The VROOM Blog #IndianGP – Bezzecchi and Martin take advantage as Bagnaia’s blunder blows the championship wide open

 In Blog, MotoGP, News


History was made this weekend as MotoGP visited India for the first time. The Buddh International Circuit became the 74th different circuit to hold a premier class GP, and the 31st circuit to hold a MotoGP race since the class was introduced in 2002.

The Indian GP marks the first of the “fly-away” races, and they kindly eased those of us in Europe in gently with a 4:30 am start – I’m not looking forward to the 1 am start for Japan this week!

There were two riders confirmed in seats for 2024 in the run up to the Indian GP. In news that shocked no one, Taka Nakagami will remain on the LCR Idemitsu Honda next season – I can see him keeping that ride until another Japanese rider is ready to step up to MotoGP.

Pramac racing confirmed that Franky Morbidelli will join them in place of Johann Zarco next season, and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. I’m hopeful that a move away from Yamaha and to Ducati will do Franky the world of good, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he gets on with what is arguably the best bike on the grid.

Franky’s move to Pramac means that all 4 of the VR46 Academy riders in MotoGP will be on Ducati machinery for 2024, and I would argue that the Pramac ride is actually the best option of all the Ducati rides on the grid – you get factory support and machinery without the pressure of the red uniform of the factory team. Franky said that the move will be a great opportunity for him after two difficult years, and that it will be nice to jump onto the best bike on the grid and prove what he is capable of.

You know Franky is my favourite rider, so I’m obviously going to think that this is a good move for him, but it was good to hear both Sylvain Guintoli and Neil Hodgson singing Franky’s praises over the weekend, and agreeing that this should be a good move for him.

There is still a lot of talk in the paddock about Marc Marquez and Honda – will he stay or will he jump ship to join his younger brother at Gresini Ducati? Marc himself said that there would be no answer this weekend, and asked that the media stop asking about it, but surely that’s their job, and he must expect it – he is arguably the biggest name in MotoGP at the moment, and he does like to stir the pot online…

For their part, Ducati have been largely quiet on the subject, but this weekend both Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi spoke to the media about the possibility of Marc joining the Ducati family. Davide said that everyone likes Marc, he is an 8-time world champion, and the past, present, and future of MotoGP. Ciabatti explained that Gresini do have an opportunity to sign Marc, but that they are waiting for his decision. It sounds as though Marc is waiting until he has spoken to Honda big-wigs in Japan next weekend before making any final decision about his future.

Much like Franky, it will be interesting to see how Marc goes on the Ducati if he does move from a Japanese bike to an Italian one, but we’ll have to wait and see if he even moves first.

There has still been nothing from KTM regarding the placement of Pedro Acosta for next season, but Augusto Fernandez reiterated that he has a contract for next year when asked about the situation on Thursday. Augusto said that he has his contract signed but added that “in theory” he has the ride for next year which does make me wonder if he has some doubts about whether that contract will be honoured by KTM. I do hope that he keeps his ride – I’ve said before that I think riders need at least two years to get up to speed in MotoGP, and he is having a solid rookie season.

Alpinestars celebrated their 60th anniversary with a big party in LA on Thursday, and the riders on the MotoGP grid who wear Alpinestars gear (Quartararo, Marc Marquez, Di Giannantonio, Viñales, Raul Fernandez, and Bagnaia) marked the occasion with special boots for the race on Sunday. Jorge Martin and Jack Miller also had special helmets for the race as they run the new Alpinestars helmet alongside their leathers, boots, and gloves.

Michele Pirro and Stefan Bradl were in as replacement riders for Enea Bastianini and Alex Rins respectively, and Pirro had to pass a fitness test on Thursday afternoon following his crash at Misano. The LCR Honda of Bradl was liveried in full Castrol colours for this weekend, and it looked beautiful.

