The VROOM Blog #SpanishGP – Pecco Bagnaia finds his form in Jerez

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

If 2022 is the MotoGP season that keeps on giving, then this past weekend in Jerez it gave us the fifth different winner in 6 races as well as a new fastest ever lap around the circuit that carries the name of Angel Nieto.

Heading into the weekend, we learned that due to the increasing number of races on the MotoGP calendar, the number of days of testing will be cut from 2023 onwards.

Raul Fernandez, who sat out of the race last weekend with a hand injury, was declared unfit for this weekend after failing the fitness test on Thursday.

Lorenzo Savadori was back for a second wildcard this weekend, and he was joined in the wildcard ranks by Honda’s Stefan Bradl who ran the beautiful HRC colours for what was his 200th GP start.

Once again speculation was rife about Fabio Quartararo’s future – would he remain with Yamaha, or was a switch to a rival manufacturer on the cards? When asked about the situation on Thursday – and throughout the weekend – Fabio simply said that he didn’t want to talk about it, and that he didn’t want speculation to distract him from his job on track. Massimo Meregalli spoke to the BT Sport team on Saturday, and he said that they were “consistently talking” and that although nothing has been confirmed he is more confident now than he was a few races ago that Fabio would stay.

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was when on Friday evening Maverick Viñales finally revealed the helmet design we’ve been waiting for – a replica of the helmet worn by Maverick (the other one) in the Top Gun film. Quite how you can race at world championship level for so long with a name like Maverick and not wear that helmet is a wonder, but it has finally come about in a partnership with the Top Gun franchise ahead of the release of the new Top Gun film.

The helmet looks awesome, and it fits in pretty well with the colour scheme of Maverick’s Aprilia and I hoped that he would have a good race on Sunday so that we could see it on the screen! (Spoiler alert – I don’t think we saw Maverick on screen for the entire race…)

On Saturday evening, once all of the track action was complete, Jorge Lorenzo officially became a MotoGP Legend in a press conference / ceremony with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. There were a few MotoGP riders present including Alex Rins, Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, and Marc Marquez, as well as reigning Moto3 Champion Pedro Acosta, and MotoGP Legend Dani Pedrosa.

It was fitting that it was Jerez that was the venue for Lorenzo’s induction into the MotoGP Hall of Fame, having been the site of his GP debut on his 15th birthday – having missed the Friday sessions as his birthday wasn’t until the Saturday – and the final corner bears his name.

Lorenzo was very much a rider who could be referred to as a ‘marmite’ rider – MotoGP fans either loved him or hated him for his often-bolshy attitude, but love him or hate him, you cannot deny the talent he had. Lorenzo started 297 GP races, taking 69 pole positions, 152 podiums and 68 victories along the way. He is also a 5-time World Champion, having won back-to-back 250cc World Championships for Aprilia in 2006 and 2007 before making the step up to the premier class as team mate to a certain Valentino Rossi in the Factory Yamaha Team.

Jorge took pole position in his first 3 MotoGP races in 2008, before taking his first win in only his 3rd race at Estoril. He won all 3 of his MotoGP crowns with Yamaha in 2010, 2012 and 2015 before moving to Ducati in 2017 where he would win 3 more races. Jorge then moved to partner Marc Marquez in the Repsol Honda team in 2019, but retired at the end of the season following an exceptional press conference on the Thursday of the final GP of the season. He said that injuries had played a big part in his decision to stop racing, even admitting that following a crash at Assen – which was on the back of a testing crash – the first thought that came to his mind when he stopped rolling in the gravel was ‘what the hell am I doing here? Is this really worth it?’

The ceremony on Saturday began with a video of Lorenzo’s career highlights before he spoke about his time in the World Championship and took questions from the gathered media. He said that he thought it was easier for him to choose to retire when he did because he had already had so much success – he had achieved his dream of becoming MotoGP World Champion – and that it would have been much harder to stop if he hadn’t done so.

So now that Lorenzo has a shiny triangular medal to add to his collection of trophies, we’ll get to the on-track action!

