The VROOM Blog – #SpanishGP – Bagnaia bags second win of the season as the Stewards go wild in Jerez

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

The MotoGP paddock returned to Europe this weekend for the Spanish GP at the Circuito de Jerez -Angel Nieto. We learned this week that the Kazakhstan GP has been cancelled for this year due to a combination of “ongoing homologation works” and “current global operational challenges.” There will be no replacement for this race, meaning that the total of rounds this year drops to 20, and that there will be a summer break of 6 weeks between Assen and Silverstone.

With his penalty appeal nonsense still up in the air, Marc Marquez was present at Jerez on Thursday despite not actually racing this weekend. Marc has apparently taken the advice of 3 different medical teams (really, three?!) and would sit out the weekend to allow his hand to heal. HRC World Superbike rider Iker Lecuona – who is one of a list of riders to have been punted from Tech3 to land in the World Superbike paddock – steps in as replacement rider, with Stefan Bradl back again this weekend but in HRC colours as a wildcard.

There was a mild frenzy when it was announced that Marc would be holding a press conference on Thursday afternoon – as you can imagine social media was rife with all kinds of ideas right up to him announcing his retirement from racing. The Repsol team were quick to quell the rumours online, tweeting that it was just a medical update, nothing more, before it was changed to just a media scrum which really could have just been an email update of his current condition. His current condition being that although his hand injury is progressing satisfactorily, the nature of the fracture to his right metacarpal means that more time is required before he tries to ride again.

Ducati’s Enea Bastianini was back this weekend, having completed some laps at Misano on a Panigale, and was declared fit to ride, while Jonas Folger remains at Tech3 in place of Pol Espargaro.

Dani Pedrosa was also back on track this weekend in a wildcard appearance for the KTM Factory team.

P1 on Friday saw Maverick Viñales doing a practice start every time he left pitlane – no doubt to try and improve his starts after he basically hit reverse on the grid at COTA. Early in the session Fabio Quartararo was near the top of the time sheets, but as others put in new tyres and set faster laps, he and Yamaha team mate Franky Morbidelli were languishing way outside of the top 10. Granted, that isn’t always unusual for Franky, but Fabio often manages to pull something out of the bag when it matters.

As the chequered flag came out, it was Dani Pedrosa who topped the times ahead of Jorge Martin and Taka Nakagami.

P2 was interrupted with just under 40 minutes remaining following a crash for Iker Lecuona, with his bike having damaged the air fence which needed to be replaced. In between Iker’s crash and the red flag, fellow Honda rider Joan Mir also had a crash.

After a delay of around 5 minutes, the session resumed, and by the mid-point of the session Iker Lecuona was the only rider to have improved his time. Marco Bezzecchi’s Ducati appeared to blow an engine, and the Italian did well to get off the track quickly.

As the clock ticked down, some riders did manage to improve their times – Maverick Viñales jumped up to 3rd place, Fabio to 13th and then Zarco to 3rd. With less than a minute remaining Joan Mir crashed again – he really is having a torrid time on that Honda – bringing out yellow flags and cancelling some laps for riders behind him.

The session ended with Aprilia duo Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales at the top of the times, with Dani Pedrosa in 3rd. The remaining riders headed straight through to Q2 were Jorge Martin, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Alex Marquez, Taka Nakagami and Luca Marini, with everyone else – including Brad Binder, Fabio Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia – having to battle it out in Q1.

Fabio and Franky were down in 16th and 17th, and it turns out that Yamaha had made the decision not to put in a fresh tyre for a time attack in P1 as they were doing tyre comparisons for the Sprint race. What?! The morning sessions in Jerez are almost always faster than the afternoons because they are cooler – the afternoon heat makes it very difficult to go faster – and with Saturday morning no longer counting towards whether you are in Q1 or Q2, why on earth would you risk not doing a time attack on Friday morning?! As if Fabio doesn’t have enough problems keeping up with the Ducatis in races already…

The 30-minute Free Practice session on Saturday morning saw Aleix Espargaro narrowly avoid a cat that had wandered on to the track, and crashes for Jorge Martin and Aleix Espargaro (not related to the cat!). Enea Bastianini had gone out at the start of the session, but it was confirmed before the session had ended that he was done for the weekend. While the pain from his shoulder injury was manageable, Enea didn’t feel he had the strength required to ride for the rest of the weekend. He’s hoping to be back for the next round.