There was a bit of a distraction in the KTM garage as a monkey appeared to be living in the rafters! Jack Miller responded in true Jack Miller fashion by lobbing up a bunch of bananas and suggesting that he might give the monkey a job for the weekend.

Track action was extended for all classes on Friday to allow more time to learn the circuit, and MotoGP kicked off with a 70-minute FP1. Now I love MotoGP, but 70-minute sessions are a bit too long for my liking – I would have preferred to have seen an extra session rather than two super long ones, but I understand the impracticalities of that.

Michele Pirro was the rider to take the unfortunate title of first MotoGP crasher in India with crash at turn 5 on his out lap. Brad Binder soon added his name to the list, crashing at the first turn 10 minutes into the session. Fabio Quartararo had to abandon his bike trackside and get a lift back to the pits on a scooter after his Yamaha encountered an issue after less than 15 minutes on track.

There were lots of riders running on at turn 1 as they tried to work out their braking markers, but Taka Nakagami crashed there – he was fine, but his poor Honda didn’t look too good after bouncing through the gravel. With just over half an hour remaining on the clock, Fabio Quartararo looked to have suffered another mechanical issue with his second bike. This time he was able to coast around the service road and return to his garage.

We didn’t see Fabio – or team mate Franky Morbidelli – for the rest of the session, with team boss Massimo Meregalli explaining later that both of Fabio’s bikes had suffered a gear box issue, and they pulled Franky in to double check his machines too.

Pol Espargaro crashed twice in the final 20 minutes of the session – once at turn 12, and then again at turn 4. The session was topped by Marco Bezzecchi, with Marc Marquez in 2nd place ahead of Brad Binder, Raul Fernandez, Jorge Martin, Maverick Viñales, and Johann Zarco.

Just as we had seen at Silverstone earlier in the season, the riders were given a short “practice start” session at the end of both sessions on Friday. Championship leader Pecco Bagnaia had two terrible attempts at a practice start with the rear of his Ducati spinning and sending him sideways rather than forward.

The Practice session on Friday afternoon was delayed following a 45-minute delay before the Moto3 P2 session. We were told that the delay was due to “track conditions” and then we were told that the marshal posts were “being checked.” It turned out that the issue was a lack of water for the marshals – it was boiling hot and some marshals had left their posts in search of water which obviously left the posts short. You would have thought that plenty of water should have been made available to the marshals in their posts – they knew it was going to be hot!

Anyway, the 70-minute Practice session got underway, and Jack Miller was an early crasher at turn 12, before Aleix Espargaro got himself and his Aprilia stuck in the deep gravel of turn 1. He eventually got going, but I’m pretty sure that some of the marshals at that corner were covered in bruises from the gravel that sprayed out from his back wheel spinning in the gravel.

With 30 minutes remaining on the clock, you could have been forgiven for wondering if the timing screens were upside down – the two Yamahas of Fabio and Franky, plus the Honda of Joan Mir were all inside the top 10. I jest, of course, but it’s been a long time since we have seen the Japanese bikes running so strongly. 20 minutes later Franky had dropped out of the top 10, but Marc Marquez had jumped up to 5th place as most riders were beginning their time attacks in a bid to secure direct passage to Q2.

Jorge Martin set the fastest lap so far with 4 minutes remaining and immediately ran on at the tricky turn 1, while Marc Marquez made the most of being behind Bezzecchi on track, pinching 2nd place from the Italian as he crossed the line straight after him. Fabio Quartararo was on a hot lap with just a minute to go, but he got caught behind Aleix who was slower than him and so was unable to improve his time.

Luca Marini jumped to the top of the times just before Taka Nakagami crashed again, bringing out the yellow flags effectively ending the session as there was only 20 seconds left on the clock. Brad Binder and Augusto Fernandez both had fast laps cancelled due to Taka’s yellow flags, and Binder would surely have been straight through to Q2 with his lap.