FP1 kicked us off on Friday morning on a mostly dry track – there was the occasional damp patch to watch out for. It was a damp patch that caught out Fabio Quartararo just 10 minutes into the session as he crashed at the final turn. He was able to remount and return to the pits, but the World Champion looked to be in pain – thankfully he was able to return to track action quickly after a quick check over from a doctor.

During this session there was a camera attached to Pol Espargaro’s exhaust which gave a side-ways view, and all I have to say on that matter is that I hope they bin that as an idea or I’ll be taking travel sickness pills just to watch the racing from my sofa!

Having led for most of the session, Fabio Quartararo was displaced by Joan Mir with 10 minutes to go, before Fabio had another big moment on a damp patch, although thankfully he stayed on board this time. At the very end of the session, it looked as though Alex Marquez might be the fastest, but with just 10 seconds to go, Joan Mir put in another faster lap and ended the morning on top ahead of Alex Rins for a Suzuki 1-2, with Alex Marquez, Aleix Espargaro and Fabio Quartararo rounding out the top 5.

FP2 saw Marc Marquez crash twice in the same lap – he crashed at turn 6 and was able to remount, only to crash again at turn 9 as he was so busy looking behind him that he hit a damp patch and went down. This time he was unable to remount, but he was able to get a lift back to his pit-box from former team mate Dani Pedrosa who was trackside on a scooter spotting for KTM.

With 7 minutes to go, riders began their time attacks in a bid to set a fast lap, and it was Taka Nakagami who was top of the times, but it wasn’t to last for the LCR rider. Fabio Quartararo topped FP2 from Enea Bastianini, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin, with Taka finishing 5th on combined times ahead of FP3.

There was what some are calling a ‘war of words’ between Marc and Aleix on Friday night, but really it was just a spat about towing. Aleix – who had been waving his arms in frustration at Marc during FP2 – complained that Marc was spending too much time following him and that he should be doing the lap times on his own. Marc responded by saying that towing is part of the game and that Aleix should take it as a compliment because now he is fast and people want to follow him.

Now I’m not a fan of towing as a rule, but I can see where it is helpful to some riders. I think they’re both as bad as each other – Marc does spend a lot of time looking for a tow now, because he doesn’t have the speed he used to, but I’m fairly certain that in the years that he was dominating the sport, there was many a rider that used him for a tow, and I’m pretty sure that Aleix has been known to do so in the past. And as for Aleix – he whinges about EVERYTHING, and honestly sometimes I just stop listening to it because he complains so often. There are times when Aleix does have a valid point in his complaining, but its kind of like the boy who cried wolf – he complains so about little things that the big things might not always be taken seriously.

FP3 saw the track debut of the Maverick replica and the Top Gun puns were flying from the commentators, but Viñales was struggling to hold on to a top ten position that would see him head directly to Q2. Taka Nakagami was looking strong again in this session, and with 10 minutes to go he had fired himself up to 2nd place behind Pecco Bagnaia.

As the end of the session loomed, riders were in pit lane getting ready to start their final attempts to gain direct access to Q2, and Marc Marquez was sitting on his Honda in pit lane as we wondered who he would tag onto the back of this time. Jack Miller was the chosen one for this effort, and the Australian gave Marquez such a good tow that Marc finished the lap two places ahead of Miller.

With just two minutes remaining, Maverick Viñales pulled himself back into the top 10 with a lap time that put him 5th for the time being. Elsewhere Alex Marquez had a crash which looked to have caused a fair bit of damage to his poor LCR Honda.

In the final seconds of the session, Zarco jumped to 10th place, only to immediately be dumped out of the coveted Q2 slot by Bastianini who had used Zarco as a target for his lap. Once again Pol Espargaro crashed right at the end of the session and had a wee paddy in the gravel. Maybe Aleix needs to go and whinge at his brother about his antics!

Anyway, it was Pecco who led the charge into Q2, and he would be joined by Fabio, Taka, Marc, Maverick, Enea, Aleix, Joan Mir, Martin and Jack Miller.

