The VROOM Blog, #CatalanGP – Redemption for Aleix as he makes history with Viñales and Aprilia
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was the setting for the Catalan GP this weekend as the MotoGP paddock begins a run that will see 10 GPs in just 13 weekends. It was also the scene of two massive accidents within seconds of each other on Sunday afternoon – miraculously everyone has walked away relatively unscathed, but we’ll get to that later.
There wasn’t too much happening in terms of silly season rumours this weekend. Marco Bezzecchi confirmed he will be staying with the VR46 squad for 2024, which did increase the talk of Franky Morbidelli heading to Pramac, but Franky was tight-lipped on his future. Both Tony Arbolino and Jake Dixon have re-signed with MarcVDS and Aspar respectively in Moto2 for 2024, although Jake’s name is still being touted for Di Giannantonio’s Gresini seat with rumours of a get-out clause in his contract with Aspar.
Marc Marquez continued to fuel talk of a potential split with Honda by rocking up to a press event in casual clothes instead of team wear, but apparently, he is now no longer contractually obliged to wear team clothing at such events.
Davide Tardozzi confirmed to Simon Crafar that Enea Bastianini will remain in red with the Ducati Factory team next year, while Dani Pedrosa has extended his contract as test rider at KTM.
There was big news from the Moto2 paddock this weekend as the Pons team announced that 2023 would be their last season in racing.
Several of the Spanish riders in the paddock had special helmets for their home races – my favourite was Aleix Espargaro, who had a family portrait painted on the top and the words “ONE MORE LAP” on the front following his early celebration last year that almost certainly cost him a podium at his home race.
Track action got underway with FP1 on Friday morning – Marc Marquez crashed at turn 5 in the session which was topped by Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales, with Jorge Martin in 3rd.
The 60-minute Practice session on Friday afternoon saw Raul Fernandez crash at turn 12 with 30 minutes left on the clock. Eager to get back to the pits to get back out on his second bike, the RNF Aprilia rider took off on a scooter that happened to be sitting on the service road.
With 15 minutes remaining, the time attacks started and Fabio Di Giannantonio was the early pace-setter, sitting at the top of the times 0.4 seconds faster than his competitors. It wasn’t to last for Diggia as the others were soon lapping faster than he had, with Maverick, Aleix, and Johann Zarco all taking turns at the top of the times. Most riders ducked into the pits for a fresh set of tyres and headed back out with 5 minutes to try and secure direct passage to Q2.
The session started to look a little like a Moto3 session as riders cruised in groups looking for someone to follow for a fast time, but Aleix Espargaro was a man on a mission and he shot to the top of the times with a new all-time lap record. Lots of riders saw their final lap of the session cancelled courtesy of yellow flags brought out following Luca Marini’s breakdown as he coasted his Ducati across the gravel and out of the way.
Aleix topped the session ahead of team mate Maverick, with Bagnaia, Zarco, Binder, Alex Marquez, Bezzecchi, Diggia, Bastianini, and Martin joining them in heading to Q2. In what is sadly becoming a regular occurrence, the bottom six riders were the six on Japanese bikes – Yamaha duo Quartararo and Morbidelli finished just ahead of Honda riders Marc Marquez, Nakagami, Lecuona, and Mir.
On Saturday morning the riders are given the opportunity to fine-tune their set-ups and / or work on race pace in the 30-minute FP2 session. Five minutes into the session, Marc Marquez had encountered an issue with his Honda which saw him ride around the service road before being pushed the wrong way up pit lane. Miguel Oliveira crashed at turn 5 with 20 minutes left on the clock, and it was a disappointing few minutes for the RNF team, as no sooner had we seen Miguel pick himself up from the gravel, team mate Fernandez was pushing his bike back up pit lane.
Marco Bezzecchi was having a nightmare of a session – he was at the bottom of the times for the whole session and then with 11 minutes remaining, he crashed at turn 5. He was able to return to the pits and head back out on his second bike, but he remained in 22nd place. Johann Zarco crashed in the final minute of the session, which was topped by Oliveria from Zarco, Aleix and Viñales.
