The VROOM Blog #DutchGP – Bagnaia beats Bezzecchi to seal victory in Assen

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It’s been a busy few weeks for the MotoGP paddock with 3 races back-to-back, and this weekend Assen hosted the 3rd of those races before a five-week summer break kicks off. Silly season is still rumbling on, and despite some hope that there may be some decisions made by this weekend, there were no announcements other than Ducati confirming that they will once again have 8 bikes on the grid next season after agreeing a deal to continue into 2024 with Gresini.

Moto2 star Pedro Acosta doubled down this week regarding a potential move to MotoGP saying that Moto2 is not an option for him for next year. He says he would like to remain with KTM to complete the journey from the Rookies Cup all the way through to MotoGP, but that he has nothing confirmed yet. Much like Tony Arbolino said last week, Acosta confirmed that he is focusing on the Moto2 battle and leaving the negotiations to his manager.

The rider most at risk of ousting from KTM should they move Acosta to MotoGP looks to be Augusto Fernandez, which is a real shame, because he has shown potential and is making improvements every weekend. Augusto said this weekend that he is hoping to stay where he is for at least one more year, and that hopefully he can share the track with Acosta next season as he believes they both deserve to be in MotoGP. When asked directly if he is confident that will be the case, he smiled and said “yeah.”

There was also talk in the paddock this weekend that KTM might ask if they can take the grid slots vacated by Suzuki and field a third team in order to keep all their current riders and add Acosta to their line up. Those grid slots though are meant to be reserved for a Factory team for a manufacturer not currently in the championship, but some think that KTM may try and get around this by creating a Factory team for one of the other brands under their umbrella – Husqvarna for example. The rider most fancied to line up alongside Acosta should that happen? Marc Marquez…

Marc is contracted to Honda for next season, but he clearly isn’t happy there anymore, and we all know that contracts can be broken. And this weekend Alberto Puig came out and said that Honda are not looking to keep hold of riders who aren’t happy and don’t want to be there. Obviously, this is all just paddock rumour and gossip, and I don’t know whether we’re likely to see that happen.

It’s likely that many deals will be made over the summer break, but that seems really early to me. It may be the summer break, but we’re not even half way through the season yet – Assen was round 8, and there are still another 12 to go.

Honda brought in replacement riders this weekend for Joan Mir and Alex Rins, with Iker Lecuona stepping in at Repsol Honda, while Stefan Bradl was in LCR colours. When asked why he was in at LCR instead of Repsol, Bradl said he hadn’t been told but that he assumed it was because Rins is likely to be out for longer than Mir, with Rins having only just undergone a second surgery on his broken leg on Thursday.

Jonas Folder remained at Tech3 in place of Pol Espargaro, but Pol paid a surprise visit to the team on Friday. Pol said that his condition is improving quite fast, just not fast enough for him to be back on his MotoGP bike yet. He plans to spend the summer break training on his practice bike at different circuits to try and be ready for a return at Silverstone.

Lorenzo Savadori was back for another wildcard ride with Aprilia this weekend, and there has been talk that we may see reigning World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista in for a wildcard at some point this season after he completed a successful two-day test with Ducati as a reward for his World Championship.

Fabio Quartararo arrived at Assen with a broken toe courtesy of a training accident mid-week, and was to be reviewed after P1. He was declared fit after P1, but was still wearing a moonboot when not on the bike.

Maverick Viñales made a lovely gesture this month as he gifted Luis Salom’s 125cc bike to the late Spaniard’s family. Maverick – who continues to run a tribute to his friend and rival on his leathers – explained that he had bought the bike from the team five years ago but that when he was having a clear out of some boxes a few weeks ago he realised that his house was not the place that the bike belonged.

He had the bike packed up and called Salom’s mother to tell her that he was sending her a box, without telling her what was in it – what a beautiful thing to do for Luis’ family.