Heading directly to Q2 behind Luca Marini would be Jorge Martin, Aleix, Marc, Bezzecchi, Viñales, Bagnaia, Quartararo, Zarco, and Mir. This would be Mir’s first appearance in Q2 since joining Honda.

FP2 on Saturday morning was book-ended by crashes from Pramac team mates Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin, as Marco Bezzecchi topped the session ahead of Alex Marquez and Luca Marini.

Q1 was headed by Brad Binder and Raul Fernandez after the riders had completed their first runs, but as everyone headed back out on fresh rubber, it was Di Giannantonio who was setting the pace. He was replaced at the top of the times by Alex Marquez and Raul Fernandez in quick succession though.

With a minute remaining on the clock, Alex Marquez suffered a big high-side. He was clearly in pain, and was taking his time to get to his feet. He was eventually helped away by marshals, but by then the chequered flag had joined the yellow flags brought out by his crash, and Brad Binder once again suffered the consequences of the yellow flag rule as he lost a lap time that would have seen him through into Q2.

It was Raul Fernandez and Alex Marquez who set the fastest laps of the session and would be heading through to Q2, although whether Alex would be back from the medical centre in time remained to be seen.

Q2 started with Aleix Espargaro sitting at the end of pit lane arguing with a marshal about the time and why the session hadn’t started. Evidently his team hadn’t noticed that there had been a slight delay to the start of Q1 – “track conditions” again, apparently – which obviously meant that Q2 was also delayed. Aleix scooted his bike back up pitlane with the help of mechanics from another team, and he jumped off the bike, stormed into the garage and screamed in the face of one of his team members.

I get that the team made a mistake, and I know that Aleix is a passionate man, but that was out of order. I don’t recall the team roaring at him when he lost a podium for celebrating a lap early last year. To his credit, Aleix did post an apology on his Instagram account on Saturday evening.

Anyway, the session got underway, and Marc Marquez crashed 5 minutes in. It was a relatively slow crash, but it did leave him and his bike in the middle of the track, causing Bagnaia to have to take evasive action. Marc remounted and continued with the session. As everyone pitted for new tyres and a final run at a fast lap, it was Martin, Bezzecchi, and Marini who held the front row.

As the session ended, it was Marco Bezzecchi who topped the times to take pole position ahead of Martin and Bagnaia. Marini, Marc Marquez, and Joan Mir would make up row two, meaning that for the first time this season both Repsol Hondas were inside the top 10 on the grid, and the first time since Qatar 2022 (the first round of the season) that there are two Repsol Hondas within the top 6 in qualifying!

With Quartararo lining up in 8th place, this was also the first time that there have been 4 premier class champions in the top 8 on the grid since Valencia 2012 when Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, and Jorge Lorenzo lined up in the top 8.

Alex Marquez didn’t make it out for the Q2 session. He was transferred to hospital for further checks, where 3 broken ribs were confirmed. Alex travelled home to Spain, missing the remainder of the Indian GP weekend, and he will also miss Japan.

The next action of the weekend for the MotoGP class should have been the Sprint race, but a torrential downpour between the Moto3 Q1 and Q2 sessions saw a delay of 50 minutes, and the addition of a “wet” free practice session for MotoGP after Moto3 and Moto2 had completed their qualifying sessions.

By the time it got to the extra session, it seemed a little pointless – most of the track was dry. Everyone headed out on wet tyres at the start of the 15-minute session, but with 6 minutes remaining, several riders headed back out on slicks. The session was useful in that it gave riders an idea of the track conditions, but it wasn’t really wet anymore.

The main problem seemed to be the grid – there were damp patches in grid slots, meaning that the start of the race could be quick tricky for anyone who found themselves with a damp grid slot. Cue another delay – this time to allow machinery onto the track to try and dry out the grid.

Team members were soon out on the grid with leaf blowers to dry the grid slots that their riders would be using, and I’m assuming they were given special permission to do so given that “preparation” of the grid slot is not allowed. Just ask Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi who were both sent to the back of the grid in Qatar back in 2004 after their teams were caught trying to clean up their grid slots!

