The VROOM Blog #PortugueseGP – Fantastic Fabio powers to awesome Algarve victory

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

The 2022 MotoGP season really is the season that keeps on giving. Following hot on the heels of the Americas GP, the Portuguese GP was another absolute cracker. The MotoGP paddock headed to Portimão and the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve for only the 4th time, with the circuit having been added to the calendar in 2020 during the condensed Covid-hit season.

Before any action got underway, Miguel Oliveira led a mammoth ride-in with fans on Wednesday. Miguel took to the stage by the waterfront in the Portimão town centre and revealed a special helmet design for the weekend before changing into his leathers and jumping on board his KTM RC16 to lead a procession of hundreds of bikes through the town and towards the picturesque Algarve circuit where the parade ended with a lap of the rollercoaster track.

The silly season rumour mill was back in action this weekend with many in the paddock under the impression that Jorge Martin has already signed for the Factory Ducati team, which given that Pecco Bagnaia has already been retained would mean that Jack Miller would be without a seat in the Factory team for 2023.

Speaking to both Simon Crafar and Suzi Perry over the course of the weekend, Ducati’s Davide Tardozzi said that they want to keep Jack, and that Ducati are less concerned with ‘teams’ and more focussed on the materials and providing all of their riders with the resources to get the job done. There was also a rumour on Saturday evening that Jack had been in talks with the LCR team about a return to the team that he first raced when he jumped to the premier class from Moto3 for the 2015 season. Lucio Cecchinello told Simon Crafar that he has had no direct contact with Jack.

Miller himself spoke about the rumours on Sunday evening, saying that there was no truth to the rumours that he had been talking to LCR. He said he hadn’t discussed a move with anyone, but was beginning to look at options now that silly season was in full swing. The Australian said he would weigh his options, but he has been at Ducati a while and he ‘knows how things work’ there. Jack finished by saying that he has a good home at Ducati and that it would take a decent offer to move him elsewhere.

Lorenzo Savadori was back on board an Aprilia this weekend in the first of his scheduled wild card rides this year.

As track action got underway on Friday morning for FP1, riders headed out with wet tyres on their bikes to match the miserable weather conditions. The session saw crashes for Taka Nakagami, Jack Miller and Luca Marini, while the fastest time was set by Marc Marquez ahead of Joan Mir, rookie Marco Bezzecchi, Johann Zarco and local hero Miguel Oliveira.

The conditions worsened ahead of FP2, with the wind picking up to such a degree that the Moto3 FP2 session before MotoGP had to be red flagged to allow the roof of the Honda Team Asia pit-wall canopy to be collected after it blew onto the track! The rain had also increased, and the track was very wet as the MotoGP riders headed out. Pecco Bagnaia crashed early in the session, and scooped up a large pile of gravel from where he landed. He got a lift back to his pit box on a scooter, and promptly handed the gravel to Davide Tardozzi.

There was much speculation about the reasons behind this, but it was simply to use as an example when complaining – as many riders have in the past – about the size and shape of the gravel at this circuit. Many riders believe that the gravel is too big and too sharp and often causes them more bruising when they crash, as well as causing the bikes to ‘dig-in’ and flip rather than just slide across the gravel.

With 30 minutes remaining on the clock, the rain got significantly heavier and most riders headed into the pits. Marco Bezzecchi was one of the few riders to remain out on track, and five minutes later he had a big crash. Thankfully he was able to walk away from the crash, and it wasn’t just rookies who were being caught out by the conditions either – with just two minutes left of the session, Johann Zarco crashed at turn 2.

At the end of Friday, it was Marc Marquez who led the way on combined times, and the rest of the top 10 was made up by Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Bezzecchi, Zarco, Oliveira, Viñales, Jorge Martin, Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller. With more rain expected on Saturday, it was unclear whether this top ten would change ahead of the important qualifying sessions.

The riders were once again greeted by a wet track for FP3 on Saturday morning, but there was still hope that those outside the top 10 could improve their times in this session, and a few of them did. In fact, as Jack Miller was the first to improve his position inside the top 10 after just 8 minutes, Fabio Quartararo moved himself from 20th to 7th a minute later.

Shortly after Fabio’s improved lap, Marc Marquez had a crash. While the crash itself was relatively slow, he did land on his face, dislodging the visor on his Shoei helmet and raising questions about diplopia. Marc remounted his Honda and headed back to the pits, holding his visor in place as he did so.

Marc reportedly told the press on Saturday evening that having crashed and hit his head was a ‘good’ thing as he knows now that he can crash and not have diplopia (double vision) be an issue every time – this didn’t sit right with me though. When he crashed in Indonesia, the diplopia didn’t appear until he was on the flight home hours later. What if that was the case this weekend – what if the diplopia was a delayed reaction again and it happened while he was out on track? That could be dangerous not only for Marc, but for everyone around him on track. Thankfully that doesn’t appear to have been the case this weekend, but it doesn’t mean to say it will be the same next time.

