The VROOM Blog: Fabio Di Giannantonio sparkles under the Lusail lights as the championship rolls on to Valencia

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

The Qatar round of MotoGP has been for many years the season opener, but this year due to a massive upgrade being carried out to the paddock, the Qatar GP has been the penultimate round of the season. I promise not to use the word ‘penultimate’ again for the rest of this blog because I don’t know about you, but I was sick of hearing it over the weekend!

While the layout of the track hadn’t been changed during the refurb, it had been resurfaced, and there was more run-off in some areas. The finish line was now closer to the exit of the final corner though.

Heading into this weekend, Pecco Bagnaia was leading Jorge Martin by 14 points in the championship, and could mathematically have wrapped up back-to-back championship wins on Sunday if he had a strong weekend and Martin had a disaster.

We saw Pedro Acosta wrap up the Moto2 championship last weekend, and this weekend would see Jaume Masia’s first opportunity to seal the Moto3 crown as he headed into the weekend with a lead of 13 points over closest rival Ayumu Sasaki. David Alonso, Dani Holgado, and Deniz Öncü were also still in contention, but with Alonso and Holgado 41 points behind Masia, and Öncü 50 points back it would require serious misfortune on behalf of Masia and Sasaki to see anyone else take the title.

FP1 saw Raul Fernandez as the surprise early pace setter. We also saw early crashes for Aleix Espargaro and Alex Marquez. Augusto Fernandez was a crasher late in the session that was topped by Jorge Martin ahead of Zarco, Bagnaia, Raul Fernandez, and Franky Morbidelli. While there was a range of bikes in the top 5 (Ducati, Aprilia, and Yamaha), all of the bottom four were Hondas as Joan Mir, Marc Marquez, Iker Lecuona, and Taka Nakagami rounded out the 22-rider field.

The all-important 60-minute Practice session on Friday evening once again saw Raul Fernandez floating around at the top of the timesheets in the early stages. Jack Miller crashed 15 minutes in to the session, while Johann Zarco crashed at turn 16 half way through the session.

Jorge Martin seemed out of sorts – he was way down the times, and was quite animated when he was giving feedback to his team in the pits. With 15 minutes to go, neither title contender was inside the top 10 which was where they would need to be to gain direct progression to Q2. With Pecco in 14th, and Jorge in 17th, would we see them having to face Q1, or could they pull something out of the bag in the final 15 minutes of the session?

Things started looking a bit more positive for the duo as they headed back out on track, with Jorge jumping to 3rd place, while Pecco claimed 4th place while towing the caravan that is Marc Marquez to 5th. In the final minutes of the session, Aleix Espargaro moved up to 4th place as brother Pol crashed at turn 16 bringing out the yellow flags. Once again Pol took his sweet time getting up and walking away, meaning that the yellow flags were out for longer than they might have been. Bagnaia saw a quick lap cancelled due to the yellows.

Jack Miller crashed for the second time in the session, with the chequered flag just seconds away. Raul Fernandez topped the session ahead of Fabio Di Giannantonio, and they would be joined in Q2 by Viñales, Binder, Aleix Espargaro, Marini, Martin, Bagnaia, Augusto Fernandez, and Marc Marquez.

With both title fighters through to Q2, that would be one less thing for the pair to worry about overnight.

I think its fair to say that FP2 on a Saturday is never really the most exciting session of the weekend – riders are focussing on race pace rather than a fast lap, and trying to stay out of trouble ahead of qualifying. There were crashes for Alex Marquez and Raul Fernandez, and the session was topped by Quartararo ahead of Martin, Aleix Espargaro, Di Giannantonio, and Morbidelli.

It wasn’t any of that that was being talked about after the session though, it was the moment when Aleix Espargaro – famously hot-headed and quick to react if someone so much as looks at him the wrong way sometimes – decided he would raise his hand to another rider while out on track. Aleix made contact when passing Franky Morbidelli, and was almost instantly waving his arms around as he does. Now Franky Morbidelli is a rider who is often found to be a fault for riding slowing on the racing line, but to be fair to him on this occasion he wasn’t cruising – he had slowed for a yellow flag but did appear to be picking up the pace again as Aleix came barging past.

Aleix continued gesturing at Franky, and as Franky raised a hand to tell Aleix to calm down, Aleix reached out and slapped Franky’s head. I’m not sure what exactly made Aleix think that was acceptable behaviour, but honestly, I wasn’t completely surprised by what had happened. He is known as a ‘fiery’ character, and some people like that about him, but I’ve never been keen on watching him berate his team if he thinks the bike isn’t fast enough, or yelling at the marshals for not running to help him pick his bike up fast enough, or just the general over-reaction we often see when he feels someone is in his way.

