The VROOM Blog – #BritishGP – Aleix Espargaro steals late Silverstone victory
MotoGP was back in action this weekend after a 5-week summer break. Silverstone was the venue for the British GP, and this year the MotoGP paddock would be using the pits on the Hamilton straight – or “the wing” – having used the national pit straight in recent years.
There was quite a bit of news through the summer break, including the news that the new tyre pressure regulations would be coming into force from this round onwards. The MotoGP Tyre Pressure Monitoring System was announced as being ready to use, and the Stewards confirmed that the system would be enforced from this weekend. While technical infringements usually result in disqualification, there will be a gradual penalty scale used for now as it is a new system being brought in mid-season. Penalties range from a warning for a first offence to a 12-second time penalty for a fourth offence.
We were then told that rather than using the announced tyre pressure system which would give readings throughout the races, tyre pressures at Silverstone would be checked on 2 or 3 bikes on their return to pitlane, with the tyre pressure system expected to go live in a few rounds time. As it was, there were no pressures checked this weekend because (spoiler) the Sprint was wet and the GP was a flag-to-flag.
There have been changes made to how the sessions on Friday impact qualifying. In previous years, both Friday sessions and one on Saturday morning would count towards whether you would be in Q1 or Q2, but so far this season with the introduction of the Sprint, Practice 1 and 2 on Friday have both been timed to decide who goes directly to Q2 and who must face Q1 with the Saturday morning session becoming a free practice. From now on the only session that will count towards Q1 and Q2 access will be the Practice session on Friday afternoon, with Friday and Saturday morning sessions now being Free Practice 1 and 2.
That all sounds unnecessarily confusing – basically there will be two Free Practice sessions (Friday and Saturday morning) where riders and teams can work on bike set up / race runs, and one Practice session on a Friday afternoon where the top 10 riders will gain direct access to Q2, with everyone else having to participate in Q1.
I quite like this idea – I know that plenty of people do not – as it means that there is one session now where riders are under pressure to set a fast time, rather than having to be fast almost immediately on a Friday morning.
We are of course in the midst of silly season, and the first domino fell this week, with Yamaha announcing on Wednesday morning that Franky Morbidelli would be leaving the Yamaha family at the end of the season. Within the hour they had announced Alex Rins as his replacement for 2024.
Rins was on a two-year deal at LCR Honda but has taken advantage of a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for a Factory ride. While I can see why he would want to leave Honda, it does seem a bit like going from the frying pan to the fire, but time will tell.
The rumour mill has linked Franky with several rides in MotoGP, with both VR46 and Gresini Ducati, as well as a direct swap with Rins to LCR Honda. Obviously, the move to VR46 would require either Luca Marini or Marco Bezzecchi to move on from the team, and while there have been rumours linking Bez to Pramac, the VR46 team is keen to keep hold of him and are looking to Ducati to provide him with Factory machinery.
Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti did say this weekend that they “would like to see Morbidelli on a Ducati next year,” and that they would see what happens in the next few weeks. Ciabatti also confirmed that Ducati are keen to provide Bezzecchi with a Factory bike, and that decisions would be looked at between Silverstone and Austria.
Poor Fabio Di Giannantonio is having his ride at Gresini linked with everyone from Franky to Moto2 riders Tony Arbolino and Jake Dixon – even Marc Marquez has been suggested as a possible Gresini rider for 2024 which would give us Team Marquez if he were to line up alongside his brother.
Johann Zarco is another rider having his bike linked to other riders – with Bezzecchi widely rumoured to be heading there in his hunt for a Factory bike. I think it would be harsh for Zarco to lose his ride at Pramac – he is 5th in the Championship, and has been on the podium 4 times so far this season.
The medical centre was a busy place on Thursday, with riders returning from injuries that have kept them out of previous rounds being joined by riders who have had surgery or injuries during the break. Pol Espargaro was passed fit to ride following his massive crash back in Portugal, while Joan Mir was also passed fit following his time out.
Also having to undergo fitness tests were Fabio Quartararo, Jorge Martin, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Marc Marquez. All were passed fit to ride, meaning that the only full-time rider missing this weekend would be Alex Rins who is still recovering from a broken leg.