Anyway, back on track Miguel Oliveira had put in a lap to take the top spot, but there was still half an hour to go. Brad Binder moved himself up to 6th place as Fabio Quartararo went 2nd. With 20 minutes left, the rain was getting heavier and Brad Binder crashed at turn 9. While Brad was ok, his KTM looked decidedly second hand. Remy Gardner also had a crash at turn 7, which was followed a few minutes later by a crash at turn 3 for fellow rookie Darryn Binder. Darryn’s bike looked a lot like his team would be spending a long time repairing it, but thankfully the South African himself was fine.

Most of the riders were in the pits with 13 minutes remaining, and Bezzecchi and Miller were the only two riders in the top 10 that were out on track. With 6 minutes to go the majority of riders headed back out onto track, but with rain still pouring it seemed a bit like a pointless exercise. Marco Bezzecchi crashed again before the end of the session, and Marc Marquez headed back out for the first time since his earlier crash to do a practice start.

The early part of the session had proved fruitful for some, with the top 10 having changed since Friday afternoon meaning that the riders heading directly through the Q2 would be Miguel Oliveira, Joan Mir, Quartararo, Brad Binder, Marc Marquez, Pol Espargaro, Bezzecchi, Zarco, Aleix Espargaro and Jack Miller.

After a Moto2 FP3 session that was red flagged for a period due to the wild wind and rain, MotoGP FP4 got underway on a wet track, but without any falling rain. The session was largely uneventful, but did see rookie Remy Gardner up in 6th place for a while, and a crash for Lorenzo Savadori. The session was topped once again by Miguel Oliveira, this time ahead of Miller, Bezzecchi, Viñales and Quartararo.

Q1 and Q2 this weekend were the wildest and most hectic sessions we have seen in a long time. Q1 started under sunny skies, but the track was still damp. That didn’t stop Nakagami and Gardner from heading out on slick tyres, though perhaps it should have as Remy has a massive crash – that he walked away from – and Taka headed straight back into pit lane to switch to his second bike and some wet tyres.

Shortly after Remy’s crash, Pecco pitted and switched to slicks, and really, I’m unsure as to why his team let him do that considering that they would have seen Remy’s crash. Anyway, Pecco headed out and a few minutes later he had his own huge crash, and he looked hurt. He was pointing to his shoulder and was taken to the medical centre by ambulance after 5 minutes trackside.

The session carried on and Di Giannantonio and Marini both headed out on slick tyres as Alex Marquez headed to the top of the times on his own slick tyres. With a minute left on the clock, Dovi sat at the top of the time sheets, and Raul Fernandez became the latest rider to crash in sketchy conditions. As the chequered flag came out the timing screen was lit up with red sectors from riders on fast laps, and Enea Bastianini high-sided himself off his Ducati.

In the end, it was Alex Marquez who set the fastest time, and he would be joined in progressing to Q2 by Luca Marini who had bumped Jorge Martin out of second spot right at the end of the session, marking the first time this season that Martin would not be qualifying on the front row of the grid.

The biggest shocks of the session were that Alex Rins and Pecco Bagnaia would be starting on the back row of the grid – providing of course that Pecco was passed fit following his crash.

As Q2 kicked off, the sun was now glorious, and despite some damp patches remaining, riders were heading out on slick tyres. After the first set of laps, it was Alex Marquez leading the way from Pol Espargaro and Mir. In the last 3 minutes of the session Zarco, Mir, Miller, Fabio and Marc all took turns at holding pole position, but yellow flags at the end of the session – brought out by a crash for Pol Espargaro – meant that Fabio and Marc saw their fastest lap times cancelled. Pol Espargaro’s crash was a fairly small one, he didn’t reach the gravel trap, but he did spend a lot of time expressing his frustration with himself at the side of the track, during the final seconds of a crucial session. If I was Marc Marquez and I came back to the garage and saw the footage of my team mate behaving in such a manner and potentially costing me pole position, I’d be furious! You could perhaps accept that kind of behaviour from a Red Bull Rookies rider, or even a Moto3 rookie, but Pol has more than enough experience to know that that behaviour isn’t on.

It was Johann Zarco who claimed his first pole of the season, and he would be joined on the front row of the grid by Joan Mir, and Aleix Espargaro. I was surprised to see Aleix on the front row as he’d been nowhere all weekend, barely troubling the top 10 and suddenly he was in the top 3!

