The VROOM Blog #DutchGP – Bagnaia bounces back with victory in Assen

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

Assen is the only venue that has hosted a Grand Prix every year since the start of the World Championship in 1949, until the pandemic meant no Dutch GP in 2020, and boy did the Cathedral deliver this weekend! Heading into the weekend, Fabio Quartararo was leading the championship by 34 points ahead of Aleix Espargaro, so we knew he would head into the five-week summer break with the lead of the championship regardless of what happened this weekend. Even though we know to expect the unexpected from MotoGP this season, I doubt many of us could have predicted how this weekend would go…

Before we get to the on-track action, there were a few other things going on this weekend. On Thursday, Fabio Quartararo took part in a ceremony to help unveil a new Walk of Fame in the City of Assen. The walk will eventually feature bronze plaques with the names of each rider who has won a race in the Assen TT since it began back in 1925. For now, only two plaques have been laid – one for Fabio who was victorious last year, and one for Piet van Wijngaarden who won in 1925 and 1926. In the words of Fabio Quartararo when he saw his plaque – that’s pretty cool!

It has been announced that there will be a change to the schedule at the Japanese GP – there will be no sessions for any GP classes on Friday morning, with FP1 instead commencing on Friday afternoon. The MotoGP session will be extended to 75 minutes, with combined results from FP1 and FP2 being taken to decide entry into Q1 and Q2 for all classes. Moto2 and Moto3 will not have any extra time though, so will have less time to dial set up and fast laps before qualifying.

Friday morning will see FP1, FP2 and qualifying for the Asia Talent Cup riders, as well as “fan activities” at the track where fans will get the chance to interact with the riders. The reason for the changes is given as being “the logistical challenges posed by the GP being staged back-to-back with the Aragon GP, as well as potential delays caused by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and it’s effect on airspace.”

While that does make sense, especially given what we have already seen with plane issues this season, what doesn’t make sense to me is scheduling Aragon and Japan back-to-back…

Lorenzo Savadori would once again be making a wildcard appearance for Aprilia, and Alex Rins was to have his wrist reviewed after FP1 – he did and he was passed fit to ride for the rest of the weekend.

We were able to place another piece of the 2023 puzzle this weekend – on Sunday morning Gresini announced that they will be keeping Fabio Di Giannantonio for next season, and with Enea Bastianini moving on to either Pramac or the Factory team, they would be running Alex Marquez alongside Diggia.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Alex goes on the Ducati – the team have confirmed they will have GP22s for next year – and to seeing him out of the shadow of his brother at Honda. I think people forget that Alex is a 2-time World Champion, and you don’t just lose talent overnight, hopefully the Ducati will allow him to showcase that talent more than the Honda has, and it probably will, because let’s be honest, the only rider that seems to be able to get that Honda to work is Marc. To be fair to Alex, while this season hasn’t been great, he did get a couple of podium finishes in his rookie season on the Repsol Honda, I’m sure he’ll be hoping that this move will see him visiting the podium more often.

Herve Poncharal spoke with Suzi Perry over the weekend, and while he didn’t confirm that Pol Espargaro would be returning to KTM for 2023, he did spend quite a bit of time talking about Pol and how he was with KTM from the beginning of their MotoGP project and that perhaps he was now nostalgic for what he had before his move to Honda.

FP1 was a very wet session, with spray so bad at points that it was a wonder anyone could see anything. Marco Bezzecchi and Enea Bastianini both had crashes at turn 1, and by the mid-point of the session the majority of riders were back in the pits as the rain got heavier.

The rain eased up a little and the final ten minutes of the session were frantic, with red sectors indicating fast times up and down the time sheets and 5 different riders – Pecco Bagnaia, Jack Miller, Maverick Viñales, Pol Espargaro and Joan Mir – all taking their turn at the top of the times. It was Jack Miller who topped the session ahead of Mir, Pol and Alex Marquez.

The weather had calmed down a bit by the time FP2 got underway – there was no longer rain falling, and there was a drying line in parts of the track. With 25 minutes to go, Franky Morbidelli topped the times, but he was soon displaced by Miguel Oliveira. At the mid-point of the session, Luca Marini was the first to gamble on slick tyres even though the final chicane was still looking rather sketchy.