It was Miguel Oliveira who was the fastest in FP, ahead of Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro and Franky Morbidelli. With Taka Nakagami in 5th place, there were no Ducatis in the top 5, which was certainly an unusual sight.

Q1 on Saturday was possibly one of the most stacked Q1 sessions we’ve ever seen. Fabio Quartararo, Pecco Bagnaia, Brad Binder, Marco Bezzecchi and COTA winner Alex Rins would all be going for the two remaining slots in Q2. After one lap, it was Fabios Quartararo and Di Giannantonio who held the top two slots, but by the time the riders all started to pit for fresh rubber, it was Bezzecchi who was fastest from Quartararo as thunder rumbled around the Jerez circuit.

Marco Bezzecchi went faster again when he headed back out, before being bumped out of the top two by Bagnaia and Binder. As the chequered flag came out, Bezzecchi and Quartararo were both on personal best laps, but would either of them be fast enough to steal a top two slot? No. Neither of them was able to better the laps set by Bagnaia and Binder as they headed through to Q2.

Fabio Quartararo cut a dejected figure as he sat in his pit box with his helmet still on and his head in his hands. You have to wonder where he’d have been if Yamaha hadn’t decided not to do a time attack on Friday morning. Its all ifs and buts, but I think he’d have had a chance at going straight through to Q2 rather than having to face Q1. As Yamaha failed to have at least one bike in Q2 for the first time, even team boss Massimo Meregalli admitted that he had “some regret” about the P1 tyre decision.

Rain started falling between the end of Q1 and the beginning of Q2, but as Q2 got underway the rain had stopped and riders were able to head out on slicks. Well, most riders were – Brad Binder and Alex Marquez were among a small group of riders who headed out on wets. While Alex quickly pitted for slicks, Brad said after the session that he only had one set of soft slicks left so he headed out on wets to suss out the track – there were some damp patches – before heading out on slicks.

The final few minutes of the session were frantic, with Alex Marquez, Luca Marini, Aleix Espargaro, Jack Miller, and Johann Zarco all taking turns at the top of the times, but it was Aleix who ended the session with the fastest time to take pole position ahead of Miller and Martin, with Binder, Bagnaia and Pedrosa making up the second row.

As Jack Miller took his first front row start for KTM, there were 3 KTMs on the front two rows of the grid!

During the lunch break on Saturday, there was an exceptional press conference, where it was announced that from 2024 there will be a Women’s Motorcycling World Championship. The series will be an FIM series, and will initially run alongside the World Superbike Championship for at least 6 rounds in 2024. It will be a one make series, and the manufacturer and bike capacity yet to be decided, however they did say that it would likely be somewhere along the lines of supersport.

The idea of the championship is to “create opportunities for female riders who are already competing” and to “lay the groundwork for more equal representation across all motorcycle paddocks” going forward.

The news has had a mixed response online, and honestly, I’m not sure this is the way to go. It’s 2023, and I don’t see why there needs to be a separate championship for women. Racing is very different to other sports and women have been able to prove themselves against men in the past – Ana Carrasco was World Champion in a class filled with male competitors.

I do agree that it would be good to see more females in the higher levels of motorcycle racing, but I don’t think this is the answer. Surely it would be better to tackle the issue from a grass roots level? Yeah, it would take a while to see the impact at the world level, but perhaps having a focus on encouraging young girls to take up racing and helping them to make progress through the ranks would be more beneficial in the long run. Something along the lines of what Faye Ho is doing at BSB – she runs her superbike team with male racers, but also runs 5 young female racers across the Junior Supersport and BMW F900 cup classes under the FHO Girls banner.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter what I think, it’s happening and it will be interesting to see how successful it is, and whether we will see any of the women who compete make the move across to the existing world championships.

As the riders lined up on the grid for the Sprint race, the temperatures had soared and it was hot! Jack Miller grabbed the holeshot ahead of team mate Binder and Aleix, but there was drama at turn 2 as we saw a four-rider crash involving Franky Morbidelli, Marco Bezzecchi, Alex Marquez, and Augusto Fernandez. Augusto’s crash was actually a separate incident at the same spot.