There were spots of rain falling before the start of Q1, and there were dark clouds rolling in as the wind picked up, but the rain didn’t come to much. It was raining enough for marshals to display rain flags as the session began, but not enough for it to impact lap times or tyre choice – everyone was out on slicks.
It was hard to call ahead of this session who the top two would be – Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, Luca Marini, and Miguel Oliveira had all shown pace earlier in the weekend, and you can never rule out clever track positioning from Marc Marquez…
Fabio Quartararo topped the times after the first laps were in, but the Frenchman had a tip-off after running into the gravel soon after. As the riders headed into the pits after completing their first runs, Oliveira and Morbidelli were holding the top two slots. As everyone headed back out on track, Marc had managed to get in behind Jack Miller, and they were setting the timing screens alight with red sectors, and as Jack crossed the line to go to the top of the times, he was immediately bumped to 2nd place by Marc.
Miguel Oliveira jumped to 1st place, bumping Miller out of a place in Q2. Marc would be joining Miguel in Q2 courtesy of the tow from Miller.
After the first runs in Q2, it was Viñales, Binder and Aleix who occupied the top 3 positions, but it was Bagnaia who would take pole position with an all-new lap record. He would be joined on the front row by Aleix and Oliveira, with Viñales, Martin, and Zarco lining up on the second row. Alex Marquez, Di Giannantonio, Binder, Bezzecchi, Bastianini and Marc Marquez would round out the top 12, although Enea Bastianini would be serving a 3-place grid penalty for the race on Sunday due to “impeding another rider” during Practice.
As the riders headed out on their warm up lap ahead of the Sprint on Saturday afternoon, there was a flurry of activity in pit lane as rain flags were waved. Again, the rain was just a few spots, and the race was able to get underway as scheduled. Bagnaia grabbed the holeshot and was closely followed into turn 1 by Martin, Viñales and Aleix.
Viñales rode around the outside of Martin into turn 1 to take 2nd place, before Aleix further demoted Martin to 4th at turn 4. On lap 2 Aleix passed team mate Viñales for 2nd place at turn 1, before Oliveira made his way up to 6th place at the expense of Marc Marquez and Bezzecchi. A lap later Jorge Martin tried to pass Viñales, but ran wide and had to run through the long lap area, rejoining down in 6th place.
Pol Espargaro crashed out of the race on lap 4, while Aleix Espargaro closed in on Bagnaia at the front. As Aleix closed on Bagnaia, Viñales was closing on Aleix, and after one failed attempt to pass Bagnaia, Aleix was able to make the move stick into turn 1 on lap 7, and the Spaniard immediately started to pull away. And really, that was pretty much all that happened until Viñales tried to pass Bagnaia on the final lap, only for Bagnaia to be later on the brakes and keep 2nd place.
Aleix wheelied across the line to take his (and Aprilia’s) first Sprint victory, with Bagnaia and Viñales rounding out the top 3. Also scoring points for finishing 4th – 9th were Binder, Martin, Oliveira, Zarco, Bezzecchi, and Bastianini. So far this season, we have seen the Sprint medal presentation take place on the start / finish straight, but this weekend the top 3 were led along a service road and into the paddock area where they rode their bikes up onto the stage of the Monster Energy Rig.
The presentation was very much like what we see in the World Superbike Championship where the top 3 in the full-length races are taken to a podium on the paddock show stage – the fans can get close to the stage and are able to see trophies being handed out. I think it worked well for MotoGP – fans were able to see the riders being presented with their medals, and there was more of an atmosphere than there is when riders are high up on a podium over pitlane.
Warm up on Sunday morning was topped by Viñales, ahead of Aleix, Morbidelli, Quartararo, and Oliveira.
