The VROOM Blog #AragonGP – Bastianini snatches the win as the title fight is blown wide open

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

MotoGP headed to Aragon for the first of a gruelling five races in six weekends, and while the MotoGP race wasn’t the most exciting race we’ve seen in a while, it certainly was dramatic. But we’ll get to that…

There was lots of news heading into this weekend, the first of which was actually announced just following the Misano GP – that Dorna have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Saudi Motorsport Company to host MotoGP in Saudi Arabia. Yes, that’s the same Saudi Arabia that has an atrocious human rights record, where you can be punished by death for being gay, where there is no freedom of speech, and where dozens of people are executed by the state every year – many of them in public beheadings.

Sounds like a fantastic place to hold a GP. MotoGP isn’t the first major sporting event to be held in Saudi Arabia, and in all likelihood, it won’t be the last either, but it doesn’t sit right with many people that such big sporting events should take place in countries where human rights are so flagrantly violated.

Its what’s known as ‘sportswashing’ – the process of oppressive governments using sports to try and legitimize their regimes and distract from human rights issues, and it has been going on for years. The 1936 Olympic Games took place in Berlin under the Nazi regime, for example.

MotoGP does of course already go to Qatar, where there are also many human rights issues, so it seems likely (and hugely disappointing) to me that while there may be people concerned about the participation of MotoGP in sportswashing in Saudi Arabia, it will soon become ‘just a part of the season’ much like the Qatar GP is now.

There were plenty of rider announcements in the run up to the Aragon weekend. In a shock to absolutely no one, both Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini were confirmed as remaining with the VR46 Ducati team for 2023, and LCR confirmed that Taka Nakagami will retain his seat in the Idemitsu side of their squad next season. Some have questioned keeping Taka when Ai Ogura is waiting in the wings, but it’s a move that makes sense for several reasons.

Ai has already said that he doesn’t yet feel ready to make the step up to MotoGP, and with Suzuki duo Joan Mir and Alex Rins both joining Honda for 2023, Taka will provide a constant for the factory in terms of making changes to their machine. Admittedly Marc Marquez will be there too, but Marc has missed big chunks of the last few seasons so Taka is the one who will be able to provide the most insight on any changes.

On Friday afternoon, “silly season” finally came to a close with the announcement of current Moto2 championship leader Augusto Fernandez taking the final seat on the 2023 MotoGP grid. Augusto will line up alongside Pol Espargaro in the GASGAS Tech3 team for 2023. The news was meant to have been announced on Saturday, but the news came early following the leak of photos of Augusto’s announcement photoshoot in a GASGAS t-shirt!

Remy Gardner, who had already confirmed he would be leaving MotoGP at the end of the season, revealed this week that he has signed for GRT Yamaha in the World Superbike Championship. It’s a shame that Remy hasn’t been given a real shot at MotoGP, but I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes in World Superbikes.

Following his participation at the Misano test, Honda announced that Marc Marquez would be returning to action this weekend. Joan Mir was also declared fit on Thursday, but by Saturday he had withdrawn from the weekend, and from the Japanese GP to allow himself more time to heal from the ankle injury sustained in Misano.

Cal Crutchlow was also back in action this weekend as he steps in to replace the retired Andrea Dovizioso at RNF Yamaha for the rest of the season. Talking of the RNF team, it would appear that for the second season in a row they will be losing their title sponsor. Although nothing has been confirmed, it is widely rumoured in the paddock that WithU will be withdrawing their sponsorship of the team at the end of the season.

There was history made in Moto3 this weekend as Maria Herrera made a wildcard appearance riding for an all-female squad run by the Angeluss MTA team. Herrera has been racing in MotoE this season, and returned to the Moto3 class this weekend in a bid to promote the presence of women in motorcycling.

Track action got underway as usual with FP1 on Friday morning, and the session saw a crash for Aleix Espargaro, while Fabio Quartararo was running the new chassis that he had tested in Misano. In spite of his crash, it was Aleix who topped the session ahead of Pecco Bagnaia, Alex Rins and Brad Binder.

