The VROOM Blog, #ArgentinaGP – Marco Bezzecchi blasts to maiden victory

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

MotoGP arrived in Argentina last weekend for the Gran Premio Michelin de la República Argentina, and it was certainly a weekend that delivered. We’re only two rounds into MotoGP 2023 and already we have seen 3 different race winners, and 9 different podium finishers. This weekend gave us a new MotoGP race winner as Marco Bezzecchi joined the ranks of those who have not only taken a win in the premier class, but also at least one win in Moto2 and Moto3.

One of the big talking points heading into the weekend – despite him not even being in the paddock – was Marc Marquez. Or, more accurately, the penalty he was given following the incident with Jorge Martin and Miguel Oliveira in Portugal. As I mentioned last week, Marc was handed a double long lap penalty, and the notification of sanction specified that this was to be served at the Argentina GP this weekend. The stewards then released a clarification on Tuesday which stated that due to Marc’s injury and non-participation at the Argentina GP, the double long lap penalty “shall be served by the Rider at the next MotoGP Race in which he will be able to participate.”

HRC then released a statement which said “the Repsol Honda Team considers that the modification of the penalty consisted of a change of criteria on when the penalty should be applied, and that this modification was issued by the FIM two days after the initial sanction was final and definitive, is not in line with the current regulations of the FIM for the MotoGP World Championship. For the reason, the Repsol Honda Team intends to use all the means of recourse offered by the regulations in force to defend its rights and legitimate interests, which it considers violated as a result of the latest resolution adopted, and in particular has duly submitted and Appeal before the FIM Appeal Stewards.”

That’s an awful lot of words to say that they were appealing the decision to change when the penalty should be applied, and it was followed by a statement from the Appeal Stewards which basically says they are passing the case to the MotoGP Court of Appeal.

I know that I said last time out that I felt a double long lap penalty wasn’t a strong enough penalty, so I won’t get into that again, but it has to be said that Honda are right here. Not in the basic ‘they’re trying to get out of the penalty’ side of it, but in the sense that the Stewards issued a penalty and stated in the notification when the penalty should be served without any caveat regarding rider participation in that particular race, and then changed the application of the penalty once it became apparent that Marc would be missing Argentina.

I had a look back through some previous sanctions, and almost all simply say that the penalty will be applied in the next race, and it names that race (so a post-race penalty given to Bo Bendsneyder in Misano last year said that he had to serve the penalty at Aragon as that was the next race). The only exception I came across was for Senna Agius who was also given a post-race penalty at Misano, but as a stand in for the injured Sam Lowes, it was unknown when Agius would be back on track, so his notification of sanction stated that he must serve the penalty “on [his] next appearance in the 2022 championship.”

I don’t know why that isn’t the standard wording to be fair – riders could miss the next race for any number of reasons and then technically, the penalty is void.

It is unknown when the Court of Appeal will meet to discuss the case, and if they don’t meet before COTA, it is unlikely that Marc will serve the penalty there. I would imagine that HRC will win the appeal, because really, they are right. It isn’t fair to change the application of the penalty in the way that they have, and as much as I whole-heartedly believe that Marc should serve a penalty for the incident in Portugal, I also believe that the Stewards have made a mistake here.

It’s all very messy, and quite embarrassing for MotoGP as a whole, but it does look like the Stewards have learned from the situation as this weekend Sergio Garcia received a long lap penalty for an Q1 incident on Saturday, and the wording of the notification stated that he would have to complete the long lap at the next GP in which he participates. It then went on to clarify that they expect that to be this weekend, but should he miss the race, it will roll to his next race. I felt that was an unnecessary clarification, but I suppose they’re just trying to cover themselves now!

On Friday, Tech3 boss Herve Poncharal gave an update on Pol Espargaro, telling Simon Crafar that he had been moved from his intensive care room to a normal room that morning and that he was in better spirits having been moved. It will surely be a long road to recovery for Pol, but Herve said the Spaniard is eager to return. Tech3 also announced that Jonas Folger will be stepping in for Pol from COTA onwards. Folger last raced in MotoGP in 2017 – for Tech3, but on a Yamaha – and is now part of the KTM test team, so he has recent experience of the bike.

Friday kicked off with only 18 riders on track as Enea Bastianini, Marc Marquez, Miguel Oliveira and Pol Espargaro all continue to recover from injury. The P1 session was topped in the early stages by Franky Morbidelli, but he was soon bumped from the top spot by the Aprilia duo of Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro.

With 7 minutes remaining on the clock riders were heading out to try for a faster lap time as there was a possibility of rain in the afternoon, which given the new format would scupper any chances of progressing directly to Q2. It was Maverick Viñales who topped the session ahead of Aleix Espargaro and Jorge Martin. Franky Morbidelli – after a strong start to the session – finished in 8th place.