The race on Sunday afternoon was a dramatic one, but there was drama before the race had even begun for LCR’s stand-in rider Iker Lecuona who crashed on the siting lap. Iker returned to the pits, jumped on his second bike, and headed to the grid. However, due to the dark skies and sketchy weather forecast, the second bike was set up as a wet bike. The LCR team worked on the grid and turned a wet bike into a dry one in just 16 minutes.
As the lights went out to signal the start of the Catalan GP, Bagnaia once again took the holeshot to lead into turn 1, just ahead of Jorge Martin, but behind them there was disaster for Enea Bastianini as he headed into turn 1 too fast. He was unable to stop his Ducati, and he ran into Zarco causing a domino effect in the pack, with Alex Marquez, Di Giannantonio and Marco Bezzecchi also sent barrelling into the gravel.
Before we had processed what had happened at turn 1, Bagnaia was thrown violently from his Ducati as he high-sided and landed in the middle of the track. While most riders were able to avoid Bagnaia, Brad Binder was unsighted and didn’t see the Italian straight away. As soon as he caught sight of him, Brad did all he could to avoid him, but did run over Bagnaia’s lower legs, before falling from his own bike which was now smoking.
The race was red flagged, and those who were able made their way back to the pits.
There was a slight delay as Bagnaia was treated on the track, and cement dust was laid to treat the contamination to the track caused by oil from Binder’s bike. I am assuming it was oil they were treating as both Aleix Espargaro and Luca Marini reported being covered in oil from Binder’s bike when they returned to the pits, with Aleix even saying post-race that he felt they could have been given a longer break before the restart to get properly cleaned up.
Bagnaia was transported to the medical centre via ambulance, and the crowd applauded the ambulance as it made its way around the track. I love motorcycle race fans – it doesn’t matter who you support or whether you like a rider, when a rider has an off and either is put into an ambulance or is able to walk away to the side of the track, you applaud them. There is a respect there that goes beyond whether you like or support a rider, and I love that.
While most of the focus was on Bagnaia, we were also informed that Enea Bastianini had been handed a long lap penalty for causing the first corner incident, but then we were told he had gone to the medical centre. Along with Bagnaia’s pole position, Enea’s 14th place grid slot was empty as the riders lined up on the grid for the quick restart procedure in their original grid positions. The restarted race was cut by a lap to 23.
Aleix Espargaro took the lead as the race got started for a second time, although Jorge Martin was quickly through on his friend and was the race leader as they reached turn 1, with Viñales in 2nd place ahead of Aleix and Oliveira. Viñales was soon into the lead of the race, but Martin, Aleix, and Oliveira remained close behind. Pol Espargaro’s race ended almost as soon as it had begun as he returned to the pits due to a technical issue with his KTM.
On lap 3 Aleix passed Martin for 2nd place, and a lap later Oliveira made it an Aprilia 1-2-3 as he too made his way through on Martin. Brad Binder retired from the race on lap 4 – more technical issues for KTM – and he headed straight to the medical centre to check on Bagnaia.
Rookie Augusto Fernandez was having a fierce battle with Marc Marquez for 10th, and he was able to keep the multiple world champion behind him. On lap 10, Raul Fernandez also passed Marc, but almost instantly his name was plummeting down the timing screens. Another technical retiree from the race – this time for Aprilia – as Raul pulled into the pits.
A few laps later, Augusto Fernandez was engaged in another battle. This time he was battling Di Giannantonio, but he was unable to keep the Gresini rider behind him, with Diggia moving up to 9th place. Fabio Quartararo was having a better race than we have come to expect in recent times – he was running in 7th place as Jack Miller tried to pass him. Jack ran wide though and Fabio held on to 7th.
Lap 20 saw Aleix make a move on his team mate for the lead of the race – he ran the two of them wide into turn 1 and took the lead from Viñales as Viñales was sent into the long lap area. Aleix continued to pull away from Maverick, but by the last lap of the race, Maverick was closing the gap back down, beginning the final lap only 0.7 seconds behind Aleix.