It had been announced earlier in the weekend that the race distances would be shortened at the request of the riders due to the oppressive heat and humidity, so the Sprint would be over 11 laps instead of 12. It was also getting late in the day due to all the delays, leading some to dub the race the Sunset Sprint – there are some spectacular photos online of the bikes in the low sunlight.

I was slightly concerned to see that Jorge Martin had rocked up to the grid for the quick start procedure in a clear visor when the sun was so low, but it didn’t seem to bother him – he grabbed the holeshot and immediately started to pull a gap ahead of the chasing pack.

The chasing pack was smaller that it could have been as Luca Marini slammed into the back of team mate Bezzecchi. Marini crashed and was out of the race, while Bezzecchi managed to stay on board, but he was way down in the pack. Pol Espargaro and Stefan Bradl both crashed out at turn one too.

Back at the front, Jorge was leading from Bagnaia, Mir, Marc, Binder, and Quartararo. Marc moved past team mate Mir for 3rd on lap 2, while Aleix Espargaro had dropped back to 17th place. It was taking some time to clear away the bikes from the turn 1 incident, and there were still yellow flags waving on lap 3. On lap 4 Joan Mir had a moment and dropped back, and then he crashed out of the race. Such a shame after a promising start to the weekend for the 2020 world champion.

Marco Bezzecchi was setting fastest lap after fastest lap, and by lap 5 he was up to 9th place. Johann Zarco crashed and remounted on lap 6, and Brad Binder was closing in on Marc Marquez who was still in 3rd place. On lap 8 Bezzecchi passed Miller for 6th place, before Aleix crashed out of the race.

Bezzecchi made his way up to 5th place as he sailed past Quartararo on the long straight between turns 3 and 4, and Jorge Martin wheelied across the line to take victory ahead of Bagnaia and Marquez. Brad Binder was 4th, while Bezzecchi finished in 5th after a stunning fightback following the first corner incident.

Luca Marini was declared unfit for the rest of the weekend having broken his collarbone in the crash at turn 1. He has flown home to Italy and had surgery, but there has been no target set yet for a return to the track. With Luca, Enea Bastianini, and Alex Marquez all on the injury list, it looks like Ducati will be without 3 of their fulltime riders for Japan. Pirro is already sitting in for Enea, and I imagine the other two will not be replaced as it won’t have been 10 days since their injuries so the teams should be ok to go ahead without replacements. I’m not even sure who they would get in to replace them – it’s a busy weekend with both World and British Superbikes racing this weekend too, so they wouldn’t be able to get anyone from there.

Race Direction have handed Luca a long lap penalty for his part in the turn 1 incident, and they managed to word it correctly so that he will serve it upon his return, whenever that should be…

Morning warm up on Sunday saw another “track conditions” delay – this time to treat the track at turn 1 after one of the ambulances had leaked oil onto the track. The session saw a crash for Miguel Oliveira and was topped by Jorge Martin ahead of Bezzecchi, Quartararo, Augusto Fernandez, and Joan Mir.

The RNF Aprilia team marked the inaugural India GP by having the Indian flag on the wings of their bikes. I quite liked that; it could be the kind of thing that they do for every round like Marc does with the underside peak of his hats.

The race on Sunday was reduced from 24 to 21 laps – again at the riders’ request – and once again it was Jorge Martin who took the holeshot to lead into turn 1. He was followed by Bagnaia, Bezzecchi, Mir, and Marquez, while Maverick Viñales was punted wide and to the back of the field following a domino effect of bumps started by team mate Aleix Espargaro.

Fabio Quartararo made his way through on both Repsol Honda riders, but Marquez was soon back in front of the Yamaha rider. Marco Bezzecchi took the lead into the final turn, and that was that for him – no one could keep up with the pace he was setting at the front of the race.