The race was red-flagged as turn 2 was littered with bikes and riders, including Bezzecchi’s Ducati which had caught fire.

Though Franky took some time to get back on his feet having been clattered in the back by Taka Nakagami – Franky took time to thank Taka for managing to hit him more gently than he might have had he not reacted so quickly – everyone was back on their feet and okay. And eligible for the restart – which surprised many people – but as the incident was a first lap one, and it would be a full restart (albeit one lap less), all riders were eligible for the restart.

15 minutes after the race had started, the riders were lined back up on the grid for the quick restart procedure, and this time when the lights went out, it was Binder leading Miller into turn 1 ahead of Martin, Bagnaia and Aleix. Jorge and Miller had some back and forth over 2nd place over the next laps, but Miller was able to hold on to 2nd place, with Jorge eventually demoted to 4th by Bagnaia at the end of lap 2.

A lap later Miller passed Binder into the final corner to take the lead before Alex Marquez and Taka Nakagami crashed out of the race at turns 2 and 9 respectively. Poleman Aleix crashed out at turn 9 on lap 6, before Jorge took 2nd back from Bagnaia only for Bagnaia to take it straight back again. There was a battle raging between Miguel Oliveira and Dani Pedrosa for 5th place, while Joan Mir crashed and remounted at turn 6.

Laps 9 and 10 of the 11 lap Sprint race saw Binder and Miller swapping the lead as they battled, but it was Binder who was able to make the final move stick and begin to pull away from Miller as the last lap began. Jack ran a little wide which allowed Bagnaia through into 2nd place. Binder took the win ahead of Bagnaia and Miller, with Martin, Oliveira, Pedrosa, Viñales, Zarco, and Bezzecchi rounding out the top 9 (and scoring points).

On Saturday evening, we learned that Franky Morbidelli had been assigned blame for the turn 2 incident that brought out the red flag on the first lap, and that he had been given a long lap penalty for his next race for “riding in an irresponsible manner causing a crash involving rider #73.” I was furious, but as a big fan of Franky, I took a moment, rewatched the crash a few times and was then relieved to hear other riders and the commentators saying that they also thought the penalty was nonsense. It was nothing more than a first lap racing incident – Alex ran wide, Franky went for the gap, and as Alex came back onto the racing line they collided and crashed, wiping out Bezzecchi as they went.

To make things even more ridiculous, the wording on the response to Yamaha appealing the sanction said that Franky had been “ambitious in his attempt to overtake” – not the usual “overly ambitious,” just ambitious. Not one of those riders would be on the grid if they weren’t ambitious! Isn’t that the whole point of racing?! To add insult to injury for Franky – and really anyone who wants to make an overtake in MotoGP – journalist Niki Kovács reported that the Stewards told Yamaha that Franky really should have taken into consideration that Alex Marquez is an aggressive rider.

Absolutely not. No way should a rider have to think to himself ‘oh wait, he’s quite aggressive so maybe I shouldn’t try and overtake him.’

Warm up on Sunday morning was topped by Fabio Quartararo from Binder, Martin and Bezzecchi.

The main race on Sunday afternoon kicked off with an almost carbon copy of the Sprint race start – Miller took the lead from Binder and Martin, before there was a multi-rider crash at turn 2 that required a red flag and a race restart.

The crash this time involved Quartararo, Oliveira and Bezzecchi, and although Bezzecchi was part of the collision, he didn’t crash. It looked a sore one for both Quartararo and Oliveira, and while Fabio was able to walk away with assistance from the marshals, Miguel was transferred to an ambulance and looked to have damaged his arm / shoulder / collarbone area. Miguel had dislocated his shoulder and was sent to hospital for further checks where he discovered that he had “a small fracture” in his left humerus, and will undergo further checks this week.

The race was restarted over 24 laps just as it was announced that Quartararo would have to serve a long lap penalty during the race for “irresponsible riding” and causing the crash. Once again – come on, it was a first lap race incident and putting the blame on one rider is insane. If anything, Fabio was simply caught in the middle as Bezzecchi came at him from one side and Miguel from the other. It was just a racing incident.

