The VROOM Blog: Rins wins to give Suzuki a fairy-tale ending as Bagnaia becomes MotoGP World Champion

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

Well, that’s it – MotoGP is over for another season. Though Fabio Quartararo fought to take the title fight to the final round of the season, we have a new champion in Pecco Bagnaia, who staged the biggest comeback MotoGP has ever seen. After the German GP, everything was looking rosy for Fabio as he held a 91-point lead over Pecco in spite of the clear power disadvantage of his Yamaha, but the tables turned – Pecco stopped crashing out of races and starting winning them as Fabio’s season began to fall apart in front of our eyes.

As we headed in to the season finale at Valencia this weekend, there was obviously a lot of focus on the title fight – Fabio was 23 points behind Pecco going in to the weekend – and there were a lot of references being made to 2006 when the late, great Nicky Hayden outscored Valentino Rossi to claim the title. Many wondered if Fabio would be able to stage a Hayden-style comeback, although it would be a much tougher challenge for Fabio given that Nicky was only 8 points behind at the beginning of the final race.

Despite the odds appearing to be stacked against him, Fabio and the Yamaha camp certainly seemed to be the calmer half of the championship battle – the Ducati garage looked tense from Friday morning onwards, and honestly you had to wonder if the tension would get to Pecco and push him into a mistake! You could understand Fabio and Yamaha being calmer than Pecco and Ducati because really, they had nothing to lose – Pecco basically had one hand on the trophy and ‘only’ needed to score 2 points to take the title regardless of where Fabio finished the race, while Fabio would have to win the race and hope that Pecco finished 15th or lower.

While most of the focus was on MotoGP, there was also a Moto2 championship up for grabs, with Ai Ogura and Augusto Fernandez separated by 9.5 points in Augusto’s favour.

This weekend would see farewells up and down the paddock as some riders rode for their teams for the final time, and some would be leaving the paddock altogether. John McPhee would be racing in his final Moto3 race having reached the age limit for the class, and with no seat for him in Moto2 it looks as though John will be on his way to World Supersport for 2023. I had wondered if perhaps he might move to the European Moto2 championship in the hopes of doing well there and earning himself a place back in the World Moto2 championship – just as Alonso Lopez has done this season – but that isn’t looking likely.

2022 Moto2 World Champion Remy Gardner is definitely heading to the World Superbike paddock following his dumping from the Tech3 KTM team, which as I’ve said before is a real shame. But MotoGP’s loss will almost certainly be World Superbike’s gain.

Perhaps the biggest loss to the paddock at the end of this season is the Suzuki MotoGP team who inexplicably announced their decision to leave earlier this season, leaving their riders – and a whole host of very talented team members – without jobs for next year. Both riders have found a new home at Honda – Joan Mir at Repsol, and Alex Rins at LCR – and quite a few of the team members have been snapped up by other teams, with Frankie Carchedi heading to Gresini to be crew chief for Di Giannantonio, while Tom O’Kane will head to Yamaha.

Both Suzuki riders used special helmets paying tribute to their teams this weekend – Joan Mir with a team photo on the back of his, and Alex Rins with individual photos of his crew in squares around his. The team also produced a wall of fan messages in the garage, and then on Sunday they added a selection of the messages to the bikes too.

There were also lots of special helmets for many of the Spanish riders in the paddock, but my favourite of those was Aleix Espargaro’s. Following on from the helmet he wore for his daughter earlier in the year, Aleix had designed this weekends helmet with his son, Max, who had been allowed to choose his favourite things for the helmet. It was bright green with dinosaurs that Max had coloured in, as well at the words Mama and Papa.

Taka Nakagami was back in action this weekend following his absence due to a finger injury, while Fabio Quartararo and Joan Mir will go under the knife following the end of the season. Fabio will have surgery on his broken finger, while Joan will have surgery to alleviate an arm pump issue.

It was announced this weekend that MotoGP would have a new safety officer from 2023 as Franco Uncini retires this weekend. The new safety officer certainly raised some eyebrows – Bartolomé Alfonso is the nephew of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. With Carmelo’s son Carlos and daughter Ana already holding prominent roles within MotoGP / the road to MotoGP, it smacks a bit at nepotism, doesn’t it?

