The VROOM Blog, #FrenchGP – Marco Bezzecchi blitzes to second victory of the season

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

This weekend at Le Mans, MotoGP reached a big milestone – the French GP was the 1000th Grand Prix in World Championship history. The Grand Prix World Championship began back in 1949 with four classes of motorcycle – 500cc, 350cc, 250cc and 125cc – and the first race that counted towards a World Championship classification was the 350cc race on Monday 13th June 1949 on the Isle of Man. The race was won by Freddie Frith on a Velocette.

The 1949 season comprised of 6 GPs which were all held in Europe. Flash forward 74 years, and we have 3 classes of motorcycles battling it out for World Championship points in 20 GPs in 17 different countries.

The fourth most successful rider in GP history – Marc Marquez – was back in action this weekend, and was looking to put the drama of his long lap penalty appeal saga behind him. The case was finally closed with the MotoGP Court of Appeal concluding that the Stewards were wrong to adjust Marc’s original sanction and so the adjustment of the penalty was annulled. Which basically means that the original sanction – worded to say that Marc must serve the penalty in the Argentinian GP – stands, and as he didn’t race in Argentina the penalty doesn’t have to be served elsewhere.

It is the correct decision in my opinion. Yes, Marc deserved the penalty – and he doesn’t contest that – but the Stewards moved the goal posts of the sanction which isn’t fair. It wasn’t Marc’s fault that he missed the Argentinian GP (despite what those wearing tinfoil hats would have you believe), and it wasn’t fair for the Stewards to then decide that his penalty should apply at his next race. They should have worded it properly in the first place!

Anyway, it’s done, and the Stewards seem to have learned from their mistake as most of the sanctions that have been handed out since have been worded so that the penalty is served at the next GP the rider participates in.

There were some familiar faces back on track this weekend – Aprilia test rider Lorenzo Savadori was in at RNF for Miguel Oliveira who was out following his crash in Jerez, while Danilo Petrucci returned to the factory Ducati team in place of Enea Bastianini who is still recovering from his first-round shoulder injury. Jonas Folger is still in Tech3 colours as Pol Espargaro returns to light training on his road to recovery.

Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco both had a little more blue, white, and red on their helmets this weekend to mark their home race, and Fabio even had matching boots and gloves.

It took Marc Marquez less than 7 minutes to find and pass the limit of his Repsol Honda on Friday morning, crashing at turn 11 in Practice 1. Rookie Augusto Fernandez had a strong start to the session, and was sitting in 3rd place half way through.

With Friday sessions now more important than ever, there was a flurry of fast laps to end the session as riders competed for a top 10 position in case of slower track conditions in the afternoon. It was Jack Miller who set the fastest time of the session ahead of Luca Marini and Brad Binder. A last-ditch lap from Pecco Bagnaia pushed Fabio Quartararo down to 11th.

Immediately after the session the RNF team announced that Raul Fernandez would be withdrawing from the rest of the weekend. He had only completed a few laps, and was more than 10 seconds off the pace following arm pump surgery after Jerez. Raul’s withdrawal left the team with only Savadori on track this weekend.

P2 was – for want of a better term – a crash-fest. The early part of the session saw 7 crashes in 6 minutes, with Aleix Espargaro, Franky Morbidelli, Savadori, Joan Mir, Augusto Fernandez, and Alex Marquez all going down, while Jorge Martin and Danilo Petrucci both crashed later on. Thankfully all riders were straight back up on their feet.

The time attacks started early in P2, with Fabio Quartararo one of the first to put in a soft tyre and pull himself up to 5th place. Marc Marquez was caravanned on the back of Bagnaia and he was not happy about it, so he started cruising and eventually ducked into the pits to try and deny Marc a tow.

By the time Bagnaia left the pits again, Marc had also returned to pit lane, and came running out of his garage to jump on his bike and hook onto the back of the Italian. He wasn’t quite quick enough though and ended up with Jorge Martin in between them – he’s no slouch though so I’m sure Marc wasn’t too bothered.
With less than a minute remaining of the session, Aleix was fastest and home heroes Quartararo and Zarco were outside the top ten in 12th and 11th. Jack Miller jumped to the top of the times as the chequered flag came out, and Marc scuppered any chances some may have had of improving their times as he crashed at turn 9, bringing out the yellow flags and cancelling lap times for anyone passing through the corner.