The incident was placed under investigation and both riders were called in to speak with the Stewards after qualifying. Aleix was given a 10,000 Euro fine – which isn’t a huge amount of money to Aleix – and a 6-place grid penalty, which would see him line up on the grid next to Franky.

I didn’t think that the penalty was harsh enough. I thought we might have seen a penalty similar to those handed out to John McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba back at Qatar in 2021. John was taken out of the race (not for the first time) by Alcoba, and lashed out in the gravel trap, kicking Alcoba with Alcoba returning the favour as fisty-cuffs ensued before they were stopped by marshals. Both riders were given pitlane starts with an additional time penalty for the next race, as well as a 1000 Euro fine.

I do feel that a stronger penalty was needed for Aleix’s actions, and I think that the decision to give him a penalty that puts him right next to Franky on the grid makes the situation more tense than it needed to be. It rumbled on for the rest of the weekend too, with Franky saying that “his (initial) reaction was silly” and then he had “another big reaction” when asked about the situation on Saturday night. He also said that he felt the stewards were joking with him by putting Aleix next to him on the grid for Sunday’s race, and called the decision unwise.

Aleix said later in the weekend that Franky deserved no respect because he had dragged his family into the comments he was making. I have searched, but I have been unable to find any comments by Franky that include Aleix’s family, so I won’t comment on that. Aleix did apologise on social media for his actions, but he is still laying the blame at Franky’s door for slow riding, when I would argue that he wasn’t.

Q1 was headed by Zarco and Morbidelli after one lap, and that remained the case as the riders pulled into the pits for fresh rubber as a crash for Taka Nakagami meant that anyone who had remained out was caught by yellows and unable to go any faster. Most riders headed back out on track with 6 minutes remaining, but Bastianini and Bezzecchi waited, and were leaving pitlane just as the others were starting their first flying laps.

The final few minutes of the session saw Quartararo, Alex Marquez, and Johann Zarco hit the top of the times. Enea Bastianini was on a fast lap only to catch Iker Lecuona riding slowly, ruining his lap. Bastianini was clearly frustrated with Lecuona, and Lecuona was later handed a 3-place grid penalty for disrupting Bastianini’s lap.

It was Zarco and Alex Marquez who held on to progress through to Q2.

Marc Marquez followed Pecco Bagnaia out of the pits at the beginning of Q2, while Jorge Martin found that although he was much faster than Aleix Espargaro, he was unable to pass him and his first flying lap was ruined. Five minutes into the session, Di Giannantonio jumped to the top of the times with a new lap record.

Just like in Q1, some riders headed back out for their second runs earlier than others, and as Jorge Martin headed back onto track, Bagnaia and Marquez were coming along the start / finish straight. Jorge continued onto track, and pulled over a few corners later to allow the following riders through as they caught up to him.

Bagnaia climbed to 2nd place, towing Marc to 3rd as he did so. With just 8 seconds remaining on the clock, Luca Marini set a scorcher of a lap to top the times, and no one was able to better his new lap record, so Luca took pole position. He would be joined on the front row by Di Giannantonio and Alex Marquez, while Bagnaia, Martin, and Zarco would line up on row two. Marc, Viñales, Raul Fernandez, Aleix, Binder, and Augusto Fernandez would make up rows three and four.

Luca Marini made the most of that pole position as he leapt off the line to lead the Sprint race ahead of Alex Marquez, Martin, and Bagnaia. There was contact at turn 1 between the championship rivals, and then Martin ran wide, allowing Bagnaia and Marc Marquez through. There was a multiple rider crash at turn 6, as Miguel Oliveira lost control of his Aprilia and took Aleix Espargaro and Enea Bastianini down with him, while Franky Morbidelli had to take evasive action that saw him drop way down the order. Bastianini was able to remount, but Miguel and Aleix’s races were over.

Meanwhile, Jorge had repassed Marc for 4th place, while Diggia had passed Zarco for 6th before further demoting Marc as he claimed 5th from the rider who has taken his ride for next season. On lap two, there was more contact between Martin and Bagnaia as Martin sliced past the Italian to move into 3rd place. Diggia tried to follow Martin through, but was unable to do so. Alex Marquez briefly took the lead of the race, but Luca Marini was having none of it, and immediately reclaimed the lead. Diggia was able to pass Bagnaia towards the end of the lap to take 4th.