In addition to the MotoGP and Moto2 championships being decided this weekend, we also saw the FIM MiniGP and Red Bull Rookies Cup champions crowned. Italian Gabriel Fabio Vuono ran out victorious in the MiniGP, while Jose Antonio Rueda edged out Collin Veijer to take the Rookies cup becoming the first rider ever to take the JuniorGP and Rookies cup championships in the same season.

FP1 saw Marc Marquez spend most of the session at the top of the times – in spite of a mid-session crash – but with just over 10 minutes remaining Fabio Quartararo elevated himself to the top, finishing the session fastest ahead of Marc, Brad Binder, Jack Miller and Alex Rins. Pecco finished the session in 17th which of course sent the internet into meltdown with everyone feeling the need to point out that if the race were to finish like that on Sunday, Fabio would be champion.

Friday afternoon saw an FP2 session that was littered with crashes – Franky Morbidelli, Fabio Di Giannantonio, Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro all crashed within 5 minutes of each other early in the session. All riders were okay, but Aleix’s bike looked a little worse for wear. Cal Crutchlow also crashed later on in the session, which was topped by Luca Marini ahead of Jorge Martin, Miller, Marc, Bastianini and Miguel Oliveira. Fabio and Pecco were 8th and 9th, and the top 10 was covered by only 0.3 seconds.

FP3 on Saturday morning saw a monster crash for Marco Bezzecchi which – for once – brought out the red flag. Marco was fine despite a high-speed barrel-roll through the gravel, but his VR46 Ducati caught fire and had to be put out by the marshals. Marco got a bit handsy with one of the marshals and was later given an official warning and fined €1000 for “making physical contact with a marshal in an aggressive and unprofessional manner”, and he did go and apologise to the marshal later on.

The session got back underway, and Darryn Binder recorded his second crash of the weekend (he also crashed in FP1). Darryn’s crash was quickly followed by a crash for Raul Fernandez who was transferred to hospital for checks, but did return in time for qualifying having been declared fit.

If FP2 was littered with crashes, then FP3 was a crash-fest. In addition to the early crashes for Bezzecchi, Binder and Fernandez, there were also crashes throughout the session for Enea Bastianini, Brad Binder, Taka Nakagami, Maverick Viñales and a second crash for Bezzecchi. By the mid-point of the session, Remy Gardner was the only rider who had improved his time from Friday, but a flurry of fast laps towards the end of the session saw most riders improve as they gunned for a slot in Q2.

With just 2 minutes remaining on the clock, things were tense in the Ducati garage as Pecco sat in 11th place. He pulled himself up to 6th but had been bumped down to 9th as the chequered flag came out – would he be able to cling on to the top 10 and a place in Q2, or would other riders better his time and dump him out of the top 10? As it was, no one went faster in the final seconds of the session meaning Pecco would have direct access to Q2.

The top 10 heading through to Q2 would be Miller, Zarco, Binder, Marini, Fabio, Marc, Aleix, Martin, Pecco and Joan Mir.

The final ever FP4 session – assuming that the sprint races are here to stay – saw late crashes for rookies Darryn Binder and Remy Gardner. The session was topped by Miguel Oliveira from Fabio, Martin, Pol Espargaro and Zarco. Pecco finished the session in 11th place.

Q1 saw a four-way battle for the all-important top two spots between Enea Bastianini, Franky Morbidelli, Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales. With 4 minutes left on the clock, Pol crashed at turn 2 before Enea Bastianini crashed with just a minute to go. The session was topped by Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins who would progress to Q2, while Taka Nakagami would start at the very back of the grid following a three-place grid penalty for impeding Jorge Martin in FP3.