Jack Miller dropped to last place, while Di Giannantonio was up to 12th. As Bezzecchi extended his lead to 1.3 seconds on lap 5, Martin passed Bagnaia for 2nd place. Marc crashed out of 4th place at turn 1 on lap 6 – he was able to remount, but he was in 16th now. Lap 11 saw Aleix pull into the pits and out of the race.

On lap 13 Bagnaia passed Martin for 2nd place before he blew the championship wide open and crashed out of the race a lap later. With Pecco down and out, Fabio Quartararo was running in 3rd place. The onboard view of Martin on lap 17 showed that his leathers were open, he slowed to zip them back up which allowed Quartararo to close in on him. Joan Mir had a moment on lap 18 which allowed Binder through into 4th place.

Fabio Di Giannantonio pulled into the pits on lap 19 – pain in his shoulder proved too much to allow him to continue with the race. On the final lap of the race, Jorge Martin ran wide and Fabio Quartararo was up to 2nd place, but Martin rode around the outside of Quartararo to regain the place.

Marco Bezzecchi won the race by over 8 seconds, with Martin in 2nd and Quartararo 3rd for his first podium since COTA. Brad Binder was in 4th place, Joan Mir 5th, Johann Zarco 6th, and Franky Morbidelli in 7th. Marc made it back up to 9th – you can’t help but wonder if he’d have been in the mix for the podium places had he not crashed.

It was nice to see such solid performances from Quartararo, Morbidelli, Mir, and Marquez – they were able to show that it’s their bikes and not them as a new track levelled the playing field somewhat.

Jorge Martin pulled up in front of his garage in the pit lane, begging his team for some water. The team poured water into his mouth and down the back of his leathers in a bid to cool him down, and he did not look a well man as Gino Borsoi helped his rider to walk down to parc ferme.

As Bezzecchi and Quartararo celebrated with their teams, Martin was sitting on the ground and was eventually seen receiving treatment from Dr Charte. Bezzecchi climbed the camera rigging to wave to the fans in the grandstands, while Quartararo was throwing his gloves into the crowd.

Bezzecchi dedicated his race win to a childhood friend who had recently passed away. Jorge Martin didn’t participate in the parc ferme interviews, and just as it seemed to be taking much longer to go to the podium than usual, and we were becoming concerned for the well being of Martin, cameras cut to the podium finishers watching race highlights on the tv screen behind the podium. Jorge was present, and while the others were standing, they had found a chair for him to sit on – he was now wearing a t-shirt while his leathers hung at his waist.

When the time came to take to the podium, Bezzecchi helped Martin to put the top half of his leathers back on, and Martin thanked him by absolutely soaking him with fizz after they had received their trophies.

Jorge wasn’t present at the post-race press conference, and there was much talk about why he seemed to be the only rider to suffer quite so badly in the heat. It’s certainly not a fitness thing – he is just as fit as anyone else on the grid. Suggestions have included his riding style being more physical to the others, he chose a different tyre which would have meant even more effort than the others, his body may sweat more than others, or he simply got his pre-race hydration wrong.

Martin did say afterwards that he was fine now, he had ‘just’ been dehydrated, but there are more hot and humid races coming up, which surely must be a concern for him and his team?

Talking of his team, Jorge’s podium was the 50th for the Pramac team, while Bezzecchi’s win was the 80th for Ducati in the premier class. Fabio’s podium was also his 30th premier class podium. Team mate Morbidelli remains the only rider to have scored points in every MotoGP race this season, while Joan Mir’s 5th place finish saw him score points for the first time since the season opener in Portugal!

Next up for MotoGP is the Japanese GP this weekend, and we head there with the championship lead slashed to just 13 points. Bagnaia is just 13 points clear of Martin, with Bezzecchi a further 31 points back. Bez says he isn’t a championship contender, but with 259 points still up for grabs over the next 7 rounds, I reckon he could be in with a shout.

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