The VROOM Blog #CatalanGP – Quartararo reigns in Spain as Espargaro makes a blunder

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

This weekend the MotoGP paddock rolled into Barcelona for the Catalan GP, hot on the heels of a great weekend in Mugello.

Before the weekend kicked off, we got the news that Yamaha and Fabio Quartararo will remain together for at least another two seasons, with the reigning World Champion having put pen to paper on a deal that will see him continue in the Factory Yamaha team for the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Fabio said that he was happy to continue with Yamaha as he believes in them and the project, but also said that he took a little longer to consider his options and make sure that he was making the best choice for his future.

It was also announced over the weekend that Yamaha have renewed a ‘multi-year’ deal to continue with Monster Energy as the title sponsor for the Factory team.

There has still not been any official confirmation from Ducati regarding their rider line-up for next season, but Paolo Ciabatti did concede to Spanish media that it is unlikely that Jack Miller will remain with them next year.

As I mentioned last time out, it is rumoured in the paddock that Jack will be heading to KTM and that he will likely take Miguel Oliveira’s seat as the Portuguese rider has reportedly turned down a move back to the Tech3 team. On Saturday afternoon photographs emerged (from Simon Patterson of The Race) that showed Miguel and his father – who is also his manager – heading into Gresini with Paolo Ciabatti. Read into that what you will…

Marc Marquez has undergone ‘successful’ surgery on his right humerus at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and has already returned to Spain to begin his recovery. The surgery lasted three hours and saw Dr Joaquin Sanchez Sotelo and his team rotate Marc’s bone by 30 degrees before stabilising the bone in its new position using an anterior plate and multiple screws.

Alberto Puig reported on Tuesday that while there is no indication of what the recovery time will be, the situation will be evaluated by Marc’s medical team every 2-3 weeks, with the current priority being to heal the bone without any major complications.

Stefan Bradl will be stepping in once again at Repsol Honda while Marc is away from racing. We would also see Michele Pirro back out on the Ducati as he completes another wildcard weekend.

Just as there were special helmets in Mugello for the Italian riders, there were some this weekend for the Spaniards in the paddock – although not so many in the premier class.

The one that did stand out though, was Aleix Espargaro’s. Aleix had a bright pink helmet with a glittery 41 on the side and his daughters name – Mia – on the back. There was also a CorAll logo on one side as Aleix paid tribute not only to Mia, but to the doctors who have cared for her since birth, with the 4-year-old having been born with a heart condition that has required surgeries.

The shoulder cam was back again this weekend, and in FP1 we saw the unique on-board view from the shoulder of Pecco Bagnaia. FP1 on Friday saw a surprise name – based on this season’s form any way – at the top of the times for a big chunk of the session. Franky Morbidelli sat atop the time sheets for almost 30 minutes before Alex Rins knocked him off with a quicker time.

By the end of the session Franky had dropped to 3rd, but those ahead of him had been out on new tyres at the end of the session – dare we begin to hope that Franky is finding whatever it is he needs to be running back at the front? It was Alex Rins who topped the session from Maverick Viñales, with Franky 3rd ahead of Aleix and Pol Espargaro.

FP2 saw early improvements from Marco Bezzecchi, Brad Binder and Fabio Quartararo, while Stefan Bradl had a crash half way through the session. Aprilia duo Espargaro and Viñales took turns to top the times, and by the end of the session they had secured an Aprilia 1-2 ahead of Enea Bastianini, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin.

Franky Morbidelli remained in the top ten, hanging on to 10th place thanks to a cancelled lap time for Johann Zarco.

During Saturday morning’s FP3 Alex Rins joined Pecco Bagnaia in wearing a shoulder cam, and it was interesting to see the differences in the views from the two riders. 10 minutes into the session Brad and Darryn Binder had set identical lap times, which saw the rookie sit in 10th in the early stages of the session.

Brad Binder and Pol Espargaro both had crashes in the session, and by the midpoint of the session it was Aleix Espargaro who remained at the top of the times. The last 7 minutes of the session saw the usual time attacks as riders tried to set times fast enough to gain direct access to Q2. In the end, it was Aleix Espargaro who held onto the top spot ahead of the Pramac duo of Zarco and Martin. Joining them in Q2 would be Bagnaia, Miller, Quartararo, Marini, Pol Espargaro, Rins and Di Giannantonio, while the others would have to do battle in Q1.

Before qualifying got underway, we had FP4, which often gives a better indication of race pace as riders don’t have to worry about setting fast lap times. The last few minutes of the session saw another crash for Brad Binder, and a massive crash for Alex Marquez, whose visor was ripped off his helmet as he barrel-rolled through the gravel at turn 14. Thankfully Alex was able to get up and walk away, but he sat himself down again behind the tyre wall as soon as he was clear of the gravel trap.

It was once again Aleix Espargaro who was fastest, this time from Bezzecchi, Quartararo, Zarco and Marini.

Meanwhile, Alex was taken to the medical centre – and so he missed qualifying – and while team boss Lucio Cecchinello confirmed to BT Sport’s Natalie Quirk that Alex had pain in his wrist and was waiting for x-ray results to check for a break, Simon Patterson reported that Cecchinello had said that Alex had a “small concussion, was just a little dizzy but nothing special” and that he was hoping to race on Sunday.

As I’ve said before – I’m not a doctor, but surely concussion is concussion regardless of its severity and it should be taken seriously. Alex was passed fit by the medical team and was therefore allowed to race on Sunday, despite the MotoGP regulations stating that if a concussion is confirmed “the rider should immediately be excluded from competition for at least the rest of the event.”