Before qualifying got underway, we had FP4 where many riders work on set-up for the race, and test out their race pace. There wasn’t really much to report from FP4 other than an awesome save from Joan Mir, and that Marc Marquez was way down the order having spent the session without a tow…

Pecco topped FP4 from Fabio, Mir, Bezzecchi and Oliveira, while Marc finished in 19th place. The times were close though, with only 0.949 seconds between Pecco in 1st and Jack in 20th.

Q1 looked like it would be another hotly contested session, with Zarco, Rins, Brad Binder and Pol Espargaro all going head-to-head. We might also have to consider Marco Bezzecchi and Franky Morbidelli who had shown flashes of speed across the free practice sessions.

After the first set of runs, it was Rins and Pol Espargaro who held the top spots, but could they hold onto them? In short, no! With just 3 minutes left of the session, Pol went to the top of the times but was quickly dislodged by Bezzecchi who promptly crashed at turn 2 following his fast lap.

Remy Gardner crashed at turn 1, bringing out the yellow flags, but it didn’t seem to impact anyone’s lap time. The chequered flag came out and it looked like it was going to be Bezzecchi and Pol heading to Q2, but Johann Zarco was on a belter of a lap, and he shot to the top of the times sending Pol out of the Q2 slot.

Zarco and Bezzecchi headed into Q2, and Marc Marquez used Pecco as a tow for his first run. There were reports from journalists in the pit lane that Honda had ‘spotters’ in pit lane who were able to communicate to let the team know when to release Marc, and as the Honda team were pretty close to the end of pit lane, it meant that most riders had to pass him to get out on track. Perfect for hooking up for a tow.

Meanwhile, Jorge Martin crashed which meant that several riders had their first flying laps cancelled. Martin ran back to pit lane and headed back out on his second bike. At the end of their first runs, the front row was held by Fabio, Pecco and Aleix, but there was still plenty of time on the clock for that to change.

As the majority of riders headed out for a final attempt at a fast lap, Marc Marquez sat on his bike in pit lane and waited. Clearly this time he had chosen Fabio to follow as he headed out as soon as the Frenchman rolled down pit lane. To his credit, Fabio – much like Miller and Pecco – just ignored it and got on with his lap.

In the final minutes of the session, Joan Mir and Enea Bastianini had crashes which brought out yellow flags, but riders were still able to improve their times between the crashes. Marc was dragged to 4th place by Fabio who went 2nd.

While Fabio had headed into the weekend as a clear favourite given his performances here in the past, and his race win at Portimão, it was Pecco Bagnaia who took pole position with a new all time lap record. Lining up on the front row with Pecco would be Fabio and Aleix, with both of them praising Pecco’s pace following the session.

Warm up on Sunday morning was topped by warm up world champion Taka Nakagami – and he would be looking for a decent race result following Ai Ogura’s stunning race win in Moto2, with the younger Japanese rider being hotly tipped to take Taka’s seat on the LCR Honda for next season even before he won the Moto2 race.

Warm up also saw an improved performance from Franky Morbidelli, who finished the session in 9th place.

As the riders lined up on the grid, the temperatures were up, with the track having reached the tipping point where it can then become slippery due to the heat, making things difficult for the riders. Pecco got the best start from pole and led his rivals into turn 1, with Fabio, Jack, Taka, Marc, Aleix, Bezzecchi and Mir slotting in behind the Italian.

Further back there seemed to have been contact between riders as what looked like a wing went flying through the air. We found out after the race that the wing had belonged to Remy Gardner who said that the loss of the wing made the bike close to un-ridable.

Joan Mir passed Marco Bezzecchi for 7th place, while Marc Marquez pushed Taka Nakagami so wide when he passed him that Aleix Espargaro was able to dive through too. The final turn of the first lap saw separate crashes for Jorge Martin and Stefan Bradl, both were able to remount and continue.

Joan Mir passed Taka for 6th on lap two, before Darryn Binder crashed and remounted at turn 2 on lap 6. This honestly wasn’t the most exciting race, and other than Pecco and Fabio pulling away from the battle for 3rd, there wasn’t much going on in the first half of the race. Alex Rins had a massive moment which saw him take to the gravel, but he remained upright and was able to re-join, Stefan Bradl had a second crash which ended his race.