Joining Jack in heading straight through to Q2 would be Aleix, Marco Bezzecchi, Jorge Martin, Zarco, Viñales, Binder, Marc, Bagnaia, and Alex Marquez. Fabio Quartararo would once again be facing Q1.

Despite overnight rain, the FP session on Saturday morning was dry enough for slick tyres, and the session was topped by Viñales ahead of Bagnaia and Miller.

Q1 got underway, and things were looking good for Quartararo – he was the fastest rider for most of the session, but with 2 minutes remaining on the clock, Augusto Fernandez shot to the top of the times. Fabio was able to improve his lap time, but remained in 2nd place behind Fernandez. As the chequered flag signalled the end of the session, there were 6 riders – Fabio, Marini, Di Giannantonio, Nakagami, Mir, and Rins – all on laps that were showing red sectors. Could Fabio hold on and make it through to Q2? No, he couldn’t – Luca Marini leap-frogged him to the top of the times and with Fabio unable to improve on the time set by Fernandez, he would be starting from 13th on the grid while Marini and Fernandez headed into Q2.

It was looking like pole position was Maverick’s for the taking in Q2 – he was fastest for the first half of the 15-minute session, but disaster struck for the Spaniard as he headed out for his second run as his bike encountered a problem at the end of the pits. He pushed his bike back towards his garage with some help from Moto3 rider Riccardo Rossi, and the team worked frantically on the bike to try and get Maverick back out on track.

Meanwhile, Maverick’s team mate Aleix had a massive crash at turn 1. He was alright following the crash, but he did take a moment to get back to his feet, which isn’t like Aleix, so it must have been a sore one. Jorge Martin went to the top of the times with 30 seconds remaining, only for Marc to go even faster straight away, and as the flag came out, Bagnaia went even quicker to secure pole position.

Joining Bagnaia on the front row would be Marc and Marini, with Jack, Jorge, and Maverick on row 2. Bezzecchi, Alex Marquez, Zarco, Brad Binder, Aleix, and Augusto Fernandez would line up on rows 3 and 4.

Bagnaia took full advantage of the pole position as he grabbed the holeshot to lead Jorge Martin and Jack Miller into turn 1 of the 13 lap Sprint race. The two KTM riders were on the move on lap 2, although only one of them was heading in the right direction. Jack Miller crashed out of 3rd place, and team mate Binder moved up to 4th at the expense of Luca Marini.

Brad then set about trying to take 3rd place from Marc Marquez, but Marc was holding him off for now. Bagnaia though couldn’t keep Jorge Martin behind him, and the Pramac rider took the lead and immediately started to pull away from Bagnaia who now found Marc on his tail.

On lap 5, Marc tried to make his move on Bagnaia but he wasn’t able to pass, and as they battled Brad came sailing past the pair of them to move into 2nd place. A lap later, Marc was able to make the move stick on Bagnaia and Marini followed him through, dumping Bagnaia back to 5th place. Bagnaia passed Marini back on lap 6 before Augusto Fernandez crashed out of the race.

Bezzecchi and Aleix were scrapping for 6th place, and Fabio Quartararo was up to 8th place before Jonas Folger joined team mate Fernandez in crashing out of the race on lap 9. Bagnaia spent most of lap 9 trying to pass Marc, but Marc just kept slamming the door in his face. Bagnaia eventually made the move stick a lap later. Fabio Quartararo crashed out of 8th place as Bagnaia began to pull away from Marc to try and close the gap to Binder and Martin ahead of him.

Jorge Martin had enough of a lead coming through the final corner that he was able to pull a wheelie across the line as he took the chequered flag to win his first Sprint race ahead of Brad Binder and Pecco Bagnaia. Luca Marini, Marc Marquez, Zarco, Bezzecchi, Aleix, and Maverick rounded out the point scorers.

Johann Zarco topped warm up on Sunday morning, ahead of Binder and Marini.