Rins would be replaced this weekend by Iker Lecuona, who is being linked with that seat for next season. I felt a bit (a lot) sorry for Iker though as he had been due to ride in the Suzuka 8-hour race this weekend – he won the race last year, and the team he was due to be part of won again this year. It seems a real shame that he had to give up that opportunity to ride around at the back of MotoGP on a bike no-one really wants to ride. But I suppose if his main goal is to return to MotoGP full-time then it was the right decision.
Track action got underway on Friday morning with FP1, and Taka Nakagami’s Honda had some new front aero that looked much more like that you would find on a Ducati. Franky Morbidelli crashed at turn 7, before picking up the pace and putting himself 3rd on the timesheets with less than 5 minutes remaining. It was Marco Bezzecchi who topped the session from VR46 team mate Luca Marini, with Jorge Martin, Jack Miller, Aleix Espargaro, Franky Morbidelli, Raul Fernandez, Maverick Viñales, and Fabio Quartararo completing the top 10.
Following on from the session there was a short “practice start” session to allow riders to get a feel for their ride-height devices going in towards the new first corner due to the use of a different pit lane to usual. Enea Bastianini annoyed his fellow riders by slotting himself in front of them meaning they had to wait until he had completed his practice start before they could do theirs, and then he crashed further round the lap.
The 60-minute Practice session on Friday afternoon saw a heavy crash for Maverick Viñales – who was spotted in the paddock on Friday evening using crutches – who did get back to his garage to head back out on his second bike, but he took his time about it and was obviously in pain as he walked back down pitlane.
With 30 minutes remaining, Viñales was back on track and up to 6th place. With just under 30 minutes to go Luca Marini crashed and while he launched his Ducati to the top of the air fence, thankfully he was quickly up on his feet. As Aleix Espargaro topped the times with almost 45 minutes gone, most riders were in the pits getting ready to try and set fast laps and secure progression to Q2. With the new format, riders were able to go for two runs at the end of this session rather than one run at the end of two sessions, so it was almost like a mini qualifying session.
After the first runs, it was Bezzecchi who topped the times ahead of Aleix, Viñales, Alex Marquez, Martin and Morbidelli. Bez crashed on the out lap of his second run, high-siding himself off his Ducati at turn 7. He was able to get up and walk away, but would he be able to stay in the top 10 and make his way into Q2?
As the chequered flag came out there were no Japanese bikes (Honda and Yamaha) in the top 10, but Fabio and Franky were on personal best laps. It wasn’t to be for the Yamaha duo though as the finished the session in 11th and 12th place, while Aleix Espargaro completed his lap and sent himself to the top of the times ahead of Martin, Brad Binder, Viñales and Zarco. Rounding out the top 10 – and heading directly to Q2 – were Bagnaia, Bezzecchi (despite his crash), Jack Miller, Marini, and Alex Marquez.
There was another “practice starts” session immediately following the completed practice session, and the only thing of note that happened was Johann Zarco nearly launching himself from his Ducati as he wheelied off the line! At one point it looked like he might flip the bike, but Zarco held it and simply styled it out for the crowd.
Saturday morning arrived, and so did the rain. While the rain that lashed down during Moto3 and Moto2 had largely abated by the time the MotoGP riders hit the track, it was still wet enough for spray to be an issue, and for sweepers to be out on track between sessions to clear away areas of standing water.
The FP2 session saw crashes for Augusto Fernandez, Miguel Oliveira, and Iker Lecuona, as well as several flapping wetsuits. Honestly, these wetsuits or rain jackets that some riders wear over their leathers never seem to stay closed at the bottom, and this session saw Bagnaia’s team tape his closed when he was in the pits in a bid to stop it flapping around. You would think with the amount of money and technology that goes into equipment like gloves and leathers that someone in that department would be able to come up with a way of properly securing these jackets!
Anyway, the session was topped by Fabio Di Giannantonio, ahead of Bagnaia, Oliveira, Miller and Bezzecchi.
Q1 saw Diggia go fastest before immediately crashing at turn 1. He remounted and returned to pitlane. With 6 minutes to go, Fabio Quartararo was trying to bump-start his Yamaha, having saved a massive moment into turn 16. He also returned to pitlane as team mate Morbidelli jumped to the top of the times.