Following the session, Pecco Bagnaia was examined at the medical centre and then sent off to hospital for checks on his shoulder. It was confirmed that nothing was broken – he had “bruises and pain” but no fractures and was assessed as fit to ride following a check before morning warm up on Sunday. Raul Fernandez was declared fit, but decided with his team not to ride due to pain in his hand, and Enea Bastianini had his hand strapped up but was also declared fit to race.

Morning warm up on Sunday was the first fully dry session of the weekend, and saw crashes for Marco Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin. It was Fabio Quartararo who was fastest in the dry, ahead of Miller, Marc Marquez, Aleix Espargaro and Alex Marquez. Would Fabio be able to carry this form into the race, or would Johann Zarco continue the trend of converting pole to a race win as has happened at all 3 MotoGP races in Portimão so far?

As the riders lined up on the grid, the sky was once again dark and there were spots of rain being reported from the paddock area. The lights went out and Joan Mir was off like a scalded cat, darting into turn 1 ahead of Zarco and Quartararo. Fabio wasted no time in passing his compatriot for 2nd place, and Zarco soon lost out to Miller and Alex Marquez too. Alex Rins was up to 11th – from 23rd on the grid – after a cracking start and was soon through on Marc Marquez for 10th, as Zarco took back 4th place from Alex Marquez.

As Mir began to pull away at the front, reigning world champion Quartararo had his head down and was working on closing the gap to the Spaniard. Mir’s team mate Rins had made his way through to 8th, but dropped back to 9th having run wide. On lap 4 Fabio had caught and passed Mir, and we wondered whether we might see a battle between the two most recent MotoGP champions. We might see a battle between them, but it wasn’t to be this weekend as Fabio continued to outpace his rivals and immediately began to pull away.

Jorge Martin crashed out of the race on lap 5, before a lap later we saw Repsol Honda team mates Marc and Pol battling for 9th place. Further forward, and a few laps later, Alex Marquez was battling with Aleix Espargaro for 5th place with Aleix eventually making the move stick through the Craig Jones corner. Alex Rins followed Aleix through, demoting the younger Marquez a further place and into the sights of Marc.

Fabio had extended his lead to almost 2 full seconds over Mir and Zarco by lap 10 when we saw Enea Bastianini crash out of the race. Pecco Bagnaia meanwhile, had made his way up to 14th place from his 24th place on the grid. Taka Nakagami ran a bit hot behind Brad Binder and hit his back tyre, causing himself to crash. Taka was able to remount his Honda and continue in the race.

As Pecco made his way into 12th place, team mate Miller was closing the gap to Johann Zarco in 3rd place. With Fabio checked out at the front, and his lead increasing to over 4 seconds, the focus remained on the battle for 2nd place. Zarco passed Mir on the straight only to run wide and give the place straight back as Jack continued to close in. A lap later Zarco pulled the same move on Mir and was able to make it stick. Brad Binder crashed out of the race on lap 18, and by lap 19 Jack Miller was on the back of Joan Mir and lining up a move.

Jack attempted to make a move on Joan, but lost the front before he had made it past, taking them both down and out of the race. You would understand if Joan had been furious with Jack – he was in the fight for his first podium of the season – but upon getting to his feet and seeing Jack still crouched in the gravel, he went over to check on him. Once the pair were trackside Jack made his way back over to Mir to give him a hug and an apology.

The crash was deemed a racing incident with no further action taken, which I think is fair enough – Jack’s move wasn’t reckless or deliberate.

With Miller and Mir now out of the race, Aleix Espargaro was in 3rd place and on course for a second podium of the season following his race win in Argentina. The last few laps of the race saw a battle raging between the Marquez brothers, and it was Marc who got the better of Alex – just – as they crossed the finish line.

Fabio had crossed the line 5 seconds ahead of his nearest rival to win his first race of the season, with Johann Zarco in 2nd and Aleix Espargaro in 3rd place. Alex Rins, who had started at the back of the grid, came across the line in 4th place in what was surely a contender for ride of the day! Another contender would be Pecco, who started next to Rins on the grid and was nursing a very sore shoulder but managed to finish in 8th place just behind the duelling Marquez brothers. Home hero Miguel Oliveira finished in 5th place.

Fabio Quartararo said after the race that he was really happy to have made a great start, and to have been able to keep up such a pace throughout the race, while Zarco said that he was happy to sing along to La Marseillaise on the podium even though it was played for Fabio!

With the races in a different order this weekend, the Moto2 race followed MotoGP, and while I don’t usually mention Moto2 or Moto3 in much detail, there are a few reasons to at least mention the Moto2 race this weekend.