P2 on Friday afternoon started under cloudy skies, and Augusto Fernandez had a crash 15 minutes into the session. Thankfully he was fine and back out on his second bike in no time. While Franky Morbidelli continued to keep himself in the top 6, team mate Fabio Quartararo was having a much tougher day on board his Yamaha and was sitting outside of the top 10 as the session ended, meaning the 2021 World Champion would have to go into Q1.

A flurry of fast laps at the end of the session saw Franky drop down the order a bit, but he remained inside the top 10 and would be progressing directly through to Q2! It was Aprilia team mates Aleix and Maverick who were once again the fastest riders, and they would be joined in Q2 by Marco Bezzecchi, Luca Marini, Johann Zarco, Pecco Bagnaia, Jorge Martin, Taka Nakagami, Franky and Alex Rins.

Overnight rain meant that FP on Saturday morning saw MotoGP riders heading out onto a damp track, although most riders did head out on slicks. Half way through the session, the only riders out on track were Alex Marquez and Alex Rins. Most riders headed back out for the final 10 minutes, and it was Bagnaia who topped the session from Bezzecchi and Rins.

By the time Q1 got underway it was raining and the track was almost fully wet again, which makes me wonder why the RNF team sent Raul Fernandez out on slicks… He was soon back in the pits without having set a lap time. Gresini riders Alex Marquez and Fabio Di Giannantonio were the fastest pair on track in the early part of the session, before Fabio Quartararo took himself to the top of the times with 8 minutes remaining.

Instead of the usual two-run tactic we see in the qualifying sessions, everyone stayed out on the same tyres for the full session. It was a tense end to the session for Fabio Quartararo who ran wide at the start of his final lap, meaning he wouldn’t be going any higher than 2nd place – could he hold on and head through to Q2? Yes, he could. The only other rider on a fast lap was Alex Marquez who was already in 1st place.

It wasn’t the best end to the session for Alex either, who crashed on a fast lap as he was trying to get around Joan Mir. Alex was fine, but his Ducati was on fire. In the past we have seen riders leap from their bikes, or throw them to the ground, but not Alex – he stayed on board and rode it right up to the marshals to get the fire extinguished!

Alex managed to get a lift back to the paddock on a scooter, and was ready to head out for Q2 on his second bike.

As Q2 started, the rain had stopped but the track was still wet enough for wet tyres. After the first flying laps, the top 3 was Zarco, Franky and Fabio, but Maverick Viñales soon fired himself up to 2nd place. Unlike Q1, riders did opt to change tyres during this session, and some riders even went for slicks. There was a drying line starting to appear, but they were going to have to be careful – there were still some parts of the track that were very wet.

Bagnaia spent his out-lap sliding around, but he soon had the slick tyres up to temperature and he was looking to improve his time. As the flag came out, Marco Bezzecchi shot to the top of the timesheets by over 1.9 seconds. Pecco jumped to 2nd, and then Alex Marquez had a massive moment across the line as he set the fastest lap of the session and claimed his first MotoGP pole position.

The front row of the grid was a Ducati lock-out with Alex Marquez joined on the front row by Bezzecchi and Bagnaia. Franky Morbidelli was the first of the qualifiers to finish on wet tyres in 4th place, and would be joined on the second row by Viñales and Zarco. Rows three and four would be made up by Marini, Martin, Aleix, Fabio Quartararo, Nakagami and Rins.

With Alex’s pole position, Alex and Marc Marquez become only the second set of brothers to have taken pole in the premier class – the other brothers to have done so are Pol and Aleix Espargaro – and the first set of brothers to take consecutive pole positions as Marc took pole last time out in Portugal.

Things had dried out in time for the beginning of the Sprint race on Saturday afternoon, and I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I watched Franky take the lead! He ran a bit wide into turn 1 and Alex Marquez took over at the front, but Franky stayed strong and was back in the lead before the end of the lap.

Joan Mir didn’t make it to the end of the first lap, having a massive high-side crash at turn 7. Brad Binder was somehow up to 3rd by the end of the lap, having shot from 15th on the grid to 5th at turn 1!

As Franky continued to lead, Binder passed Marquez for 2nd place, and was soon all over the back of Franky. Brad took the lead on lap 3, and on lap 4 Aleix and Bezzecchi were having quite the battle for 6th place. Alex Marquez and Pecco Bagnaia were also battling hard for 4th place, before Maverick passed Aleix for 7th.

This race was wild – there were people changing positions all through the field – and the top 3 of Binder, Franky and Luca Marini were beginning to pull a bit of a gap at the front. On lap 9 VR46 Academy riders Franky and Luca were battling for 2nd place, and Luca eventually managed to see off Franky, who was then shoved back to 4th place by another VR46 rider in the shape of Bezzecchi, as further back Aleix crashed out of the race at turn 9.

Marco Bezzecchi then set about moving past team mate Luca Marini, while Bagnaia was closing in on Franky. Marco Bezzecchi closed in on Brad Binder in the final lap, but he was able to pass the South African who took the win. Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini joined Binder on the not-podium, while Franky held on and took 4th place.

