in and try to win”, and he did point out that he won the race here 3 weeks ago.

Meanwhile, in Moto3, Pedro Acosta would need to win the race and hope that in-form Dennis Foggia finished 12th or lower. Pedro could become the youngest ever World Champion if he wins the title this weekend, but if it rolls over to Portimão and he does it there, he will be 1 day older than Loris Capirossi was!

Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci would both be competing in their final MotoGP races on home soil, and both riders would sport one-off helmet designs this weekend – Valentino with a dedication to his fans, and Petrucci with a birthday cake design to celebrate his 31st birthday on race day.

Saturday marked 10 years since the death of Marco Simoncelli at Sepang, and on Saturday afternoon a ceremony was held at the Quercia corner, where an oak tree was dedicated to the memory of the late Italian.

The Gresini team paid a lovely tribute to late boss Fausto with a one-off livery and a tribute lap on Sunday morning. The tribute had originally been scheduled for Mugello, but was postponed as the paddock awaited news on Jason Dupasquier.

The lap was led by Fausto’s son Luca onboard his father’s 1985 Championship winning Garelli, and he was joined by Gresini Moto2 riders Fabio Di Giannantonio and Nicolo Bulega as well as Loris Capirossi who had been team mates and good friends with Fausto.

On Friday morning action got underway on a very wet track, and it only took 5 minutes before we saw crashes from Alex Marquez and Brad Binder. Soon, the rain was coming down heavily and most riders returned to the pits for 5 minutes until the conditions improved a little. The final few minutes of FP1 saw both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Savadori crash, and it was Johann Zarco who topped the times ahead of Marc Marquez and Jack Miller.

It was wet again for FP2 and this time it was Jack Miller who made the most of the conditions to top day 1 from Zarco, Aleix Espargaro and Iker Lecuona.

Saturday morning’s FP3 saw the traditional unveiling of Valentino Rossi’s special home edition helmet, and this one didn’t disappoint. Featuring a large yellow heart on the top, and a depiction of his yellow-clad fans with flags around the sides and back, this helmet was Valentino’s ‘thank you’ to the fans that have supported him for the last 26 years, and I loved it!

On track, it was wet again and it was raining, but with many riders – Joan Mir, Marc Marquez, Alex Rins and Fabio Quartararo – that you might expect to be straight through to Q2 still outside of the top 10, this would be an important session, especially for the championship leader who would be looking for a solid grid position for Sunday.

Only 6 minutes into the session Lorenzo Savadori crashed and he looked as though he was hurt – we later learned that the Aprilia test rider had broken his collarbone. He has since had successful surgery, but will likely miss his scheduled wildcard appearance at Portimão.

Somehow, in spite of the conditions out on track, riders were improving their times, and with half an hour to go, Fabio had pulled himself up into the top 10 – but could he stay there? It wasn’t long before Joan Mir had put in a time that lifted him into the top 10, knocking out the Frenchman for the time being. Pirro, Rins and Miguel Oliveira all had crashes in FP3, and as the flag came out both Pecco and Quartararo were outside of the top 10 but on laps that might pull them up the timesheets. Fabio ran a little deep into a corner, ending any chance he had of progressing directly to Q2, and Pecco didn’t make it through either! Drama indeed as both championship contenders would be heading through Q1 – and there were other fast riders heading for Q1 too!

Fabio Quartararo had been the only rider on the grid to have made it directly through to Q2 in every race this season.

FP4 is a session that is usually used to perfect race set-up, but with sketchy track conditions and a weather forecast that said Sunday would be dry, there wasn’t a great deal to learn. It was however a chance to get used to the current conditions ahead of qualifying. This session saw 8 crashes – with two for Enea Bastianini – and was topped by Iker Lecuona. Pecco Bagnaia was 2nd ahead of Miller, Fabio, Miguel Oliveira and Maverick Viñales.

Q1 got underway and unusually all riders – with the exception of Michele Pirro – remained out on the same set of tyres for the whole session. With 6 minutes remaining, it was Pecco and Fabio who were in the coveted top 2 positions, and the last few minutes of the session saw crashes from Binder and Pirro before Joan Mir had a crash so big that his bike flew through the air and clattered into the camera tower! Thankfully despite the camera operator being thrown back in his chair, he was unhurt – and later met up with Joan in the paddock, where Joan not only apologised to him and checked he was okay, but sent him away with a pair of signed boots.

With less than a minute to go, Enea Bastianini crashed for the 3rd time in 8 laps, bringing out the yellow flags for the final laps of most riders. Championship leader Fabio ended the session in 3rd place – although he was then demoted to 5th as his fastest lap was cancelled – while championship contender Pecco topped the session and would be joined in Q2 by Iker Lecuona.