The riders lined up on the grid on Sunday afternoon for the 1000th GP, and I have to say I was quite disappointed with the lack of celebration. They’d been banging on all weekend about what a big milestone it is – which it is – and all they did to mark the occasion was release some photos of the riders wearing ridiculous “1000GP” glasses and change the official hashtag to #GP1000.

I thought there might have been a bit of fanfare about it on the grid – you know when they do the national anthem – but no, there was nothing. There wasn’t even someone there to sing or play the national anthem, it was just a rather tinny sounding version of La Marseillaise played through the circuit speakers.

Oh well…

The lights went out and it was Marc Marquez who was leading into turn 1 ahead of Miller and Marini. Miller and Marquez had some serious back and forth as Jack tried to take the lead, and the Australian was able to make it stick on lap 2. Meanwhile, Bagnaia had made it through on Marini to take 3rd place.

Maverick Viñales was a man on the move, passing Marini at the start of lap 5 before making a move on Bagnaia. Bagnaia tried to ride around the outside of Maverick and as they moved through the corner they collided and both ended up in the gravel. There was a little bit of fisty-cuffs between the riders, but by the time they had been brought back to the paddock (on the same bike) they appeared to have made up.

It looked to be just a racing incident with no blame on either rider – they were just fighting for position and they came together. A sentiment both shared post-race alongside apologies for their heat of the moment behaviour in the gravel trap.

On the same lap, there was contact between Alex Marquez and Luca Marini that also ended both of their races – Luca had an almost crash, but had just about saved it on his knee and elbow when Alex Marquez slammed into him and sent them both tumbling from their machines. There was no blame to be apportioned here either – Alex simply didn’t see Marini until it was too late. Thankfully both riders are okay – Luca did go to the medical centre, and reported some pain in his hands, but he is otherwise okay.

Luca’s team mate Bezzecchi attempted to pass Marc a few laps later, but got it wrong and ran them both wide. Bez was penalised and ordered to drop 1 position for the move. He very quickly relinquished 2nd place to Jorge Martin, and then passed him back on the next lap. Marc followed Bez through on Martin too.

Bez wasn’t wasting any time, and was soon into the race lead at the expense of Jack Miller, Marc tried to follow Bez, but Jack was having none of it. Marc did eventually pass Jack for 2nd place later in the lap. Joan Mir once again crashed out of the race on his Repsol Honda, as Martin demoted Miller to 4th place. Jack seemed to be going backwards as both Zarco and Augusto Fernandez passed him on lap 15, with Augusto now the top KTM in the race!

Alex Rins crashed out of the race on lap 15, before Jack was further demoted by Aleix. Jorge Martin passed Marc for 2nd place on lap 21, but Marc was straight back through, this continued for a few laps as they exchanged positions before Jorge made the move stick on the penultimate lap. Jack Miller’s race went from bad to worse as he crashed out of the race, before Marc crashed out shortly after being passed by Martin, prompting the crowd to go wild as Zarco was promoted to 3rd place.

Marco Bezzecchi was having the ride of his life and was leading by almost 5 seconds as he began the final lap of the race. He cruised across the line to take his second victory of the season, with Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco rounding out the podium positions. Augusto Fernandez crossed the line in 4th place for the best finish of his rookie season, and I will not listen to those saying that he only finished 4th because so many others crashed out. Yes, there were plenty of crashers in that race, but Augusto kept his head, made some passes, and stayed on board following a strong start to the weekend, and he deserved that 4th place.

Aleix Espargaro was the first finisher on a factory bike in 5th place, with Binder and Quartararo behind him. There were only 13 finishers, so Diggia, Nakagami, Franky, Petrucci, Savadori, and Folger all scored points.

Fabio Quartararo was disappointed after the race as he said that the bike felt “quite good” but that he had an issue with his arm following treatment on it in the morning that he described as “too aggressive.” He felt he could have had a better race had he not been struggling with his arm. It will be interesting to see if this good feeling with the bike continues to the next round.

The next round is Mugello after a 3-week break, and Bagnaia will head there with a championship lead of only 1 point ahead of Marco Bezzecchi for what is sure to be a great weekend of racing.

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