FP2 saw another crash for Aleix Espargaro, who sent his Aprilia barrel-rolling through the gravel while he was on a fast lap. Pecco, Rins and Fabio all set fast laps at the end of the session, but it was Jorge Martin who went fastest to top the times overnight.

Saturday morning’s FP3 session saw Marc Marquez suffer his first crash since returning to action, while Alex Marquez and Maverick Viñales both had the shoulder cam on this weekend, and it was interesting to compare their riding styles as we usually only see the camera on one rider at a time.

As the time attacks got underway towards the end of the session, Brad Binder had a crash which saw him head to the medical centre to have his ankle x-rayed, but thankfully there were no fractures identified. Brad’s brother Darryn also crashed towards the end of the session, as did Crutchlow and Rins, meaning there were yellow flags out for much of the final few minutes of the session.

Jack Miller headed the charge of 10 riders progressing directly to Q2, ahead of Pecco, Bezzecchi, Enea Bastianini, Jorge Martin, and KTM duo Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira. The top 10 was rounded out by Fabio Quartararo, Taka Nakagami and Alex Rins.

Between FP3 and FP4 there was an Exceptional Press Conference, where the plans were laid out for the weekend schedule from next season with the addition of the Sprint Races. The main changes include an extended ‘Practice 2’ for MotoGP on Friday afternoons, the loss of FP4, and the addition of a Sprint race on a Saturday afternoon.

The schedule will also change so that the running order will be Moto3, Moto2 and then MotoGP every day rather than Moto2 being 3rd on the schedule on Friday and Saturday at the moment. In addition to their practice sessions being reduced in time, the Moto3 and Moto2 classes will no longer have a morning warm up on Sunday. MotoGP will retain their warm up session, but it will be halved to 10 minutes.

The final change looks to be a ‘Rider Fan Show’ which will last for 30 minutes and take place on a Sunday morning after MotoGP warm up. I’m sure the riders will love giving up their preparation time on a Sunday morning for something that could take place on a Saturday evening instead!

The idea behind adding Sprint Races (I think!) is to bring a wider audience into the sport, but honestly, I’m not sure how this will do that – particularly when the Sprint Races will remain behind a paywall. Only people who are already paying to have access to MotoGP will see the races. Also, I don’t think its fair to be cutting down the track time available to Moto3 and Moto2 – it is looking more and more as though they are simply supporting classes rather than part of the show, which is a real shame as more often than not those races (or Moto3 at least) are more exciting than the MotoGP race.

Back on track, FP4 got underway and we saw riders put in longer runs as they prepared for the race. There were crashes from Darryn Binder and Marco Bezzecchi as well as a break down for Jorge Martin. It was Miguel Oliveira who set the pace, topping the times ahead of Bezzecchi, Fabio, Pecco and Enea.

Q1 was a session which was stacked with names that you might have expected to have been straight through to Q2, with Aleix, Marc, Viñales, and Zarco all prime candidates for the top two slots and progression to Q2. Early in the session there was an incident between Aleix and Di Giannantonio, but after a review, there was no action taken.

After the first set of runs, it was Marc and Aleix who sat at the top of the times. With less than 3 minutes remaining on the clock, Maverick Viñales crashed. The crash was Maverick’s first of the season, which is mind-blowing, but it also brought out the yellow flags which may have impacted some laps. Final laps were impacted by yellow flags brought out for a crash for Pol Espargaro in the final minute of the session.

Aleix and Zarco were the two riders who would be heading through to Q2.

After the first runs in Q2 Enea Bastianini was leading the way, but by the end of the session Pecco Bagnaia had secured pole position with a new all time lap record. He would be joined on another all-Ducati front row by Jack Miller and Enea Bastianini. Aleix, Zarco and Quartararo would make up the second row, while the top 12 would be completed by Bezzecchi, Martin, Rins, Binder, Oliveira and Nakagami.

Warm up on Sunday morning was topped by Taka Nakagami. Towards the end of the session, Fabio Quartararo pulled into the pits to have his fuel topped up – presumably to allow him to complete a practice start with a full tank of fuel.