Practice 1 on Friday morning saw a series of crashes for Augusto Fernandez, Miguel Oliveira, Enea Bastianini and Johann Zarco. Zarco’s crash happened around the time that riders were starting to return to the pits to get ready for time attacks, and he was walking back to the pits when Jack Miller stopped at the entrance to the pitlane to give Zarco a lift back to his garage. Miller later told the media that the team had been spoken to by the stewards to remind him that giving lifts during a live session isn’t allowed – even in pitlane – and the eye roll from Jack could be seen for miles!

Pecco Bagnaia cut a frustrated figure as he struggled to be where he wanted to be on his Ducati, and the session was topped by Marco Bezzecchi from Viñales, Alex Marquez and Zarco.

We were almost half way through the hour-long P2 session before anyone improved their lap time, with Bagnaia moving up to 10th place. With 15 minutes remaining of the session, the first wave of time attacks started with Marini, Martin, Quartararo, and Binder all improving their times before most riders pulled back into the pits.

Everyone headed back out for the final 5 minutes, and the final chance to gain direct access to Q2. With 3 minutes to go, Marc Marquez crashed at turn 3. Marco Bezzecchi was at the top of the times once again, and he was going even quicker as the chequered flag came out. Bezzecchi topped the session ahead of Martin, Miller, and Bagnaia, and they would be joined in Q2 by Viñales, Quartararo, Aleix, Binder, Marini, and Alex Marquez.

Free Practice on Saturday morning saw Marc using his brother for a tow to 5th place in the early stages of the session, while Fabio Quartararo could be seen riding with his left foot off the peg as he tried to deal with the pain in his foot. Fabio came close to topping the session, but he was pipped by Marco Bezzecchi in the final few minutes. Bagnaia, Franky Morbidelli and Aleix Espargaro rounded out the top 5.

Johann Zarco started Q1 by providing a decent tow to Morbidelli, Marc Marquez and Fabio Di Giannantonio, but whereas often the lead rider loses out to those following him, Zarco was able to take the top spot ahead of them. With most riders back in the pits ahead of a second run, Marc Marquez was up to his usual and was sitting on his Honda waiting for someone to follow. The rider of choice for this session turned out to be Enea Bastianini. Marc followed Enea out onto track, and with just under two minutes to go, Marc slammed into the back of Enea and crashed.

Marc could be seen in the gravel waving his arms around as though it was Enea’s fault, but replays showed that Marc and Enea were both riding slowly off the racing line and both turned around to look behind them at the same time, and Marc hit the back of Enea’s Ducati and crashed. I would call that a racing incident, but if blame was to be assigned there, it would be with Marc – he was riding close to the back of Enea and should have been paying attention. To my complete surprise – given Marc’s arm-waving in the gravel, and him blaming Zarco for last weekend’s nonsense – Marc actually put his hands up later in the day and took the blame for the incident.

Johann Zarco remained the fastest man on track and would be heading through to Q2 alongside Miguel Oliveira who was 2nd fastest.

Jorge Martin suffered a crash early in Q2, and he moved his bike from the edge of the track before running back to the pits for his second bike, having not set a time before his crash. After the first runs, it was Bezzecchi, Bagnaia and Viñales who held the front row, and Fabio Quartararo was the first rider to head out – alone – for a second run.

Fabio jumped to the top of the times, but was once again bettered by Bezzecchi who set a new lap record to go to the top of the times. Luca Marini had just put himself into 3rd place when he crashed at turn 8, bringing out the yellow flags with barely a minute left on the clock.

Marco Bezzecchi took pole position and would be joined on the front row by Bagnaia and Marini, with Quartararo in 4th for his best qualifying of the season, ahead of Binder and Aleix. Rows 3 and 4 would be filled by Viñales, Zarco, Alex Marquez, Martin, Oliveira, and Miller.

Bezzecchi is the 13th different pole-sitter in 13 consecutive visits to Assen.

Bezzecchi lined up on pole position, but it was Bagnaia who led into turn 1. Brad Binder quickly demoted Bezzecchi to 3rd, while Fabio held 4th ahead of Marini, Aleix and Zarco. Zarco passed Aleix, and Martin took full advantage to slice past Aleix too.