Fabio Quartararo was the final rider to head out onto the track for Q2, and after the first set of runs it was Jorge Martin, Jack Miller and Alex Rins who held the front row, while Fabio was in 4th and Pecco was last. With 2 minutes to go Jack Miller crashed at turn 2, briefly bringing out the yellow flags, before Zarco did the same at turn 6 just before the chequered flag. It was Jorge Martin who took his 3rd consecutive pole position ahead of Marc Marquez and Jack Miller. Fabio would line up in 4th place, while Pecco would be 8th on the grid.

Warm up on Sunday morning was topped by Johann Zarco from Marc and Jack, while Pecco and Fabio were 9th and 11th.

Before MotoGP got underway on Sunday, there was a Moto2 title to be decided. With 9.5 points between them, there were various ways either Ai Ogura or Augusto Fernandez could win the championship, but in the end, we didn’t have to do any maths to work it out as Ai Ogura crashed out of the race, meaning that whether Augusto finished or not, he was Moto2 world champion. Augusto went on to take 2nd place in the race behind team mate Pedro Acosta, who was crowned rookie of the year.

I’ll admit that I would rather have seen Ai take the title, but Augusto is a very worthy champion – and it does seem fitting that the only rider moving on to MotoGP next season is the champion. Plus, Ai will have another go at it next season – although he’ll have quite the fight on his hands with the level of talent in the class next season!

Augusto celebrated in style with the now standard gold helmet – and some giant rabbits – before donning a pair of gold leathers to take to the podium.

The tension was high as the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid, and it was Alex Rins who leapt forward from 5th on the grid to lead into turn 1 ahead of Martin, Jack, Marc, Fabio and Pecco. Marc was quickly through on Jack for 3rd, and Fabio made his way past the Australian too.

Lap 2 was wild – Jack and Fabio had a back and forth as Jack used the might of the Ducati to pass Fabio on the straight, but Fabio passed him right back into turn 1. Pecco joined in the battle, and things got close between the two championship contenders – so close in fact that they made contact and a wing from Pecco’s Ducati was sent flying! Fabio and Pecco battled for a few corners before Pecco came out on top in 5th, with Fabio right behind him in 6th.

All of the battling between Pecco and Fabio meant that they were now slightly adrift of the leading quartet of Rins, Martin, Marc and Jack. On lap 4 Fabio passed Pecco and began trying to bridge the 1.7 second gap to Jack. Pol Espargaro and Darryn Binder both crashed out of the race on lap 5, while Brad Binder was biding his time behind Pecco. Brad looked to be faster than both Pecco and Fabio, but seemed to be unwilling to get involved in the battle for the championship.

Aleix Espargaro pulled into the pits with a technical issue on his Aprilia, meaning that he almost certainly wouldn’t be finishing in the top 3 of the championship, unless some bad luck befell Enea Bastianini. Alex Marquez and Cal Crutchlow crashed on lap 7 in separate incidents, and both were able to re-join the race.

Brad Binder passed Pecco into turn 2 on lap 9, before Marc crashed out of the race a lap later. Joan Mir was the next rider to pass Pecco, with the Italian not really putting up much of a fight as riders did pass him. Johann Zarco crashed out of the race on lap 16 and Maverick Viñales retired from the race – more technical issues for Aprilia.

On lap 18 Brad Binder demoted Fabio to 5th, and the pair worked to close the gap on the leading trio of Rins, Martin and Miller. Further back, Pecco was running in 7th with Luca Marini behind him, and I had barely finished writing in my notes that Luca would stay behind his fellow VR46 Academy rider before he was past him! Pecco was now in 8th with Enea Bastianini behind him, and there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Enea would make a move on his future team mate. Sure enough, on lap 23 Enea made his move and was through on Pecco.

Brad Binder passed Jack for 3rd and a few corners later Jack crashed out of the race. On lap 26 of 27 Brad Binder was up to 2nd at the expense of Martin, and on the final lap of the race he had closed the gap on Rins to less than half a second, but Rins stayed strong and provided Suzuki with a race win in their final race, reigniting the glaring question of why were Suzuki leaving the paddock?!

