The VROOM Blog – #AustrianGP – Three on the bounce as Pecco conquers the Red Bull Ring

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

After being treated to two visits to the Red Bull Ring in the last couple of seasons, this weekend MotoGP rocked up to the circuit for a single visit to Austria as the calendar returns to some kind of normality following the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

It was a round that didn’t disappoint in terms of on track action across all 3 classes, and there was plenty of off-track action too.

There was a buzz around the paddock as Marc Marquez returned for the first time since his surgery. Marc wasn’t there to ride, but to reconnect with his team and – in his own words – to have meetings with HRC, mechanics and engineers to see if everyone is working “in the same way”. Marc is due to have an important check up with his medical team this week, which will give him a better idea of when he will be able to return to action, and Honda boss Alberto Puig is already talking about having Marc ride at the Misano test, which to me is just ridiculous.

Yes, Marc seems to be the only rider that can get anything out of the bike at the moment – and he is still the top Honda in the championship despite all of the races he has missed this season – but rushing him back for the sake of development seems silly to me. He needs to be given the time to recover and rehabilitate properly before he rides again. I know he said himself that the final part of his rehab will be riding because realistically the only way to be completely “bike fit” is to ride – there is only so much he can do in the gym, but Misano seems a bit soon, he isn’t even back to full training yet.

Elsewhere a lot of the talk was about the new chicane – introduced this year following the horrendous accident between Zarco and Morbidelli that almost wiped out Rossi and Viñales back in 2020. For his part, Zarco joked that he was a little disappointed that they hadn’t named the chicane after him seeing as he was the one to take most of the blame for the incident!

The new chicane meant that all fastest laps this weekend would be new lap records, and would provide riders with additional potential overtake areas.

Probably the biggest talking point of the weekend was the news that from 2023 Sprint races will be introduced for the MotoGP class on Saturdays. The races will be half the distance of the main Sunday race, and will see riders awarded reduced points – the winner and podium finishers will receive 12, 9 and 7 points respectively, with the rest of the field (down to 9th place) being awarded 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1. Anyone who finishes 10th and lower will receive no points.

The announcement – which was leaked before the press conference – has been met with mixed reactions. Fabio Quartararo seems to be completely against the idea, as does title rival Aleix Espargaro, while Jack Miller was fairly positive about it – what’s not to like about more racing? He might change his mind when he remembers that those extra races will be on a KTM rather than his current Ducati!

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about sprint races in MotoGP. I love the Saturday sprint race in BSB, but BSB has had at least two races per weekend for a long time and had the occasional triple-header to end the season, so it didn’t seem such a big deal to add in an extra race on the Saturday. At MotoGP level though, I’m just not sure if it’s the right move. I have no doubt that the races will provide more entertainment and probably make the championship more exciting, but there is something to be said for the format as it is at the moment with the whole weekend leading up to one race – one chance to prove that you are the best in the world.

My biggest issue with the introduction of sprint races was the possibility that long-standing records would be broken unfairly – Agostini has 117 GP wins to his name, Valentino Rossi has 96 – and I really didn’t like the idea that sprint races would count towards these totals for the future as they do in World Superbikes. MotoGP Managing Director Carlos Ezpeleta clarified this on Sunday morning, saying that there will be an additional column added to the stats going forward – Sunday race wins and podiums will be the only ones that will count towards overall GP win / podium statistics.

The biggest problem that the riders seem to have with the announcement – aside from the additional effort etc that another race will entail – was that there was no consultation with them beforehand. Riders were finding out about the possibility of sprint races from journalists in their Friday evening media debriefs, rather than from Dorna, and that riled some of them which you can understand, it can’t be nice to find out about a major change to your job from journalists rather than the people in charge of your job!

There was also a press conference from KTM this weekend where they announced that the Tech3 squad would be teaming up with GASGAS to become the GASGAS Factory Racing Team for 2023. Team boss Herve Poncharal also confirmed that Pol Espargaro would be returning to KTM with the team for next season. They have yet to confirm who will ride alongside Pol, but KTM boss Pit Beirer did say that they have been talking again with Miguel Oliveira, who had previously turned down what he saw as a demotion to the Tech3 team.

This was clearly news to Poncharal who confirmed to the BT Sport team that he had no idea that they were in talks with Miguel, which is shades of last season when Beirer jumped the gun and announced the Tech3 riders before Poncharal had had a chance to talk to the riders who would be losing their jobs. Behind the scenes at KTM seems to be a mess to be perfectly honest. They have what I have described before as an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent from MotoGP down to Moto3, and they just don’t seem to treat the riders well.