Brad Binder was trying his hardest to fend of repeated attacks from Bezzecchi, but the Italian managed to take 2nd from the South African before the end of lap 2. Binder was already on a track limits warning as lap 3 started, and Martin passed Marini for 5th place, while Zarco passed Aleix for 7th. Out front, Bezzecchi was all over the back of Bagnaia.

Quartararo and Martin were the next riders to receive early track limits warnings, and on lap 4 Bezzecchi re-took the lead from Bagnaia and started to pull away, as Di Giannantonio crashed out of the race. Zarco seemed to hit reverse as he quickly lost out to Viñales, Miller, and Alex Marquez, while Marc Marquez was also losing out to Morbidelli and Raul Fernandez.

On lap 7, Jorge Martin ran wide and allowed Aleix through into 5th place. Marini and Viñales were battling for 7th place, and it was Viñales who eventually came out on top of that battle.

Fabio Quartararo was now all over Brad Binder, but he just couldn’t seem to find a way through, and there was drama on the last lap when Brad Binder was given a long lap penalty for exceeding track limits, but with no time left to complete the long lap, he was given a 3 second time penalty post-race which meant that although he crossed the line in 3rd place, he was demoted to 5th.

Marco Bezzecchi – who had topped every session of the weekend so far – took the win ahead of Pecco Bagnaia, with Fabio Quartararo in 3rd place.

Both Binder and Quartararo appeared to be confused when Binder was directed down pitlane while Fabio was sent to the podium area on the grid. There seems to have been a lot of confusion about the penalty in general, with many reporting that Binder was demoted for exceeding track limits on the final lap, when in fact it was for exceeding track limits too many times in the race. The timing sheets do show that he was notified of the long lap penalty on the final lap, before he then touched the green (barely) later in the lap. To be honest I’m surprised the stewards didn’t penalise him twice – once for the track limits over the race, and then again for the track limits on the final lap!

Either way, Binder lost out on a Sprint podium and Fabio Quartararo found himself taking 3rd place and a bronze medal. Fabio said post-race that he doesn’t like to take a podium in this way, but rules are rules, and it has gone the other way for him in the past.

Luca Marini was also given a post-race time penalty of 0.5 seconds for cutting the chicane following contact with Enea Bastianini.

For the second weekend in a row, Marc Marquez withdrew from the race on Sunday, and this time he didn’t participate in warm up, saying that he had been in pain all night having exacerbated the injuries to his thumb, ribs, and ankle that he came into the weekend with.

Morning warm up was topped by Fabio Quartararo from Taka Nakagami and Bagnaia.

There was history made in the Moto3 class as Jaume Masia took Honda’s 250th win in the lightweight class, before Jake Dixon finally won in Moto2 to give the UK two different intermediate class winners in the same season (Sam Lowes has already won a race this year) since Chas Mortimer and Charlie Williams in 1974.

Temperatures were unusually hot as the riders lined up on the grid, and there were idiots in the crowd throwing flares down to the track-side grass areas. Thankfully the marshals were able to extinguish them before the start of the race.

Bagnaia led into turn 1, but by the time they came out of turn 1 it was Binder in the lead, with Bezzecchi in 3rd and Aleix 4th. After a solid Sprint on Saturday, Quartararo had dropped to 12th off the line. There was early contact between Aleix and Marini which bent Aleix’s brake lever protector out of place, and left the front right wing flapping around at the front of his Aprilia.

Jack Miller ended his 200th GP race in the gravel on lap 2, and Bagnaia was all over Binder at the front of the race, passing him for the lead on lap 3. Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco crashed out of the race on lap 3, and even though he had just been wiped out by Fabio’s crash, Zarco was straight over to check on Fabio who was lying in the gravel. Zarco and a medic helped Fabio to his feet in a display of excellent sportsmanship. Thankfully both riders were relatively okay – Zarco had some bruising, and Fabio had twisted his elbow and further displaced the fracture to his toe.