The race restarted, and just like in the Sprint, Binder led Miller into turn 1. Alex Rins crashed and re-joined the race as Dani Pedrosa and Luca Marini went to battle over 6th place. On lap 2, Fabio and Franky both received their long lap penalty notifications, and while Franky completed his without issue, Fabio – who took the long lap loop on lap 4 – did not and was handed a second long lap penalty for an “incorrect long lap penalty”. You may ask what was incorrect about the long lap completed by Fabio, and the answer you would receive is that he touched the green paint, which of course, is not allowed.

They showed the replay though, and he only touched the green because he was looking backwards to make sure he re-joined the race track safely! I know that the rules are the rules and that the green paint is a big no-no, but surely this is a situation where common sense could have been applied – he didn’t gain anything and he certainly would have been punished if he had paid more attention to the green paint and just barrelled back onto the racing line and caused another accident.

Meanwhile, Binder had taken the lead from Miller, and then Bagnaia had put a harsh move on Miller, making contact with him as he passed. As Jack was waving his annoyance at Bagnaia – and Bagnaia waved an apology back – Jorge took advantage and demoted Jack to 4th. Jack was almost sideways as he shoved his KTM back in front of Jorge to retake 3rd place, and just when we though that the Stewards were done with their clown show for the day, Bagnaia was told he had to drop a position for the move he made on Miller.

Now, I’m by no means Bagnaia’s biggest fan, and I did say the move was harsh, but it wasn’t dangerous and we have certainly seen worse in the past. And, if they were punishing Bagnaia for that move on Miller, then surely they should have punished Miller for the move he made on Martin, but they didn’t, presumably because that would show some kind of consistency and we can’t have that…

Bagnaia duly slowed and allowed Miller to pass, and the pair resumed battle over 2nd place behind Binder who was starting to pull away at the front. Miller then started to pull away from Bagnaia, but on lap 15 he ran wide and allowed the Italian through into 2nd place. Bezzecchi and Zarco both crashed out of the race a couple of laps later, before Bagnaia started to up his pace in pursuit of race leader Binder.

With 3 laps remaining Bagnaia was able to pass Binder into the last corner as the South African ran slightly wide, and while Binder did his very best, he was unable to get back through on Bagnaia. Binder later admitted that he decided against trying to pass Bagnaia on the final lap as he was conscious that if he made any kind of contact, he may get a penalty. So, the Stewards are doing a fine job of stopping racing there, very well done.

Bagnaia went on to take his second victory of the season and Binder finished 2nd, with Miller rounding out the podium in 3rd place ahead of Martin, Aleix, Marini, and Pedrosa.

Maverick Viñales failed to finish the race as his chain snapped and flew off his bike on the final lap, while Fabio and Franky managed to finish in 10th and 11th despite their long lap penalties.

With both Binder and Miller on the podium, this was the first time that KTM have scored a podium finish at Jerez, while Miller has now scored podiums with 3 different manufacturers in MotoGP – Honda, Ducati and now KTM.

Bagnaia’s win and Bezzecchi’s DNF mean that Bagnaia now leads the championship by 22 points from Bezzecchi, with Binder sitting in 3rd, 3 points behind Bezzecchi.

There was a test for MotoGP riders at the Jerez circuit on Monday, and while there didn’t appear to be any major upgrades for any of the factories, there were new exhausts, aero parts and chassis being tested up and down pit lane. Also being tested were new radio communication systems. We have seen this idea tested before, but it has now been upgraded to work around the earplugs that riders wear when out on track. The idea is to use pre-recorded messages that can be sent to riders to warn of safety issues out on track.

It was VR46 duo Bezzecchi and Marini who topped the time sheets at the test, with Fabio Quartararo in 3rd place after a challenging weekend.

There was some positive news from Pol Espargaro on Wednesday as the Tech3 rider posted a video to his Instagram account to give an update on his condition. He explained that his jaw had been broken in two places and so had been kept closed for four weeks following the accident. He said he had 8 fractures in total, including his ribs and back, and that he has lost quite a bit of weight.

Pol looked well though, which was lovely to see, and he sounds keen to get back on his bike, saying he doesn’t know when that will be, but he did use the word soon. He seemed very encouraged by the weekend that the Factory KTM guys have just had! Hopefully he doesn’t come back too soon, but it will be good to see him back on track once he is ready.

Next up is Le Mans after a weekend off, and Fabio will surely be hoping for a better weekend as he heads home.

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