I cannot tell you how happy I was for Franky – we have seen him have occasional decent practice sessions in recent times, only for him to drop like a stone in the race, but he was properly fighting at the front of this race and it was a joy to see! It remained to be seen whether the Italian would be able to maintain such a pace for the full length race, so I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but 4th place was a great result considering how his last 2 seasons have gone.

The top 9 – as that’s as far as the points go – was rounded out by Alex Marquez, Bagnaia, Maverick, Jorge Martin, and Fabio Quartararo.

Fabio Quartararo was hit with a 1 second penalty post-race as he had passed Nakagami under yellows following Mir’s crash. Fabio had finished the race far enough in front of Miller that it didn’t impact his final position. Joan Mir was sent to hospital for checks, and was then to be reviewed before morning warm up. He was declared unfit due to “head and neck trauma” and is hoping to be back at the next round.

Warm up on Sunday morning was a very wet session – the track was fully wet, and there was light rain falling throughout the session which was topped by Bezzecchi ahead of Marini, Miller, Diggia and Franky.

With a wet track and light rain falling on the grid, the race was declared a wet race, which means that riders are free to enter the pits and swap their bikes at any time.

The lights went out, and Bezzecchi led Franky into turn 1, only for Franky to run a little wide and drop to 4th behind Marquez and Bagnaia. Sprint race winner Brad Binder crashed at turn 5, but was able to re-join the race albeit in last place. He wasn’t last for too long though as Taka Nakagami made another of his questionable first-lap moves and punted Fabio Quartararo so far off the track that he dropped to the back of the pack. Honestly, Taka seems to be making a bit of a habit of making rash moves and getting away with it. Where is the consistency from the stewards?

On lap 2 Aleix found himself dropping from 5th to 8th as Zarco, Diggia and Rins all made their way through on him. The front group of Bezzecchi, Marquez, Bagnaia and Morbidelli was pulling away from the chasing pack as they continued to fight amongst themselves for 5th place.

Out front, Bezzecchi really had his head down and was pulling away which surely must’ve been the best place to be because at some points of the race the spray being thrown up from the bikes was awful. By lap 11 Bez’s lead was over 2 seconds as Jorge Martin and Jack Miller fought over 8th place. Fabio Quartararo was making his way back through the pack following the first lap incident with Nakagami, and was now up to 11th place.

Lap 15 saw Bagnaia and Marquez battling for 2nd place, with Marquez losing out to the reigning World Champion, but Bagnaia wasn’t going to be in 2nd place for long as he crashed a lap later. He was able to re-join the race, but found himself in 16th place, just ahead of Binder.

Bagnaia’s crash promoted Alex Marquez back up to 2nd, and Franky to 3rd! Were we going to see Franky on the podium?! No. Sadly we would not, and it’s all Johann Zarco’s fault… You see, Zarco was having one of those races he has in the wet where towards the end of the race he just gets faster and faster, and by lap 23 Franky was getting the hurry up on his pit board as the Frenchman closed in on him.

Franky ran a little wide and Zarco didn’t need to be asked twice to take 3rd place from the Italian. Zarco shot off after Marquez, and passed him for 2nd place on the final lap, taking the chequered flag behind Marco Bezzecchi who took his first MotoGP win at the same circuit where he won his first Moto3 race back in 2018.

Franky held on for 4th place though – his best result since finishing 3rd at Jerez in 2021. Jorge Martin was 5th, Miller 6th, and Fabio Quartararo fought his way back to 7th from last on the first lap – you have to wonder if he’d have been in the fight at the front had he not been pushed so wide early on. The top 10 was rounded out by Marini, Rins and Diggia.

Marco Bezzecchi is the 119th different premier class winner, and the 34th rider to win in the MotoGP era (since 2002), and not only is this his first win in MotoGP – it is also the first win for the Mooney VR46 team since their move up to the premier class, meaning that the VR46 team has now won in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP.

I do love when Marco does well because the team will always sing his name to the tune of the chorus of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t take my eyes off of you”, and it does make me smile!

Alex Marquez scored his first podium for Ducati with 3rd place, and he said that he just wants to “keep enjoying like this, and keep working” with his new team. Zarco secured 2nd place for the 11th time in MotoGP, and extended his – I’m sure very unwanted – record as the rider with the most podiums without a race win in the class to 16.

Franky Morbidelli had his best weekend in a long time this weekend, and he says he and the team have ideas to try in order to recover the ground that they are missing and that he had really enjoyed the weekend. He also said that all of the lovely comments and compliments from so many people was possibly the best part of the weekend, which is really nice – I don’t think there is anyone in the paddock who wasn’t happy to see Franky closer to the front. Let’s just hope that he continues to make progress as the season goes on!

New race winner Marco Bezzecchi is now also the championship leader as the paddock heads to the USA for the next round at COTA, which takes place from the 14th to 16th of April.

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