It does make you wonder what it is going to take for MotoGP to take concussion seriously…

Q1 got underway without Alex, and after the first set of runs it was Viñales and Bezzecchi who held the coveted top two positions, but could they hold on to them until the chequered flag? As the session raced towards its conclusion, Oliveira, Binder, Bezzecchi and Viñales all spent time at the top of the times, but as the flag came out Taka Nakagami hauled himself up into 2nd place as Viñales held on at the top.

So Viñales and Nakagami headed through to Q2 to fight for a decent grid position with those who had already made it through. Once all of the first runs had been completed, it was Fabio, Pecco and Aleix who held the front row positions, and it was those three who would line up on the front row but in a different order as the session came to a close.

It was Aleix who took pole with a new all-time lap record ahead of Pecco and Fabio. Fabio Di Giannantonio would be lining up in 5th place, showing that his pole position last time out wasn’t a fluke. He would be joined on the second row by Zarco in 4th and Martin in 6th.

Sunday morning’s warm up session saw crashes for Michele Pirro and Aleix Espargaro, and the session was topped by Maverick Viñales ahead of Gresini duo Enea Bastianini and Fabio Di Giannantonio.

As the riders lined up on the grid ahead of a 24-lap race, anticipation was high, and as the lights went out it was Aleix who took the lead, but Fabio Quartararo was quicker than him and led into the first turn. The first turn was unfortunately as far as Pecco Bagnaia, Alex Rins and Taka Nakagami would go as Nakagami ran in too hot and wiped out Rins and Bagnaia.

Replays – unnecessary and repeated replays – showed that it was actually Taka’s head colliding with Pecco’s rear tyre that took the Italian down, and it looked an awful crash. Taka lost his visor in the collision, and both he and Rins were taken to the medical centre.

Somehow, Taka has escaped “without serious injury” but was transferred to hospital for observation, while Alex Rins has fractured his left wrist, but will not require surgery.

Alex Rins was furious when speaking to the press after the race, and took his frustration out on the stewards who he believes are not fit to be in MotoGP. Alex started by saying that he hoped Taka was okay because it was a bad crash and he looked to be in pain in the medical centre, but went on to say that Taka made a big mistake and that he was over the limit.

Both Rins and Pecco said that they felt that “no further action” was not the correct decision from the stewards as Taka ended both of their races, with Alex branding him too aggressive while Pecco said that the Japanese rider needs to think more about how he rides.

Back on track, Fabio was leading ahead of Aleix, Martin and Zarco, while Stefan Bradl crashed out of the race at turn 10. As they began the second lap, Joan Mir passed Luca Marini into turn 1, but with yellow flags still waving from the earlier crash, he had to give the place back.

Fabio was immediately pulling away from the battle for 2nd place, and as Jorge Martin passed Aleix to take 2nd place at the start of lap 3, Fabio’s lead was already 1 second. By lap 5, Enea Bastianini and Maverick Viñales had made their way past Pol Espargaro, and KTM duo Binder and Oliveira were soon through on the younger Espargaro too, as Bezzecchi crashed out of the race.

As Fabio increased his lead to over 2 seconds, both Gresini riders crashed out of the race in separate crashes on lap 8, with Enea crashing out at turn 5, and Diggia at turn 13. On lap 10, Aleix made his way into 2nd, passing Jorge Martin into turn 1.

A few laps later Martin returned the favour at turn 1, taking 2nd place back from Aleix. On lap 21 Aleix was back into 2nd place, and on the penultimate lap Jack Miller found himself losing 3 places as Darryn Binder, Remy Gardner and Franky Morbidelli all passed him, dumping him back to 14th.

Fabio headed into the final lap with a lead of over 6 seconds, and then the unthinkable happened – Aleix Espargaro had slowed right down. Had his bike given up with only a lap to go, denying him a certain podium? It hadn’t. In fact, it quickly became clear that Aleix was celebrating – waving to fans and patting his Aprilia for a job well done – a lap early! It wasn’t until he saw Martin, Zarco, Mir and Marini whizz past him at race pace that he seemed to realise his mistake. He got himself back up to speed and was able to pass Marini and finish 5th.

Fabio won the race ahead of Martin and Zarco, with Joan Mir finishing in 4th place from 17th on the grid. You had to feel for Aleix, who stopped on his cool down lap and put his head on the tank of his bike, before returning to the pits and swinging his chair around to face the back of the garage. You could hear him sobbing inside his helmet until a member of his team put his hand over the camera and quite rightly pushed it away.

Aleix said after the race that it was his own fault, but explained that his pit board was one of the first on the pit wall and it was difficult to have enough time to see all of the information, so he had glanced up at the circuit tower which said L0 which he thought meant the race was done. He was obviously upset about his mistake, and apologised to the team.

Following the race there was a track invasion, and Fabio treated fans to his gloves, throwing them into the crowd for an awesome souvenir of the weekend. Fabio and Zarco had a great time belting out their national anthem on the podium before they – and Martin – soaked each other with prosecco.

On Monday there was a post-race test – Jorge Martin was missing as he underwent successful surgery to help a nerve issue in his hand, while Alex Rins and Taka Nakagami also missed out following their crash on Sunday.

The test saw various swingarm, chassis and aero packages being tried across all of the manufacturers, and was topped by Fabio Quartararo ahead of Pecco, Zarco and Aleix.

Next up for MotoGP is the Sachsenring in Germany after a weekend off – with the reigning King of the Ring out of action, it will be interesting to see who can take the crown this year!

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