Luca was building up speed, and jumped to 9th and then 2nd within a few laps before setting the fastest lap with 17 minutes left on the clock. Luca’s performance must have spurred some of the others on as Quartararo, Savadori, Pecco and Jack Miller all headed out on slicks too. Once again, the final ten minutes of the session saw multiple riders top the times before Pecco finished the session on top from Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo and Alex Rins.

Aleix was later demoted way back to last as his final run of times was cancelled for running the rear wet spoiler whilst running slicks. Franky Morbidelli was also handed a penalty for twice running slow in the session, disrupting both Bezzecchi and Bastianini on separate occasions. Franky would have to serve a long lap penalty in the race.

Honda announced before FP3 on Saturday morning that Pol Espargaro would sit out the remainder of the weekend as he was still struggling with the rib injury sustained last weekend at the Sachsenring.

FP3 was dry, meaning that Friday’s times would soon be meaningless as riders headed out onto a fully dry track with slick tyres. Luca Marini crashed early in the session at turn 8, while fellow VR46 Academy rider Franky Morbidelli had a fast crash that saw him barrel-roll through the gravel at turn 15.

Aleix Espargaro quickly showed that the spoiler yesterday was a non-issue as he fired himself back up to 2nd place behind team mate Maverick Viñales for an Aprilia 1-2. Later in the session Enea Bastianini crashed at turn 7, while Aleix and Maverick kept exchanging 1st place.

With just 4 minutes remaining in the session, riders were heading out for a final attempt at direct progression to Q2, but crashes for Di Giannantonio, Zarco and Aleix meant that there were yellow flags out for much of the final couple of minutes, removing the chance for some to improve their lap times.

In the end, it was Aleix who held on to the top spot ahead of Fabio, Rins and Taka Nakagami. They would be joined in Q2 by Bezzecchi, Pecco, Maverick, Jack, Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco.

FP4 was another dry session, although there were some suspicious looking clouds looming overhead. There was plenty of teamwork going on, with Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo and Franky Morbidelli running together, as well as the Aprilia trio of Maverick Viñales, Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Savadori. Fabio topped the session ahead of Pecco, Jack and Aleix.

As Q1 began, there were spots of rain being reported in pit lane but not enough to have any impact on tyre choice. There was drama almost immediately for Enea Bastianini as his bike cut out on him as he was leaving pit lane. Enea abandoned his bike against a wall at the end of pit lane and ran back to his garage where his team were frantically making changes to his second bike in order to get him back out on track.

After almost 9 minutes of work from the team, Enea was back out and set about setting a lap time. After the first set of runs, it was the KTM duo of Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder who held the top two slots. A crash for Joan Mir in the final few minutes saw the Spaniard have to lift his Suzuki off his leg before he remounted and re-joined the session.

It was the KTM duo who held on to the top spots and progression to Q2, although they had swapped positions as Brad had gone quicker than Miguel in the final minute of the session.

Q2 was a fast session, with Fabio Quartararo and then Jorge Martin immediately setting laps fast enough to create a new all-time lap record, so it was no surprise to see that they were at the top of the times after the first run of laps. There was more Moto3 style nonsense from the MotoGP riders as slower riders waited for faster riders – namely Aleix – to head out on track. Aleix started to head out but then noticed Taka and Miguel pull out to try and follow him so he stopped, waved his arms, and then took off ahead of them.

With 4 minutes to go, Pecco went top with another all-time lap record and pulled into the pits, explaining after the session that he knew he couldn’t go any faster than he had, and fair play to anyone else who could! No one else could go faster than Pecco had, and so he secured pole position ahead of Fabio and Jorge Martin.

Pecco Bagnaia runs the number 63, and his pole position this weekend marked Ducati’s 63 pole in MotoGP.

Jack Miller had crashed very late in the session and as he re-joined the track, he was slow on the racing line and almost caused a collision with Maverick Viñales. Jack waved his apology on track and then headed straight into the Aprilia garage to apologise in person to Maverick, who accepted his apology with a smile. Jack would be joining Franky in having to complete a long lap penalty in the race for the incident.

Taka Nakagami qualified in 12th place as best Honda, and following on from their record-breaking nil points in Germany, this weekend marks the first time that there hasn’t been a Honda in the top 11 in qualifying for the Dutch GP.