On lap 5, Alex Marquez once again took the lead of the race, but Marini fought back to retake the lead straight away, and it wasn’t long before Marquez found himself dumped back to 3rd place as Martin passed him to claim 2nd, and then he was passed by Diggia for 3rd place as Martin passed Marini to lead. A lap later we saw Diggia pass Marini for 2nd.

The title rivals found themselves under increasing pressure in the final two laps of the race – Jorge had Diggia all over him, while Bagnaia was doing all he could to keep Viñales at bay. They held them off, and Jorge took his 8th Sprint victory of the season, while Bagnaia finished in 5th place which meant that the championship battle would definitely go to Valencia. Jorge had sliced the points gap in half to 7 points – and with 37 points available now each weekend the battle would rumble on to the final round of the season.

Diggia and Marini were the two riders to join Martin in receiving medals for finishing in the top 3 of the Sprint, while Alex Marquez had finished in 4th place ahead of Bagnaia. Viñales, Binder, Quartararo, and Augusto Fernandez rounded out the points scorers.

Following the crash at the beginning of the race, both Oliveira and Espargaro were taken to the medical centre. Oliveira has been ruled out for the remainder of the season (and possibly some of the pre-season tests) with a broken scapula, while Aleix would have to be assessed before and after warm up on Sunday as he had fractured the top of his fibula.

Aleix participated in warm up – which was topped by Viñales from Zarco and Quartararo – and was declared fit for the race.

Before the MotoGP race on Sunday, we had the Moto3 race, and Jaume Masia’s first opportunity to take the title before he moves on to Moto2 next season. Heading into the race, I was hopeful that Masia would win, but the way the last few races have gone, if Masia has been on the podium, so has Sasaki – and if Masia won the race then Sasaki ‘only’ had to finish on the podium to take it to the season finale. I like both riders, so I didn’t really mind which of them took the title, but my preference would have been for Masia to win.

I say “would have been” because I have to say I am disappointed with how the race played out. Both Masia and Sasaki were running at the front, and as is usual in Moto3 there were positions being swapped frequently in the lead group. On two separate occasions though, when passing Sasaki, Masia ran him way wide. Now once you could understand as being a mistake, but twice at the same corner, and only when overtaking your championship rival? That seems a bit suspicious to me. Masia was given a conduct warning on his dash, and he seemed to rein himself in, but if Masia’s actions had been questionable, the actions of his teammate were fully out of order.

Twice in the final laps of the race Masia’s teammate Adrian Fernandez nerfed Sasaki, dropping him out of the top 5. Sasaki did all that he could to make up places – including saving what could have been a massive highside on the final lap – but he was unable to progress any higher than 6th place, and with Masia winning the race, he was declared champion with a round to spare.

While I was initially pleased for Jaume, I was annoyed at the role Fernandez had played, and there was a niggling feeling about Jaume’s own riding in the race. The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. Jaume’s riding has been clean all season, and suddenly he’s riding like he’s David Muñoz! I do wonder what had been said in the Le0pard garage before hand – had Fernandez been told to assist Masia at all costs? Or had he been asked to play wingman and taken things too far?

Either way, it seems a very poor way to take a championship. Even without the silly riding, Masia could have got a decent result this weekend, and taken the championship with a solid ride next weekend – he would most likely just have needed to follow Sasaki home. The thing that really gets me though is that the Le0pard team are celebrating having won the world championship with riding from both of their riders that looked deliberately dirty, when only two seasons ago they were up in arms and releasing extremely strong press releases after Dennis Foggia was taken out of the race (and therefore the championship battle) by a wild move from Darryn Binder.

On that occasion, Foggia’s chances of winning the championship really relied on Pedro Acosta having a disaster, but there was still a slight chance, and you could see why the team were annoyed with Binder, but they have just done worse in my eyes. Binder’s move – though ill-judged as many of his Moto3 moves were – wasn’t a deliberate attempt to interfere with the championship, but the way Fernandez in particular rode on Sunday was disgraceful.

I feel for Ayumu Sasaki – he has been robbed of the chance to fight for the Championship, but he has handled the situation with dignity. I would very much like him to go out and win the race in Valencia – it won’t make any difference to the championship, but it would be a great way for him to finish his time in Moto3 before he heads up to Moto2 next season.

As the riders lined up on the grid ahead of the 22 lap MotoGP race, the tyre sheet revealed that while much of the grid had gone with the hard option rear tyre, Marini, Quartararo, Morbidelli, and Lecuona had opted for the soft. The lights went out, and Jorge Martin had a nightmare start – his rear tyre seemed to spin underneath him and he was nearly thrown from his bike. Thankfully he held on, but he was dumped back to 8th place as Bagnaia took the lead into turn 1.