Alex Rins was joined on the podium by Brad Binder and Jorge Martin, and as often happens when a championship is decided, they were a little over looked on Sunday afternoon, but all 3 put in great rides to finish their seasons on a high. Alex Rins admitted post-race that he had been crying on the grid before the race as he was so sad about having to leave Suzuki, so to go on and lead from start to finish was particularly impressive.

Fabio Quartararo finished in 4th place, while Pecco crossed the line in 9th meaning that Pecco is the new MotoGP World Champion. Massive credit to Fabio who was the first rider to pull up alongside Pecco on the cool-down lap to congratulate the new champion. Pecco received congratulations from many riders before his championship celebration – which if I’m completely honest was a little underwhelming. Pecco made his way along a line of his race bikes – his Moto3 Aspar machine which was #21, his Moto2 title winning Sky VR46 bike which was #42, and then his current bike which is #63.

If you add together 21 and 42 you get 63, which according to the celebrations is the ‘perfect combination’ – Pecco then typed numbers on a keypad that opened a black box containing his gold champions helmet, which he put on before running to the tyre wall to celebrate with his fan club in the grandstand.

With a gold #1 now on the front of his bike, Pecco returned very slowly to parc ferme – soaking it all in as he completed his cool-down lap before doing a huge burnout as he arrived back in pit lane. Fabio Quartararo made his way down pit lane to congratulate Pecco, and waited patiently alongside Jack Miller – who was wearing a Pecco champion t-shirt – until Pecco came over to him and they hugged.

Pecco Bagnaia becomes the first of Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Academy riders to win the premier class title, the first Ducati World Champion since Casey Stoner in 2007, the first Italian champion since Rossi in 2009, and the first Italian to win the championship on an Italian bike since Agostini on an MV Augusta in 1972.

Enea Bastianini finished the race in 8th place to secure 3rd place in the championship.

Jack Miller and his Ducati team handcuffed and duct taped his crew chief – Cristhian Pupulin – and carried him down pit lane to deliver him to the KTM garage where he will work with Jack next season, having been at Ducati for 21 years!

Fabio Quartararo spoke post-race about his hopes for next season and put the ball firmly in Yamaha’s court saying that hopefully “we can make a step with next years bike” and “hopefully they can bring a performing bike.” He’s not wrong either, you have to wonder what he could have done this season if Yamaha had brought a stronger bike into the season.

Sunday evening saw the FIM MotoGP Awards take place, and it’s always nice to see the riders suited and booted in something other than leathers – they do all scrub up rather well! The top 3 in each class were awarded their championship medals, Fabio Quartararo won the new fan award for best overtake, and Pecco Bagnaia got to add his plaque to the top of the MotoGP trophy tower.

While it is still 2022, the 2023 MotoGP season kicked off with a test day on Tuesday at Valencia. The testing was shown live and while it’s not the most exciting thing in the world to watch, it was pretty interesting to see riders who have changed teams / bikes in their test kit. With many riders who had changed manufacturer still under 2022 contracts, there were plenty of black bikes with just the rider’s name or number on the side, including – rather hilariously – Rins and Mir. I mean the team no longer exists, but they weren’t allowed to talk to the press about their new bikes, and all of the Honda logos in the garages were covered up!

As well as riders and crew chiefs swapping teams, we also saw the first days for two new team bosses. Gino Borsoi – of Aspar fame – moves to Pramac Ducati for 2023, while Nico Goyon steps up within the Tech3 team to the team boss role as Herve Poncharal takes a step back. I never thought I’d see the day that Herve stepped back! It does sound as though he will still be around next season, but not in a managerial role.

I always say that you can’t really read too much into test times, but it was Luca Marini who was fastest ahead of Viñales, Bezzecchi and Miguel Oliveira who was the fastest rider on a new bike having moved from KTM to RNF Aprilia.

There were two very unhappy previous champions on Tuesday evening – with both Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo stating that Honda and Yamaha needed to do much more if they are to be competitive next season.

It’s been another great season in MotoGP, and I’m already looking forward to the 2023 season getting underway in March. Until then we do have more tests to come with Sepang in February and Portimão in March – I’m sure the time will fly by until MotoGP is back on track!

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