As the riders lined up on the grid, Ducati boss Davide Tardozzi explained to the BT Sport team that Enea is “free to do his race” and that there are no team orders at Ducati, despite the fact that everyone keeps banging on about them.

There was a poignant moment when Cal Crutchlow, Pecco Bagnaia, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco lined up the front of the grid to observe a minute of silence following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. There was a lovely photograph of The Queen with a motorbike at the front of the grid too. A nice touch from the MotoGP paddock ahead of the state funeral on Monday.

The race got underway and Pecco made the best of his pole position to lead into turn 1, with Jack Miller, Enea Bastianini and Aleix Espargaro hot on his heels. There was a massive crash for Fabio Quartararo, who slammed into the back of Marc Marquez who had slowed following a rear end slide, leaving Fabio nowhere to go.

While our hearts were still racing following the horrible looking crash for Fabio – who was thankfully able to get up and walk away – there was another massive crash. This time Marc made contact with Taka Nakagami who was sent sliding down the track, and was very lucky that his fellow riders were all able to take avoiding action.

The crash between Marc and Taka was caused by a chunk of faring from Fabio’s bike which was caught in the rear of Marc’s bike. I’ve seen a lot of criticism online of Marc following these incidents – and I’ve been critical of Marc in the past – but in this case, I don’t think he was to blame. The crash with Fabio was just a first lap racing incident – even Lin Jarvis agreed – and the one with Taka was simply a knock-on from the first crash. No one was to blame for either of the crashes, but Marc is one of those riders that people will criticise no matter what, which explains some of the idiotic opinions on social media on Sunday evening.

Following the crash on track, Fabio Quartararo was involved in another as the marshal carrying him back to the paddock crashed head-on with another scooter. Thankfully Fabio had his helmet on, and he didn’t sustain any further injuries in the incident. Fabio’s chest and stomach is covered with a series of dressings due to ‘abrasions’ and he is sore, but otherwise uninjured. The crash footage seems to show his leathers had burst open which would explain why the wounds on his chest were so bad, but does raise questions about why the suit was open.

Taka Nakagami underwent surgery on Monday to repair damage to two fingers, and he is hoping to be declared fit to ride at his home GP this coming weekend.

Back on track, Marc Marquez had pulled into the pits at the end of lap 1, the damage to his bike from two contacts enough to rule him out of the race. Pecco was still leading ahead of Jack Miller, with Brad Binder up to 3rd. Enea made his way through on Binder for 3rd on lap 4, while Alex Rins set the fastest lap of the race from 15th place – he had run wide and ended up last while avoiding the Marc / Fabio incident.

By lap 7 Enea had made it up to 2nd at the expense of Jack Miller, who quickly saw himself demoted to 5th place as Binder and Aleix made their way through too. On lap 9, Enea made a move for the lead but then ran wide allowing Pecco to take back first place.

Honestly, this race was pretty dull. Not a great deal happened until the final two laps. On the penultimate lap, Aleix passed Binder for 3rd place as Enea swarmed all over the back of Pecco. On the final lap, Enea made his move earlier in the lap than some might have expected, taking the lead from his future team mate at turn 7 and holding him off until the chequered flag.

Enea’s win is his 4th victory of the season, and was enough to see Ducati secure the Constructors’ crown for the third consecutive year. Hardly surprising when they have 8 bikes on the grid, but there you go. Enea was joined on the podium by Pecco in 2nd and Aleix in 3rd.

With Pecco and Aleix scoring podiums, and Fabio scoring zero following the crash, the championship battle is certainly much closer than it was heading into the weekend. There is now only 17 points covering the top 3 – Fabio leads Pecco by 10 points, with Aleix 7 further back – with 5 races (and 125 points) remaining.

Next up is the return of the Japanese GP, which gets underway on Friday. There will be no sessions on Friday morning to allow the teams time to set up as some of the freight will not be arriving until Thursday. It’s going to be an interesting race – many of the grid won’t have raced in Japan on MotoGP bikes as we haven’t had a race there since 2019, and Fabio will no doubt be in some amount of pain as he bids to hold on to his championship lead.

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