As things settled down at the front of the race, Bagnaia was leading from Marini, Diggia, Alex Marquez, and Brad Binder. Alex Marquez was soon through on his teammate for 3rd place, while further back Zarco ran wide which allowed Martin and Marc Marquez through. Martin was now up to 7th place.

Diggia made his way back up to 3rd at the expense of his teammate, and Martin passed Marc to move into 6th place. Clearly a man on a mission, Diggia made a strong move on Marini to take 2nd. Alex Marquez tried to follow through, but was unable to do so, although a few corners later he did make the move stick, pushing Marini wide which allowed Binder through too.

Binder passed Marquez for 3rd on lap 6, while Quartararo passed Bezzecchi for 10th a lap later. Aleix retired from the race – he was unable to continue due to a loss of feeling in his leg following yesterday’s crash – on lap 7. Maverick Viñales had been making moves through the pack and was now in 7th place behind Jorge Martin, and part of me wondered if Viñales was able to pass Martin, could he drag him up to the group ahead? It turns out no, he couldn’t. He did pass Martin, but Martin just didn’t have the pace to go with him – his lap times were slower than everyone around him.

Martin was soon passed by Quartararo, and he was visibly frustrated. Miller passed Martin, and then to add to the frustration teammate Zarco passed him too, but Zarco ran wide so Martin was able to hold on to 9th. Out front, Viñales was catching the trio of Binder, Alex Marquez, and Marini who were battling for 3rd place. Bagnaia and Diggia had a gap of almost 4 seconds ahead of the battle for 3rd.

Marini and Alex Marquez had some back and forth, but Marquez lost 4th place to the VR46 rider, before Marini went on to pass Binder for 3rd. Diggia was all over the rear of Bagnaia’s Ducati, and you were left wondering whether he would try and pass him for his first MotoGP win in what is looking highly likely to be his second to last MotoGP race. Then we were notified of a message from the team to Diggia’s dash – “mapping 8” – which sent social media into meltdown. Mapping 8 was of course the message used by Ducati in 2017 to instruct Jorge Lorenzo to follow team orders as teammate Andrea Dovizioso battled Marc Marquez for the championship.

The Mapping 8 message on Diggia’s dash was followed by a message on his pit board that simply said 0000. On lap 19 Diggia took his chance and passed the championship leader to take the lead of the race. On lap 20 Bagnaia tried to pass Diggia into turn 1, but he got sucked into the slipstream of the Gresini Ducati and very nearly slammed into the back of it! Thankfully he was able to take avoiding action and run wide, and luckily for him, they were so far ahead that when he rejoined the track, he was still in 2nd place, and still had a 2 second lead over Marini.

Diggia now had a lead of 2.5 seconds over Bagnaia, and Bagnaia’s team were quick to change his pit board to let him know that 2nd place was “OK”. Diggia extended his lead over Bagnaia, and took the race win – his first in MotoGP – ahead of Bagnaia and Marini.

Jorge Martin finished in 10th place, and immediately looked to his rear tyre as he crossed the line. He returned to his garage, and the team immediately closed the garage doors, although we did get a brief look inside the garage as someone in the tv direction team realised that the feed from Martin’s on-board camera was still live.

Meanwhile, Diggia had stopped out on track, his head in his hands, and almost every rider on the grid stopped to congratulate him. He was greeted in parc ferme with chants of his name, and described the win as a “redemption” and a sort of “revenge” against those who have doubted him.

Diggia becomes the 8th different winner this season, and the 121st different premier class winner. He and crew chief Frankie Carchedi explained after the race that the “Mapping 8” and “0000” messages were just reminders that there were 5 laps remaining, and that he could “go for it” now.

In a race that they would probably rather forget, the Pramac team have now secured the Teams Championship – the first time in MotoGP history that the title has been won by an Independent Team. Jorge Martin was furious post-race, and blamed his lack of performance on a bad tyre. It happens sometimes in racing, but it really is a shame that he could well lose out on becoming champion due to a dodgy tyre.

We head into the final race weekend of the season with 21 points now separating Bagnaia and Martin, meaning that Bagnaia could wrap the title on Saturday by out-scoring Martin by 4 points – I do hope it goes down to Sunday though.

I really would like to see Martin take the championship, but it does look like an uphill struggle at this point. You just never know though – this is MotoGP, and it isn’t over until its over…

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search