For the first time in his MotoGP career, Fabio Quartararo would not be in Q2!

Q2 was another crash-filled session, with Jorge Martin crashing twice, there was also crashes from Petrucci, Iker Lecuona, Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco.

At the mid-point of the session, it was Pecco, Lecuona and Luca Marini who held the front row spots, and Pecco managed to keep himself at the top of the times to take his 4th consecutive pole position – the first Ducati rider to do so since Casey Stoner took 7 in a row in 2008. Pecco would be joined on the front row by team mate Jack Miller, and fellow Ducati rider Luca Marini, who takes his first MotoGP front row.

For the first time ever, Ducati had secured a 1-2-3 in MotoGP qualifying. While it was hugely disappointing for Valentino Rossi to have qualified in last place for his final home GP, I imagine he was proud to see two of his Academy riders – including his younger brother – on the front row of the grid.

Tech3 duo Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci scored their best qualifying results of the season with 8th and 9th respectively – 8th is Lecuona’s best grid position ever in MotoGP.

Sunday morning’s warm up session was on a drying track and saw a mixture of wets and slicks, with Simon Crafar making the very valid point that if he were Fabio or Pecco’s team boss he would tell them to sit the session out – there was nothing to be gained in those conditions.

They did both head out on track though, and they finished the session in 2nd (Pecco) and 11th (Fabio). It was morning warm up world champion Taka Nakagami who was fastest.

The Moto3 title race will roll on to Portimão, as Dennis Foggia rode the race of his life from 14th on the grid to win ahead of Jaume Masia and Pedro Acosta. While the main championship remains up for grabs, Masia and Acosta have now scored enough points to secure the title of team champions for the Ajo squad – their second of the season after Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez did the same in Moto2.

Just before the Moto2 riders headed out to the grid, the Sky VR46 team released photos of the livery they would be using for the race, and wow, was it bright! The bikes were perhaps the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen and had only two words written on them – GRAZIE VALE! – as the team paid homage to their leader and mentor, Valentino Rossi. With matching leathers and helmets, there was no way you would be missing Celestino Vietti, Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini in their races this weekend!

I thought it was a nice touch also that MotoGP rookie, Enea Bastianini (not a VR46 Academy rider), revealed a helmet with extra yellow in tribute to Valentino ahead of the race.

Before we were treated to the national anthem and a spectacular air display as the riders were on the grid, Brad Binder crashed on the sighting lap and would therefore have to start the warm up lap from the pit lane before lining up at the back of the grid – The Doctor wouldn’t be starting last after all!

For someone who had qualified 14 places behind his championship rival, Fabio Quartararo looked very relaxed on the grid – smiling and laughing with those around him – a stark contrast to the Fabio of last season, who would have been nervous and probably quite annoyed with his position.

As the lights went out, Pecco took full advantage of his pole position and led Miguel Oliveira, Jack Miller and the two Repsol Hondas of Marquez and Pol Espargaro into the first corner. Jack and Marc both made their way through on Oliveira while Franky Morbidelli was top Yamaha in 6th. Further back, Fabio passed Taka Nakagami for 14th place.

As Fabio made his way up to 13th, at the front Pol Espargaro was up to 4th having also passed Oliveira. Pecco began to pull a small gap on team mate Miller, who was doing all he could to fend off the looming Marquez as Joan Mir was handed a double long lap penalty for jumping the start. Just when it looked like Mir’s day couldn’t get any worse, he collided with Danilo Petrucci and wiped him out of the race.

While many of the riders on the grid would have taken exception to being wiped out early in their final home GP on their birthday, Danilo simply accepted Joan’s gravel trap apology and gave him a hug. We should all be more like Danilo.

On lap 4, Fabio was up to 12th place, and was about to gain another place as out front a red bike crashed at turn 15 – my heart sank – but I quickly realised it was Jack and not Pecco that had crashed out of the race. It’s not that I wanted Jack to crash – it’s that I didn’t want the championship (which I would like Fabio to win) being decided by a crash from one of the challengers.

By lap 8 Fabio had made his way up to 10th place and was closing in on Rins and Martin ahead of him. The next few laps were rough for the LCR Honda team as Taka crashed and re-joined while team mate Alex Marquez retired with a technical issue.
Back out front, Pecco and Marc were now over 3 seconds ahead of the chasing pack of Pol Espargaro, Oliveira, Franky Morbidelli, Aleix Espargaro and Luca Marini, while Fabio was now up to 9th and Iker Lecuona crashed out of the race at turn 1.