Maverick Viñales was the next rider to crash out of the race, having just passed Marini for 5th place. Martin passed Marini coming through the final chicane on lap 5, and a rattled Marini was then passed by Oliveira, Alex Marquez, and Bastianini, leaving him in 9th place. Taka Nakagami was soon through on the Italian too!

Bastianini crashed out of the race on lap 7, and lap 12 saw Morbidelli and Oliveira battling for 10th place, with Oliveira holding it from Morbidelli for now, only to retire into the pits a lap later. Taka Nakagami was given a long lap penalty, having exceeded track limits too many times on lap 13 – he took his long lap and only dropped one place to 8th.

Iker Lecuona was visibly frustrated at having to limp his Honda into pitlane on lap 15. Lecuona’s retirement meant that there were now only 15 riders left on track – points for everyone! Bradl and Augusto Fernandez were battling for 12th place, with the rookie keeping the veteran test rider behind him.

As Bagnaia started to pull away at the front, Bezzecchi made his move to take 2nd place from Binder. Aleix was closing in on Binder as Di Giannantonio crashed out of 9th place at turn 5. It didn’t take Aleix long to get onto the back of Binder, although how he was managing to set such a pace with that wing flapping about was beyond me!

Alex Marquez was handed a long lap penalty for track limits, and was able to complete the lap without losing any places. The final lap of the race saw Bagnaia and Bezzecchi out front, with a fierce battle raging for 3rd place – Binder held it, but Aleix and Martin were hot on his heels and hungry.

Bagnaia took the win from Bezzecchi, with Binder in 3rd place as Aleix and Martin crossed the line side by side with Aleix just holding Martin off to take 4th place. Or so we thought. It turned out that Binder had touched the green on the final lap, meaning that he was demoted one place, promoting Aleix onto his first podium of the season.

Aleix said after the race that he had seen Brad touch the green so he didn’t bother trying to overtake him as he knew the penalty was coming. There was plenty of social media uproar because Jorge Martin touched the same bit of green as Brad, but he didn’t receive a penalty. The reason he didn’t receive a penalty is because the rule states that a position must be lost if the rider behind is within striking distance – the next rider behind Jorge was Alex Marquez and he was more than 10 seconds behind.

I understand the frustration, and it’s a real shame that there isn’t some flexibility for stewards to use their discretion when a rider touches the green on the final lap because Brad didn’t gain anything from doing so (he barely touched the green), but we all know that the stewards cannot be trusted to use discretion.

Anyway, Bagnaia became the first rider to win back-to-back races at Assen since Valentino Rossi did it in 2004 and 2005, and he was joined on the podium by Bezzecchi and Aleix, as Brad Binder was once again demoted from a podium position.

After the MotoGP race on Sunday, we saw the Red Bull Rookies Cup Champion crowned with 2 rounds – and 4 races – still to go. Angel Piqueras took the race win with a move through the final chicane to put himself 111 points clear of his closest rival – Alvaro Carpe – with only 100 points left available. While it may look as though Piqueras has dominated the Rookie Cup this season, he has had to work hard and battle in the races to take wins and podiums, he hasn’t simply run away at the front. It’s his consistency that has been key – in the 10 races so far this season, he has only finished outside the top 3 twice, and he was 4th on both occasions.

Piqueras also has a healthy lead in the JuniorGP World Championship at the moment, so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the double of Rookies Cup and JuniorGP as Jose Antonio Rueda did last year. Either way, he is a name to remember – I’m sure we’ll be seeing him in the GP paddock soon.

As MotoGP heads into a five-week break, Pecco Bagnaia leads the championship ahead of Jorge Martin by 35 points, with Bezzecchi just one point behind Martin. There will be many riders using this break to heal in a bid to be fully fit on arrival at Silverstone for the British GP. One such rider is Fabio Quartararo who has had successful surgery on his broken toe, while Alex Rins has finally been allowed to go home from hospital following the second surgery on his leg. I wouldn’t have thought that Rins will be fit for Silverstone, but you just never know with these guys!

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