Last year the rushed announcement of Tech3 riders seemed to be a bid to stop Raul Fernandez from talking to Yamaha about a move to MotoGP, and this year they appear to be treating their MotoGP rookies poorly. Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez are a talented pair of riders – they dominated the Moto2 class last season, and Remy is the reigning Moto2 champion – but they do appear to be struggling this season.

I’m a firm believer that riders should be given at least two years in MotoGP before they get booted out for under-performing or to make way for the next “superstar” to come through, and it does seem unfair that both KTM rookies will not be keeping their seats for 2023.

While rumour has it that Raul may be on his way to RNF Aprilia, it seems that Remy will be out of the premier class completely which leaves him with either Moto2 or a potential move to World Superbikes. While the move to World Superbikes hasn’t done his Tech3 predecessor Iker Lecuona any harm, I think Remy will be a real loss to the MotoGP class if he does lose his seat.

It also sounds as though there is no space next year for fellow rookie Darryn Binder – now you know I’m not his biggest fan, but I think he has done a decent job this season, especially when you consider that he made the jump straight up from Moto3. Binder has so far scored 10 points this season, which is only one point less than his vastly experienced team mate Andrea Dovizioso. I can’t believe I’m defending Darryn Binder, but it strikes me as very unfair that he may be without a MotoGP ride after he was rushed up to the class.

Granted Remy, Raul and Darryn haven’t reached the level of fellow rookie Marco Bezzecchi this season – he has already scored a podium – but in fairness Bez is on the Ducati, arguably the best bike on the grid at the moment.

The weather is always a point of conversation at the Red Bull Ring – no two weather apps give the same forecast, and there always seems to be threatening clouds in the sky somewhere around the circuit! Friday morning kicked off with a wet track for MotoGP, although there was a slight drying line thanks to the Moto3 action that had taken place before.

This weekend it was the turn of Maverick Viñales to run the shoulder cam, and he spent the first few laps of the session in flying formation with team mates Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Savadori who was in for a wild card ride this weekend.

While the session may have started on wet tyres, by the final third of the session many riders were heading out on slicks, and it was Jack Miller who ended the FP1 as the fastest rider 0.6 seconds ahead of everyone else, with Johann Zarco in 2nd and Joan Mir in 3rd.

By the time the riders headed out for FP2 on Friday afternoon, the track was dry. Yamaha team mates Fabio Quartararo and Franky Morbidelli started the session running together and within a few laps Franky was up to 5th place. With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, there were rain flags being waved, but the rain was light and didn’t cause much concern for those out on track.

With 6 minutes left of the session, Miguel Oliveira had a crash, and he did a great job of keeping hold of his KTM to keep it to the side of the track rather than letting go of it and letting it slide back onto the track and onto the path of his fellow riders. Raul Fernandez also crashed towards the end of the session.

The session was dominated by Ducati riders, with Fabio Quartararo the only non-Ducati in the top 8 in 4th place behind Zarco, Miller and Martin, with Pecco, Marini, Bez and Bastianini behind him!

FP3 on Saturday morning saw some excellent team work from Fabio and Franky – Fabio led Franky around for several laps, and he started out at a slower pace and gradually built up speed, a great way to try and improve Franky’s lap time.

Luca Marini crashed on his out lap at the very start of the session, and there were crashes throughout the session for Savadori, Remy Gardner and Aleix Espargaro.

Aleix Espargaro’s crash caused late drama for the Spaniard as he was sitting in 18th place as he headed out on track with 7 minutes remaining to try and secure direct passage to Q2. With his final lap of the session he went 9th, but other late improvers meant that for only the second time this season Aleix would be heading to Q1.

Leading the charge into Q2 was Johann Zarco, who would be joined in Q2 by Fabio Quartararo, Jack Miller, Jorge Martin, Pecco Bagnaia, Enea Bastianini, Alex Rins, Brad Binder, Maverick Viñales and Joan Mir.

FP4 saw Jack Miller start the session with a run out on wet tyres and a bike swap practice in case of a flag-to-flag race on Sunday. The session was topped by Enea Bastianini ahead of Luca Marini, Pecco Bagnaia and Marco Bezzecchi.

There was some team work of the brotherly kind going on in Q1, with Aleix leading Pol around for the first part of the session which saw them top the times as everyone returned to the pits for fresh tyres before a final run. It could have been a risky move for Aleix to lead his brother around – it wouldn’t be the first time someone has missed out on Q2 due to the person behind them getting a decent tow and posting a faster time.