Then on lap 21 (of 25) the race finally sprang into some kind of excitement. Marc Marquez – who had been lining up the move for a few laps – passed Jack for 3rd place, then Aleix passed Jack and was able to pass Marc too as he ran wide. Jack was able to pass Marc back again, and as Aleix started to pull away from them, Mir was closing in on the pair.

As the final lap started, Fabio had closed the gap to Pecco back down to 0.4 seconds, and Aleix had pulled clear of Jack and Marc. Marc was swarming all over the rear of Jack’s Ducati, and as he passed him you could hear the Spanish crowd roar. Pecco held strong to take his first win of the season ahead of Fabio and Aleix who scored Aprilia’s first ever back-to-back podiums in the premier class.

I actually think that the post-race celebrations were more exciting than most of that race – there were gloves being launched into the crowd courtesy of Marc and Aleix, and Marco Bezzecchi almost crashed in pit lane while trying to celebrate with fellow VR46 Academy rider Pecco Bagnaia!

Fabio Quartararo admitted that it had been a tough race, and that he tried everything but Pecco was too fast for him on the day, while Pecco described it as “a beautiful day”. He said that while he has struggled since testing, he and his team never gave up and now they were back at their potential, or perhaps more, as Fabio had been untouchable here in the past (aside from the arm pump issue last year) and now they had beaten him.

Aleix said that he knew he was faster than Jack and Marc, but he was unable to pass them, so he waited for a mistake, and when it came it took full advantage. I have to say, I’m impressed with how Aleix handled this race – I think in the past he wouldn’t have had the patience to wait for a mistake from his rivals and may just have made a move regardless.

Following the race on Sunday, there was a test day held on Monday. Yamaha’s Massimo Meregalli confirmed that they will have a new aero package available from the Italian GP at the end of this month, while over at KTM Binder and Oliveira tested a “radically new exhaust”.

Gresini’s Enea Bastianini was able to try out the GP22 front fairing while Honda’s Marc Marquez was spotted using a 2021 aero package as he focussed on set-up. Suzuki riders Joan Mir and Alex Rins tested swingarms and suspension settings to allow comparisons with ones they have tested previously.

Aprilia were also working on swingarms and suspension, but a mechanical issue for Savadori saw an extended break in proceedings as fluid was cleared from the track. There were a few crashes across the course of the day, with Nakagami, Gardner, Viñales, Zarco and Darryn Binder all suffering crashes. While most walked away unhurt, Taka Nakagami has been flown back to Barcelona for scans on a painful knee, and the Tech 3 team allowed Remy Gardner to sit out the remainder of the day after he bruised his back and lost some skin from his left little finger.

Time wise – although we know we probably shouldn’t read too much into test times – it was Johann Zarco who was fastest, ahead of Brad Binder, Fabio Quartararo and Jack Miller.

There was a bombshell rumour circulating on Monday evening that Suzuki would be leaving MotoGP at the end of this season, despite being in the first year of a 5-year deal to remain in the championship. On Tuesday this was followed by a strongly worded statement from Dorna that said that they had been in contact with Suzuki “to remind them that the conditions of their contract to race in MotoGP do not allow for them to make this decision unilaterally.”

The statement went on to say that “should Suzuki depart following an agreement between both parties, Dorna will decide on the idea number of riders and teams racing in the MotoGP class from 2023.”

Dorna finished the statement by stating that they continue to receive interest from other Factories and Teams looking to join the grid, and that these parties had re-confirmed their interest “in the last 24 hours”.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and as I send this off to be posted there has been nothing official from Suzuki. It has however sent silly season into over-drive – Joan Mir and Alex Rins are both going well this season, so where do they go if Suzuki leave? There has been talk for a while now that Joan will move to Honda to partner Marc Marquez, but if that happens, where does Pol go?

Who knows? Time will tell, and perhaps we’ll have some answers by the next round.

Leaving Jerez, Fabio has extended his championship lead to 7 points, with Aleix Espargaro in 2nd and Enea Bastianini in 3rd. The MotoGP paddock has the weekend off before heading to the championship leader’s home race at Le Mans.

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