A few laps later, Jorge Martin also crashed at turn 1, and Franky Morbidelli began to suffer the impact of his still recovering knee injury, finding himself losing places to Rins, Marini, Fabio and Zarco in quick succession. Fabio made his way through on Marini for 7th, but Marini didn’t make it easy for him and they had a little back and forth before Fabio made the move stick and set his sights on Alex Rins in 6th. As Pecco and Marc extended their lead over Pol to 4.4 seconds, Fabio caught and passed Rins, before passing Aleix Espargaro a lap later.

Fabio was now in 5th place, but with Pecco leading the race, the championship would roll over to Portimão if things stayed like this, and the next rider on Fabio’s list – Miguel Oliveira – was a full 8 seconds ahead. And then, as Pecco had pulled a small gap and looked as though he might be able to break away from Marquez, the unthinkable happened – he crashed out of the race, ending his championship challenge in the gravel. It didn’t matter now where Fabio finished the race – or even if he finished it at all – he would be 2021 MotoGP World Champion!

Miguel Oliveira also crashed out of the race, moving Fabio up to 3rd – could he seal the championship with a podium finish from 15th on the grid? Not if Enea Bastianini had anything to say about it – the Italian rookie was all over the back of Fabio, and on the final lap of the race he made his move and stole 3rd place from the new champion! Out front, Marc Marquez crossed the line to win his second race in a row and was followed home by team mate Pol Espargaro who takes his first podium of the season, and his first for Honda. Enea Bastianini held on to 3rd place to cross the line ahead of Quartararo.

Valentino Rossi – who had started his final home GP from the back of the grid – finished in a solid 10th place.

Marc Marquez described this win as one of the most important of the year – winning at a right-hand circuit was a goal for the season and gives him a lot of confidence going forward. He went on to say though that “today is not my day, it is the day of Fabio.”

It was hard to know where to look as there was so much happening after the chequered flag – so many stories being written! Fabio Quartararo had just become the first ever French MotoGP World Champion at 22 years of age, Valentino Rossi had finished his final race on Italian soil, Marc Marquez had not only won back-to-back races, but he had won at a right-hand circuit, and the Repsol Honda team had secured their first 1-2 finish since 2017!

Valentino Rossi was joined by his brother and the rest of the VR46 Academy riders (minus Pecco) in front of the VR46 fan club grandstand. I noticed that there was a member of Rossi’s crew with a helmet bag and wondered if perhaps he had designed another helmet for his final lap of Misano, but it turns out it just contained his normal helmet which he would need once he was done celebrating with his adoring fans.

And what a treat one fan got – Valentino, famous for not giving away helmets, stood on the tyre wall and threw his race-worn helmet into the crowd! I’m not sure if I was more impressed with Valentino for giving it away, or the rest of the fans around the guy who caught it for not wrestling him to the ground and taking it from him!

Meanwhile, a new champion was being crowned. Fabio carried a French flag as he walked a red carpet at the side of the track and was treated to a video wall with highlights from his career. He was sobbing watching that video, and honestly, I’m not sure who was crying more – me or him! Once the video ended, he walked to the end of the red carpet to find a Perspex box containing his championship winning gold helmet.

There were so many highlights of Fabio’s lap back to parc ferme, but the sight of Pecco Bagnaia leading Jack Miller and the rest of the Ducati team into pit lane to congratulate Fabio was wonderful. You could have completely understood if Pecco had hidden himself away in the back of the garage – he had just lost the chance of winning the World Championship – but he stood tall and went out and gave Fabio a big hug and congratulated him.

The current crop of MotoGP riders are fast, and they are skilled, but they are also decent, humble young men and I love it! Yes, the rivalries of the past have been entertaining, but there is something so wholesome about riders getting on and being good sports.

It was also lovely to see Marc and Alex Marquez’ dad shout Fabio over in parc ferme to congratulate him. Fabio was almost hoarse by the time he reached Simon Crafar for his parc ferme interview, but he did manage to say that “it feels amazing, right now I am living the dream” before going on to tell Natalie Quirk that he wasn’t happy to see Pecco crash out and for the championship to end that way.

Seeing as there is no race next weekend, Fabio was able to celebrate his championship victory late into Sunday evening (probably more like early Monday morning!) and his Instagram stories have been a pleasure to watch since Sunday. He shared highlights from his celebration – including dancing on tables and singing Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ at the top of his voice, and this race fan couldn’t he happier for him!

The Champion may have been decided, but there are still two rounds remaining. Next up – after a weekend off – is a second trip to Portimão for the Algarve GP, and I can’t wait!

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