During morning warm up on Sunday morning, Simon Crafar spoke with Paolo Ciabatti and it was nice to hear him explaining that he believes that Alex Marquez is yet to reach his full potential in MotoGP, but that he thinks being on the best machinery and the family atmosphere at Gresini will help him to do so.

Warm up was topped by Aleix from Fabio, Maverick and Jorge Martin.

Despite varying weather forecasts over the weekend, the MotoGP riders lined up on a dry grid on Sunday afternoon. There was drama for Joan Mir before the race started as he braked hard on arrival at his grid spot only for Miguel Oliveira to swerve and clip the side of him, ripping the wings from Miguel’s KTM.

As the lights went out and the riders pulled away, Mir had another moment and collided with Luca Marini. It was Pecco who had taken the lead of the race, ahead of Aleix and Jorge Martin, although Fabio was quickly through on Martin for 3rd place, and then Aleix for 2nd.

Aleix retook 2nd from Fabio, and while all of this was going on, Pecco had already managed to pull a gap of 0.8 seconds before the end of the first lap! On lap 3 Marco Bezzecchi made his way up to 4th place ahead of Martin, and on the following lap Jack Miller took his long lap penalty and dropped back to 10th place behind Oliveira.

Lap 5 was where the drama really started this weekend, with Fabio Quartararo making an ambitious move to over take Aleix Espargaro, only to crash before he was past him. While Aleix managed to keep his Aprilia upright, he did find himself having to take to the gravel. Aleix re-joined the race in 15th place as Fabio picked up his Yamaha and re-joined in 24th place.

Somehow, Franky Morbidelli had failed to take the long lap penalty that he knew he would have to take before the race, so he was handed a double long lap penalty on lap 6. I’m not sure what’s going on with Franky at the moment – these penalties and running slow on the race line are really out of character for him – but hopefully the summer break will give him time to recharge and come back stronger.

Talking of out of character for Franky, he crashed out of the race on lap 8. Aleix Espargaro meanwhile had passed Alex Marquez for 14th, and he continued to make steady progress over the next few laps. Darryn Binder crashed out of the race, and while he was ok, he had destroyed his RNF Yamaha.

At the end of lap 9 Fabio pulled in to the pits as he was having difficulty with his bike – he had lost all of the aero on the left-hand side of his bike, and he later revealed that he was having issues with the traction control – but the team sent him back out. You just never know, it could rain, or others could crash and he might have been able to gain a point or two that could prove vital at the end of the season.

For me though, if Fabio has pulled in, it’s because there is something wrong – he’s not the type of rider to just have pulled in because he’s had enough.
Sure enough, as Aleix was setting the fastest lap of the race, Fabio crashed again, and this time it was a big one. He was thrown over the handle bars of his Yamaha and he looked to be in considerable pain despite the fact that he was up and walking away.

Fabio explained post-race that the high-side was caused by the lack of traction control which was damaged in the first crash. Fabio also told journalist Niki Kovács that his airbag didn’t go off in the second crash as the airbag system that he runs only has one charge which had been used in the first crash, which makes you question the decision to send him back out even more.

Back on track, Pecco was now leading by 1.5 seconds from Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin, while Aleix had made his way up to 11th with a 1.7 second gap to his next target – Joan Mir. By lap 16 Aleix was up to 8th place and still setting fastest laps of the race – how many more places would we see him make up?

On lap 17 the dreaded rain flags were being shown, and by the end of the lap the white flag was being displayed, meaning that riders were now free to change their bikes should they wish. Thankfully the rain didn’t come to much and bike swaps were not necessary.

While Aleix was making moves through the pack, team mate Maverick was making moves of his own and was up to 3rd place behind Bezzecchi, while Jack Miller had moved his way up to 4th place and was eyeing the podium spot currently held by Maverick.

On the penultimate lap, Jack passed Maverick into the final chicane but ran wide allowing Maverick to take the place back, and Jack found that Brad Binder was now on his tail. Aleix passed Martin for 6th place and as they reached the chicane again on the final lap, Aleix dived past Jack and Brad in one fell swoop. The move was clean, but did cause Jack to run a bit wide into the chicane.

When asked about whether the move was over the limit after the race, Brad Binder said “to be honest, buddy, f***ing hats off to the dude.” And he’s not wrong, it was some move!