Maverick couldn’t get close enough to pass Aleix on the final lap though, and Aleix won his 3rd race in MotoGP (remember Sprints don’t count as race wins!), with Maverick in 2nd and Jorge Martin in 3rd place. Aleix had redeemed himself after missing out on a podium last year as he celebrated a lap early, and he had made history with Maverick and Aprilia. Aprilia had never had two riders on the same podium in the premier class, and now they not only had two riders on the podium – they had finished 1-2.
On the cool down lap, Maverick picked up a flag in memory of his late cousin Dean Berta Viñales, and then he and Aleix swapped bikes. They rode each other’s bikes for the remainder of the lap and returned to parc ferme – a sign of team work between the riders to bring the Aprilia to the level it is at today. Aleix spoke post-race about how he had spoken to Maverick when he was struggling (at Yamaha) and told him he should come to Aprilia because he is a strong rider and together, they could put the bike on top.
Parc ferme was wild – Aprilia were obviously delighted with their first 1-2, and Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales are all good friends off track, and they celebrated together with Aleix’s young twins Max and Mia, who joined the riders on the floor for a group photo!
Max and Mia weren’t done there either, they carried the winner’s trophy onto the podium and handed it to Aleix before joining him on the top step. Max looked like he was living his best life – waving the trophy above his head as though he had won the race! The pair left the podium before the spraying of the fizz, but they had no doubt had a great day watching their dad do what he does.
Aleix dedicated his race win to Bagnaia, saying that he was pleased to hear that he was okay as he had been very worried about him.
We know now that Bagnaia is relatively okay, and in fact plans to race at Misano this weekend, but at the time the coverage was going out, we had no idea what kind of injuries he might have. And nor did the tv directors who showed replay after replay of both Bagnaia’s crash – and the one at turn 1 – from every angle that they could find. They of course mixed these in with shots of the marshals trying to shield Bagnaia from view as he was treated in the middle of the track, and shots of his sister and girlfriend – clearly distressed – as they waited outside the medical centre for him to arrive.
I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. It has become disappointingly standard for MotoGP tv coverage to include repeated replays before the condition of the rider is known, and gratuitous shots of worried teams and family members. Where is the need? They cannot possibly think that this kind of coverage makes good tv? It does give them plenty of ‘clicks’ online though when they post the clips across social media. COME AND LOOK AT THIS RIDER GET HURT, they shout.
They also sent a reporter to the hospital to get quotes from Bagnaia as he left the hospital on Sunday night. Bagnaia was on crutches, clearly in pain, and probably still in shock, but they felt it necessary to shove a microphone in his face and ask him what caused him to crash and whether he would be at Misano. Again, no need. The team had released a statement about his condition along with a photo of him giving a thumbs up, surely that should have been enough?
We were incredibly lucky on Sunday that Bagnaia wasn’t more seriously injured – or worse – and I just cannot get my head around repeated replays and social media posts, particularly before we knew how he was. I hate to say it, but I actually think that Bagnaia was “lucky” that there had been five riders taken out of the race at turn 1 – this meant that the pack chasing him as he crashed was less condensed than it might have been.
Anyway, the main thing is that he is okay – Ducati reported on Sunday evening that he had bruising, but no fractures, which frankly must be some kind of miracle. They also reported that Enea Bastianini had fractures to his hand and ankle, and would require surgery. Both riders returned to Italy with the team, and Enea has undergone surgery which was successful but his injuries mean that he will miss Misano this weekend, as well as India and Japan later in the month.
The tyre pressure monitoring system went live this weekend, and the first rider to be caught out was Maverick Viñales who was handed a formal warning for a first offence as his tyre pressures were lower than they should have been during the race.
With Bagnaia not scoring in the race, his lead at the top of the championship has been cut to 50 points, with Jorge Martin in 2nd. Bezzecchi and Binder are a further 21 and 23 points behind Martin as we head to Misano this weekend. Bagnaia intends to ride, but obviously will have to pass a medical check on Thursday before he is allowed to swing his leg over his Ducati at home.