Franky was on a charge – he just kept lapping faster and faster to hold on to the top spot and head through to Q2. He would be joined in heading to Q2 by rookie Augusto Fernandez.
Fabio Quartararo finished the session in last place, meaning that he would be lining up at the back of the grid for both the Sprint and the Race, and he was not happy about it. He headed straight out of the back of the garage at the end of the session.
Q2 saw riders immediately quicker than Franky had been just a few minutes earlier, with Jack Miller topping the times ahead of Augusto and Franky in the early stages of the session. Bagnaia crashed with just six minutes remaining on the clock and he faced a race against time to get back to the pits to head back out on his second bike.
Alex Marquez crashed a minute later, but as he crashed at turn 1, he was able to get back to the pits and back out on his second bike before Bagnaia had got close to being back in pitlane. Bezzecchi jumped to the top of the times as Marini crashed at turn 1, and with just 2 minutes remaining on the clock, Bagnaia raced through his pit box and tried to jump on his second bike, but the team waved at him to stop – there wasn’t enough time left to get an out lap completed before the chequered flag. Bagnaia was not happy about this and stomped back into the pit box – he looked like he was about to punch the boarding in the garage, but he stopped himself.
Marco Bezzecchi crashed at turn 16 with a minute left of the session, and while he was okay, his bike looked decidedly less so. Bezzecchi held on to the top spot despite his crash to become the 5th different pole-sitter in the last 5 visits to Silverstone. He would be joined on the front row by Miller and Alex Marquez, with Bagnaia, Augusto and Marini on row two.
There was lots of talk about whether or not the Sprint would be run due to the weather conditions, but thankfully the rain stopped and the race – sorry, Sprint – went ahead. While it was no longer raining and there were parts of the track that looked as though they were beginning to dry, it was still wet enough on track for everyone to head out on wet tyres.
Bezzecchi took the lead into turn 1, but Jack Miller was quickly ahead of the Italian and Augusto Fernandez had made a solid start from 5th on the grid to 3rd by turn 1, although he was soon pushed back by Jorge Martin and Alex Marquez. Martin made his way past Bezzecchi for 2nd place, and as Miller ran wide, Martin seized his opportunity and the lead of the race. Miller and Martin had a bit of back and forth, but it was Miller who was leading into turn 1 on lap 2.
Martin was soon back to 4th as Alex Marquez and Bezzecchi made their way past him, and Alex Marquez wasted no time in taking the lead from Jack Miller. Alex put the hammer down and immediately started to gap those behind him. Good friends Aleix Espargaro and Jorge Martin were sparring for 5th place, and after a few attempts Aleix was able to make the move stick, while team mate Viñales was also on the move, passing Miller for 3rd, only for Miller to take the place straight back.
As they approached the final laps of the 10-lap race, there were spots of rain beginning to fall, but nothing that would change the track conditions. Bezzecchi put in a cracker of a final lap as he tried to catch Alex Marquez, but he was unable to get quite close enough to make a move on the Spaniard, and Alex went on to win his first Sprint, with Bezzecchi and Viñales joining him on the podium.
Also finishing in the points were Zarco, Aleix, Martin, Jack, Augusto, and Brad Binder, meaning that for the first time none of the premier class champions on the grid scored any points in the Sprint.
Conditions looked much better on Sunday, although the track was still damp enough to warrant wet tyres in morning warm up, with only Quartararo and Viñales venturing out on slicks. The session was topped by Bezzecchi, with Gresini duo Alex Marquez and Fabio Di Giannantonio in 2nd and 3rd.
Before the MotoGP race got underway, there was history being made in Moto3 as Aspar’s rookie David Alonso stormed to victory from the back of the grid to become the first ever Columbian rider to win a GP.
The MotoGP riders lined up on the grid in dry but cool conditions, and Jack Miller shot off the line to lead Bezzecchi into turn 1, as Jorge Martin ran way wide following contact with Brad Binder. Viñales passed Marini for 5th while Bagnaia passed Bezzecchi for 2nd place.