As it worked out, Aleix did manage to top the session and it was Ducati rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio who secured the final slot through to Q2.

Q2 saw a frantic final few minutes as riders attempted to set fast lap times, and it was Enea Bastianini who took pole position ahead of Bagnaia and Miller. Despite having won 3 races already in the premier class, this was Enea’s first MotoGP pole position.

Fabio Quartararo was once again the only Yamaha in a swarm of Ducatis on the front rows, taking 5th place on the grid between Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco.

On Sunday morning Aprilia and Lorenzo Savadori unveiled a special livery to mark the 30th anniversary of Aprilia’s first World Championship – Alessandro Gramignion won the 1992 125cc World Championship – and it looked lovely.

There was lots of bike swap practice going on in morning warm up, just in case it rained later on, and Aleix Espargaro’s looked rather painful as he leapt from his first bike and landed heavily on his sore ankles following his Silverstone crash. It took him a few seconds to recover and jump onto his second bike to head back out on track.

The session was topped by Fabio Quartararo ahead of Maverick Viñales, Jorge Martin, Jack Miller and Alex Rins.

As the riders lined up on the grid, there were some clouds in the sky, but the track was dry and the clouds didn’t look too bad! It was Pecco Bagnaia who made the best start off the line, and led Enea, Jack, Jorge and Fabio into turn 1. Joan Mir had a massive high side at turn 4 which ended his race before it had got going, and the Spaniard has since announced that he will miss Misano due to ligament and bone damage in his right ankle.

This provides an issue for Suzuki as their test rider Sylvain Guintoli – who would usually ride in place of injured riders – has an injury of his own following a crash at the Suzuka 8 hours event earlier this month so will be unable to ride.

Back on track, Fabio Quartararo had dropped back to 6th as Maverick Viñales – in his 200th GP start – made his way through on the world champion. Enea Bastianini had a busy 4th lap of the race, being passed first by Miller and then by Martin, but he gave Martin a good fight, eventually keeping hold of 3rd place into the first turn on the following lap.

It wasn’t for long though, as Martin made his way past his rival for the Factory Ducati seat and back into 3rd place at the end of lap 5. Fabio Quartararo was next on Enea’s list of problems, the Frenchman was closing fast and was quickly up to 4th ahead of the Gresini rider. Enea was off into the gravel later in the lap, and then pulled into the pits with a bike issue. Remy Gardner crashed at turn 4, but was able to remount and re-join the race.

Out front, Pecco was still leading in spite of a challenge from team mate Miller who held 2nd place ahead of Jorge Martin, Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Viñales and Luca Marini. On lap 10 Taka Nakagami crashed out of the race, ending what was already a slim hope of triple Japanese wins following superb performances from Ayumu Sasaki and Ai Ogura in Moto3 and Moto2 earlier in the day.

On lap 17, Jorge Martin made a mistake which saw him cut through the outside of the chicane – a move that can be penalised if the rider doesn’t lose sufficient time when re-joining the track. Thankfully Jorge was able to raise his hand and ease off just enough to escape a penalty, but he did lose 3rd place to Fabio.

With just 3 laps remaining, Fabio Quartararo made the move of the season on Jack Miller through the chicane to take 2nd place, and set about trying to chase down the race leader as team mate Morbidelli crashed out of the race.

On the final lap, Jorge Martin – whose leathers were open! – attempted a pass on Jack Miller for 2nd place into turn 1, but lost the front and crashed. He was able to remount and crossed the line in 10th place, telling the media afterwards that he had to try the move or he wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night! You have to wonder what the pressure of Ducati essentially playing him and Enea against each other for the red seat next year is doing to them.

Pecco Bagnaia held on to take the win ahead of a charging Fabio Quartararo, with Jack Miller rounding out the podium ahead of Luca Marini who secured his best MotoGP finish of 4th place.

Pecco becomes the first Ducati rider to have 3 consecutive race wins wince Casey Stoner in 2008, and also only the second Italian rider in the modern MotoGP era to have won 3 in a row. The other Italian was of course Pecco’s mentor Valentino Rossi.

My favourite thing on the cool down lap – aside from Jack’s ‘goon’ riding – was Fabio, Pecco, Aleix and Jack all stopped together having a chat! In fact, Aleix got so close to Pecco that he knocked a wing off his bike!

Next up for MotoGP is Misano at the beginning of September, and as well as what I’m sure will be a great race, we will see the final appearance for Andrea Dovizioso as he ends his impressive career at home.

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