Pecco’s lead as he crossed the line didn’t look as impressive on paper as it had actually been due to the massive wheelie he pulled across the line. VR46’s Bezzecchi took 2nd place for his – and the team’s – first MotoGP podium, while Maverick Viñales finished in 3rd place to take his first podium with Aprilia, and his first since this race last year.

Aleix Espargaro was greeted like a hero after that ride when he returned to pit lane, and Fabio Quartararo was quick to head along to the garage to apologise to Aleix and his team. Aleix accepted his apology with a big smile and a hug before heading off to parc ferme to congratulate his team mate on his podium, and to celebrate Aprilia’s best combined result with 3rd and 4th. With Fabio not finishing the race, Aleix is now the only rider in the field that has scored points in every race so far this season!

Marco Bezzecchi was clearly elated with his first podium and explained that he had no words for how he was feeling but that he could now go on holiday very happy!

Maverick was asked about how he feels now compared to his podium here last year and he said he doesn’t want to talk about the past, but did say “I just feel my potential is much higher than before”, and to be honest, the smile on his face and the fact that he just kept talking about how happy he is and how good the Aprilia is answered the question.

Fabio Quartararo explained post-race that he made a rookie mistake – he didn’t need to be making such moves so early in the race, and that he was sorry for his mistake. He said that he is happy with where he is as they head into the break – while his championship lead has decreased, he still leads Aleix Espargaro by 21 points, with Zarco and Bagnaia 58 and 66 points behind him.

Late on Sunday evening it was announced that Fabio Quartararo will have to serve a long lap penalty at the next round (Silverstone) as punishment for the move on Aleix, and that has completely soured what had been a fantastic day of racing.

If you look at the letter of the law, then yes, Fabio deserves a penalty as he made a move that impeded the race of another rider. However, quite often such incidents are regarded as racing incidents and so no penalties are awarded.

Yamaha did try to appeal the penalty on Sunday evening but they were rejected.

At this point it isn’t even about whether or not Fabio deserved a penalty – it’s about the absolute inconsistency shown by Race Direction and just how ridiculous the situation is becoming. The notification of sanction stated that Fabio was “observed as being overly ambitious and causing contact with Rider #41, which severely impacted their race.”

Now, while I don’t disagree that Fabio impacted Aleix’s race – and neither does Fabio – I would argue that we have seen far more “overly ambitious” moves this season that have gone unpunished. Pecco Bagnaia took out Jorge Martin, Jack Miller took out Joan Mir, and Taka Nakagami took out Pecco and Alex Rins. In each of these instances, the riders were unable to re-join and their races were more than “severely impacted”, they were ended. Alex Rins broke his wrist in the incident with Taka Nakagami. And yet on none of those occasions were Pecco, Jack or Taka punished.

So where is the consistency? How are we supposed to take Race Direction seriously when this is how they work? I don’t have the answer to that. And apparently neither do Yamaha, who released a statement from Lin Jarvis on Tuesday which was very critical of the whole situation.

The statement started with Jarvis saying that Fabio and the Yamaha team “have always striven for fairness and sportsmanship in MotoGP. We are disappointed to see the inequality with which penalties are applied by the FIM MotoGP Stewards panel.”

The statement then laid out the reasons for their disagreement with the penalty, which basically were that while Fabio admitted to making a mistake, they view it as a racing incident, that Fabio has the reputation of a clean rider with no track record of previous incidents and that it was an honest mistake with no malicious intent. They also said that while they agreed that Aleix’s race had been affected, the severity of the impact was “a matter of conjecture” due to the “inconsistent, subjective standards” that the Stewards panel are currently using to measure the severity of incidents.

It goes on to say that there have been “at least three more serious race incidents in the MotoGP class (resulting in riders retiring from the race and / or causing injuries) that were left unpunished”, before Jarvis concluded that the team wanted to appeal the decision “but this type of penalty is not open to discussion or appeal.”

Jarvis also stated that they considered raising the issue as a matter of principle with the Court of Arbitration, but again “such a matter is not open to appeal.”

While it is ridiculous that Yamaha have to release such a statement, it is good to see someone of Lin Jarvis’ stature calling out the Stewards, because the riders have been doing it for a while now and nothing is changing. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this, but good on Lin for speaking out.

Next up is Silverstone for the British GP, but first the riders are off on a well-earned 5-week break. I say break, but we know that by the end of this week they’ll all be desperate to be back on track and will still be training at full pelt!

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