Miller lost the lead to Bagnaia on lap 2, and was quickly demoted back to 3rd as Bezzecchi moved past him. Joan Mir crashed out of the race on lap 3, and by lap 4 Bagnaia and Bezzecchi were starting to pull away from the chasing pack of Alex Marquez, Aleix, and Binder. The Aprilia riders were on the move on lap 5, with Aleix passing Marquez for 3rd as Viñales passed Zarco for 6th.
Alex Marquez encountered a bike issue and retired to the pits before Marco Bezzecchi crashed out of 2nd place on lap 6. Honestly, there wasn’t a great deal happening in the first half of this race, and by lap 10 I had written in my notebook that the race was dull. And then things started to pick up a little – there was a bit more passing going on, and then on lap 13 it started raining. Cue the rain flags, and the white flag that signals to the riders that they may swap bikes if they wish.
The thing about Silverstone (and many UK circuits to be fair) is that it covers such a large area that while there were rain flags being waved in some sectors, it remained bone dry in others. By lap 14, the mixed conditions had bunched the riders up so that we now had a lead group of four riders – Bagnaia, Aleix, Viñales, and Binder. Viñales and Aleix battled back and forth, with Viñales managing to stay ahead of Aleix for now, only for Binder to sail through on the pair of them! Aleix somehow managed to then get himself back into 2nd place behind Bagnaia.
Marc Marquez continued his run of failing to finish a Sunday race all season as he crashed out of the race on lap 15. At the end of lap 15 we saw Morbidelli, Di Giannantonio, Nakagami, and Lecuona dive into the pits to swap bikes, before Binder passed Aleix for 2nd.
There was plenty of movement among the 2nd – 5th places as Miguel Oliveira joined the party and made his way into 3rd place. Lap 18 saw Fabio Quartararo crash out of 8th place following contact with Luca Marini. It wasn’t the contact as such that made Fabio crash, but the contact ripped the front fairing away from the Yamaha and it got caught under Fabio’s front wheel. Fabio remounted and rode his naked bike back to the pits where he headed back out on his second bike and wet tyres. It was worth a shot – there might only have been one lap left, but the track conditions were sketchy and he might still be in with a chance of scoring some points.
Binder passed Oliveira for 3rd place, and as they started the final lap, Aleix pulled alongside Bagnaia and passed him to take the lead. Aleix held Bagnaia off for the remainder of the lap and took his 2nd MotoGP win ahead of Bagnaia and Binder.
With Aleix winning, and Oliveira, Viñales and Raul Fernandez finishing in 4th, 5th, and 10th respectively, there were four Aprilias in the top 10. This is Aprilias first win at Silverstone, and Aleix becomes the 9th different winner in 9 visits to the circuit.
It was also the first time that there has been an Aprilia, a Ducati and a KTM on the same podium in the premier class. Franky Morbidelli – who remains one of only two riders to have scored points in every race this season (Augusto Fernandez is the other) – was the top Japanese bike in 14th place.
I had thought on the final lap of the race that Bagnaia was extremely close to having touched the green – its hard to tell while the race is live – and following the race KTM sent a message to journalists to explain that they had been to race direction to speak with them about Bagnaia exceeding track limits on the final lap. KTM and Brad Binder know all too well the dangers of touching the green on the final lap, but they were told by race direction that Bagnaia had “not triggered the sensor” and so he would not be demoted a place.
Now I know I complain about race direction a lot, but its incidents like this that frustrate me. Brad Binder was penalised twice in one weekend for exceeding track limits, and Bagnaia has done the same thing and there is no penalty for him. Information released following the race states that Bagnaia not touching the green was “verified by camera” but I would love to know what camera they were using, because the one that we saw clearly shows that he touched the green. I’d be happy to be proved wrong – if they were able to verify that he didn’t touch the green with a different camera angle, then release the footage, let us see the evidence that they are using, because right now there is so little faith in what the stewards are doing, that it is hard to trust anything they say!
Regardless, Pecco Bagnaia remains in the lead of the championship, but Bezzecchi’s crash means that he drops to 3rd place as Jorge Martin now sits in 2nd with 41 points between him and Bagnaia. Bezzecchi is a further 6 points back on Martin.
Next up is the Red Bull Ring in Austria following a weekend off – I’m looking forward to finding out if we’ll have any more news on rider signings by then.