Firstly, and probably most obviously, is the absolute carnage that remarkably saw 11 riders walk away relatively ok and brought out the red flag. There had been rain flags showing for most of the race, but on lap 9 the rain picked up and the leading 3 of Aron Canet, Cameron Beaubier and Ai Ogura all crashed almost simultaneously, and were followed into the gravel trap at a terrifying rate by a further 8 riders. There seemed to be riders and bikes scattered everywhere, Ai Ogura had to jump over a bike as it hurtled towards him, and another bike exploded into a fireball. I don’t use the word carnage lightly, but that’s what it was.

Thankfully, everyone was able to walk away from the accident, and while there have been bruises and pain most riders escaped relatively unscathed and honestly, I’ve no idea how. Aron Canet was the first to crash, and has suffered broken bones in his hand. He has had successful surgery and has said on his Instagram account that he will be in Jerez this weekend, but whether he will be able or allowed to ride is another question.

The race was red flagged and the 5-minute rule was implemented – basically the riders have 5 minutes to get themselves and their bikes back into pit lane within 5 minutes of the red flag coming out in order to be eligible for the restart. Cue riders trying anything and everything to get back – Ai Ogura was able to remount and get his bike back, as were others but not within the time limit. Others had their bikes on the back of recovery trucks while MarcVDS team mates Tony Arbolino and Sam Lowes commandeered a photographer’s scooter to get themselves back.

I know that rules are rules, but in this situation, I couldn’t help but feel there should have been some wiggle room for those who had crashed. The crashes were due to the change in the weather and because so many of them crashed, it was clearly due to track conditions rather than rider error. There was a collection of team bosses surrounding race direction representatives in pit lane, but to no avail. None of the 11 riders involved were able to restart the race.

The re-started race was won by American Joe Roberts, who became the first American to win in the intermediate class since Kocinski in 1990, and the first American to win in any class since Ben Spies in 2011.

Secondly, I saw quite a few comments online from people saying that the Moto2 riders who were in the gravel should have been running away rather than standing where there were, but for me it makes more sense for them to have been staying where they were. If they’d have been running away, they wouldn’t have seen the bikes following them into the gravel, and we could have had some serious injuries – I’ve already mentioned that Ai Ogura had to jump over a bike that was sliding towards him. If he’d have been running away, he’d have been clattered by that bike. While I do agree that when riders crash they should get themselves to safety as quickly as they can, they should also take a moment to check their surroundings before doing so.

The last thing I want to say about Moto2 is actually more about race direction and the concussion protocol, it just happens to apply to Moto2 this weekend. There have been a few incidents this year where the application of MotoGP’s concussion protocol has been questionable to say the least, but this weekend took the biscuit. As I was watching the Moto2 race I saw Keminth Kubo on the timings and said to the people I was watching the race with that I was sure he had been declared unfit on Saturday due to a concussion. I shrugged my shoulders and assumed I’d muddled him with someone else, but I did go back and check later and it turns out that he was declared unfit on Saturday due to a concussion. So how on earth was he allowed to race on Sunday?!

For me this isn’t even about following the rules – it’s about rider safety. Kubo admitted himself in his team press release that he “was not feeling really good” on Sunday. Back in testing before the start of the season, Raul Fernandez had a crash where he banged his head so hard there was bruising all around his temple but he was allowed out on track the following day but struggled to focus and missed braking markers because he wasn’t fully aware of just how fast he was going. Thankfully he and his team then made the decision to sit out the rest of the test, but he should never have been allowed on the track in the first place.

There have been two more incidents that I can think of this season where riders could possibly have suffered concussions, but nothing was mentioned – Ricardo Rossi crashed at Mandalika and remained motionless for more than a few seconds but was allowed to remount his bike and continue with the session, and when Fermin Aldeguer crashed out of the race in Argentina, he too looked to have been knocked out, even momentarily. Now obviously I don’t know for certain from watching tv footage whether riders are definitely knocked out, but surely these riders should be being checked over at the very least. Surely any bang to the head should be checked – you don’t need to lose consciousness to be concussed.

It’s dangerous to allow riders with a concussion to continue riding – not just for themselves and the risk of doing more harm, but for their fellow riders. The Raul Fernandez incident highlights that issue for me perfectly – he didn’t have any perception of how fast he was going, and on those bikes at those speeds, that is terrifying.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that off my chest, the paddock is off to Jerez this weekend.

So, heading into Jerez, we have another change of championship leader – Fabio Quartararo sits at the top of the table. He is joint on points with Alex Rins, but holds the top spot on account of having won a race. Aleix Espargaro is 3 points behind, while leader heading into the Portuguese weekend Enea Bastianini has dropped to 4th and is 8 points behind Fabio.

The Jerez weekend will see Jorge Lorenzo inducted as a MotoGP Legend, and will see Fabio Quartararo keen to extend his championship lead at a circuit where he usually goes well.

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